The editorial (July Socialist Standard) is full of the usual “arguments” for an undemocratic, elitist superstate. I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into it in great depth, but I would like to make a couple of points.
1. UKIP is absolutely not “anti-Europe”, “xenophobic” or “against foreigners”. What we’re against is the corrupt, unreformable institutions of the European Union. We have a large number of non-British members who share the same concerns.
2. The implication that we are somehow racist or linked to the BNP is an outrageous slur. All new members are required to sign a statement that they have never belonged to an extremist organisation and that they agree with the party’s non-racist stance. We have many black and Asian members (and many socialists too!).
3. A free trade agreement is completely different from a political union. One is a treaty entered into by independent sovereign states, the other is the destruction of independence and sovereignty.
4. The most prosperous European countries are Switzerland and Norway. They both trade freely within Europe and have never been members of the EU.
DANIEL MOSS, UKIP London Regional Organiser
We are afraid that you have got the wrong end of the stick. Because we point out that no state today can be independent of the capitalist world market does not mean that we therefore favour “an undemocratic, elitist superstate”. We were just stating an objective fact. As to what trading and inter-governmental arrangements particular capitalist governments adopt to deal with this fact, this is not a problem that concerns wage and salary workers. It concerns only capitalists. As socialists (and we can say for certain that there are no socialists in UKIP), we are completely indifferent on the issue. We are neither for nor against the Common Market or the euro or the European constitution, or whatever. The conclusion we draw from the worldwide nature of capitalism is that socialism too has to be worldwide.
You protest too much, as we did not claim that UKIP was “racist”, only that it was xenophobic. We are, however, intrigued with your statement that UKIP members are required to sign a statement that “they have never belonged to an extremist organisation”, whereas the press has reported (for instance, the Independent, 15 June) that two of its MEPs (Jeffrey Titford and Michael Nattrass) were once members of the far-right New Britain party. We are prepared to accept that people can change their minds and that these two are no longer racists, only xenophobic.
We hesitate to discuss UKIP’s alternative to British capitalism being in the EU since this would be to accept that it is a serious policy, whereas most people who voted UKIP will have been attracted by its simplistic slogans of “No to the EU” and “Keep the Pound for Ever” and by the crude cartoon we have reproduced. But one thing your new MEPs might do is to ask some parliamentary questions about the details of the agreements between the EU and Norway and Switzerland.
They will find that Norway has signed up to the “European Economic Area” and that this makes it an effective member of the EU for all the fields EU members are except for agriculture and fisheries and trade with non-EU countries. Norway, in other words, is in the single European internal market as much as Britain and has agreed to incorporate the relevant EU legislation into its own laws – so it (or, rather, its capitalist class), too, has, as you would put it, surrendered “its independence and sovereignty” on these matters to Brussels. It even pays money to Brussels to help the poorer regions of Europe and, yes, we nearly forgot, accepts the “EU‘s immigration rules”. The Swiss government (representing the Swiss capitalist class) would have liked a similar arrangement but couldn’t get it through a referendum and is still committed to eventually joining the EU.
If that’s the sort of arrangement UKIP is proposing for Britain, then nobody would notice the difference – except the British capitalist class which would have no effective say in what was decided in Brussels
Congratulations on an excellent centenary edition. I feel I should point out, however, that there were some errors in the article, “Getting Splinters”, in which reference was made to the 1987 discussion document, “The Road to Socialism”, circulated by Guildford branch and which I co-authored.
This circular did not claim “socialists would use their influence politically (through parliament and local councils) to adjust patterns of state income and expenditure in ‘socialistic’ directions, including the provision of free services”. Something like this appeared in the Spanner magazine long after Guildford Branch ceased to exist, but not in the Road to Socialism document itself – even though this statement seems little different from the Party’s own stated position that socialist MPS while still a minority, would consider reforms on their own merits.
Nor is it true that “Guildford’s vision was a gradualist one in which the materialist conception of history as applied to the coming of socialism was turned on its head: the economic structure of society would be essentially transformed before the socialist capture of political power, rather than afterwards”. To say capitalism would be “essentially transformed” before the socialist capture of state power implies we are no longer talking about a capitalist society. But this is precisely what was not claimed! Guildford acknowleged the commanding heights of industry will still be in capitalist hands despite the predicted erosion of capitalist economic relationships within society, thus still necessitating the capture of state power.
Also, far from Guildford’s vision “turning the materialist conception of history on its head”, it affirmed the link between material conditions and the spread of socialist consciousness. The latter is unlikely to happen to any significant extent without being driven to some extent by changes in the material circumstances themselves, viz. the development of non-capitalist economic relationships, prefiguring socialism (e.g. LETS, intentional communities, voluntaristic associations etc). These will not in themselves automatically lead to socialism; they need to be infused by a socialist consciousness which, in turn, will then be able to harness them synergistically to its advantage.
The problem with the traditional SPGB approach is that it concentrates almost exclusively on the role of “abstract propagandism” (political education) as the means of bringing about socialism. While this is necessary it is unlikely to suffice on its own. This is ironic considering the importance the SPGB attaches to the Materialist Conception of History; its own “exit strategy” from capitalism appears to be an idealist one, relying on the spread of ideas only! In contrast, Guildford argued we need also to develop new material practices to help break the ideological hegemony of capitalism and enable workers to develop the necessary confidence that an alternative to capitalism is materially possible.
