This pamphlet is different from our usual ones. It addresses some of the key political and theoretical issues which lay behind the long-running internal disputes in the Socialist Party of Great Britain, disputes which in 1991 culminated in the ‘split’ between what we refer to as the Clapham-based Socialist Party and ourselves, the reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB).
After 20 or more years of endless disputes against factions to take over the Party, the 1991 ‘split’ with the contrived expulsion of two committed and active branches (Camden and North West London) meant we were now free to concentrate on the real work of the SPGB.
A recent book by one of the Clapham-based Socialist party’s members was published: THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN - POLITICS, ECONOMICS AND BRITAIN'S OLDEST SOCIALIST PARTY by David A Perrin (2000). Rather than simply review this book in SOCIALIST STUDIES, we decided to answer it, treating it as the Clapham-based Socialist Party’s unofficial manifesto.
This pamphlet will, we hope, help you and others have a better understanding of why the ‘split’ came about, the real issues which lay behind it in terms of serious differences of policy and theory between us and those who wanted us out of “their” party.
Moreover, we think the political and theoretical issues that were involved, including issues of fundamental principle, are relevant for all Socialists, both now and in the future. For instance, should Socialists argue that worsening crises will lead to the collapse of capitalism? Should the Party abandon the Parliamentary road to Socialism, rejecting its principles in favour of industrial unionism? Are the Clapham-based Socialist Party right to seek to ally themselves with organisations that reject the necessity for class-consciousness, democratic, political action for Socialism and only for Socialism?
On all these issues and others, the SPGB’s case is rejected by Perrin and the Clapham-based Socialist Party. From 1904 onwards, generations of Socialists worked hard to establish the SPGB as a party with a clear, consistent case, argued honestly and from principle. This pamphlet is our attempt to set the record straight.
Preface February 2011
The pamphlet SOCIALIST POLICIES AND PRINCIPLES - SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT was published in 2002 and very few copies remain in print. Due to continued interest in the pamphlet we are now placing it on our web site as a true record of the differences between ourselves and the Clapham-based Socialist Party.
Since the publication of the pamphlet there has been a deafening silence from the Clapham-based Socialist Party. Many of those who actively supported our expulsion from their organisation have either left their Party or have died. Those who remain appear either indifferent to the pamphlet’s content or not competent to reply to the arguments we put against their Party.
It is as though the Clapham based Socialist Party has had much success since expelling sound Socialists in May 1991. If they thought they would grow into a mass political party feted by the media and glossed with the allure of academic respectability once Camden and North West London Branches were out of the way, they have been rudely mistaken. Most of the political groups they tried to reach out to no longer exist. And they remain a small inconsequential political organisation with the same but dwindling members who orchestrated our expulsion.
This is not to say that the Clapham Party have been inactive in trying to disrupt our own Socialist activity. They took action to close down our web site; they tried to get the police to arrest Socialists for alleged “fraud” and, when that failed tried unsuccessfully to get the police to shut down one of our meetings.
Such anti-Socialist and anti -working class action failed to stop the reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain putting the case for Socialism within the framework of the SPGB’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES.
We were expelled for continuing to take political action in the full name of the Party as required by Clause 8 of the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES. We have survived against all the odds because a political space necessarily exists within capitalism for a Socialist politics working within the SPGB’s OBJECT and DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES. Political principle matters; the political means does justify the Socialist end and the Socialist object continues to be the only solution to the severe social and economic problems facing the world’s working class.
The ‘split’ – The Whys and Wherefores
When a party suffers a serious setback, particularly one which results in a split, there are serious questions to answer. We need to examine the historical circumstances involved, and address the issues of theory, policy and organisation that helped to bring it about.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) is possibly unique in requiring all who join it to declare that they understand and agree with our DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES. Anyone who does not agree with this basic set of principles and its implications should not be a Party member. The DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES serves to unite the Party on a clear, consistent platform as a condition of membership.
The SPGB’s PRINCIPLES clearly defines the case for socialism as being based on the class struggle, the conflict of interests between the working class and the capitalist class. We assert that the struggle to achieve Socialism “must be the work of the working class itself”. This means that the party rejects vanguardism and the principle of leadership.
The SPGB asserts the necessity of organising: “consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, in order that the machinery of government, national and local, including [the armed] forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation…”. From the start, the SPGB rejected anarchism, direct action and industrial unionism. Socialism can only be achieved by class-conscious, democratic political action, which in Britain means via Parliament.
Party politics has acquired a bad reputation for shady deals done behind doors. A century ago, just as now, capitalist parties were in the habit of making political marriages of convenience. Their usual argument is that such deals are necessary if they are to be able to carry out their promises. That is the opportunist path to the Labour Party followed and, in pious imitation, the numerous parties of the Left have followed suit. All have been willing to stand on a shared platform with the parties of capitalism. The SPGB alone rejects such opportunism on principle: “the party seeking working-class emancipation must be hostile to every other party”.
In the final clause of the Party’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, these two points are again emphasised: “The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon all members of the working class…to support these principles…”
With the SPGB’s clarity of purpose and its clearly stated position on the political nature of the class struggle, there should have been little prospect of such a party becoming divided. Also, the “hostility” clause, quoted above, meant that the Party was unlikely to be a target for entryists to take over. The SPGB would never be an ally of reformism, unlike the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party and many other parties claiming to be Socialist.
Moreover, while the Party’s Principles did not spell this out, it was always clearly understood that the SPGB must be fully democratic, its policy determined by its entire membership, not by a leader or leadership group.
So what went wrong? Why the “split”?
It is our contention that a group of people joined the SPGB who disagreed with the Party’s Principles and wanted to change the Party’s policy. This meant that Party members had failed to ensure that all who became members of the Party did understand and agree with the party’s Principles. Over time, a watered-down, Utopian rather than class-based, argument for Socialism became acceptable. Many members no longer stood firmly on the principle of the class struggle but held libertarian/anarchistic views on how Socialism could be achieved. In short, they rejected the Party’s Principles. In time, this led to the Party becoming weakened and increasingly torn by internal factionalism.
To understand how this came about we must first go back to the 1940s. The SPGB emerged from the war with a high reputation, an enlarged membership and a strong active organisation. But, in the Fifties, the Party struggled with a slowly declining membership and a lack of new members. In a desperate search for new members some Party members mistakenly believed that the problem lay with the Party itself and not factors over which it had no control.
While the means of production, social labour and the ability of workers to run a social system (albeit in the interests of another class) make Socialism possible now, a majority of workers still give capitalism their support. This means that, for them, Socialism is not even on the agenda.
Until a majority of the world’s workers become class-conscious and oppose capitalism rather than seeking to reform it, the growth of the Socialist movement can only be painfully slow. The Socialist Party cannot just force growth.
But instead of accepting the reality of this and the very real difficulty experienced by the party, some members began to see the Party’s Principles as preventing its growth. After nearly a century of working for Socialism, it is clear that there is no magic button to press to speed up the process of developing class-consciousness among the working class. Under these conditions, there is only so much a Socialist Party can do. To think there was a quick fix, through ditching the Party’s PRINCIPLES and attacking those members who held to these PRINCIPLES, would and could only lead to a split. This was reflected in the increasingly divided state of the Party in the decades leading up to the 1991 expulsion of those of us who went on to reconstitute the SPGB on the basis of the Party’s 1904 DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES.
The important lesson that we, the members of the reconstituted SPGB, have learnt from all this is the imperative need for a disciplined unity achieved through adherence to principle – the principles of the class struggle, of democratic political organisation and of opposition to all other parties.
What were the key issues which lay behind this developing split? If one word came up, over and over again, it was “reformism”. During the sixties, there was much discussion about the Party’s position on reforms, culminating in Conference resolutions, on different lines, in 1971 and 1972.
This was at a time when the Party was coming under attack from groups of its own members. Soon after the 1972 Conference some of these, as an organised group, a faction, started to publish a journal. Initially rather confused about its name, it later became LIBERTARIAN COMMUNISM. In 1973, the WHERE WE STAND manifesto was issued, signed by 15 members including A. Buick, as an alternative to the Party’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES. Later that year, John Crump, on leaving the Party circulated an attack on the SPGB (WHAT IS IT THAT PREVENTS THE SPGB FUNCTIONING AS A REVOLUTIONARY PARTY).
A common theme in all these documents was that the Party’s single-minded work for Socialism and only Socialism, and its “negative” attitude to workers’ struggle meant that it was “sectarian and dogmatic”, an accusation levelled against the Party by the Communist Party, Labourites and others on the Left but not, until then, by the SPGB’s own members. The SPGB’s principle of hostility to all other political parties and to reformism was questioned and rejected by a minority. Later, the term “D of P’er” was coined as a term of sneering abuse by this reformist element in the Party.
So what were the issues they wanted the SPGB to get involved in? There was a long list of issues and single-issue movements, including Women’s Liberation, student grants, claimants’ unions, anti-racism, the miner’s strike, a TUC Day of protest, and so on. Crump argued in his 1973 circular:
[The SPG does not understand] the crucial importance of the workers’ attempts at democratic self-organisation (today this means in a whole range of organisations – tenants’ associations, claimants’ unions, parent-teachers’ associations and students’ unions to name but a few)…It is only by engaging in a wide range of day to day struggles that the working class can possibly obtain the confidence in its own ability and the degree of understanding necessary for it to overthrow capitalism.
What Crump failed to show was how on earth involvement in such groups, with their very limited aims, could help the working class develop class consciousness and an understanding of the class struggle. This is what is needed if Socialism is to be achieved.
