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Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - Reply to International Communist Current


Using the opportunity of last year’s centenary of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the International Communist Current published four articles in their journal, WORLD REVOLUTION, titled What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain

They begin by saying:

"The Socialist Party of Great Britain is 100 years old this year. Formed in 1904 it has maintained the same platform through wars, revolution and recession."

They go on:

"The question we have to ask, however, is whether this group genuinely offers a positive way forward to those proletarian minorities searching for a revolutionary critique of the present system."

Thus, in their opening paragraph the divergence of their views from those of the Socialist Party of Great Britain starts to emerge.

The only revolutions that have occurred since our formation in 1904 have replaced feudalism with capitalism. This includes Soviet Russia and China. The ICC does not accept this.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not a "group", but a political party seeking to gain power for Socialism. We do not seek to offer a way forward for "proletarian minorities"; we see as urgent the need for the majority of the world’s workers to understand Socialism and organise politically and democratically to bring it about. Searching for a "revolutionary critique" is not the same as class-consciousness aimed at ending class-society. Who are these minorities? Those of the self-styled left believe they have a "revolutionary critique"but they are not interested in Socialism.

The divergence of ICC thinking from ours is very evident throughout. They assert that when the Party was formed:

"At the global level, capitalism was entering the transition from its period of ascendance to its decadence" (Part 1, page 6)

This is utter nonsense. Far from having been decadent which means declining for 100 years, capitalism has been potent and aggressive. It has increasingly applied science to technology and ruthlessly applied both to warfare.

At a global level in 1904, vast areas had not even developed capitalism, this includes Russia and China, also Japan, while India and Pakistan are only now becoming fully-fledged capitalist countries, and much of continental Africa is still tribal.

ICC devotion to Leninist mumbo-jumbo soon becomes apparent.

We are accused of having failed to grasp “ "the Marxist understanding of how consciousness develops in the working class" and of "failing to understand the relationship between the immediate struggles of the working class and its ultimate perspective" (Part 1, page 6)

They claim that these "two elements" can be united. They believe the challenge faced by the Socialist Party of Great Britain was to overcome the separation between the day-to-day struggles of reformism and Revolution.

As Marxists we argue that consciousness develops as workers become aware of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist system. Chief among these being the social production of wealth and the minority class-ownership of the means of wealth production.

If the ICC has some superior understanding, where are they applying it to develop consciousness?

There is no relationship between immediate struggles and the revolutionary quest for Socialism. They are mutually exclusive of each other. Capitalism throws up an unending series of "issues"which provide the raw material for endless day-to-day struggles so that, in practice, "immediate" becomes eternal.

The working class must understand that capitalism cannot solve the problems it constantly re-creates and see that the immediate need is to get rid of capitalism.

They go on to make a hash of attempting to be dismissive of our DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES.

In two paragraphs at the end of page 6, Part 1, they express the absurd idea that the Socialist Party of Great Britain remained sectarian because it rejected reformism in favour of revolution. A hundred years since our formation (to go back no further) all that reformism has produced is pressure for ever more reforms. The mess that world capitalism is in today bears eloquent testimony to its failure. Reformism, despite ICC claims to the contrary, has not contributed to the growth of consciousness.

The revolution for Socialism remains the solution awaiting working class endorsement.

Having referred to Clause 5 of our DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES to the effect that "the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself" and finding themselves unable to attack this proposition, they fall back on vague assertion:
"But within the Declaration can also be seen the basis of the democratic mystification and sectarianism that condemned the Socialist Party of Great Britain to sterility."<

It is unfortunate for the ICC, that democracy mystifies them. They share this in common with all leader-based organisations.

How they can regard an appeal to a whole class to emancipate itself as sectarian can be explained only by an understanding of political illiteracy.

Clause 6 of our PRINCIPLES recognises, as did Marx, "the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, page 13). The Bourgeois affairs, as Clause 6 states, consist of monopolising for the capitalists the wealth taken from the workers. The logic is irresistible that the working class must organise consciously and politically to conquer this coercive political apparatus to end the oppression of one class by another, by ending class society - "the overthrow of privilege". In their ignorance, the ICC imagines that this ignores the lesson of the Paris Commune on the necessity to overthrow the capitalist state. The lesson here for them is that there is no parallel between the purely localised Paris Commune and a conscious world movement to change society.

They fail to grasp the simple fact from chat the capture of political power by the workers IS the overthrow of the bourgeois state. The fact that the Paris Commune was crushed by the state machine demonstrates the need for Clause 6.

Marx and Engels were writing before the suffrage became universal but, urged workers to use it where it existed. This is side-stepped by ICC, which refers to the vote as only one means among many. They remain conveniently quiet about what the "many" others are. Neither do they show (because they cannot) that if the vote can be misused, what prevents any of the other means from being misused?

