Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

INTRODUCTION

SPGB was formed on 12 June, 1904 by a hundred or so members and former members of the Social Democratic Federation who were dissatisfied with the policy and structure of that party.

The SDF had been formed in 1881 as a professed Marxist organisation, although Engels who was living in London at the time would have nothing to do with it. At that time the writings of Marx, Engels and other socialist pioneers were hardly known in the English-speaking countries except to the few who knew foreign languages. The SDF, however, did have the merit of popularising in Britain the ideas and works of Marx. This was later to bear fruit in demands for an uncompromising, democratically organised socialist party in place of the reformist and undemocratic SDF.

The SDF spent much of its time campaigning for reforms that were supposed to improve working class conditions. H M Hyndman, who played the major role in setting up the party, seemed to regard it as his personal possession and reacted to any criticism in a haughty and autocratic manner. The party journal Justice was owned by a private group over which the members had no control.

The opportunism and arrogance of Hyndman had already led to a break-away in 1884 when a number of members, including William Morris and Eleanor Marx, set up the Socialist League which however soon unfortunately ceased to be of use when it was dominated by the anarchists.

A second revolt led to the formation in 1903 of the Socialist Labour Party, copying the American organisation of that name. At first, along with a programme of "immediate demands", the SLP declared its object to be the conquest of political power but soon, under the influence of its American parent it subordinated political to industrial action.

Another revolt against the Hyndman group's dominance of the SDF was organised by men and women who had a much firmer grasp of Marxist political and economic theory. For their opposition to opportunism they were contemptuously called "impossibilists". At first they tried to use the machinery of the SDF to get the party to reform itself, but they came up against the Hyndman clique who were ready to resort to all kinds of undemocratic practices to maintain their control of the party. Conferences were packed, branches dissolved and members expelled. Tragically, history was to repeat itself 87 years.****

Matters came to a head at the 1904 conference held in Burnley at the beginning of April.
"The adoption of an uncompromising attitude which admits of no arrangements with any section of the capitalist party; nor permits any compromise with any individual or party not recognising the class war as a basic principle, and not prepared to work for the overthrow of the present, capitalist system. Opposition to all who are not avowedly working for the realisation of Social Democracy. A remodelled organisation, wherein the Executive shall mainly be an administrative body, the policy and tactics to be determined and controlled by the entire organisation. The Party organ to be owned, controlled and run by the Party. The individual member to have the right to claim protection of the whole organisation against tyrannical decisions".

On 12 June most of those who signed this leaflet together with a few others founded the SPGB.

At its formation the members of the SPGB adopted an Object and Declaration of Principles which, without the need of any change, has remained the basis of membership of the party. Within that framework the party has worked consistently to make socialist principles known and to expose the many erroneous and dangerous theories that have attracted support among the workers.

In June 1991, following the expulsion of Camden and North West London Branches from the Clapham based Socialist Party, the SPGB was reconstituted on the basis of the original 1904 Object and Declaration of Principles.

The SPGB has a record of being consistently correct on a number of important issues over its ninety or so years of activity.

The SPGB warned about the dangers of socialists advocating reforms long before the shameful collapse of European Social Democracy in the First World war.

The SPGB said in 1918 that the Bolsheviks could not set up Socialism in Russia, and it was the Party who in this country pioneered the view that Russia was developing state capitalism.

The SPGB predicted the inevitable failure of Labour governments both as a way to Socialism and as a means of improving workers' living standards.

From the start the SPGB realised that nationalisation was no solution to the workers' problems.

The SPGB has always exposed the false and divisive nature of nationalism, racism and religion.

In two world wars the SPGB declared and kept an attitude of socialist opposition.

The SPGB has also made its own contributions to socialist theory, in the light of further developments, going beyond, some of the theories of socialist pioneers like Marx and Engels. We set out below a number of these contributions:

1. Solving the Reform or Revolution dilemma, by declaring that a socialist party should not advocate reforms of capitalism and by recognising that parliament can be used for revolutionary ends.

2. Realisation that Socialsim will be a world-wide system of production and distribution. Socialism cannot be established in one country.

3. Recognition that there is no longer any need for a "transition period" between capitalism and Socialism. Marx and Engels were not dogmatists and neither are we. They recognised that the general principles of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO were correct but the practical application of these principles depended on the historical conditions at the time. We do not live in 1848 when Marx and Engels sketched out some revolutionary measures at the end of Section II of the MANIFESTO nor, in 1875, when Marx suggested in THE CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME, that Socialism might need to begin with a voucher system. Socialism is technically possible now and can be established with free access under democratic control when a majority of workers want it.

4. Rejection of any further progressive role for nationalism after capitalism became the dominant world system towards the end of the 19th century. Industrialisation under national state capitalism is neither necessary nor economically progressive.

5. For the same reason, rejection of the idea of "progressive wars". Socialists oppose all wars on the grounds of class, refusing to take sides in the squabble between capitalists over raw resources, strategic points of influence and trade routes.

6. Exposure of leadership as a capitalist political principle, a feature of the revolutions that brought them to power and utterly alien to the socialist revolution. The socialist revolution necessarily involves the active and conscious participation of the great majority of workers so that there is no useful role for leadership.

7. Advocating and practising that a socialist party, with no leaders and no secret meetings, thus foreshadowing the society it seeks to establish.

8. Recognition that capitalism will not collapse on its own accord, but will continue from crisis to crisis until workers consciously organise to abolish it.

9. Opposing as unscientific and politically unsound, all religions of the world.

10. That apathy, disinterestedness and lack of participation in the affairs of the Party opens it up to entryism, factionism, unsound theories, disputes and division.

The SPGB has refused to compromise its socialist principles by uniting with reformist organisation and has firmly insisted that the only road to Socialism is through democratic organisation and political action based on a clear understanding of the class position of workers under capitalism.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk