1980s >> 1985 >> no-971-july-1985

Questions Answered

You in the SPGB agree with and teach the Materialist Conception of History and the Labour Theory of Value. You kicked off in 1904, but what have you contributed to the Socialist Movement, what else have you learnt or taught?

Before answering this question it is appropriate to state what the Socialist Party of Great Britain has not done. The problems facing the working class under capitalism broadly come under the headings War, Want & Insecurity.

The British capitalist class have been involved in two major wars in this century. The SPGB has not encouraged the working class to lay down their lives to maintain British capitalism or to defend the revolution, “gone wrong” or not, in Russia. In the First World War we issued a statement pointing out that war was endemic to capitalism and that only socialism could end war:

  Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of socialism.

In the 1914-18 war the Labour Party urged workers to fight in order to “crush militarism and end all war”. It supported the 1939-45 war for “freedom and democracy”. and promised a programme of social justice after the war. Organisations “left” of the Labour Party either supported the war to defend Russia, or because they thought the Russian revolution was socialist but had taken the wrong path and needed to be preserved to get it back on the correct one. The SPGB in 1918 had pointed out that Russia could only develop state capitalism — a fact widely accepted today.

Want & Insecurity are both endemic to capitalism. When the Beveridge Plan was proposed, workers were to be given the princely sum of £2 a week benefit. Conservatives and Liberals endorsed this amount. The Labour Party, the Communist Party and the Tories entered the market offering £2.10. £2.50 and £3 benefit respectively. The SPGB issued a pamphlet Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. How right we were. Another policy in the left s attack on want is nationalisation; they all advocated it, and trade unionists supported it thinking that industries were being brought under common ownership and that they would take part in the control of their industry. The SPGB has continually pointed out that nationalisation is not socialism, but state capitalism. There is no evidence that nationalisation has guaranteed security for the worker. In some respects the worker is worse off, having no alternative employer.

With the fear of atomic annihilation and the periodic crises of capitalism, increasing the unemployed from hundreds of thousands to millions, in no way can it be argued that workers are any more secure today through the efforts of Labour governments. They have instituted reform after reform, but they have been powerless to remove any problem facing the working class.

Marx had another theory as well as the two mentioned in the question: the Theory of the Class Struggle. In any suggested political, social or economic programme the socialist asks: “What is in it for the working class as a whole in the long run and what are the consequences for the capitalist class?” The capitalist class want their system to run smoothly and so will offer reforms that may give temporary benefit to a section of the working class. Similar reforms advocated by organisations that have mass misguided support from the working class may also be acceptable to the capitalists. This is the reason why the parliamentary parties keep complaining that the other parties have stolen parts of their programme. Reforms do not change the basic structure of capitalism and do not endanger the class ownership of the means of production and distribution.

We have learned the correctness of the analysis of capitalist society made by our founder members, and which they detailed when they compiled the Object and Declaration of Principles.

We have taught:

  • That the capture of political power is essential before any fundamental change in the social system can be made.
  • That leadership is a necessary principle for capitalist society whereas the socialist revolution requires the conscious understanding and participation of the majority of the working class.
  • That a socialist party cannot advocate reforms of capitalism, must not encourage support from non-socialists. and must be independent of all other parties.
  • That socialism can only be a world-wide system, and therefore must be a world wide (not inter-national) movement; to this end the growth of companion organisations in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, as well as members in Belgium and France, demonstrates the developing geographical spread of socialist ideas.
  • That there is no need for a transition period between capitalism and socialism.
  • That all wars must be opposed, without distinction between alleged wars of defence, offence, or opposition to tyranny.
  • That nationalism will not exist in socialist society.
  • That taxation is a burden on the capitalist class and not on the working class, whose take-home pay must approximate at least to the minimum of wages in order to reproduce the commodity labour-power.
  • That all Socialist Parties in different areas of the capitalist world must be open, democratic parties, with no leaders, no closed or secret meetings, with all members of equal footing, operating by majority decision, and thus demonstrating the society they seek to establish.
  • That capitalism will not collapse of its own accord, but crisis will follow crisis until the working class of the world unites to abolish it.

Ken Knight