Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - Govan Workers Open Forum December 1931
Govan Workers Open Forum December 1931: “Why the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to all other Political Parties”.
Over the years the Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain has been left by some of its late members a vast amount of original material of the SPGB’s formative years along with transcript of debates long since forgotten.
One paper in our possession (from a bundle of documents from of our late comrade Jim D’Arcy) is a report of an address delivered by Comrade A. Shaw, Glasgow Branch of the SPGB; to Govan Workers Open Forum, at Robert Street on Wednesday, December 24th,, 1931. Other Party members also contributed to the forum which began at 8.00 in the evening and went on until nearly 11.35. The building in which the Open forum was held was rented by the British Section of the International Socialist Labour Party to whom the SPGB were opposed.
One point should be said to the social conditions under which the debate took place. Times for the working class were harsh. By the end of 1930, unemployment had more than doubled from 1 million to 2.5 million (20% of the insured workforce). Two years after the lecture was given, in 1933, 30% of workers in Glasgow were unemployed due to the severe decline in heavy industry. Eight years later World War Two was to break out leaving some 55 million persons dead.
The opening address given by Comrade Shaw illustrates the SPGB’s consistency in refusing to have anything to do with social reforms, Industrial Unionism, the IWW, DeLeon and Capitalist Russia under the Bolsheviks. The address also highlighted the principled position of the SPGB in its hostility to all other political parties and groups who do not share the Party’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES and the need for a class conscious working class to capture the machinery of government before establishing Socialism.
As the speaker stated in his conclusion: “Socialism is the only hope of the working class”. It still is.
We are publishing the entire manuscript over three issues of SOCIALIST STUDIES and in its entirety on our web site www.socialiststudies.org.uk. Some corrections to minor spelling mistakes have been made.
A copy of the original can be obtained on request at a cost of £2 to cover printing and postage.
A copy of the pamphlet The Socialist Party of Great Britain: Executive Committee’s Reply to the “Open Letter to Members of the Socialist party” issued by “The Provisional Committee for advocating Revocation of reply given to “W.B.” of Upton Park in the “Socialist Standard” for February, 1910”will be published soon to demonstrate that the SPGB did not change its position on reforms as set out with the formation of the Party in 1904.
Why the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to all other Political Parties
The Chairman, Mr (name not given) opened the meeting at 8 P.M. by announcing that the purpose of the Govan Workers Forum was to get workers together for the purpose of examining the objects and principles of the many working class organisations, in order that, if possible, the way of emancipation from the thraldom of capitalism may be made clear to all workers who attended their meetings. Tonight Comrade Shaw, representing the Socialist Party of Great Britain would in the space of half an hour or so, address members on the position as held by his organisation relative to other political parties. Thereafter the meeting would be open for question and discussion. Comrade Shaw, in his opening remarks thanked the members of Govan Forum on behalf of the membership of Glasgow Branch, S.P.G.B., for placing a whole evening at the disposal of the Socialist Party in order that the position of that body may be made clear to all present. The title of the address would be: “Why the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to all other Political Parties”.
The reason why the S.P.G.B was opposed to all other parties including the B.S.I.S.L.P (British Section of the International Socialist Labour Party) would become clear to the audience after an examination has been made of the conditions which gave rise to the present party system.
The system of society today, within which workers starved and suffered, was known as Capitalism. This form of society had not always existed but was the product of a previous system known as Feudalism. Feudalism had been preceded by a system known as Chattel Slavery and Chattel Slavery in turn was the product of the first form of society we know of –Primitive Communism. The different forms of society have expressed the changes which have taken place in the mode of production of society’s necessities of life. The basis of Primitive Communism was Common Ownership of the means of production with Social distribution of the product of food, clothing and shelter. No member of society then had too much of the good things of life and others with too little. Each form of society contains within it the seeds of its own destruction and in the course of time private property was the seed that destroyed Primitive Communism. From the fall of Primitive Communism until the present day, the ownership or non-ownership of property determined one’s position in society. Under primitive Communism equality existed and all the people had the same rights and privileges; a relationship of freedom existed which has been lost to the human race since private property was established and can only be recovered by the establishment of Socialism.
In the system known as Chattel slavery the relationship was Master and slave, under Feudalism Lord and Serf and in modern Capitalist society it is capitalist and worker. Between these divisions of people or classes in society a struggle went on. This struggle was known to all Socialists as a class struggle. The modern struggle is between Workers and capitalists and the reason is not difficult to understand.
The means of production today are privately owned, that is to say, a section of society own all the factories, mines, mills, workshops etc., through which ownership they are able to live a life of ease and luxury. The other section owning nothing are forced to sell themselves as workers to the owners of property in order that they get food, clothing, shelter for themselves and their wives and children. The mode of production being commodity production for profit, the return to the worker takes the form of a money wage. This wage is the money expression of the value of the particular worker’s labour power. A Navvy and an Engineer received different amounts of money as wages but both of these workers received the value of his particular labour-power. This value was determined by how much it cost to produce his kind of labour power. All commodities, labour-power included, had their values determined in the same way, by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them.
In the process of production the worker produced a surplus over what as returned to him in the form of wages. This was the reason his master the Capitalist employed him and was the sole aim of the Capitalist System.
The worker found through experience that his wage enabled him to purchase only the cheapest necessities of life and to maintain even this he had to continually struggle with his master. To assist him in his struggles he formed Trade unions some people advocated the formation of industrial unions but there were no difference between them fundamentally), but in spite of all his efforts his conditions gradually became worse and he was able to see that his life was one long story of poverty, degradation and misery.
Many political organisations professed to exist only for the purpose of assisting the working class. The Conservative Party, Liberal Party, Labour party, Communist Party and a host of others drew up programmes of social reforms which they all guaranteed would, if the workers would only trust them and vote for them; solve all the ills which afflicted the working class. The Socialist Party of Great Britain had no reforms on its programme and was opposed to all parties who asked the workers to support a reformist policy. Reform of Capitalism would still leave workers in their slave position. Reforms, apart from the fact that in many cases they had proven worse than the evil which they set out to remedy, were but the normal features of Capitalism. Capitalism and their representatives had been busy reforming the Capitalist System since it had been established but in spite of all their reforms the condition of the working class was worse today than ever it was in its history. It was the boast of such outstanding defenders of capitalism as A. J. Balfour, J. H. Thomas and many others of the same type that “Reform is the antidote to Revolution” and they were correct. The Communist Party, with its ever-changing lists of reforms should be an example to the workers of the futility of wasting valuable time and energy attempting to reform a system which could not be reformed in the interests of the working class.
The mere ownership of wealth was not enough; a means must be at hand to protect that ownership. This means was the armed forces of a society and were under the control of whichever Political party having a majority of representatives in Parliament. Whoever had control of these forces were masters of the situation. If the workers had not this force to contend with it would be an easy matter for them to dispossess their masters. In 1926 we had an example of the masters using their political control to smash discontent among the workers. History as a matter of fact was full of such examples. So long as the workers left this gigantic weapon in the hands of their masters they were helpless.
Social reform being no solution to the ills suffered by the workers the Socialist Party of Great Britain pointed out that all the evils could be traced to the one cause and to this one cause only –Private Property. When we looked around us we saw notices such as “This is Private Property” or “No admittance except on business etc”. To the Socialist these were advertisements of the cause of poverty, slums, disease, crime, prostitution, war and all the other curses of the human race. Having found the one cause for all our troubles we find the remedy almost automatically- Socialism. Abolish private property with production for profit and establish a new system of society based on Common Ownership with production for use. This is what Socialism means. Under such new conditions would he be lifted above the sordid animal stage of existence such as he finds himself at present. This was something worthwhile fighting for and the way to achieve such a new system of society was by the workers first of all getting to understand their enslaved position in present day capitalism, to organise with others, in order to take revolutionary political action to control the State machine in order to transform society from the basis up. This meant the action of a class conscious majority of the workers. Minorities were of no use. We have a class conscious minority today yet it is helpless. That minority would have to go on broadcasting the principles of Socialism until the majority accepted them.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain was the only organisation in this country that faced up to the task other organisations shirked preaching the only solution, and, in shirking such an important duty, proved themselves enemies of the workers and unworthy of their support. Socialism is the only hope of the working class. The Socialist Party of Great Britain had been advocating nothing else since 1904 and since Socialism was our object all our activities were directed towards getting it established as soon as possible. For the aforementioned we are opposed to all other political parties.
The chairman announced that the meeting was open for discussion.
Mr M’ KAY, Socialist Labour Party:
After listening very carefully to the lecture delivered by Mr. Shaw (I have no intention of calling him comrade) I am trying to find just exactly where I stand. I am a Socialist, but I understand that, when we understand what Socialism is, we differ in degree. One thing we are agreed on, that is, the workers are quite as poor at the end of every year as they were at the beginning of the same year. That happens in every country with the exception of Socialist Russia. I put it to the speaker: he wants the majority of the workers to become class-conscious, he still wants that after all the years the S.P.G.B. have been preaching the principles of their doctrine to the workers. In spite of all their efforts the workers have no time for them. The speaker is not a Socialist; his party is not a Socialist party; if it was the workers would have more time for it.