The LIBERTARIAN COMMUNISM faction rejected the SPGB’s argument for political action to achieve Socialism, based on Marx’s analysis of the role of the state, and replaced it with an incoherent, quasi-anarchist position based on workers’ councils, as in their (undated) leaflet, THE ALTERNATIVE TO WORKERS CONTROL:
One way we can make the revolution is to get together in Workers’ Councils. Real Workers’ Councils should consist of delegates elected by workers in their place of work, school or neighbourhood…With a genuine democratic system like this, with control from the bottom up, we can take over society and run it for human need
To argue this way is to disregard utterly the fact that the State – with its armed forces, police, etc. – exists to defend the class system. It is unlikely that mere Workers’ Councils without a political organisation could achieve anything apart from getting their leaders and activists jailed. The SPGB has always rejected such arguments. Like Marx and Engels, we argue that “every class struggle is a political struggle” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
Another line was taken by A. Buick, S. Coleman and others. They argued that since democracy was an essential precondition for achieving Socialism, the SPGB should support “democratic” movements in Soviet Russia and other one-party states. In 1981, this resulted in the Party issuing a leaflet expressing the Party’s “admiration and support” for the reformist Polish movement, Solidarity. Later, in 1990, Conference passed a resolution, which we opposed, declaring “our sympathy”.
Both the 1981 leaflet and the 1990 conference went against the Party’s long-established policy on reforms and reformism, as outlined, for instance, in the 1971 Conference resolution endorsing the 1969 Executive Committee’s Policy Statement on Reforms. Even if, as Buick and co. claimed, Solidarity was some sort of trade union rather than a political organisation, the 1969 – 71 Statement was still relevant:
…That we are in agreement with working-class action on the industrial field when based on a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism and the class struggle necessarily resulting therefrom and we oppose all activities of Unions in support of capitalism or tending to side-track workers from the only path that can lead to their emancipation.
Furthermore, the EC [i.e. the 1969 Executive committee who prepared this statement, later endorsed by the 1971 Conference holds that while declaring our sympathy with the exploited in their resistance to the exploiters it is essential, in order to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, and in the light of the party’s attitude of not advocating reforms that we should avoid the word “support” in relation to actions of reformist parties, groups and individuals. Since 1990, developments in Russia, Poland and other East European states have supported the SPGB position, based on principle and expressed clearly for many decades in successive editions of our pamphlet, QUSETIONS OF THE DAY:
Democracy for the working class can only be consolidated and expanded to the extent that the workers adopt the Socialist standpoint. To renounce Socialism so that democracy may be defended, means ultimately the renunciation of both Socialism and democracy (1942 edition, pp. 81-2).
The only sure guarantee of democracy is Socialist class-conscious organisation. Socialism requires democracy but capitalism can cohabit with democracy or dictatorship. It is a mistake to make a fetish of democracy, to see it as another object of the Party. Since Socialism is inseparable from democracy, in working for Socialism we are at the same time working for democracy. But there are many who campaign for democracy and “human rights”, and yet still support capitalism. If the SPGB allied itself with such groups (e.g. Amnesty International, Liberty formerly National Council for Civil Liberties and so on), we would be confusing our work for Socialism with campaigning on other issues.
It is not our job, as Socialists, to put right all the numerous wrongs of capitalism. It is our job – and only Socialists can or will do this – to argue the case for Socialism and explain how the capitalist system produces the many problems that these reformists are forever protesting against.
The LIBERTARIAN COMMUNISM faction was expelled in 1974 but, ten years later, the Party passed a Conference resolution which asserted “that Socialism will entail the immediate abolition and not the gradual decline of the State”. We opposed this anarchist proposition, on principle, and still do.
The anarchist influence in the SPGB and the Party’s increasingly tolerant attitude to it meant that the Clapham-based Socialist Party still had among its active members an “anarcho-Socialist”, R. Cox, who around 1990 was publishing a journal, SPANNER.
This was to be:
… a journal which focuses on the role of the market in contemporary society. It provides a forum for those with differing ideas on how we might liberate ourselves from the tyranny of market forces... (SPANNER, no 2, p. 36).
The writer here carefully avoided referring to issues such as capitalism and the class struggle, and in place of class emancipation he put self-liberation. He also echoed the idea of an unofficial alliance between groups and organisations with “differing ideas on how” to achieve Socialism, an idea which seems to have first appeared in Crump’s 1973 circular:
I shall continue to co-operate with those comrades who still remain in the SPGB to continue the struggle there and I am hopeful that they themselves will go on to form strong links with revolutionary socialists active outside the SPGB (WHAT IS IT THAT PREVENTS THE SPGB, etc.).
What were these “revolutionary socialists active outside the SPGB”? Did they agree with the SPGB? If so, why did they not join the Party? If they disagreed with the Party’s policy and principles, what was the point of forming any sort of links with such individuals or groups?
Later, in a book he co-edited – NON MARKET SOCIALISM IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES, 1987 – Crump argued:
Essentially, the argument is that the “core” principles of socialism relate to the vital task of posing a socialist alternative to capitalism, while the peripheral differences largely arise from the debate of how socialism can be achieved (by means of parliamentary elections, workers’ council, vanguard parties and so on
(p. 10). The significance of that book lies not in its superficial essays – including ones by active Party members A. Buick and S. Coleman – but in this proposal, which all contributors clearly supported, that the SPGB should join hands with various other “socialist” currents, parties and groups. This theme is echoed in Perrin’s book but in rather more coded language.
Before and since 1991, over time, a number of issues have emerged which mark the Clapham-based Socialist party as now just another party of the Left. For instance, soon after the “split” they set up a grandly titled World Economic Crises Committee. After two years or so of head-scratching, this committee produced a report, part written by D Perrin, asserting or predicting that one day “capitalism would enter into a period of permanent stagnation and decline” (CONFERENCE REPORT, 1993, p. 4). The collapse of capitalism has, of course, been predicted before, often. It is arrant nonsense and the SPGB has always opposed such arguments. So far history has been on our side. The only way to end capitalism is for the working class to end the class system and establish Socialism.
Like Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR bureaucrats, the Clapham-based Socialist Party’s intellectuals like to rewrite history. Colman, for instance, in his book DANIEL DE LEON (1990) as well as his 1984 unpublished PhD thesis, THE ORIGIN AND MEANING OF THE POLITICAL THEORY OF IMPOSSIBILISM, claimed that the early SPGB was influenced by De Leon. This is a travesty of the truth but it is an argument which Perrin echoes.
Then we have Buick’s version of the SPGB’s case on Soviet “socialist” Russia, that this was state capitalism following a “state capitalist revolution”, with the working class exploited by a “state capitalist class”. Again, this is a distortion of the SPGB’s argument but one which would be quite useful when seeking to forge links with Trotskyist organisations. Again, this is an argument which Perrin endorses in his book.
In this pamphlet we cannot, for reasons of space, take up every issue raised in Perrin’s book. But we have selected some of the major issues of principle or policy where Perrin and the Clapham-based Socialist Party have misrepresented or repudiated the SPGB’s position.
These include their argument that capitalism will collapse, and their rejection of the SPGB’s insistence on the need for parliamentary action to achieve Socialism and of the SPGB’s principle of opposition to all other political parties.
On these, and many other issues, it is important to make clear that the Clapham-based Socialist party has adopted which the SPGB has, for nearly a century, rejected and opposed. Hence the pamphlet.
Early Days –De Leon or Marx?
In his Introduction, Perrin makes a great point of wanting to set the record straight, to provide enlightenment for academics and others about the “distinctive political and economic views” of the SPGB. He is scathing about the general ignorance on this subject. His book will change all that:
“…given the inadequate nature of the remarks about the party contained in many earlier works, it is especially hoped that it will encourage any future comment on the politics of the SPGB to be based on something altogether more substantial than the myth and apocrypha that have previously characterised it” (p. 10).
Amen to that – a consummation devoutly to be wished for. But, if that was his genuine purpose, why does the book follow S Coleman in claiming as fact the myth that the founder-members of the SPGB were influenced by Daniel De Leon. This is a myth which can easily be answered by anyone with any knowledge of the Party’s case.
This is how Perrin states his case:
“…the SPGB did not entirely reject economic organisation for socialism, even if it primarily emphasised the need to capture political power. Indeed the SPGB’s disagreement with the followers of Daniel De Leon were not so much about the necessity for an economic organisation alongside the revolutionary socialist party –they were more about matters of tactics” (p. 32).
That such a rewrite of history is pure fiction does not seem to bother Perrin. If he had troubled himself to read the Party’s publications – the primary sources for such a book – he would not have made such a wildly inaccurate suggestion. The issue of industrial unionism and the SPGB’s assessment of the socialist labour Party were addressed in several Party publications, e.g. the September 1904, august, October and November 1906, and April 1907 issues of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, the SPGB MANIFESTO (1905) and the Preface to its 5th edition (1911); and in the 1932 edition of the Party’s pamphlet, QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, to name but a few.
The founder-members of the SPGB were familiar with De Leon’s theories because, a year before the Party was founded, other ex-members of the Social Democratic Federation, mainly in Scotland, had founded the Socialist Labour Party, based on the American party of the same name, and used pamphlets and other works by De Leon in their propaganda.
Right from the start the SPGB opposed the SLP and De Leon. Our Party’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES owed nothing to De Leon or the SLP, everything to Marx and his insistence on the need for political organisation for Socialism. What the SPGB owed to Marx – the materialist conception of history, his labour theory of value and his political concept of the class struggle, the members obtained direct, not via De Leon. Works about Marxism (e.g. THE STUDENT'S MARX by Edward Aveling, 1891) some of Marx’s own pamphlets, and the first English edition of CAPITAL (1886) had long been available. Some founder-members of the Party had attended the economics classes run by Aveling.
So what did De Leon stand for? It should present no problem since De Leon told his followers what his thoughts were. The trouble was that he contradicted himself, as was shown in a critical review in the SOCIALIST STANDARD (November 1930).
From 1895, when De Leon helped to found the Socialist Trade and Labour Alliance, to 1903, he held the need for political organisation:
Entrenched in the public powers, the capitalist class command the field. None but the political weapon can dislodge the usurpers and enthrone the working-class: that is to say, emancipate the workers and rear the Socialist Republic, (De Leon TWO PAGES FROM ROMAN HISTORY 1903).
But from 1905 when he backed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), he rejected this position. In his address, The PREAMBLES OF THE IWW, he said:
It does not lie in a political organisation, that is, a party. “to take hold” of the machinery of production… In the act, however, of taking and holding the Nation’s plants of production the political organisation of the working class can give no help.
Also in his speech at the first convention of the IWW, De Leon asserted:
The situation in America… established the fact that “taking and holding” of the things that labour needs to be free can never depend upon a political party.
In doing his research, Perrin seems not to have read the 1911 Preface of the SPGB MANIFESTO (15th edition), reprinted in the 1920 edition, where the SPGB’s position is stated clearly:
In trade union matters the SLP have blindly followed the lead of the American SLP. Contradicting their original teaching that political action was all-sufficing for the emancipation of the workers, they now try to found a British branch of an American industrial union. They hold that Socialism will be achieved by “direct action” on the part of such a union. This is an Anarchistic deviation. They do not accept the Socialist position of Marx and Engels that the “proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy”. The position of the SLP is, in their own words, that “the socialists will not first ‘come into power’ and then gain possession of the means of production”; they will gain possession of the means of production through the Industrial Union, and their ‘power’ will result in that possession… When the Industrial Union’s control over production is assured [sic] then the political overthrow of capital and the administration of production by the Industrial Union are necessary and inevitable consequences [The Socialist December 1907]. As a political party, therefore, the SLP has committed suicide.
Yet, in spite of this, not to mention the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, which gives no hint at all of support for industrial unionism, Perrin asserts: “The views of the impossiblist American SLP undoubtedly had an influence on both the SPGB and the British SLP”, (p. 31). He offers precious little by way of evidence to support this assertion. Indeed he seems to go out of his way to look the other way and simply not see the glaringly obvious.
For instance, he quotes from the MANIFESTO OF THE SLP on Trade Unionism, which argued for “industrial unionism” as a force to counter “the power of the army”, published in the May 1908 issue of The Socialist
Curiously, he fails to note what the SPGB’s journal, the SOCIALIST STANDARD, of the same date, had to say on this subject. Regarding both the American and the British SLPs with their commitment to industrial unionism, the article concluded:
The more urgent becomes our duty to seek the destruction of organisations which will inevitably commit their members to a sojourn in the dreary wilderness of Reform, or land them in the slimy bog of Anarchy.
Later, in the first (1932) edition of the Party’s stock pamphlet, QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, in a passage dealing, briefly, with the SLP, we find this statement:
“This party was crippled at birth…by the fact that it had a programme containing ‘immediate demands’. At first the new party held to the position that the immediate object should be the conquest of political power, but later, under the influence of its American parent, it was swept away by the theories of Industrial Unionism. In fact, it soon became apparent that the members of this party had really only changed their idols; Hyndman, Quelch and company were deposed, and De Leon and Connolly took their places (p. 9).
Enough said, surely, to counter the fatuous and deceitful myth being peddled by Perrin, guided as he is by S Coleman on this subject. Yet, even now, about a century later, with a few remnants of De Leonist groups still hanging on, the opportunists of the Clapham-based Socialist Party like to claim the SLP as the SPBG’s “political cousins”. Hence Perrin’s keenness to assert the supposed influence of De Leon on the founder members of the SPGB. A myth of this sort could prove useful to those who want to forge some sort of alliance with those who still hero-worship De Leon and believe in Industrial Unionism.
For Socialism – or for Democratic Rights?
The SPGB has always argued that Socialism, a democratically organised system of society, can only be achieved by democratic means. It is a fundamental principle of the Party that the ballot and the electoral system should be used by class-conscious workers, rejecting reformist policies and parties, and the vain hope of making capitalism a bit less unbearable, a bit less of an anarchic, violent mess. This means using the political system to end the class system and establish Socialism.
At the time in the nineteenth century when this was first argued by Marx and Engels there were few countries where the working class constituted a majority of the electorate. Increasingly, capitalist states generally came to rely on universal suffrage. However, in the 1930s, with the rise of dictatorships such as Fascism and Nazism, this question was raised: should the SPGB opt for the “lesser evil” policy and advocate democracy, or should it stay true to its position as a party with only one object, Socialism?
This question was debated in the party, especially from the time of the Spanish Civil War, and it was a live issue in 1939 when World War II was billed as a “war to defend democracy”, a war against Fascism. Later, in the Cold War period, this argument about democratic rights was again raised as an issue which divided the Party.
There were some who argued that, since in a one-party totalitarian state, it was hard, even impossible, for workers to organise in a Socialist party, and since democratic organisation in such a party was a precondition for socialism, the SPGB ought to support dissident individuals and groups who tried to establish democratic rights. Among those who argued this “democratic rights” position were A Buick and S Coleman. By 1990 a majority of the Party were willing to overthrow the Party’s previous policy and a Conference Resolution was passed, which we opposed, outlining the new policy:
…the Socialist Party of Great Britain wholeheartedly supports the efforts of workers everywhere to secure democratic rights against the powers of suppression…
In fact, this was a reversal of the SPGB’s policy. For instance, the 1940 Conference had endorsed a statement about the Party’s ATTITUDE TO WAR, which concluded that:
Participation could not be justified either by the hope of achieving Socialism, the safeguarding of democracy, or the improvement in the standard of conditions of the working class (quoted by Perrin, p. 120).
According to Perrin, this became: “an important precedent which was to help guide [the Party] in the post-war world, most notably in its analyses of workers’ struggles in totalitarian countries (p.120).
But for Perrin and others in the Clapham-based Socialist Party to claim that there was any “precedent” either for the 1990 Conference resolution or for the 1981 leaflet expressing the Party’s “admiration and support” for the Polish movement, Solidarity, is to disregard the party’s long-held policy and to distort history.
The argument of the “lesser evil” is a line that the SPGB has always rejected. A “democratic” capitalism is still capitalism and has to be opposed. In the 1942 edition of the party’s pamphlet, QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, in the chapter FASCISM AND DEMOCRACY, the SPGB argued:
Democracy, in itself, cannot solve the problems of the working class. Unemployment, poverty, insecurity, and other evil effects of capitalism remain, no matter whether the form of its political administration be democratic or dictatorial. Freedom to cry working class misery from the housetops will not, in itself, abolish that misery. Democracy is a weapon, potentially invaluable, it is true: but like every other weapon, it can be used for self-preservation or for self-destruction, pp. 81 - 82
This passage appeared in later editions of that pamphlet (1953, 1969 and 1978) and clearly runs counter to the 1990 resolution, yet, curiously, Perrin omits any reference to it. Perhaps its bluntness would frighten those human rights campaigners who now control the Clapham-based Socialist Party and who clearly reject the Party’s principles, identity and history.
The only way to ensure that democracy is safeguarded is to spread intelligent class-consciousness and Socialist thinking among the working class. To establish Socialism requires democratic political organisation. When the majority of workers are Socialists, knowing that democracy is essential for achieving Socialism, then democracy will be seen as being in the interests of the working class. It is only by linking democracy with Socialism that democracy can be safeguarded.
Perrin carefully omits any reference to the SPGB’s long-established policy of refusing to give or express “support” for organisations it cannot recognise as Socialist – sharing not only the Party’s Object, but also its Principles, based on the class struggle, and summarising why Socialism is needed and how it can be achieved.
This policy was clearly stated in the 1969 STATEMENT ON REFORMS, which was endorsed at the 1971 Conference, in which the SPGB’s policy on trade unions and other groups advocating reforms was clearly and firmly stated:
“That we are in agreement with working-class action on the industrial field when based on a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism and the class struggle necessarily resulting therefrom and we oppose all activities of Unions in support of capitalism or tending to side-track workers from the only path that can lead them to their emancipation.
Furthermore, the [Party] holds that while declaring our sympathy with the exploited in their resistance to the exploiters it is essential, in order to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, and in the light of the Party’s attitude of not advocating reforms that we should avoid using the word ‘support’ in relation to actions of reformist parties, groups and individuals”.
That long-held, democratically agreed policy – summarising the party’s previous policy statements, going back at least as far as 1911 – was simply disregarded when the 1981 leaflet was issued, expressing the Party’s “admiration and support” for the Polish Solidarity movement. That organisation – whether or not it might be claimed to be a trade union rather than a political party – had a clearly reformist agenda (e.g. better health, housing, transport services and the like) and it rejected the class struggle.
Indeed, among its aims were: “to attempt to bring the workers’ interests into harmony with the functioning of the enterprise”. Such an organisation had to be opposed by the SPGB.
Of this debate in the Party, Perrin has very little to say. Reading his book you learn next to nothing about how it came about that the Party, in 1990, reversed its long-held policy, its rejection of the “lesser evil” argument, and its refusal to give “support” to non-Socialist organisations.
The SPGB has only one Object – Socialism. As the Party’s early pamphlet, Socialism, (first published in 1920, and still in print in 1941), argued:
The political organisation of the working class, having for its object the establishment of the Socialist system by a politically educated working class, must first of all be an instrument capable of fulfilling its purpose. It must, then, be firmly anchored to its object so that it is impossible for it to drift…
The first essential, then, of the political party of the working class is a clear and definitely stated Object.
