The SPGB and the Question of Reforms.
If the Socialist Party of Great Britain had any reformist leanings at all, it is a reasonable to expect that the new-formed Party in 1904 would proudly have nailed its colours to the mast in the first issue of its journal in September 1904.
Having broken with the Social Democratic Federation, the first SOCIALIST STANDARD would have been the obvious place to proclaim what the Party stood for, and this is precisely what the Party did. Unfortunately, no such tendency is anywhere to be seen.
The first ever Editorial in the first SOCIALIST STANDARD (September 1904), has this to say:
“In dealing with all questions affecting the welfare of the working class our standpoint will be frankly revolutionary. We shall show that the misery, the poverty and the degradation caused by capitalism grows far more rapidly than does the enacting of palliative legislation for its removal. The adequate alleviation of these ills can be brought about only by a political party having Socialism for its object. So long as the powers of administration are controlled by the capitalist class so long can that class render nugatory any legislation, they consider to unduly favour the workers”.
In an editorial feature article in that same first issue the SPGB wrote:
“The Social Democratic Federation”, formed to further the cause of Socialism in Great Britain has, during the last few years, been steadily following the compromising policy adopted from the first by the Independent Labour Party. So much is this the case that today, for all purposes of effective Socialist propaganda they have ceased to exist and are surely developing into a mere reform party seeking to obtain the provision of free maintenance for school children”
Fifty years later, another milestone in the Party’s history was the publication of the Anniversary Number of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.
In looking back over 50 years and reaffirming the Party’s principles and the stand taken against war, Soviet capitalism and reform policies, this is an excellent piece of socialist literature. On page 3, under the heading: “Our contributions to the Socialist Movement”, fourteen points are listed. Number three of these says:
“Opposition to all reform policies and unswerving pursuit of Socialism as the sole objective”.
Point number ten states:
“The Socialist Party must be entirely independent of all other political parties entering into no agreement or alliances for any purpose. Compromising this independence for any purpose however seemingly innocent, will lead to non-socialists giving support to the Party”.
Writing the word “Socialism” across ballot papers where no Socialist was standing was reaffirmed, as a way of showing rejection of all the other parties and expressing the demand for Socialism.
The same uncompromising case for Socialism against reformism is made in the Party pamphlets.
THE MANIFESTO of the Socialist Party of Great Britain was the Party’s first pamphlet, published in 1905. It is full of trenchant condemnation of all the opportunist reform parties of the time and rejects outright their political trading and vote-catching stunts. The independence of the Party is vigorously proclaimed. The case stated is as fresh today as in 1905 and remains the position of the S.P.G.B.
Thus, for example, on page 9:-
“A glance over history shows that every class that emancipated itself had to commence by the capture of political machinery, that is the power of government. It is therefore necessary for workers to organise a political party having for its object the capture of political power. This political party of the workers can only be a socialist party because socialism alone is based on the facts of working- class existence Socialism alone can free the workers from the necessity of selling himself for the profit of a master: Socialism alone will strip him of his merchandise character and allow him to become a full social being”.
There has been a chapter on the subject of reformism in every re-issue of QUESTIONS OF THE DAY since it first appeared in 1932. In that first issue on page 18 it states:
“…we know that the immediate need of our class is emancipation, which can only be achieved through the establishment of Socialism” (emphasis in the original).
There is also a detailed chapter on Parliament and “the necessity of gaining control of the machinery of government” Page 44.
The rejection of bartering our independence for promises of reform is stressed again. No opportunism, but a sober understanding of the fact that Parliament controls the armed forces, so Parliament must be captured “before attempting to uproot the existing foundations of society” (p.68).
A chapter on fascism makes the unanswerable argument that the only way to prevent political power being used against the workers is for workers to refrain from voting capitalist agents into power.
Forty-six years later, in 1978, QUESTIONS OF THE DAY was largely rewritten and brought up to date the treatment of old questions and dealt with later ones that had arisen, Chinese capitalism among them. There is still a chapter headed The Futility of Reformism and another on Parliament putting again the socialist case consistently stated before.
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.