Bernard Levin and the SPGB

Bernard Levin is a well known columnist, a public figure, and if he isn’t well known it is not due to lack of effort on his part. A journalist who is under a regular commitment to produce a daily newspaper column, as distinct from reporting news, is a man under constant pressure — a man eternally looking for something to say. Consequently, it is quite impossible for Levin, or anyone else for that matter, to keep up the pace and deal with matters other than superficially. Those who have followed the literary efforts of Levin over the years will have no difficulty in accepting this fact.

Levin wrote a criticism of the SPGB in an article entitled Creda Quia Impossible (The Observer, 18th April 1976) — and here we must add dog Latin to his many other talents. The article patronized us and what he described as the “glorious nonsense” emanating from the SPGB. This attack on the Party gave the impression of an amused tolerance for a “sect” based on “eccentricity” (his words) and was made in a review of a book called The Monument — the story of the SPGB. Unfortunately for Levin, some of the facts and anecdotes contained in The Monument, despite its many merits, are a personal version and the Party does not accept any responsibility for its contents.

Levin says, quite correctly, that the SPGB “has remained absolutely unchanged in its beliefs from 1904 to the present day”. However, the SPGB bases its propaganda on the world of today not the world of 1904, as any reader of the Socialist Standard and listener to the spoken word will appreciate. The Object and Principles of the Party were formulated by our founders in 1904, and these Principles laid down the frame of reference for a revolutionary Socialist party. They are not a catechism, nor are they out of date any more than the Newtonian principles or any other scientific principles. We can well understand the amazement of Mr. Levin and others that such a strange phenomenon as a political party with a clean-cut object and principles should actually exist.

He says our position is “Marx is right; the SPGB interpretation of Marx is right”. We do not accept that Marx was always right, and we have in the past criticized Marx. Nevertheless, we agree with the main Marxist theories of Historical Materialism and his analysis of capitalism.

Finally the SPGB has never been opposed to, or supported, reforms. Levin is confusing the political action which is necessary to get reforms with the content of the reforms. Nobody could oppose the introduction of safety working measures, of which Levin accuses us, free heating for old age pensioners, or other reforms, and we have never done so. If workers wish to sell their votes for a few crumbs of social reform that is their privilege, and equally, it is our privilege and duty to show that there is an alternative. We want them to take political action that will remove the need for reforms.

We mention these few facts in the rather forlorn hope that Levin will correct his mistaken view of the Party. We would also bring to his notice that no member was expelled or disciplined for carrying a gas-mask, nor is it true that “every time there was a vote on an expulsion those who had voted against it were themselves forthwith expelled”. Levin can satisfy himself on this score, as the weekly Minutes of the Executive Committee are intact from 1904 and photocopies are available.

What a world we live in, and what peculiar standards of value we have which set great store on writings like Levin’s. He follows a long tradition of instant intellectuals who are bankrupt of ideas and, having little real knowledge in their own right, can provide amusement in the knowledge that this suffices for many of their readers.

Jim D’Arcy

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