…In [the SPGB’s] Object there is nothing but the revolutionary purpose. There are no side issues to cause dissension and to sap the working-class movement of its vitality (1941 edition, pp. 47-48).
This was and remains the SPGB’s position. It is one which the Party that Perrin supports has clearly rejected.
Soviet Russia and Capitalism
The SPGB argued consistently that the Russian Revolution in 1917 could not lead to Socialism: the historic preconditions for Socialism just were not there. As was argued in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, August 1918:
Is this huge mass of people… ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the South, the agricultural wage-slaves of the Central Provinces, and the industrial wage-slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life?
Unless a mental evolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has ever recorded, the answer is “No!”
The SPGB also regularly cited Lenin’s own statement that, since Russia was so backward economically, “Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us” (SOCIALIST STANDARD, July 1920, quoting Lenin’s pamphlet THE CHIEF TASKS OF OUR TIMES). In subsequent years, the Party’s insistence that since the wages system existed in Russia, so too did class exploitation, surplus value and therefore capital – this was a great annoyance to the Communist Party and assorted fellow-travellers of the Left.
Later, various Trotskyist groups adopted the “state socialism/state capitalism” formula, and in recent decades there were some in the SPGB, especially A Buick, who took this line, focusing on the nature of the “ruling class” in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Perrin’s own discussion of this subject relies heavily on the book STATE CAPITALISM: THE WAGES SYSTEM UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT by Adam Buick and John Crump (1986). They argued that:
State capitalist revolutions… mark the accession to power of a state capitalist class – a class which owns the means of production not individually as the bourgeoisie does, but collectively via its monopoly of state power.
Buick and Crump then described this “state capitalist class” in terms of rank in the party-state hierarchy:
The state capitalist class consists of the party bosses, the upper level of the state bureaucracy, the senior management in the economic enterprises and the top ranks of the military and police forces (Buick and Crump, p. 56).
This is remarkably similar to Milovan Djilas’s seminal theory of THE NEW CLASS:
The new class may be said to be made up of those who have special privileges and economic preference because of the administrative monopoly they hold, (THE NEW CLASS, 1966 edition, p. 49).
Perrin asserts, mistakenly, that the Russian “class of bureaucrats… was not able to bequeath property” (p. 75). Yet a SOCIALIST STANDARD article that he refers to several times, so presumably has read, clearly contradicts him. The article used data and quotations from THE SOVIET UNION YEAR-BOOK, 1930, e.g.:
As in other capitalist countries inheritance of property is recognised in Russia. “Soviet law recognises the rights of inheritance, irrespective of the amount involved” (p. 498). As in this country, it is subject to an inheritance tax (p. 405. RUSSIA: LAND OF HIGH PROFITS, SOCIALIST STANDARD, September 1930).
Incidentally, the SPGB’s 1962 pamphlet RUSSIA SINCE 1917, in which this article and others are reprinted, is a very useful historical reference source for those without access to back numbers of the SOCIALIST STANDARD. Unfortunately Perrin does not recognise what a goldmine it is for any researcher who needs access to a selection of important articles from the SOCIALIST STANDARD.
The revisionists emphasising “State capitalism/the State capitalist class”, overrode those in the SPGB who pointed out the existence of private capitalism in Soviet Russia. But as Perrin has to admit, the argument put by these “older Party members” was a valid one:
[These members] pointed out the extent to which private enterprise operated in Russia, with ‘non-official’ economic activity accounting for up to one quarter of the total. [They] claimed that a private enterprise capitalist class certainly existed in Russia, and to say that it was the bureaucracy who were the collective capitalists overlooked this. Indeed, it was prophetically argued that the long-term ambition of many in the bureaucracy was probably to convert themselves into a privately-owning capitalist class on Western lines, operating in a mixed state/private enterprise economy that could be more efficient than the then already stagnating Soviet system (p. 74).
This position was, of course, rooted in the arguments put by the SPGB over many decades, e.g. in 1937:
[Stalin’s statement] leaves out of account… the elaborate arrangements by means of which an officially favoured minority of Russian citizens can enjoy a very high standard of living, which stands in increasing contrast with the conditions of the great majority. In this, and in the investment system, and in the laws which permit the inheritance of property, Russia is facing a progressive differentiation into classes (SOCIALIST STANDARD, January 1937 and RUSSIA SINCE 1917, p. 67).
However, the line argued by Buick, and favoured by Perrin and the Clapham based Socialist party would have their party line up with others who had come to the view that Russia was state capitalist, most of them coming from the Trotskyist, vanguardist, direction.
So what are we to make of the Buick-Crump thesis that in 1917 there was a “state capitalist revolution” which brought to power a “state capitalist class”? Or their argument that such a class can be defined or identified by rank in the party-state hierarchy?
To answer this, we need only to refer to the SPGB’s Marxist argument which defines “class” in economic terms, i.e. by relationship to the means of production, not by rank and status, political and sociological criteria. As the Party’s MANIFESTO described the capitalist class system:
Here we have the worker entirely dispossessed of the means of getting a living except by selling himself as an article of merchandise to the owners of the means of living. This is wage slavery (p. 11).
Indeed, in one of his letters (5 March 1852 SELECTED CORRESPONDENCE OF MARX AND ENGELS, p. 57), Marx refers with crushing contempt to “the fatuous Heinzen [for] deriving the existence of classes from the existence of political privileges and monopolies
”. This, in a nutshell – the derivation of classes from “political privileges and monopolies” – was precisely how Buick and Crump argued in their book. Their concept of this “state capitalist class” is defined in terms of political rank and privileged status in the party-state hierarchy of the Soviet Union.
This is a complete departure from Marx’s concept of class and class struggle, central to the SPGB’s analysis of the Soviet class system.
It would, of course, be easier for the new-style Clapham-based Socialist Party to forge links with latter-day Trotskyists who had come to the view that Soviet Russia was “state capitalist” if that Buick-Crump thesis of a “state capitalist revolution” bringing a “state capitalist class” was now a new orthodoxy. That is the political significance of this debate and, presumably, the reason Perrin has put this Buick-Crump argument forward as though it were the SPGB case.
But the SPGB, again and again, argued that Soviet Russia was capitalist, as for instance in 1943, in an extended review of Dean Johnson’s book, THE SOCIALIST SIXTH OF THE WORLD:
… [Socialism] involves the abolition of the wages system, and the creation of a society wherein every member has free access to the means of life.
Now, In Russia, of course the worker has not ‘free access to the means of life? There exists in Russia, as elsewhere, money, invested in Government bonds, buying and selling and other paraphernalia of capitalism… In Russia, as in other countries, those with large incomes have the advantage; as in other countries, the rich will see that they are comfortably housed, well fed and pleasantly entertained. The poor in Russia, like their fellows in all capitalist countries, will have to make do with shodd.
Certainly Russia has its privileged section of the population and they will buy (because they can afford to do so) the bulk of the luxury articles which the average worker cannot afford. These privileged people are the party officials, technical experts, writers, doctors, lawyers, etc. some of these people receive incomes a hundred times bigger than that of the average worker. With the legality of inheritance in force, accumulation of wealth is today bound to be taking place in Russia among the wealthy.
They are the exploiters, and the Dean is wrong when he says (p. 282) “exploitation of man by man is entirely abolished”. They can obtain their big incomes only out of the wealth produced by the workers” (Quoted from RUSSIA SINCE 1917, p. 89).
It would be surprising if, generations later, those Russians with huge amounts of accumulated and inherited wealth were not eager to shake off the shackles of official dogma and openly proclaim themselves the capitalist owners (entrepreneurs) who own the land, factories, mines and other means of production and distribution. But, as with the rest of the capitalist class, their wealth comes from the workers’ unpaid labour, from surplus value; in short, from class exploitation.
Exploitation, with class struggle between wage-labour and capital, was at the heart of the so-called Soviet system. Re-naming the capitalist class as the “state capitalist class” makes no difference to that ugly reality. In fact it would be a step back for the SPGB to deny its own, theoretically sound, historically unique and fact-based analysis: that Soviet Russia was a capitalist country, trading on the world markets, and with a class system which exploited the working class through the wages system. Yet Perrin, like Buick and Crump, wants to bury this, preferring a non-Marxist description of what Djilas called “the new class” in terms of “political privileges and monopolies”. Just like that man Marx referred to with such contempt as “the fatuous Heinzen”.
Waiting for Capitalism to Collapse!
Perrin and others persuaded the Clapham-based Socialist party to set up a Committee to “examine the deepening world economic crisis”, (Conference 1992). Presenting a preliminary report in the autumn, one of the Committee’s members confidently asserted:
…a world recession was in existence and a global stock market crash was a possibility…things were getting worse every day; events were moving towards a climax. The daily catalogue of financial fraud, currency instability and the like pointed towards the coming breakdown of the world economic system (REPORT: AUTUMN DELEGATE MEETING October 1992, p. 9).
The World Economic Crisis Committee’s final report included Perrin’s argument that:
…at some point however far away [capitalism] would eventually reach a stage where the amount of surplus value produced relative to the mass of capital would begin to fall and capitalism would enter a period of permanent stagnation and decline (CONFERENCE REPORT, April 1993, p. 4).
Our point in citing these gloomy assertions, made ten years ago, is that the belief that capitalism was then in such a catastrophic state was clearly wrong. The 1990s was, of course, the period of the Information Technology and dotcom bubble. It was characterised by extreme optimism and irrational, over-confident speculation, with bankers and investors falling over their feet in their eagerness to be in on the action.