Their tortuous protestations fall far short of making any argument against the case for Socialism uniquely presented by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Votes of the ill-informed and confused are useless except for retaining capitalism. Votes backed by Socialist understanding will be the irresistible force for change.

The simple statement in clause 8 of our PRINCIPLES of our hostility to all other parties "whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist" presents an insurmountable obstacle to the ICC. They really should have read Clause 7. Parties that do not seek working class emancipation are capitalist parties, whatever they allege themselves to be.

They accuse us of rigidly interpreting Marxism, but give no evidence or examples. We are in fact quite happy to let Marx speak for himself, as will be seen.

They quote Luxemberg's REFORMS OR REVOLUTION and Barltrop's THE MONUMENT in a vain attempt to show a connection between trade unionism and "...the class coming to consciousness".

They would have done better exposing the record of trade union opportunism in sponsoring members of the anti-working class Labour Party to power in order to run capitalism and enforce the exploitation of wage-labour.

Referring to trade unions in the last few pages of VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT, Marx had this to say:
"They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto ">A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work! They ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword "Abolition of the wages system(page 93) (Marx’s emphasis).

The ICC fails to realise that time has not only tested the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the last 100 years, it has also tested them and those like them dedicated to following leaders, fighting the day-to-day struggle, chasing reforms and waiting for industrial action to produce consciousness. None of their nostrums has shown any result apart from wasted time.

It is obvious that a majority understanding and wanting Socialism is the key to change.

In a significant way, it can be said that we still have capitalism because of ideas such as those of the ICC and their ilk. The same cannot be said about the Socialist Party of Great Britain.


Lenin, the anti-Socialist

It might be thought that, having stumbled across the golden formula for social change, the masterminds of the ICC would be storming ahead and their objectives (whatever they are) would be in sight. But where are they? They have achieved nothing. If the working class have thus far not produced a conscious majority ready for Socialism, they also ignore the self-appointed ICC "vanguard".

Wild assertion is their "strong" suit. For example, they accuse the Socialist Party of Great Britain of supporting bourgeois democracy and thereby, becoming agents of the capitalist system.

Even the most rabid bourgeois intellectuals have never stooped to such pitiful claptrap.

While they were casting Stalin as a degenerate " … ideologically the proletariat was crushed by the victory of democracy and Stalinism" (Part 4, page 3) they missed a great opportunity to tell us the names of all the opposition political parties and their publications, that existed in Russia, after their tin-gods, Lenin and Trotsky seized power. They were crushed before Stalin was even heard of outside the Bolshevik gang. If the ICC are looking for degenerates they did not have to wait for Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky meet all the requirements.

It was Lenin who said in 1922:

"the more members of the reactionary bourgeoisie and clergy we manage to shoot the better".

Roberts makes the case that:

"They (the Bolsheviks) had to start with a country that was in Marxist terms not ready for revolution; it was the most backward of all the great powers, still overwhelmingly a rural, peasant society, illiterate and even primitive"

" … people of many different nations, ethnic stocks and tongues" (page 293)

Has Mr Roberts been reading what the Socialist Party of Great Britain was saying at the time of the revolution, or can it be that the ICC are among the few still believing in historic miracles?

In 1921 it was Trotsky that crushed the rebellion of the Kronstadt navel base. The demands of the sailors had been " … for democratic elections, freedom of speech and the press, and the release of all political prisoners". Under Trotsky's direction "surviving mutineers being swiftly and ruthlessly shot" (page 294).

Trotsky was acting as Lenin's executioner. The ruthlessness at Kronstadt was typical of how Lenin and his stooges seized and held on to power. The dreaded secret police of the Tsars were rapidly replaced by the Cheka, a series of name changes made no difference to their function, which continued throughout the whole period of Bolshevik dictatorship. It should be remembered that these were the same Kronstadt sailors who had brandished their rifles under the noses of the democratically elected General Assembly delegates, when Lenin closed it down because the Bolsheviks were in a minority. This was the end of opposition in capitalist Russia for 74 years. These are the historic anti-working class conditions which the backward ICC would like to see repeated around the world today.

In that impoverished, backward country, after four years of Lenin in power, more than 5 million died of starvation in the most appalling conditions where some were reduced to cannibalism. If Lenin could not control drought, Russia's pig-iron production in 1921 was about one-fifth of the 1913 level, while coal production was around a mere 3 per cent. It was 1928 (four years after Lenin's death) before industrial and agricultural production reached pre-war levels.

Lenin wrote WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Long before the "revolution". On page 31 this prime piece of contempt appears:

"We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively, by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness …".

