2000s >> 2004 >> no-1198-june-2004

Introductory Course In Socialist Theory: Syllabus of the Socialist Party of Great Britain

Before many workers went to college, working-class organisations had to provide their members with a general education, which of course was all the better since those studying it were better motivated and what they studied wasn’t biased in favour of the status quo. Below is an education syllabus in use in the Socialist Party in the 1930s and 1940s, plus further details on the first two courses.

1. History of Working Class Movement – Economic
Kautsky: From Handicraft to Capitalism.
2. History of Working Class Movement – Political and Ideological
Stekloff: History of the First International.
R. M. Rayner: Story of Trade Unions; or
S. Webb: History of Trade Unionism.
3. How to Study
S. Webb: Methods of Social Study.
4. Value
Boudin: Theoretical System of Karl Marx Part 1. Ch. 1. Marx: Capital, Ch. 1.
5. Primitive Society and Early Civilisations
Engels: Origin of the Family.

Lafargue: Evolution of Property.

Bogdanov: Short Course of Economic Science Ch. 1-5.
6. Exchange, Money, Banking Marx: Capital, Ch. 2-3.
Walter Leaf: Banking.
7. Feudalism and Merchant Capitalism
Bogdanov: Short Course of Economic Science Ch. 3-7.
8. Capital and Labour.
Marx: Capital, Ch. 4-9.
Boudin: Theoretical System of Karl Marx, Part 2, Ch. 1-10.
9. Industrial Capitalism
Beard: Industrial Revolution; or
Croome & Hammond: The Economy of Britain.
Communist Manifesto.
10. Notes on Social Credit, Crises, Capitalist Economics
F. C. Hood: British Economists.
11. Materialist Conception of History – Geographical Factors
Fairgreive: Geography and World Power.
12. Materialist Conception of History – General
A. Wolf: Essentials of Scientific Method.
Kautsky: Ethics and the M.C.H.


1. Origin of the Working Class – the commodity ‘Labour Power’
Technical and social background of ‘absolute’ Surplus Value.
Reform Act 1832, and the ‘Rights of Man’; Luddites and Peterloo.
2. Reform Movements
Four springs:-.
Working class revolt; Dorchester Labourers; Tolpuddle Martyrs; Chartists.
Tory-Liberal conflict: Corn Laws and Factory etc. Acts.
Humanitarians and Idealists: Social Workers and Utopian Socialists.
Technical needs of expanding capitalism: Industrial Revolution.
3. Trade Union Movement
Purpose (price, etc. of labour power).
(Distinguish from Med. Guilds.)
Statute of Apprentices 1562 controlled wages; early unions during eighteenth century.
1799 prohibition of “’all combinations’ in restraint of trade” (fear of Fr. Revoln; absolute surplus value).
Relaxation 1824 – Owen’s Grand Nat.Consolidated 1825.
Strength of movement diverted by Chartism. Co-op movement, and riots. Tolpuddle Martyrs 1834.

Revival 1850-80: Expanding capitalism (‘relative’ S.V.).
Skilled and craft unions; non-revolutionary; Junta.
New Unionism 1880-90 brought in unskilled (depression 1876-86) – Booth, Hyndman, Tillet, Mann Burns; from Liberalism to Labourism.
Taff Vale decision 1906 legalised union funds. Osborne judgment 1913 legalised political activities.
‘General Strike’ followed by T.U. Disputes Act 1927, requiring “contracting in” for political levy.
C. 20 amalgamation into big unions (half membership in 12 big unions).
T.U. leaders backed wars 1914 and 1939, supported “more production” and brake on wage increases.
T.U. Act 1946 permitted “contracting out” Labour Government and the T.U. Congress.
4. Limitations of Economic aspect of movement
Value of commodity ‘Labour Power’.
Industrial Reserve Army.
Political Machinery the means of class domination.

1. Political power the means of class domination.

2. Need for ‘democracy’ in commodity society.

3. Two fold aspect of the class struggle.

4. Reform movements:

Trade Unionism.
Humanitarianism & Utopian socialism.
Political Labour Parties;
Labour Rep. Cttee 1896.
Labour Party 1906.
I.L.P., S.D.F., S.L.P., B.S.P., C.P.

5. Internationals
First, Workingmen’s Association (1864-73)
Origins and promoters.
Constituent elements (conflicts).
Support of strikes, Communards, ‘oppressed nationalities’.
Exposure of war-makers.
Education – spread of socialist ideas.
Decline: Crushing of Commune.
Hostility of Governments.
Disruptive work of Anarchists.
Backwardness of workers.
Second (1889-1914) –
Exclusion of Anarchists.
Rival ‘Reformers’ & T.U. Congress.
Attitudes of components to reformism, State, permeation, war, pacifism, nationalism, opportunism.
Rise of national political labour parties.
Lingering end in confusion and final treachery 1914.
Third (so-called) (1915-17) –
Effect of war on reform parties.
Third (Moscow) (1919) –
Bolshevik Manifesto and formation of communist parties.
Belief in imminence of world revolution.
Hotch-potch of every variety of opportunist movement and policy – revolutionary intentions overtaken by reformism.
Attitude of S.P.G.B. to Second and Third Internationals –
Need for international of socialists recognising class struggle and need for political power for Socialist Rev.
6. Revolutionary Socialist Movement
Scientific foundations (Marx, Engels, etc.) – L.T.V./M.C.H.
Isolated political revolutionaries compelled to adhere to reform parties.
Origin of S.P.G.B. 1904 – secession from S.D.F.
Object and Principles (lessons of history).
“Hostility” – reforms and reformism.
Democratic control and organisation.
Some Party controversies.

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