1980s >> 1980 >> no-915-november-1980

Editorial: Why We Are Different

Most people complain that all political parties are the same. The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) is different from all parties, movements and sects which from time to time appeal to you for support. Our message is not designed to sell you political leaders at election times, nor does it consist of slogans with more echo than substance. The socialist case is based upon the secure grounding of political logic and material interest.

The SPGB was formed in 1904, two years before the Labour Party. Our Declaration of Principles did not arise out of a Utopian idea, but out of the real problems produced by the way in which society is organised. Modern society operates within the confines of the capitalist system. Capitalism has certain hallmarks: the minority ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution; production for profit; exploitation of the working class (all those who receive wages and salaries as a means of living) by the capitalist class (those who can live by possessing capital without having to produce wealth).

Capitalism is a system of wage slavery for the majority of people; it is impossible to run the wages system in the interest of the wage slaves. Political parties of all types have tried to reform the capitalist system in the interest of the working class, but this is a futile struggle to treat the symptoms and not the disease. Reformism is the political approach which endeavours to run capitalism without recognising the in-built antagonism between the two classes in society. Reformists, however sincerely motivated they may be, are bound to end up running society in the material interest of the ruling class.

At its inception the SPGB rejected the reformist tactics of the Labour Party. Early issues of the Socialist Standard predicted that the new party would fail to solve the problems faced by the working class. Nothing has happened since to persuade us to change our mind and plenty has happened to make us even more resolved in our hostility to the Labour Party. It supported two world wars and was in office when the first British atomic weapons were produced. It has nationalised industries which was simply a move from private to state capitalism—and called it socialism. It has introduced and upheld racist immigration legislation and other divisive acts of nationalism. It has used troops to break strikes. The SPGB is different from the Labour Party simply because we stand at all time for the social interest of the working class, whereas Labour has consistently come to the aid of the class enemy.

The political aim of the SPGB is a response to the futility of reformism. Ours is the politics of revolution. We do not mean bloodshed and barricades when we speak of revolution, but a fundamental change in social relationships. The Socialist Party stands for a totally new system of social organisation in which the means of producing and distributing wealth—the land, factories, mines, docks, hospitals, railways—are commonly owned and democratically controlled by all members of society, without distinction of race or sex. In socialism each member of society will give according to ability and take according to self-determined needs. Money, wages, buying and selling will be things of the past, when wealth is held in common. Clearly, such a system does not operate anywhere in the world today. Neither could it exist in one country; the world system of capitalism can only be replaced by the world system of socialism.

Socialism is a democratic concept and it can only be established by conscious, democratic socialists. Leaders cannot get socialism for the working class. Indeed, the SPGB urges workers to reject all leaders and do your own thinking for yourselves. The emancipation of the working class by the working class itself is what we stand for. When the workers of the world understand and want socialism they must use their political power—in many countries this makes use of the ballot box—to take social power away from the capitalists and their representatives and to place the means of life in the hands of the whole community.

The socialist revolution is not an unattainable ideal. It can and will happen when millions of workers all over the world recognise their class interests, form socialist parties and use the political strength which they have. Once a majority of workers are resolved to establish socialism there is nothing that can effectively stand in their way. That is why the SPGB is solely concerned with the propagation of working class consciousness.

The SPGB is unlike all other parties in its organisation. We have no leaders, as a party of conscious members needs no chiefs to tell us what to do. All of our affairs are open to the scrutiny of the public. We are a political party, concerned with socialist propaganda; we publish literature, dealing both with general and specific matters; we attend opponents’ meetings to state the case for social sanity; we put up candidates at election time in as many constituencies as is practical; we organise lectures and outdoor meetings to spread the understanding of socialist ideas. In short, we do whatever is possible to further what we believe to be the only worthwhile cause which is open to the working class. To join the SPGB you must be a committed socialist; applicants for membership are only admitted if they are considered to understand the case that we stand for.

We in the SPGB don’t like being unique and different. We don’t relish the fact that we are a small party which does not include millions of workers in its membership. We are certainly not complacent or proud about the fact that we are small. But we are proud of the fact that we have been consistently correct about what we have said for over seventy-five years. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is different.

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