I was interested by Steve Shannon’s letter on reformism and the editorial reply in the September Socialist Standard. I’ve believed for some time that the Party’s principled opposition to reformism is one of its truly distinctive features. Search long enough and you’ll find other political organisations which mouth off once a decade about free access or the abolition of the wages system, but you’ll search a lot longer before you find any which never align themselves with some attempt to rearrange capitalism.
This opposition to reformism is well grounded because reforms are by their nature divisive and therefore work against the vital condition of working class unity. For example, within capitalism, raising miners’ pay will be good for miners but not necessarily for other workers. The only interest guaranteed to be shared by all is an interest in ending their position as wage slaves. Voting for reforms which ‘could benefit the working class as a whole’ would be an empty task if this means benefiting all members. (And what else could it mean?) That leaves the problem pinpointed by Steve Shannon, and reference to the party’s position being ‘long-established’ is no answer.
But there is a way out of this. The editors rightly speak of socialist ‘delegates’ facing the problem of whether to vote for reforms. Who decides how they vote? Not them, but the membership of the Socialist Party. This would have two advantages. It would act as a check on whether the membership had reached the political maturity necessary for bringing about a socialist society. (If they vote for reforms they haven’t.) It would also begin the important process of allowing the electors, and not those they have elected, to have control over what happens.
Still, no hurry in resolving these issues. Looks like there won’t be a minority of socialists in parliament any time soon.
Keith Graham (by email)
We can’t accept that all “reforms are by their nature divisive”. Many may indeed benefit just a section of the working class, but surely a reform removing restrictions on free speech or the freedom to organise would benefit all workers (and the socialist movement too)?
By the way, we define a reform as a politically-implemented measure and so don’t include wage increases as a “reform”, or wages struggles as “reformist”, even if these are still changes within capitalism. We are all in favour of workers struggling to get the best deal they can for the sale of their labour power to employers, even though we don’t of course seek support on this basis either. – Editors.