In time, the dotcom bubble burst, the mobile phone market became glutted and companies’ hyped-up profit figures have been shown to be simply the effect of deceptive accountancy. In 2001, world stock markets, led by Wall Street and the Nasdaq stock markets, are crashing as investors panic. Stock market ‘bubbles’ and ‘bull’ markets have of course crashed before, e.g. in the 18th century (the South Sea Bubble), in the 19th century (railways) and in the 20th century (the Wall street Crash which ushered in the Great Depression of the 1930s). But after the recessions and ‘bear ’ markets which followed such crises in time – sooner or later – there is a recovery.
Clearly, those 1992-93 predictions of the world crisis were premature, to say the least. Let us look at Perrin’s argument, which he puts in his book as representing his Party’s view: “It is possible that the SPGB will abandon its previously held conviction that capitalism can go on indefinitely until the working class puts an end to it” ( p. 102).
If we put Perrin’s arguments into plain English, we find that he is asserting that he and others in the Clapham-based Socialist Party have done a U-turn and now hold some sort of “collapse” theory. This means they reject the SPGB’s case that capitalism can only be ended through the class struggle, by the revolutionary political action of the working class.
In a confusing and evasive attempt to square the circle, Perrin writes:
…from the vantage point of the late twentieth century, a suspicion remains among some of its own members that the SPGB’s steadfast opposition to the mechanistic theories of its opponents about socialism arising inevitably from capitalist collapse, has curiously led it to underestimate identifiable tendencies within capitalist development which could yet be among those significant factors raising the popular consciousness it says is required before a social revolution can take place (p. 103).
What this boils down to is his belief that the working class will only become revolutionary as a result of these vaguely referred to “identifiable tendencies” which will raise “popular consciousness”. This is still vague. What is clearer, if utterly mistaken, is his “theoretical” argument:
Given a steadily rising organic composition of capital it is mathematically impossible for a rising rate of exploitation to forever offset a declining rate of profit by adding to the entire mass of surplus value. A point would be reached whereby instead of rising sporadically, the mass of profit available for reinvestment in production relative to the total capital would start to spiral downwards leading to falling investment, real wages, tax revenues, and welfare payments with steadily increasing unemployment. Such a situation would by no means lead to socialism, but possibly instead to a descent into capitalist barbarism – absolute poverty, social crisis and ecological disaster (pp. 102 – 3).
This catastrophic view of capitalism’s future is hard to swallow although its political significance is easily recognised. For Socialists to sit back and wait fatalistically for such a prediction to come true would be folly. As we declared in the Party’s 1992 pamphlet:
“…our work has been made more difficult by the idea that Capitalism may collapse of its own accord…If it were true, as it is claimed, that Capitalism will have broken down long before it will be possible for us to win over a majority for the capture of political power, then, indeed, it would be necessary to seek Socialism by some other means. Workers who have accepted this wrong and lazy idea of collapse have neglected many activities that are absolutely essential” (WHY CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE, SPGB pamphlet, p. 4).
Perrin cites an internal Party document, GUIDE TO BOOKS AND PAMPHLETS ON MARXIAN ECONOMICS (1971), which asserted that “there are physical limits to capital accumulation”, an argument apparently based on Mandel’s views (Perrin, pp. 102-3). But what are these “physical limits”? We are not told.
Capitalism has of course plunged into recessions before, with dreadful consequences for workers and their families. But sooner or later the system does recover. As the glut of unsold commodities gets disposed of, by dumping at a loss or even by outright destruction, and as capital goods – the means of production – become cheaper, new prospects of profit become evident. With so many unemployed workers around, desperate for jobs even at lower wages, capitalists in time re-enter their markets with a renewed expectation of profits. And so the whole cycle continues, lurching from slump to boom and so on again from boom to slump.
Perrin sums up what may or may not be his Party’s view as: “…a recognition of the more immediate factors that some contend are working to exacerbate capitalism’s periodic crises and slumps” (p. 103). He offers no evidence to support his claim that crises are in fact worsening, either in intensity or duration.
What of his suggestion that automation will lead to a situation where “the total mass of profit has started to decline”? This simply flies in the face of the facts.
Capitalist businesses invest in automation in order to ensure that they will make more profits, especially in industries and sectors of the economy where workers are relatively well-paid. Consequently it is typically the most automated industries and firms which are the most profitable. Conversely, where profits are low, so usually are the wage-rates, and this acts as a disincentive to automation.
As for his “physical limits to capital accumulation”, his error is to follow Mandel’s misreading of Marx’s CAPITAL . In Volume III (Part III), where Marx dealt with “The Law of the Falling tendency of the Rate of Profit”, Marx gave six counteracting influence, and there might be others.
The doctrine of the ‘law’ of the rate of profit to fall to the point where capitalism must come to a grinding halt can be found in the writings of Second International theorists like L. Boudin (THE THEORETICAL SYSTEM OF KARL MARX, 1907). It was taken over uncritically by the so-called Third International of Leninists and a myriad of Trotskyist groups in their fantasy Fourth International (as, for instance, D. Yaffe, THE MARXIAN THEORY OF CRISIS, CAPITAL AND THE STATE , in Economy and Society 2.2, 1973, T. Kemp KARL MARX'S CAPITAL TODAY, 1982, and Mandel’s university thesis, LATE CAPITALISM).
Long before Marx, the tendency of the average rate of profit to fall was noticed by economists such as Adam Smith (WEALTH OF NATIONS) and David Ricardo (PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY). Marx noted the inadequacy of their explanations and wrote:
If we consider the enormous development of the productive powers of labour… if we consider in particular the enormous mass of fixed capital, aside from machinery in the strict meaning of the term, passing into the process of social production as a whole, then the difficulty, which has hitherto troubled the vulgar economists, namely, finding an explanation for the falling rate of profit, gives way to its opposite, namely the question: how is it that this fall is not greater and more rapid? There must be some counteracting influences at work, which thwart and annul the effects of this general law, leaving to it merely the character of a tendency. For this reason we have referred to the fall of the average rate of profit as a tendency to fall (CAPITAL, VOL. III, chap. XIV).
In his discussion of the various “counteracting influences” one should especially note his comment that:
“The falling tendency of the rate of profit is accompanied by a rising tendency of the rate of surplus-value, that is the rate of exploitation…The rate of profit does not fall, because labour becomes less productive, but because it becomes more productive. Both phenomena, the rise in the rate of surplus value and the fall in the rate of profit, are but specific forms through which the productivity of labour seeks a capitalistic expression”(CAPITAL, VOL. III, Chap. XIV (V)).
Since one of the most obvious ways by which capitalism has increased and does increase the “rate of exploitation” is by automation, i.e. by enhancing what Marx refers to as the “organic composition of capital”, the proportion of constant to variable capital (C/V), it is clear that Marx would have had no time for Perrin’s idea that automation could bring capitalism to its knees.
So has the average rate of profit actually fallen? It might appear to be a simple matter to compare the present average rate of profit with what it was in the 1860s and note whether it has actually fallen and, if so, by how much. But no, this is not at all easy to do.
While, in the 1860s, there was little statistical information available, there is much more information available now but, as in Marx’s time, it is rarely in a form which fits in with Marx’s analysis.
Also, much of the information in company accounts is unreliable and misleading, even sometimes downright dishonest. The Government publishes statistics for the total of the gross trading profits of companies but apparently does not publish data for the total capital invested. Without this it is impossible to calculate the average rate of profit, even disregarding – what cannot be left out – the effect of international ‘globalised’ production and trade.
But from the information that is available it is possible to draw certain fairly reliable conclusions:
a). In the UK and in the US the average rate of profit has not been falling continuously since the 1860s. If the rate of profit had been falling continuously we would surely expect that by now the rate of profit should be approaching zero!
b). It is possible for the average rate of profit to rise in certain periods and fall in others.
c). The fall or rise of the average rate of profit – or of the average rate in certain industries – may be due to causes other than those Marx dealt with (e. g. the effect of trade union organisation on wage rates, offsetting or resisting attempts to increase the extent and intensity of exploitation).
Engels also commented on this question in the following passage:
Especially to be emphasised here is the proof of how the Marxian derivation of average profit from surplus value for the first time gives an answer to the question not even posed by economists up to now: how the magnitude of this average rate of profit is determined, and how it comes about that it is, say 10 or 15 per cent and not 50 or 100 per cent. (ON MARX'S CAPITAL, Moscow 1956, p. 104).
It is not unreasonable to conclude from that, writing in 1895, it was Engels’ view that the average rate of profit in Britain was somewhere between 10% and 15%. He was in as good a position as anyone to make an estimate. If so, we can say with some confidence that in the last century or so the average rate of profit does not seem to have fallen noticeably.
What though of Perrin’s argument that capitalism is heading for a nasty end? He assures us that : “Given a steadily rising organic composition of capital it is mathematically impossible for a rising rate of exploitation to forever offset a declining rate of profit by adding to the entire mass of surplus value”.
First, his assumption is wrong: it is nonsense to suggest: “a steadily rising organic composition of capital”. Capitalist development is far from steady, given the spurts in technological development and fluctuations in the economic cycle which affect wage rates, the cost of labour power, hence the attractiveness or otherwise of investing in increased automation and other elements of constant capital.
Next, it seems that Perrin is confused by Marx’s argument in CAPITAL. (vol. III). Even with a stable or falling “rate of exploitation”, there is still an increase in the “mass of surplus value”, that is unless the rate of exploitation and/or the number of workers employed reaches zero. That has yet to be remotely a possibility!
As Marx argued: “The rate of profit sinks, not because the labourer is less exploited, but because less labour is employed in proportion to the employed capital in general” ( CAPITAL, VOL . III, Chap. XV).
Perrin is, of course, right when he states the obvious, e.g. in asserting that there are times when: “the mass of profit available for reinvestment in production relative to the total capital would start to spiral downwards leading to falling investment, real wages, tax revenues and welfare payments with steadily increasing unemployment”.
