Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - Class, Class Interest and Class Struggle

The capitalist class came into existence through class struggle and social revolution thereby establishing what Marx and Engels referred to as: “new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of old ones” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO). The establishment of capitalism also gave birth to the working-class; free in two senses of the word; free from direct access to the means of production and distribution and free to sell their ability to work to an employer for a wage or salary. From the perspective of history the working class movement towards socialism is relatively young; its movement is not smooth and linear. Mistakes have been made and there are periods when this movement is stronger than in others.

Marx and Engels said that the working class movement passed through four principal political stages in its development; an incoherent stage around the actions of groups like the Luddites, then the establishment of trade unions in the face of state coercion, then a more coherent phase which saw workers identifying themselves as a class with their own distinct political interests such as the Chartist movement and then another phase which saw the establishment of a socialist party necessary to establish socialism.

This final phase was reached at the turn of the last century in 1904 with the establishment of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, drawn up by working class men and women, presented both a sound and valid Marxian critique of capitalism and a practical political programme to achieve socialism A socialist majority, through the revolutionary use of the vote and the capture of the machinery of government could establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain wrote in 1948:

In 1904 a new era in working class politics commenced with the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The Object and Declaration of Principles that were laid down by the founders of this party…have remained to this day a clear and concise statement of the basis of the organisation, admitting of neither equivocation nor political compromise with the enemy for any purpose however alluring. Here is no flirting with reforms nor false and soothing catchwords to enlist the sympathies and support of those who lack political knowledge but, instead, a straightforward statement of the essentials of the working-class position under Capitalism and the only road to its solution – the capture of political power by a working-class the majority whose members understand what Socialism means and want it (THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST 100 YEARS, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1949 pp 28-29).

And for this the capitalist left; from the defunct Independent Labour Party through to the Soviet Union supporting Communist Party of Great Britain and on to the decomposing Trotskyist political parties of the early 21st century there is nothing but political hostility towards the Socialist Party of Great Britain. And for a very good reason.

Incapable of offering a coherent political debate, the SPGB is written off by our opponents as a “sect”; of little or no political importance; “the small party of good boys”. Their historians write us of out of history and their leaders pretend we do not exist and try to deny us political space to expose their anti-working class politics. The problem for our political opponents, though, is that we have a future and they don’t.

From 1904 the socialist movement and the formation of a socialist majority necessary to establish socialism has been painfully slow. Not without reason. A small number of socialists find it hard to disseminate socialist ideas. There is the problem of socialist identity when so many other political parties misleadingly describe themselves as socialist or communist. And there is the problem of persuasion; of persuading workers in the face of intense propaganda from the media and elsewhere to become aware of their class position, to understand that capitalism can never be made to work in their interest and that the only way to solve social problems that reformers have plainly failed to resolve is through conscious political action as socialists.

And the position has been made all the more difficult by the conservatism of the decomposing capitalist Left. No more so than organisations like the Revolutionary Communist Party who in 1990 stated that: “for the time being at least, the working class has no political existence” (LIVING MARXISM December 1990) while, seven years later wrote:

In today’s circumstances class politics cannot be reinvented, rebuilt, reinvigorated or rescued: (Frank Furedi “Class Politics cannot be rebuilt or regenerated today” loc cit May 1997).

The conservatism of LIVING MARXISM set out above was only mirrored by the conservatism of MARXISM TODAY the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain. This best forgotten journal packed with future intellectual cheerleaders of Tony Blair advocated the erroneous belief that the working class was finished as a political force, who went on to invent the empty doctrine of Thatcherism to hide its own bankrupt politics while its pursuit of a “broad democratic alliance” of everyone and everything was well and truly torpedoed with the demise of the Soviet Union and the poisonous politics of Lenin and his followers which informed it.

For the capitalist left, 1989 was a year in which to jump off a sinking ship to embrace Free Market institutes, to establish pompous sounding thinks tanks like Demos and the Institute of Ideas, to produce pamphlets for the Centre for Policy Studies (founded by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph), and to join the brave new world of Tony Blair’s New Labour project. These would-be student revolutionaries now declare there is only capitalism and all else is utopianism.

And from The Socialist Party (The Case for Socialism), Socialist Workers Party (The Future Socialist Society by John Molyneux) and Counterfire (The ABC of Socialism by John Rees) we do not find any understanding of socialism. Instead, these opportunistic organisations propose not only the disastrous strategy of direct action but when workers read their pamphlets the “socialism” they adhere to is nothing more than State Capitalism. These self-appointed leaders believe they have been anointed to tell workers what to do and how to think; from “democratic centralism” to a dictatorship over the proletariat. They are not interested in making socialists or organizing for socialism. They pretend the SPGB does not exist but their continued decomposition gives us more political space to argue for a genuine socialism to be put to the working class.

Socialists never lost their nerve. We stood on the solid ground of principle not opportunism. The working class does not need leaders to lead them anywhere particularly by the likes of professor Furudi, Martin Jacques et al. The working class does have a political existence in the activity of Socialist Party of Great Britain. Working class politics does not have to be “reinvented” or “rebuilt”.

The working class has no need for Professor Furedi and those like him; academic hacks and self-publicists who began their careers parasitically feeding off working class discontent until finding a secure chair at a university where they abandoned their politics of youth for the conference hall, the seminar room and the television studio. The working class still has the capacity to think and act for itself and to establish socialism. After all, the working class currently runs capitalism from top to bottom albeit not in their class interest. As Marx recognized:

This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO)

At the moment the capitalist class has a vast pool of disorganized labour across the world to tap into; workers have difficulty even organizing into free trade unions. They are misleadingly told that there is no alternative to global capitalism. This will not always be the case. The labour market is a world labour market with a world working class having the same class interest and the same need to organize economically into trade unions and politically as socialists. Workers wherever they live experience the same problems and take part in the same struggle. A world working class really does confront a world capitalist class

And socialists have one major factor in their favour: capitalism itself. It is the failure of capitalism to meet the needs of all of society and its relentless class exploitation that generates socialist consciousness, socialists and the political class struggle. This was the conclusion of Marx and Engels when they wrote the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO in 1848 and a view subscribed to by socialists today.

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