Letters: Ultra-Purist Approach
It has been extremely interesting to read your views, but I find that while I share the SPGB’s objectives, I am unhappy with the party’s tactics for achieving them. If there were any real hope of arriving at a socialist society in one country—let alone world-wide—in the foreseeable future, I could accept your ultra-purist approach, but under present conditions (and any I can imagine coming about, with or without my help) it seems a case of cutting off the working-class’ nose to spite your face.
You are very close to saying that we should be making things as bad as possible for the workers, to encourage them to rise up and throw off their oppressors, but I believe that while only true socialism on an international scale is really worth holding up as a long-term objective, we should work at the same time to ease the worst effects of capitalism.
Despite this difference, I hope I am very wrong and that our joint efforts will herald a new future for all before it’s too late for me to see it!
You say that you agree with our objective socialism but you disagree with our view of how it should come about. Well, the important thing is that we agree about the socialist objective. We’re sure our differences about methods can be reconciled.
Let us say at first that we support the activities of trade unions where workers are trying to improve their position as wage workers on the industrial front, where these actions are consistent with the interests of workers as a whole. Members of our Party are also trade union members. There is scope for workers to improve their positions under capitalism through increased wages and better conditions. We think you will agree that, for the most part, these are defensive actions which over a long period still leave workers as being exploited under capitalism.
The struggle for socialism is different. This is political action and its object is to achieve the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism by a majority of socialists. On the political front there is only one kind of action which is consistent with the socialist objective—work to persuade the majority of workers that only socialism can achieve the common ownership of the means of production and the establishment of a system of production for use on the basis of equality and co-operation.
There cannot be, as you suggest, a long-term objective which can be reconciled with short-term actions to ease the worst effects of capitalism. You will find that these “short-term actions” commit you to advocating a modified form of capitalism which would surely be hostile to your socialist principles. You cannot seek the abolition of capitalism by advocating some modified form of it. This is surely contradictory.
In fact this is a very old argument, and was the subject of much controversy when various labour groups, the Labour Party and our Socialist Party were being formed at the beginning of the century. Members of the Socialist Party stuck by their principles. Others formed the Labour Party and it is as well for you to consider what has happened since that time. How far have the workers come in political terms since that time? The improvements in workers’ living standards have been as a result of trade union action and the productivity of their own labour. They have produced more wealth and they have been able to negotiate a share of the extra wealth that they themselves have produced.
But the decision to support reformist parties of an allegedly working class nature has been a complete waste of time. The working class the world over are still an exploited class; we still have poverty, unemployment, wars and all the social problems that go with capitalism. Some would agree that the development of nuclear weapons has brought us to the brink of destruction. Still the priorities of the profit motive prevail over the needs of people. For example, thousands of millions of pounds are spent on armaments while 40.000 children die from hunger and hunger-related disease every day.
If all those who argued that the socialist objective should be set aside in favour of political attempts to improve capitalism had instead joined the socialist movement based uncompromisingly on socialist principles, then we would have a large and influential Socialist Party.
The choices in the real world are these you either have capitalism with all its unavoidable consequences in terms of its problems, or you have a socialist system of production for use which would enable the people of the world to solve those problems. The political and economic realities are that there is no ground in between. By its very nature capitalism cannot be run in the interests of the community; its social and political limitations are essentially economic in nature and cannot be controlled. This is what the Labour Party has found.