An Open Letter to Professor Miliband
Your article in the Socialist Register 1976 entitled “Moving On” asks the question, why none of the organizations which since 1956 have occupied the area you describe as the “left wing stage” “constitute an effective socialist formation”? You claim that “such an organization remains to be created”. You go on to give an “explanation” of why “existing organizations cannot fill the gap”. But the “gap” your article reveals is in your own knowledge — yawning chasm would be a better description. Your contribution is merely ignorance confounded by confusion; first your analysis of the present “left wing” misunderstanding of the nature of revolutionary activity and second, your exclusion of the SPGB reveals either ignorance or political dishonesty.
Let me begin with your discussion of the current “left wing”. (I won’t use the inverted commas any more for that term, but when you reply, please explain what that term means.) “Inevitably one must start with the Labour Party” you say. You claim that the Labour Party is the “party of the working class and there is no alternative to it.” The only reason for “starting” with the Labour Party is to finish with it. There was never any doubt from its formation that the Labour Party was simply a reformist party. The activities of the Labour Party have confirmed this ever since. However, you still appear to think that the Labour Party has something to do with Socialism. You write: “There cannot now be many socialists in the Labour Party (and even fewer outside) who believe that most of its leaders are concerned with the task of effecting the fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people . . . But there are many socialists in the Labour Party who do believe very firmly that they can eventually . . . compel their leaders to adopt left-wing policies.”
You say: “There are socialists who work in the Labour Party.” The Labour Party represents a certain section of the capitalist class and runs capitalism in the interests of capital. Like all other parties of capitalism, the Labour Party will dress up what they are doing in borrowed phrases in an attempt (successful to date) at misleading the working. But there never have been Socialists in the Labour Party.
Socialism is a world society which will take the place of capitalism; it will abolish all property and existing production relationships and establish in its place a free society where each person voluntarily contributes to the wealth of society and takes from it what the individual requires. There are no governments (with their attendant armies and coercive powers), no wages system, and no production for profit. (For a fuller account, see our Object and Declaration of Principles, and also our pamphlet Object and Declaration of Principles — Socialist Principles Explained.) Could you explain what someone who wants that society would be doing in the Labour Party? You say that “a socialist party is needed in Britain and the Labour Party is not it.” In that case, how can there be Socialists in it? There may be some within the Labour Party who call themselves Socialists, but are they who you mean?
Turning your professorial attention to the Communist Party, you claim that “It is a Marxist Party” and add “of a sort”! But a party is either a Marxist party, standing for the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with Socialism, or it isn’t. The Communist Party has always and inevitably stood for capitalism. Its history has been taken up with defending the contradictory activities and statements of the Russian ruling class which it supports. You rightly point out that since 1956 and more particularly since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. the fawning adoration of the Russian monstrosity has lessened, and you say that the Communist Party has “a blandly complacent view of the Soviet system.” In other words, the Communist Party is not Marxist but anti-democratic and reformist. As you put it, it has been in “pursuit of the politics of illusion . . . for more than forty years.” The main illusion (other than the Soviet delusion) is its adherence to the coat-tails of the Labour quackery. Charitably you say that the Communist Party is not “to be reproached for seeking to put pressure on the Labour Party or on a Labour Government or for trying to influence the Labour Left or any other part of the labour movement.” The politics of illusion indeed.
The Labour Party has not failed as such — it set out to run capitalism. The more important part of your article is the criticisms of the left-wing parties other than the Labour Party and the Communist: Party. You think that these other parties are not suitable for “Moving on”. It is necessary, you argue, to create a new party because those that exist are inadequate. You ask “why these groupings of the ‘ultra left’ have not fared better” than they have done and give one answer which you say these groups themselves frequently give — the ruling class’s control of ideas. This you say is inadequate since it: fails to explain why “left” groups have made progress (though this is merely asserted, it is not explained). You then examine a collection of other reasons such as “narrow doctrinaire sectarianism … a marked tendency to believe that the final crisis of capitalism is imminent, to which is naturally added . . . adventurist sloganeering; and an internal rigidity of organization.” What you fail to point out is that none of these reasons can apply to the SPGB. The SPGB is dedicated to the establishment of Socialism. In no sense is our case “narrow doctrinaire sectarianism.” If you were to attend any of our propaganda meetings or any one of our branches you would find a range of views being expressed on a variety of topics, “the SPGB university” as it has been called. We have never said that capitalism’s final crisis is at hand. We have always agreed with Marx, that crisis is a part of the normal workings of capitalism. Capitalism will not have a “final” crisis in the sense that this will cause its downfall. We have consistently pointed out that capitalism will continue until it is brought to an end by the working class. (See in particular our pamphlet Why capitalism will not collapse published in 1932.) So far as internal rigidity of organization is concerned, examine the workings of the SPGB; its flexible democratic method is a model for organization in a Socialist society. As for “sloganeering” — read some of our literature and attend our meetings; you would find nothing that resembles sloganeering.
Your conclusion is that the main cause for the failure of left-wing organizations is “their basic perceptions as to the ways of socialist advance in Britain.” The explanation you give for this is twofold; the first is that “All these organizations have a common perception of socialist change in terms of a revolutionary seizure of power on the Bolshevik model of October 1917”. In other words, you point out that all these parties have no intention of being “mass” parties at all — they are all in favour of minority coups. But, Professor, where or when did the SPGB put forward such a view? Right from the start of the Bolsheviks’ takeover of power, we pointed out that it was not possible for Russia to establish Socialism. The material conditions in Russia — highly developed productive forces and working-class understanding — were not present. The second condition is not there today.
Your second criticism of left-wing groups is that they have succumbed to what you call “anti-parliamentary cretinism.” In other words the left-wing parties have nearly always been anti-parliament and very often, anti-democratic. But the SPGB has insistently pointed out that the working class can and must use Parliament as part of the process of establishing Socialism. Historically, every ruling class has had to capture political power. The capitalist class, for example, had to obtain control of parliament and did so after a long struggle. The working class, when it takes over society in its own interests must also take political power in order to abolish both power and classes. That is why we have always said that Parliament and the electoral system must be used by the working class in the establishment of Socialism.
Your critique of left-wing organizations does not apply to the SPGB. In one sense it is a tribute to us that we are not included in your tattered list. We are not a part of the left wing at all. We are opposed to those parties that you refer to as the left wing (including IS, WRP etc.) All these parties stand for capitalism — the SPGB does not. Yet you do not mention in your article that the SPGB exists or that there is a party which does not suffer from the defects you highlight. How can a Professor of Politics (“a leading intellectual of the New Left” as one of your books describes you) have failed to notice a party formed two years prior to the Labour Party as an uncompromisingly Socialist party, which has worked for Socialist understanding since its formation, which has continually published literature, held meetings, contested elections and so on? On reflection the omission cannot be due to sheer ignorance — it must be deliberate. No doubt like the other political ostriches you folded your left and right wing and just hoped that by putting your head in the academic sandpit we could just be ignored.
Your reply is awaited.