1980s >> 1987 >> no-995-july-1987

Monument of Confusion

Every Saturday at the Earl Grey Monument in Newcastle city centre, a crowd of eager young paper sellers practically trip up innocent passers-by, in their efforts to unload their latest offerings of ”revolutionary” wisdom. A whole range of groups calling themselves “socialist” will bark at bored shoppers and brandish high in the air the papers which they each claim to be the only true word of Karl Marx.

Who are all of these groups, and what evidence is there that any of their papers are any more revolutionary than the local Evening Chronicle? Apart from the Socialist Standard there are three papers/parties in particular which may be spotted at the Monument. All three are Trotskyist groups. They owe their origins to post-war doubts on the left about continuing to support the Russian dictatorship. The Socialist Standard, in contrast, had exposed from the time of the Russian revolution itself the fact that Russia was — in Lenin ‘s own words — state capitalist, and that the Bolshevik model of revolution was bound to lead to dictatorship, because it was not based on democratic participation.

First, there is Militant, which is supposedly produced by the Militant Tendency, but is in fact produced by a manipulative sect called the Revolutionary Socialist League, so called because it is neither revolutionary nor socialist. The Militant idea of “socialism” can be found in their proposal to “nationalise the top 200 companies”. Quite apart from the problem of what happens to the 201st, this is a blueprint for state capitalism. Miners, steel workers and others in nationalised industries know only too well that the priority is still profit rather than human needs, even if the profit goes to the state boss rather than the private boss. Like other groups on the left, Militant persists in the naive view that if only we could get the “right leaders”, a Labour government could humanise capitalism.

The Next Step is the paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party and follows Lenin’s false theory (taken from the English Liberal, Hobson, in 1916) that the world divides neatly into countries which are “imperialist” and those which are not. According to the dangerous assumption that the enemy of an enemy must be a friend (known in the jargon as “revolutionary defeatism”) this means that British workers must support any “smaller” country which the British state happens to be at war with. So during the Falklands war in 1982, the RCP produced a pamphlet urging us to support Galtieri and his fascist-type junta; and during the crisis surrounding the bombing of Tripoli in 1986 they produced a leaflet stating “Britain backs Reagan; We back Gaddafi”. No doubt the Libyan dictator was very pleased to hear about this.

The Socialist Workers’ Party offer the Socialist Worker as the paper which has really got the capitalist system sussed. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that it is spreading confusion about what socialism is and how to get it. In giving examples of contradictions within the pages of Socialist Worker we are spoilt for choice, for there are dozens. In their issue of 11 May 1985. the following two statements both appear:

1.”We believe a future Labour government will not act in the interests of the working class. On the contrary, it will act like every previous Labour government — in the interests of the bosses’ class”
2.”Our attitude is clear. We are for a Labour government”.

This year the SWP is again urging workers to vote Labour. The way Socialist Worker tries to justify such a contradictory stance is by referring (politely, of course) to the supposed inability of workers to understand socialism. The self-appointed vanguard of the SWP realise the limitations of Labour government, but the idea of simply stating this to workers is apparently far too straight for them. Instead workers, presumably including SWP members themselves, have to be dragooned into electing yet another capitalist government. in order to “learn from their mistakes” — which the SWP has told them to make.

Why does the Socialist Party claim to be different from the other groups who peddle their wares at the “socialist” bazaar every Saturday?

• The Socialist Party has put a clear and consistent case for socialism at all times. Unlike all the other so-called “socialist” groups, we have never supported futile attempts to patch up the profit system. By its very nature the profit system will always put the profits of the few before the needs of the majority.
Earl Grey’s Monument itself was built in 1932 to mark “a century of civil peace” (!) and carries an inscription that “the people renew their gratitude to the author of the Great Reform Bill”. This is ironic, as the groups who sell around it are still caught up in the same ridiculous attempt to reform capitalism in the interests of workers, with for example the SWP’s “Right to Work” campaign or the recent RCP “demand”” for “a living wage”.

• The Socialist Party has never held up the Russian régime or any of the other state dictatorships as examples of “socialism”. Socialism means a world-wide, democratic system of society. Productive resources would be owned in common and production would be for direct, free use — not profit or sale. There would be free access to wealth. Although the groups referred to above halfheartedly criticise present-day Russia, their idea of socialism is in fact a model for state dictatorship of the same kind. Take for example Socialist Worker, 6 September 1986, which says that in socialism there will be a militia “in charge of everyday law and order”, that the party will form the government and that “there will not be complete universal suffrage'”. The Socialist Party, in contrast, has always stated that socialism means the end of government and “law and order”, and the beginnings of people controlling their own lives democratically.

• Finally, The Socialist Party has never posed as a “vanguard” or leadership for workers to follow or be ” organised”” by. We are simply a tool or vehicle to be used by workers wishing to take political action to end capitalism. Likewise, within The Socialist Party there is no leadership, no “instructions from the Central Committee” such as you will find in the Trotskyist groups. The movement for a democratic society must clearly be democratic itself, based on shared understanding and principles, rather than on leaders and their sheep. As socialist understanding spreads among workers, these self- appointed “revolutionary vanguards” will be seen increasingly as irrelevant to the struggle for socialism. Common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources will come about through a socialist majority, transforming society by democratic means. Only then can universal suffrage be, as Karl Marx put it a century ago, “transformed from the instrument of trickery which it has been up till now. into an instrument of emancipation” (1880 Programme of FPSWF).

The Socialist Party is an active and growing political force in the North East, and throughout the country. If you are interested in these ideas, why not send for a free sample of our literature?

Clifford Slapper