Finally your writer claims: “While most members readily acknowledged that the growth of the socialist movement would have profound and perhaps unpredictable impacts, and while it was the already established Party position that socialists would be organised on the economic front as well as the political front to ensure the smooth changeover of production and distribution from capitalism to socialism, this did not equate with seeking to mould capitalism into socialism from within, in a gradual way.”
This is misleading. Firstly, as the Guildford circular pointed out, what the Party meant by organising on the economic front (viz. planning for socialism) prior to the political enactment was not at all the same as envisaging the growth of non-capitalist socialistic relationship within capitalism prior to that enactmnent
Secondly, it is not true that what Guildford was proposing was to “to mould capitalism into socialism from within, in a gradual way”. We were not talking about “moulding” capitalism at all (which smacks of reformism) but, rather, the contraction in the extent and scope of capitalist economic relationships in inverse proportion to the growth of non-capitalist economic relationships within society as a whole.
Thirdly, the Guildford circular went to great lengths to point out that the kind of “socialistic” or non-capitalist relations it envisaged as developing within the interstices of a capitalist society did not constitute “socialism” but only prefigured socialism and then only to the extent that they were infused with socialist consciousness. “Socialistic” in our terms did not equate with “socialism” proper.
Finally and perhaps most disappointingly, no attempt was made to address the key arguments Guildford adduced to demonstrate the implausability of the traditional “Big Bang” theory of revolution held by the Party – dubbed thus because it assumed capitalism would remain completely unaffected in its scope and extent by the growth of the socialist movement. But if you agree that the “big bang” theory is unsound you are logically bound to accept something rather like the vision that Guildford Branch articulated in its original discussion document.
ROBIN COX, World in Common
The ‘Getting Splinters’ article dealt with six political tendencies which broke away from the Socialist Party during the course of the last 100 years, with a section devoted to each. The particular section entitled the ‘Guildford Road to Socialism’ was – like the others – a brief description of the key events involved and an articulation of the main points of disagreement that lay behind them. It was not intended to refer solely to the initial discussion document called the ‘Road to Socialism’ but to the line of thinking as a whole and its differing conception of the socialist revolution to the Party’s traditional one. The initial Guildford circular was followed by others and its meaning was clarified further in the journal Spanner produced in Guildford by the same elements.
One essential point is that Guildford/Spanner believed – among many other things – that socialists in parliament and in councils should use the state to redistribute wealth and provide services for free. This was most certainly the group’s stated view. Here’s Spanner’s own explanation of (and justification for) the initial Guildford ‘Road to Socialism’ document, published in its very first edition:
“The document went on to argue that the growth of the socialist movement would nevertheless facilitate the development of non-capitalist or ‘socialistic’ relations which prefigured socialism itself. A variety of forms in which these socialistic relations might invade the capitalist economy have been tentatively proposed. These include: “A massive expansion of free (subsidised) services provided by the state in response to the growing number of socialist parliamentary delegates who would be able to wield increasing influence over the patterns of state income and expenditure.” (‘The Road to Socialism’, in Spanner (1), p.39).
While the Socialist Party has always accepted that, faced with a growing revolutionary socialist movement, capitalist governments may well offer all sorts of reforms such as free services in a bid to ward off their complete expropriation, we have never argued – as Spanner did here – that any Socialist MPs should use any influence they might have to actively seek and promote such reforms, still less hail them as “socialistic”.
When we cut through the semantics, the other points you make about the materialist conception of history, etc merely reinforce what we said in the article. Guildford (and then Spanner) believed that socialism was impossible unless capitalism was ‘invaded’ by what they termed ‘socialistic’ relations of production, i.e. co-operatives, LETS schemes and ‘free’ state services. This is based on completely muddled thinking about these types of productive activities within capitalism – as well as about the general relation between productive relations and social structures – and why they should be labelled ‘socialist’ or ‘socialistic’ when they are nothing of the sort.
As for the supposed ‘Big Bang’ theory, this simply does not represent our views accurately. We certainly do not believe that the growth of the socialist movement will leave capitalism completely unchanged until a cataclysmic revolution occurs. But we cannot now predict in any meaningful way the various ways in which capitalism will change as socialist ideas spread, so we do not think it is possible or advisable to incorporate some version of these changes into our political position. And it is certainly not true that rejecting the caricatured ‘Big Bang’ scenario means accepting the gradualist views put forward in ‘The Road to Socialism’.
I appreciated your balanced, if inevitably over-simplified, account of the ‘Libertarian Communism’ activists in the article ‘Getting splinters’ in the June special issue.
There was one actual inaccuracy with reference to the ‘Social Revolution’ Group and ‘Solidarity’. For the record, the ‘Social Revolution’ Group, as a whole, negotiated a merger with the ‘Solidarity’ Group on the basis of some significant changes to the Solidarity texts As we see it and As we don’t see it.
‘Wildcat’ was later formed as a local bulletin by Manchester Solidarity, members of the ICC (World Revolution) and others. Wildcat subsequently set up as a separate political group and involved comrades from Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and London. ‘Subversion’ succeeded ‘Wildcat’ after a short break, but was dissolved a few years back.
Never the less, a consistent political and organisational line can be drawn from ‘Libertarian Communism’ right through to ‘Subversion’ covering a period of some twenty-five years.
M.B. , MANCHESTER