These, of course, are the normal features of capitalism sinking into a recession. But would this spell the end of capitalism?
Clearly not. We refer Perrin to Marx’s argument about an “absolute over-production of capital”. This would be the situation extending to every field of production where:
There would be an absolute over-production of capital as soon as the additional capital for purposes of capitalist production would be equal to zero…as soon as a pint is reached where the increased capital produces no larger, or even smaller, quantities of surplus-value than it did before its increase, there would be an absolute over-production of capital. That is to say, the increased capital C+C’ would not produce any more profit, or even less profit, than capital C before its expansion by C’. In both cases there would be a strong and sudden fall in the average rate of profit (CAPITAL, VOL III, Chap. XV –iii).
Marx goes on to point out that the effect of over-production of capital would simply mean that some part of the capital “would lie fallow completely or partially…while the active portion would produce values at a lower rate of profit, owing to the pressure of the unemployed or but partly employed capital” (ibid). Could capitalism recover? “Yes”, said Marx, since among the consequences of this is the “slaughtering of the values of capitals”, a fall in wage-rates and a rise in the rate of profit due to the fall in prices of the elements of constant capital itself:
The present stagnation of production would have prepared an expansion of production later on, within capitalistic limits. And in this way the cycle would be run once more (ibid).
Perrin’s economic fatalism, shared by many on the Left, past and present, is not the SPGB’s case. The Party’s case is rooted in Marx’s explanation of the way capitalism operates, as, for instance, in this passage:
Marx showed, and subsequent events have confirmed his analysis of capitalism’s economic laws, that, arising from capitalism’s inescapable anarchy of production, its progression is the cycle of moderate expansion of production and sales, then boom and crisis, then depression (QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, SPGB pamphlet, 1978 edition, p. 95).
Do Perrin’s views represent those of the Clapham-based Socialist Party? They seem to: his book was given a favourable review in the SOCIALIST STANDARD and is being distributed by his Party. If so, his party’s current position is apparently that there are limits to capitalist accumulation, that capitalism is heading for a “descent into capitalist barbarism” (possibly), with the prospect of “absolute poverty, social crisis and ecological disaster” and apparently it sees these as “significant factors raising…popular consciousness” (Perrin, p. 103). This economic and political nonsense sounds like the opportunistic propaganda we associate with half-baked theorists of the Left and parties like the Socialist Workers’ Party.
You cannot frighten workers into becoming Socialists. This was something Marx and Engels were well aware of: they wrote of the working class coming to understand their class position with a “sober disposition” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO). The Socialist case depends on it being accepted by reasonable men and women, not scared rabbits.
Our case is addressed to workers’ intelligence but their ability to think rationally on social issues is hindered, not helped, when their conditions are desperate. Experience and the history of the 20th century tells us that mass unemployment and social deprivation are more likely to encourage nationalism, racism and fascism, rather than class-consciousness.
The task of working for socialism does not involve raising “popular consciousness”. What the SPGB works for is to develop “class consciousness”, and with that political action for Socialism and to an end to class exploitation.
Scientific Socialism or Utopian Speculation
Throughout his book, Perrin shows, again and again, that the Clapham-based Socialist Party which he supports is on a very different path from the Socialist Party of Great Britain. This difference shows itself, again, in his chapter on SOCIALIST PLANNING.
By the 1980s, the revisionists in the Party, influenced by the libertarians, ecological reformists and those who wanted the Party to join up with assorted groups in the wider labour movement, were developing a distinctive – if incoherent and contradictory – policy.
Rejecting the class struggle, especially the SPGB’s clear insistence on the need for political action to overthrow the class system, the only point on which they were united was the Party’s OBJECT, Socialism. The result was a rather muddled series of attempts to describe how Socialism would work.
For instance, in the report of the Production for Use Committee (1983), it was decreed that there would be four phases of Socialist production, that the 2nd of these would involve the “spread of automation” while the 4th phase would be one of ‘zero growth’ with stable levels of production for stable levels of consumption, assuming there are no population explosions or that the means of production is not subject to constant innovation… a ‘steady-state economy’…(Perrin, pp. 186 -7). Such arguments were rehashed in Party pamphlets, such as SOCIALISM AS A PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVE (1987) and ECOLOGY AND SOCIALISM (1990).
But what if a future Socialist society has other ideas, other needs, possibly reflecting different priorities from those in vogue at the end of the 20th century? As for the “spread of automation” decreed in phase two, this seems to conflict with the statement in SOCIALISM AS A PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVE which Perrin also quotes: “…socialism would be unlikely to use such methods like conveyor belt systems which reduce workers to mechanical functions as well as maintaining output” (Perrin, p. 186).
Clearly, a Socialist society would have choices to make and also be faced with various practical constraints. Perrin seems to recognise this in his reference to the need for some sort of “trade-off… between increasing overall production and the use of potentially harmful methods of production” ( p. 186). So what are we left with? Mere empty speculation and wishful thinking: a lot of castles in the air being built, without foundations.
Moreover, we doubt if the Clapham-based Socialist Party, at this stage, has enough expertise at its disposal to enable its members to come up with a global formula for future generations to follow, world-wide. Perrin however is clearly enthusiastic about this approach. He applauds this unrealistic Utopianism:
From the 1970s onwards the [Party] has tended to respond to the political advances of the ecological movement by attempting to acquire the ‘green’ mantle for itself, with slogans such as ‘one Green world’ frequently evident in its political propaganda… This has clearly reflected a change in the Party’s approach from mere anti-capitalism to a more positive and focused attempt to publicise the practical nature of its political goal, and the positive move towards highlighting the alleged ecological benefits of socialism has been a product of this” ( p. 187).
Apart from the opportunistic attempt to jump on the ‘green’ bandwagon, with its reformist demands. The Clapham-based Socialist party was getting involved in something which for decades the SPGB had deliberately avoided doing. We have enough work on our hands persuading our fellow workers of the reality of class exploitation, and of the need to see the class struggle as something much bigger than mere haggling over wages.
Such idle speculation is not only a waste of time. It also suggests that talk of Socialism is a mere fanciful day-dream. A good argument against such speculation was put long ago in the SOCIALIST STANDARD:
The key to the future was obtained not by imagination but by science … [Socialism] was only Utopian so long as the class-war was in its rudimentary stages… Utopianism, i.e. the deliberate attempt to plan beforehand a social ideal, while it became obsolete, nevertheless persisted in a new form. Instead of being part of an honest criticism of society it became a phase of capitalist politics
To try and project a detailed castle in the air as ‘the ideal State’ is… nothing more than wandering round in a circle, for their ‘details’ are all derived from the capitalist system itself, and can, therefore, never get them out of it, and the Socialist Party of Great Britain is following the only scientific course in opposing their endeavour to get the workers to indulge in such peregrinations.
We are not keen on drawing pictures of the future. Shall slaves imagine freedom they have never known? We are concerned with the vital present – the oppression of our class and our struggle to end it (December 1915).
In considering the Clapham-based Socialist Party’s meanderings down the ecological, opportunist, Utopian path, we are reminded of Engels’ shrewd comments regarding the Utopian schools of thought of his own time, those Socialists who rejected the scientific basis of Socialism:
“…there is no other ending possible in this conflict of absolute truths than that they shall be mutually exclusive one of the other. Hence, from this nothing could come but a kind of eclectic, average Socialism… Hence, a mish-mash allowing of the most manifold shades of opinion; a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition…
To make a science of Socialism, it had first to be placed upon a real basis” (SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, tr. Aveling, 1892).
While Perrin devotes a whole chapter to the Clapham-based Socialist Party’s confused and fanciful speculation about how, in the future, Socialism is to work, he does not think it desirable or necessary to give his readers a chapter on the SPGB’s unique argument on how Socialism can be brought about. Some of what he offers his readers on this is misleading and inaccurate, for instance:
The Object and Declaration of Principles…stands as proof of the influence of Morris’s Socialist League on the SPGB founder members. There is a striking similarity between the SPGB’s Object and Declaration of Principles and the Manifesto adopted by the League (pp. 16-7).
It is hard to believe this was written by someone who claims to have read the League’s MANIFESTO. From the start finish, the League’s MANIFESTO had almost nothing to say about how to achieve Socialism and, if anything, indicated rejection of the need for political action. Indeed, it was not long before the League became dominated by anarchists. William Morris himself held that “the change” would come as a result of a general strike and direct action (street demonstrations, etc.).
The League’s only influence on the founders of the SPGB, when they drafted the new Party’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES in 1904, must surely have been as an awful warning of what not to do. It is significant that the SPGB Principles emphasised as clearly as possible the point that, since the state institutions – the machinery of government including the armed forces – exist to safeguard the class system and the interests of those who profit from it, the struggle for Socialism had to be undertaken on “the field of political action”.
This is, indeed, a far cry from Morris and his policy of political abstentionism, further compromised by reformism. In fact, the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES represents a huge advance, compared with the Socialist League’s manifesto, the SDF’s reformism the SLP’s immediate demands and, later, the SLP’s industrial unionism. This issue, the necessity of democratic, revolutionary, class-conscious political action, is at the heart of the SPGB’s case.
Yet this is a position that the Clapham-based Socialist Party want to drop. An early indication of their thinking came with the 1973 statement, WHERE WE STAND, signed by A. Buick, J. Crump and others, “outlining some of [their] differences in approach”. As Camden Branch argued at the time:
It will be noticed that “WHERE WE STAND” makes no reference to the basic principle that the achievement of Socialism needs the conquest of political power by a working class having Socialist understanding as advocated by the Party (Reply to WHERE WE STAND, March 1974).