Industrial Unionism Shaw claims is the same as Trade Unionism. Such a statement only shows his ignorance on the subject. Industrial Unionism is altogether different from Trade Unionism in that it will act along class lines as opposed to craft lines of the present day Trade Unions. The waste of time and energy of hundreds of Trade Unions in this country is made plain when we realise that only twenty Industrial Unions cover and control industry in Soviet Russia.
The S.P.G.B. is continually telling us that we must have a majority of workers class-conscious before we can have Socialism. If a majority of that nature is necessary then many future generations are doomed never to see Socialism. I have my doubts about such a theory. In the near future there will be such conditions as will compel the workers to take action. The majority may not understand the Materialist Conception of History, may not be able to understand and expound the intricate Marxian Theory of Value, but they will understand that their class must take over and run the economic system in their own interests.
Mr KILPATRICK, B.S.I.S.L.P.
The speaker, Mr Shaw, opened his address in his usual slovenly manner by referring to the Anarchist B.S.I.S.L.P. as being the owners of these premises. Such a statement was ridiculous as it was well known that the premises were only rented by the B.S.I.S.L.P.
Another slovenly statement was; the basis of ownership since Primitive Communism had ended had not changed. It was patent to all that we have now arrived at the stage of the Trust, Combine, etc. The speaker must have had some glimmering of this when he first at all spoke of the private ownership of wealth and later on referred to the class ownership. This was a change the speaker and his party should take into consideration as it may alter their outlook a little when they examine Industrial Unionism.
The principal difference between the S.P.G.B. and the B.S.I.S.L.P. is that the Socialist Party believes only in political action, while the B.S.I. with its broader outlook understands that Socialist philosophy is all embracing thus including the place where goods are produced. The B.S.I. therefore advocate the economic and political organisation of the working class.
The working class has been bought into existence by Capitalist Class itself, and, being the mass of the people with no property tradition does not know where its real interests lie. On the economic field the workers are all at sixes and sevens because of their many Trade Unions, but a class instrument is being forged –The industrial Union. This instrument will be perfected to take control of production and distribution. It is the only organisation that is capable of performing a task.
Shaw did not define what Socialism was. Socialism meant that society would own and control the means whereby society lived.
If you understand how old parties came into existence with their class slogan of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” you will know that it was because they owned the economic means which enabled them to rule. The class which owns the wealth is the class which dictates.
After all has been said, and all that may be said to the contrary, it is clear that the workers must develop the arms of their movement, the economic and the political (Applause).
W. TRAVERS, S.P.G.B.
It is rather curious that in spite of all that has been said about Industrial Unionism, not one of its advocates tonight has attempted to explain what it is. We had been solemnly assured that Industrial Unionism was an instrument by which the workers could control industry. Were we supposed to become enthusiastic about something which had not been explained? Industrial Unionism as a matter of fact was a flyblown species of thinly disguised Anarchism. The home of Industrial Unionism was America where Mr. Trauptmann, Mr. DeLeon. E. V. Debbs and others had advocated it as the means of emancipating the proletariat. It central idea was that workers should organise on the economic field with the view of grabbing the means of production from the Boss. Workers had not, so far, accepted this theory which would bring them up against the murderous forces of the State. Perhaps this was the reason so many workers were alive today.
Before I became a Socialist I used to hold Propaganda meetings in Ireland with the late Jim Connolly. Jim, unfortunately, took a trip to America and had a conversation with Daniel Deleon, a conversation from which he never recovered. He came back to Ireland and acquainted many of us with the new revolutionary tactic –Industrial Unionism. At first we received this new idea with enthusiasm, but, afterwards having thoroughly examined Industrial Unionism we saw, clearly, that all the efforts put forth by workers organised in Industrial Unions or any other kind of economic organisations would be futile so long as the Ruling Class had control of political power. Attempts had been made in the past in America and elsewhere at forming Industrial Unions for the purpose of “Seizing and Holding” the means of production but in every case dissension among those organised had paralysed their activities. This disproved the theory of the Industrial Unionist who thought that all would be well if only the workers could be organised on an industrial basis instead of the present basis. Even if they were successful in forming Industrial Unions as desired they would still have to overcome the Military forces of the State.
The only way of emancipation was that advocated by the Socialist party of Great Britain. Industrial Unionism, Social Reform. Seize and Hold methods and all the other alternatives put forward by the multifarious so-called Working Class organisations were so many obstacles which the workers must overcome before they can abolish Capitalism. Socialism is the only hope of the workers all else being illusion. It was up to all workers present to study the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and, on understanding it, to join that organisation to take part in the great work of abolishing Capital and establishing Socialism.
Mr. C. MARTIN, B.S.I.S.L.P.