According to Lenin, Socialist theory arose independently of the working class movement:

"… it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary Socialist intelligentsia" (Page 32).

This is completely anti-Marxist. For Marx and Engels Socialism is "the self-conscious movement of the immense majority".COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.

Marx and Engels did not "invent" anything. They discovered the class struggle as the key to all recorded history. For them the special historical product of capitalism is the working class with its potential to finally end class society.
Socialist consciousness comes from the interaction of class forces in political economy. The fanciful nonsense of Lenin about the development of thought among revolutionary intellectuals is what spawned "vanguardism", which sees the proletarian masses as the plaything of professional, self-styled leaders.

The fact that the ICC endorse this insult to the working class shows how little they have learned from a hundred years of Bolshevik theory and practice.


The so-called "transition period" is another Leninist stumbling block found irresistible by the self-appointed vanguard of the ICC. In their promised land, the Soviet Union, it was a transition to nowhere with no final destination.

The changes Lenin imagined in 1916 capitalism were supposed to herald the transition from capitalism to Socialism and were thought by him to be revealing themselves all along the line. Since there was no growth of Socialist awareness anywhere in Europe or, indeed the world, Lenin was left to seize power in backward Russia and build a single-party, police-state, capitalist dictatorship.

The working class of Germany, the rest of Europe, the UK and America came out of the blood-soaked trenches, where they had been slaughtering each other for four years to be greeted by dole-queues and pawn-brokers for twenty years until it was the turn of their sons, still clutching their masters flags and instilled with perverse nationalism, to go and do it all again.

The ICC fantasize about a "revolutionary wave that followed WW1" and in their dementia take the Socialist Party of Great Britain to task for "failure to respond adequately" to it. (Part 4, Page 3)

Clearly, they know nothing about what revolution means. The first world war ended 87 years ago. Generations have come and gone. Since 1918 we have had WWII and another 30 million killed for the predatory interests of the world's capitalist class. The "revolutionary wave" seems to have missed them completely, as it did the many millions more who have died in wars between the two world wars and since 1945.

When they eventually get round to recording that the Socialist Party of Great Britain in fact opposed both world wars (and all the "lesser" ones) they belittle this as best they can. The fact that in both cases, the very first issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD after the outbreak condemned the wars in favour of world working class unity for Socialism is played down.

They clearly do not have original copies not do they have the superb 1936 pamphlet WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS. The full text of both WAR statements are available in current pamphlets. They repeat out-of-context quotes seeking to discredit the Party in relation to the Spanish Civil War. They refer to members going on the run in WWI and WWII, as if this meant they abandoned Socialism. They clearly know nothing of members such as Moses Baritz and Adolph Kohn, who went to America and tirelessly carried on outdoor and indoor meetings, as well as conducting education classes. Other members went to prison rather than help slaughter their fellow workers. Workers were told the war was for "freedom". But freedom did not extend to saying no!

ICC mock the difficulty the Party experienced holding out-door meetings during WWI. They suggest no way of preventing patriotic thugs from smashing up such meetings.

If their scribe had read THE MONUMENT a little less selectively he would have found that, however much arguments raged about the issue of democracy and war and the position of the Party, the conclusion is irrefutable. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never supported any war. And despite people like Jacomb, this applies to the Spanish Civil War. Chapter II details how the Party dealt with a number of individuals who argued compromising points of view and shows that the Party not only maintained its opposition to WWII, but that by the autumn of 1946 outdoor meetings were growing again. Jacomb was eventually expelled and with hindsight no doubt should have been expelled much sooner.

It is inevitable that, in an atmosphere of intense war hysteria, the Party will be affected by the world outside. This has only served to test the soundness of the Party's case and principles, which have prevailed.

If, as has often been repeated, "Truth is the first casualty in any war", then democracy is a very close second. Despite the oppression, as a Party the Socialist Party of Great Britain stuck to its position, not one of pacifism but of the unity of world working class interest. Even the ICC quotes excerpts from what the Party said at the outbreak of the Second World War, noting: " … the futility of war as a means of safeguarding democracy" and urging workers " … to recognise that only Socialism will end war". They also quote the 1936 pamphlet, WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS:
"War … solves no problem of the working class. Victory and defeat alike leave them in the same position"

"They have no interest at stake which justifies giving support to war." Pages 16-17

This was published at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Do the ICC challenge any of these propositions?