Perrin himself puts forward a crude caricature of the SPGB’s argument:
The essential prerequisite of a socialist transformation would seem to lie not in the Kautskyite idea of gaining control of parliament, but in a majority of workers from all occupations and none simply organising together to achieve revolutionary change… If and when a majority of convinced socialists is achieved, the formal annulment of capitalist private property rights in parliament would only be a very small part of a massive social transformation which would essentially have to take place outside of the parliamentary arena altogether.
…the SPGB has hitherto paid a disproportionate amount of attention to the legalistic process of socialist change… Not only has this held back thinking in the SPGB on the mechanics of revolutionary change, but its rigid defence of the totem of formal expropriation of the capitalists through parliament has won it few friends among those who might otherwise have been sympathetic to its other ideas on… the self-organisation of the working class and on the future society (pp. 194-5)
. He goes on to refer to the SPGB’s “sectarian outlook on this issue” and “its parliamentary fixation” (p. 195). Apparently this libertarian childishness is now the case of the Clapham-based Socialist Party.
But the mere “formal annulment of capitalist private property rights in parliament”, a mere “legalistic process”, is not the SPGB’s case. Far from it. Perrin seems to be unaware of this simple fact but the capitalist class are in fact a tiny minority in society, heavily outnumbered by the working class. So how do they maintain their position? How come the workers cannot just “simply [organise] together to achieve revolutionary change”?
The means by which the ruling class maintain their social system and their dominance long after it ceases to meet requirements of society are mainly coercive. The police, military, naval and air forces –the armed forces of the State – are the chief bulwark by which they protect their social edifice against the assaults of those who would overthrow it. It needs very little thought to convince one that it would be the height of folly to expect or to attempt to dispossess the possessing class so long as they have under their control such mighty forces of repression as these. What the results would be is indicated by many tragic episodes…in particular by the ferocious suppression of the Commune of Paris in 1871, when the master class of France, with the approval of the master class of the whole world, butchered over 30,000 working men, women and children after resistance had ceased.
The workers must therefore, as the first essential step in the dethroning of the capitalist class, gain control of the armed forces of the State.
These armed forces are controlled by the House of Commons. There is voted the money that supports them. There is decided whether they shall be extended or reduced… and, in the ultimate, whether they shall be launched against any object of capitalist fear or malice (Socialism, SPGB pamphlet, 1920, p. 41). So when Perrin portrays the SPGB as obsessed with a mere legalistic, formal enactment in Parliament, he is guilty of a gross misrepresentation. Indeed, the only reasonable conclusion that we can derive from his arguments on this subject is that the Clapham-based Socialist Party has abandoned the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, particularly the last three clauses. As Perrin writes:
As the Party enters the new millennium it does now at last seem that the [Party] has begun to assert the democratic, majoritarian aspect of its case rather than the mechanistic legalism of the “parliamentary road”, so evident in Party propaganda until recent years (p. 195).
Indeed, through the 1970s and 1980s, the SOCIALIST STANDARD very seldom carried any article giving any hint as to how Socialism could be achieved. There was an increasing unwillingness to print the SPGB’s PRINCIPLES on party leaflets, and recently the Clapham-based Socialist Party has been moving towards dropping these PRINCIPLES from their election manifestoes.
However, in abandoning the SPGB’s PRINCIPLES, especially those which assert the necessity of gaining political power and control over the armed forces – to prevent these being used to crush the Socialist movement, the Clapham-based Socialist Party has laid itself wide open, like Morris’s Socialist League, to being taken over by a variety of factions: anarchists/libertarians, industrial unionists, Trotskyists, vanguardists, whatever – provided only that they agree about ‘common ownership’ as their aim.
While the SPGB has always taken pride in its independence and emphasised its opposition to groups who advocate the suicidal tactic of direct action or to those groups and parties who want to put Socialism on the back burner, while they build up a mass organisation on the basis of reformist, immediate demands, the Clapham-based Socialist party is clearly abandoning this position. Perrin expects it to move to “a less isolated position within the working class movement and some real progress towards its ultimate goal (p. 202, our emphasis).
This idea, that the Party can make progress towards Socialism by joining ranks with those who merely want to see capitalism reformed, is childish in the extreme. Perrin does not specify what he means by the “working class movement”. The pseudo-Socialists of the Left – the SWP, the various fragments of the former Communist Party, who all hold some form of vanguardist theory on organisation? The Labour Party – old or new –which was never a Socialist Party? Or the Labour-supporting trade unions, who peddle New Labour’s dangerous nonsense about partnership with the employers and the ‘national interest’?
Since “the working class movement” is usually understood to be opposed to the politics of the SPGB, we can see why Perrin refers to Socialism as his Party’s “ultimate goal”. He should spell out what that Party’s “immediate goals” are. As for us, like generations of Socialists before us, who agree with and understand the SPGB’s OBJECT and DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, we continue to work for Socialism as our immediate, our only goal.
In Conclusion – The Class Struggle
Perrin claims that his book is intended as a reliable and accurate accent of the SPGB’s politics and economics. It would be ridiculous to accept this claim as face value. Just as there are ways of telling Stork from butter or the fake from the genuine article, s there are certain features which distinguish the SOPGB from other so-called “Socialist” parties. Consider these key points from the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES:
* The SPGB case is based on the historical reality of the class struggle. Since in capitalism, there is an inevitable conflict of interests between labour and capital, between the working class and the employing class, this can only be ended by putting an end to the class system.
* Since the capitalist wages system means that the working class – whether well-paid or badly paid – are exploited, it is in the interests of the working class to organise for Socialism and an end to class exploitation.
* The class-conscious Socialist Party – working for Socialism and only for Socialism – must be independent from and opposed to all other political parties since these all have other aims. The history of the last century is littered with the remains of so-called “Socialist” parties who got sucked into supporting various reforms of capitalism or wars fought in the ‘national’ interest, leaving Socialism in the margins, as it were, as a mere ‘ultimate aim’. The SPGB argues that either a party works for the revolution – for Socialism and only for Socialism – or it caves in to capitalism and ceases to be Socialist, merely using that name as a deceptive flag of convenience.
* Since the power of the state exists primarily to defend the interests of the capitalist class, the struggle to overthrow capitalism cannot be won by mere direct action, general strikes or “industrial unionism” tactics. It must be won on “the field of political action”.
Regarding this last point, Perrin’s book tries to make out that the early members of the SPGB were influenced by De Leon, who by 1905 had decided to abandon the Marxian thesis of the political class struggle in favour of “industrial unionism”. There was indeed a debate within the SPGB, pushed by some who wanted the Party to form an alliance with the Scottish De Leonists, the Socialist Labour Party. That proposition was definitely rejected by the SPGB (Conference 1906). In an article reproduced in the SOCIALIST STANDARD'S 50th anniversary issue, the Party’s rejection of De Leonism was expressed in robust terms:
Industrial Unionism’ is merely a pleasant name for Anarchism and ‘Direct Action’. It is one of those almost inevitable elements of confusion and disorganisation which beset the working class in its advance. Every dog has its day, and every freak idea its boom, as though the workers were prepared to traverse every avenue of error before keeping steadily to the right road (SOCIALIST STANDARD April 1909/September 1954).
It is impossible to reconcile this forthright condemnation of ‘industrial unionism’ with Perrin’s claim that: “The views of the impossibilist American SLP undoubtedly had an influence on both the SPGB and the British SLP…,” (p. 31). His assertion, however untrue, does give support to those in the Clapham-based Socialist Party who have resurrected De Leon’s ghost and now want to claim the SLP as their “political cousins”’ (SOCIALIST STANDARD, August 1991).
This fantastic claim only makes sense as part of a strategy, which Perrin refers to approvingly, and which is the sub-text of his whole book, i.e. to move the Clapham-based Socialist Party “to a less isolated position within the working class movement” (p. 202). J. Crump and S. Coleman have long argued that the Party should downplay or disregard as merely “peripheral” or secondary the question of the means of achieving Socialism in order to bring about an opportunist alliance with organisations and groups with widely differing views on how Socialism can be achieved. This line is seen by Perrin, wrongly, as a source of its strength.
It is far from that. Such woolly-mindedness is dangerous, a real source of weakness and future disunity.
Suppose that such an ‘alliance’ came about, involving groups as diverse as the various Leninist/Maoist/Trotskyist parties on the one hand, wedded to their belief in a ‘vanguard’ party to lead the ignorant masses, and on the other wing, assorted anarcho-communists, situationists, advocates of direct action, industrial unionists, and the ragtag and bobtail of the anti-globalisation protests. Suppose that this unlikely alliance grew, having just one thing in common, Socialism as one of their aims.
At the first serious challenge, the question of ‘means’ comes to the fore, the ‘alliance’ splits and is shown up for a sham. The house of cards collapses. Contrary to Crump’s thesis, echoed by Perrin, the Clapham-based Socialist Party would gain nothing from such an opportunist strategy. Indeed, it has already lost much in terms of credibility, integrity and unity of purpose.
From the start, the SPGB rejected vanguardism. In place of a central elite, the SPGB argued, as Marx and Engels did, that: “…the emancipation of the working class… must be the work of the working class itself”.
This principle became even more important after the 1917 Bolshevik coup. The SPGB stood out in its class-based analysis, arguing that Socialism could not be imposed, top-down, on a largely peasant population, which neither understood nor wanted Socialism, and that Bolshevik minority rule, far from being a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, would become simply a dictatorship of the Party over the proletariat.
Since then the SPGB’s task has been much hampered by the confusion caused by claims that ‘Soviet’ Russia was some form of ‘state socialism’, or that such a ‘transition’ stage between capitalism and “full-blown Communism” was essential. The SPGB’s analysis showed how the “Soviet” Union was in fact part of the world capitalist trading system, where the working class were exploited through the wages system, just as in other parts of world capitalism.
Yet Perrin puts forward, instead, as the Party’s case, the half-baked argument of A Buick and J Crump, STATE CAPITALISM: THE WAGES SYSTEM UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT, 1986. There is no evidence at all to support their claim that in Russia a “state capitalist class” came to power as a result of a ‘state capitalist revolution’. Further, their description of this ‘state capitalist class’ – in terms of rank and seniority in the Party-state bureaucracy, i.e. in terms of political criteria – is poles apart from the SPGB’s Marxian concept of class in terms of economic criteria.
To suggest that there were two forms of capitalism, two types of capitalist class, is to bring the Clapham-based Socialist Party closer to those on the Left who argued that the Soviet system was some sort of ‘transition’ stage, often described, confusingly, as ‘state socialism’. Again, this suits the political agenda of Buick, Crump, Coleman and co. But it is not the SPGB’s position.
Again, the SPGB from the start has asserted it has only one objective – Socialism. Hence, we have no lists of immediate demand, and we do not compromise or share platforms with other organisations. The SPGB works for Socialism, not for lessening the miseries of capitalism. There are plenty who do that – political parties, pressure groups and thousands of charities, backed by millions of well-wishers. None of them work for Socialism and only for Socialism.
Neither, for that matter, does the Clapham-based Socialist Party. If they did, they would not have published the 1981 leaflet expressing “admiration and support” for the reformist, Polish Solidarity movement, an organisation whose declared aims included “to attempt to bring workers’ interests into harmony with the functioning of the enterprise”. Likewise, against our opposition, in 1990 they pushed through Conference a resolution declaring that;
…the Socialist Party of Great Britain wholeheartedly supports the efforts of workers everywhere to secure democratic rights….
Again, the effect of this policy is to draw the Clapham-based Socialist Party closer to those many organisations whose focus is on reforming capitalism. The assumption is that such reforms can be worked for at the same time as working for Socialism. The question that the Party needs to ask itself is: what do they want – a less disagreeable, reformed, capitalism or the end of class exploitation?
After all, the capitalist class can accommodate themselves to an entire raft of pledges on democratic human rights but, even if all these pledges were fully implemented, world-wide, the working class would still be exploited. Socialism would still be needed. This will remain the situation as long as the wages system lasts, as long as the working class fails to recognise its class situation and interests, and fails to organise to end this system through class-conscious, revolutionary, political action.
It is impossible to see how expressing “wholehearted support” for reformist organisations could do anything to further the cause of Socialism.
To confuse things even more, Perrin mixes into this witches’ brew of activist opportunism his very own pet theory of capitalism’s collapse. True, it was originally formulated and refuted long before he was born. But it is Perrin who has been urging the Clapham-based Socialist Party to adopt his argument.
We have already dealt with his argument in terms of its economics (v. Chap. 5). However, there are some important political implications. Perrin claims that there are “identifiable tendencies within capitalist development which could yet be among those significant factors raising the popular consciousness… required before a social revolution can take place” (p. 103).
First, and this is not a quibble, the SPGB does not argue for “raising popular consciousness”, as he claims. What Socialists aim to do is to help develop class consciousness: a clear understanding among workers of their position as an exploited class and of the urgent need to end that exploitation. Mere “popular consciousness” leads people to support a variety of pressure groups and protest campaigns, demonstrating and petitioning against a variety of the evils of capitalism.
What this mere “popular consciousness”, the culture of protest, does not do is induce workers to campaign for Socialism and to oppose the capitalist system itself – the root cause of poverty, unemployment, war, etc., not to mention the exploitation of the working class, generation after generation. In short, this “popular consciousness” is simply code, Perrin-speak, for urging Socialists to join the wider “working class movement”, and become part of the great – in numbers – misguided rent-a-mob crowd, represented in the past by mass protest movements like CND, and nowadays by alternating anti-war and anti-globalisation demonstrations.
Such protest movements have nothing to do with working for Socialism. If the Clapham-based Socialist Party choose to give “admiration and support” to reformist ecological/anarchist/libertarian fringe groups, they may wear out much shoe-leather, marching here, there and everywhere, but in so doing they can only hold back the cause of socialism. Either you work for Socialism and only for Socialism or you betray the working class, as other so-called “Socialist” parties have done before.
Secondly, as the SPGB argued in 1932, the mistaken belief that capitalism is bound to collapse is not just a delusion but has potentially harmful effects.
…our work has been made more difficult by the idea that Capitalism may collapse of its own accord. It is clear that if Capitalism were going to collapse under the weight of its own problems then it would be a waste of time and energy to carry on socialist propaganda and to build up a real socialist party aiming at political power… Workers who have accepted this wrong and lazy idea of collapse have neglected many activities that are absolutely essential. They have taken up the fatalistic attitude of waiting for the system to end itself. But the system is not so obliging! ( WHY CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE, p. 4).
Class-conscious organisation for Socialism is not to be achieved simply sitting back and waiting – for what? For mass unemployment and the experience of “absolute poverty, social crisis and ecological disaster”?
Hardly. Especially since history tells us that among the obvious effects of mass unemployment etc. are all too often an increase in racist violence, the rise of Right-wing or Fascist parties, even dictatorships. Such situations tend to work against class unity, solidarity and internationalism.
The logic of Perrin’s position would seem to justify the inactivity of most members of his party. Presumably they are simply playing a waiting game and are just hibernating until after capitalism has obligingly collapsed. Not so much a revolutionary Socialist Party as a Rip Van Winkle Party.
We also noted Perrin’s enthusiasm for the Clapham-based Socialist Party’s Utopianism as in the 1983 report PRODUCTION FOR USE, and the 1987 pamphlet SOCIALISM AS A PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVE, with their inconsistent and unrealistic plans for a Utopian Never-Never-Land. Here too we find that the Clapham-based Socialist Party rejects the SPGB’s common-sense – and historically sound – argument that we have enough to do arguing the case for Socialism, helping our fellow-workers to a clear understanding of the class struggle, the conflict of interests between labour and capital, and how the system of class exploitation can be ended. Surely, there is more than enough work to do without indulging ourselves in dotting the i’s and crossing all the t’s, describing in laborious detail exactly how a Socialist society is to make its decisions, let alone what we imagine those decisions will be.
To neglect the class struggle basis of Socialism in favour of portraying Socialism as some kind of ideal vision: this would only result in Socialism being seen as idealistic, impractical, in a word, Utopian. First and foremost, it is necessary to show how it can be brought about and why it is in the interest of the world’s working class to organise politically to end the class system.
But the dreamers of the Clapham-based Socialist Party dislike mention of the very basis of the Socialist case – the class struggle. They reject too the need for an uncompromising stand as a party working for Socialism and only for Socialism. Instead it is their policy to support movements for “democratic rights” within capitalism.
They reject too the Marxian argument that “every class struggle is a political struggle” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO), likewise Marx’s argument that:
Considering, that against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied class:
That this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end – the abolition of classes… (First international, RESOLUTION ON POLITICAL ACTION, 1871).
Instead, they have adopted the anarchist doctrine of “the immediate abolition of the state” (Conference 1984). In wanting to join hands with a variety of groups and organisations, from vanguardists to De Leonists and “anarcho-socialists”, they are heading down the path of opportunism and compromise; to a position which Perrin approves “a less isolated position within the working class movement”.
Take, for instance, this comment by George Walford, in an article in IDEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY (c1992), in which writing after the “split” and arguing that the SPGB had much in common with the anarchists, he wrote approvingly of the Clapham-based Socialist party that they: “have been moving towards the more flexible and inclusive attitude of the general anarchist movement”. Since Perrin cites Walford’s book as a useful source of material and describes IDEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY'S persistent criticism of the SPGB before and after the ‘split’, as “some of it insightful” (p. 205), it is probable that he endorses Walfords’s assessment of this trend.
The Clapham-based Socialist Party is clearly no longer a Socialist party – other than in name, like many others – since Perrin refers to socialism as its “ultimate goal”, p. 202. The SPGB however has always held – and still does – that Socialism is our only goal.
Far from correcting “myth [sic] and apocrypha” (p. 10) about the SPGB, Perrin has created a whole new set of myths. The Party is portrayed in his book as a flexible, opportunist, anarcho-libertarian, eco-friendly type of party. This is indeed true of the Clapham-based Socialist Party. But it is a fraud to portray that party as the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
What sort of “Socialist” Party is it that:
* flirts with De Leonism, industrial unionism and direct action?
* holds the anarchist doctrine of the “abolition of the state”?
* and supports reformist struggles for “rights”.
A party like this has clearly turned its back in the SPGB’s PRINCIPLES, based on the Marxist theory of class struggle and the need for the working class to organise consciously and politically for the other throw of capitalism. It rejects key issues of SPGB principles and policy. It is in fact a fraud.
It is “Socialist” in name only, a tribute to the power and persistence of that old, Left-wing strategy; factional entryism. Just as we do not judge a book by its cover, likewise with political parties. It is not the name that counts. It is rather the uncompromising policies and clear principles of Socialism, based on the revolutionary, political, class struggle which distinguish the real SPGB from this opportunist fake.
These principles are a clear declaration, asserting the real, “scientific” case for Socialism as being rooted in the social and economic interests of the working class. The class struggle to end class exploitation must be fought in the political arena since other methods, such as strikes or direct action, would be crushed by ruthless state action. Lessons from history, for instance the Paris commune, reinforce this argument. And lessons from history also support the SPGB’s insistence on the necessity of independence from and opposition to all other political parties “whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist”.
Ours is a party working for a clear objective, united as to the means of achieving it. We remain the only party in Britain working for Socialism and only for Socialism. To workers everywhere, the message is still:
Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.