THE MONUMENT also describes how it was Tony Turner, speaking for the Socialist Party of Great Britain on the Sunday after war broke out, who did a marathon stint in Hyde Park lasting all day, condemning the war. It would be false to conclude that Turner or any other individual determined the Party's case against war. This was detailed at the outbreak of war in 1914. Although obviously the statement referred specifically to WWI, the very terms used demonstrate that opposition to war was a "reaffirmation" derived from our principles. The war was denounced as a "thieves' quarrel" with the declaration " … that no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood…". That this has applies to all wars, has always been obvious to the Socialist Party of Great Britain

The statement concludes:

H"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism!
The World for the Workers

"Wage workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win! MARX"

Astoundingly, by a process of creative reasoning known only to the ICC, this Socialist opposition to capitalism and its wars becomes:

" … the Socialist Party of Great Britain opposition to the war remained trapped in the individualist and essentially pacifist refusal to participate in the war and, hence, within the framework of bourgeois ideology". (Part 3, page 5) also

" … a virtual accommodation with the bourgeois state during the Second World War, when it was used by the ruling class …". Part 4, page 3)

We have seen what the Socialist Party of Great Britain was doing in Hyde Park on that Sunday in September 1939. It is also relevant to recall what the so-called Communist Party (womb-mates of the ICC) were doing. They were supporting the war against Germany! This support was, however, short-lived as it was out-of-step with Stalin's pact with Hitler of August 1939. By the 4th of October 1939 the Daily Worker was declaring: "We are against the continuance of the war". The war then became an "imperialist war" with the CP publishing pamphlets such as WHY THIS WAR? Then, when Hitler attacked their Soviet motherland in June 1941, the war once again became a war against fascism and workers were urged to the slaughter. Their cue was always taken from Russia (like the ICC), not the interests of the working class.

Democracy, Marx and Socialism

We have become accustomed over many years to being told by the leftists that if Socialism gained enough votes to threaten the system the capitalists would simply close down Parliament. The ICC has another variation to avoid having to spread Socialist understanding. Referring to the Party and democracy, they way:

"But its palpable concessions to bourgeois ideology - above all to the central capitalist myth of democracy - could lead it to side directly with the bourgeoisie when the working class is concretely faced with the necessity to destroy the whole apparatus of the capitalist state, not least its parliamentary façade." (Part 4, page 3)

Since the capitalist state is an armed, coercive edifice, it is suicidal stupidity to talk of destroying it. Why do ICC not just get on with it? If they need a majority they should have the intelligence to realise it is this that makes Socialism possible. Parliament is only a façade today because the majority of workers vote for capitalist parties. Ironically, the ICC does not object to this since they do not reject reformism. These latter-day Leninists might also wonder why the Bolsheviks in 1917 Russia did not destroy the whole apparatus of the capitalist state? In fact, on the contrary, starting with Lenin and Trotsky, they built the most redoubtable centralised state machine the world has every seen. For Lenin and the Bolsheviks the issue was never that of gaining a majority of workers ready to organise consciously for Socialism, it was always a matter of removing obstacles to their power. Their monolithic state did this for three-quarters of a century.

As far as capitalist democracy is concerned, as the term implies, it is the democracy of the capitalists, allowing for the expression of the sectional differences within that class. It is a limited and restrained democracy catering to the needs of a parasite ruling class. The press, radio and television are controlled and allow of no expression of working class interests in terms of their emancipation and the struggle for Socialism. Marx and Engels argue that the capitalists are " … compelled to appeal to the proletariat to ask for its help and thus to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie" COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, pages 23-24.


"We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the bottle of democracy." (page 39)

The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not delude itself about capitalist democracy. We have always stressed that the vital factor currently missing, is Socialist awareness. Without this there can be no Socialism; once it has taken hold change is irresistible.

"The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority" page 26. Capitalism is here because of the workers, not despite them.

Democracy in the full sense of a free society of social equality, with no class privilege restricting information and expression, will not exist until Socialism classless-society is established. The revolution will start democratically and future society will continue to be democratic just as vanguardism starts with elitism and continues to be autocratic when running capitalism.

The whole position of the ICC is quite untenable and their inability to grasp the nature of democracy creates a further impasse for them. Their contempt for the democratic voting process has repercussions for their own internal organisation.

In their journal, No. 276, they report having gone through a serious crisis because of a disruptive "parasite group" in their ranks; this group had been " … devoted to destroying the ICC's unitary and centralised principles of functioning" (page 6). This happened at one of their conferences.

Are we to imagine that at such gatherings of the vanguard there is no voting on anything? How do they know that the "Internal Fraction" were not in fact the majority, without voting? The only way of knowing the majority view is by counting. Is the self-appointed vanguard itself told what they stand for by the "centralised" chief-vanguard, also self-appointed?

We challenge the ICC to debate and offer them a selection of titles -

1. Was Lenin a Marxist?
2. Was Lenin a Socialist?
3. Does Bolshevism mean Socialism?
4. Vanguard or Democracy for Emancipation?

It is time for the ICC to put up or shut up!

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