Mr Travers in his contribution has done nothing other than attack the Anarchists. Travers and Shaw want the workers here to believe the wonderful S.P.G.B., but if they would come regular to these meetings and get an understanding of Industrial Unionism they could then speak on that subject more intelligently. The S.P.G.B. were, in spite of all they said to the contrary, mere physical force Anarchists. They wanted to obtain control of political power in order to knock hell out of all who opposed them. This proved they were Anarchists under their skins. The orthodox Anarchists in the past had made many mistakes, but they had guts. The S.P.G.B. were all mistake and no guts.
I would like to ask Saint Travers and Saint Shaw (I wish they were Saints) a few questions. What did Marx mean when he wrote in the “COMMUNIST MANIFESTO” that “the workers must organise into a class and consequently into a political party”? Shaw had objected to his (Martins) explanation of this passage on a previous occasion and he would now like to hear Shaw’s explanation. The S.P.G.B. had their own peculiar interpretations of such quotations from Marx. That was the sort of people they were. The quotation simply meant that the workers must organise at the point of production.
Another point: What did Marx mean when he says in the “COMMUNIST MANIFESTO” that we must wrest by degrees all property from the hands of the masters?
The difference between the B.S.I.S.L.P. and the S.P.G.B. lies in the different concepts of the State as held by the two organisations. The S.P.G.B. concept is muddled. They want a majority of workers to understand Socialism and to get control of the State through the Ballot box. We will not get a majority for three thousand years or so. Marx says we must establish a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The S.P.G.B. being opposed to Marx on this point I would like to know what are they going to do with the State when it dies out?”
The Chairman announced at this stage that the meeting was now open for questions.
Questions to be asked only of the Speaker or of anyone who had taken part in discussion.
Question: When did Jim Connolly join the Socialist Party of Ireland? I deny that he did so. How can we overthrow Capitalism by the methods advocated by the S.P.G.B.?
Answer by Comrade TRAVERS SPGB
“I was with Connolly when he joined that opportunist body known as The Socialist Party of Ireland and I attacked him repeatedly for doing so. The method of the S.P.G.B. is the only method applicable to highly developed Capitalist countries and is the scientific method advocated by Marx. Industrial Unionism, street fighting and other methods of force are doomed to failure and only means another bloodbath to those workers who would be silly enough to attempt them. Class conscious political action to get control of the State machine is the method –the only method open today”.
Question: “Was not Daniel De Leon speaking on the same platform in 1886 and assisting Henry George, an anti-Socialist into Congress?”
Answer by CHARLES MARTIN B.S.I.S.L.P:
Question: “Is a director of a company a member of the Working class?”
Answer by Mr. KILPATRICK: B.S.I.S.L.P:
“Yes, if he is dependent on his salary. No, if of independent means.”
Question: “Is the difference between the S.P.G.B. and the B.S.I.S.L.P. that the S.P.G.B. takes political action only whilst the B.S.I. takes both political and economic?”
Answer by Comrade SHAW:
“The S.P.G.B. advocates that the workers must organise on the political and economic field on class lines before they can abolish Capitalism. Political action is necessary to end the system, and the act of revolution is political”.
Question: “Is it not a fact that Anarchist methods crept into the S.L.P. during the years 1900 and 1907?”
Answer by CHARLES MARTIN:
“There is a danger of such a thing happening but we guard against it in the same manner as the S.P.G.B. does –by insisting that members of our organisation be educated along the line of our principles.”
Question: “Comrade Shaw says that there is no Socialism in Russia. Will he explain why every Capitalist country is opposed to Russia?”
Answer by Comrade SHAW:
“Foreign capitalists are opposed to Russia for the same reason that Britain and Germany are opposed to each other. Russia is a trade rival competing in the World’s markets with other capitalist countries in order to sell her commodities. While opposed to each other for this reason, all are agreed that Private Property must be protected. Trading goes on between Russia and other Capital countries, loans are floated, and millions have invested in Russia by foreign capitalists. At the present moment advertisements appear in the press offering you a high rate of interest if you will lend your money to Russia. The interest accruing from such loans comes out of the exploitation of Russian workers. All countries where the capitalist mode of production, distribution and exchange exists are opposed to each other”.
Question: “Must we merely put a cross on our ballot papers in order to get Socialism, and the kind capitalists will then hand over?”
Answer by Comrade SHAW:
“No. when the workers understand Socialism and take the action necessary to obtain it, the capitalists will not be asked to “hand over”. The workers will take over and the bosses’ opinions on the matter won’t matter a Tinker’s curse”.
Question: “Will Socialist Society be political or economic?”
Answer by Mr KILPATRICK, B.S.I.S.L.P.:
“Society under Socialism will be a social unit, instead of at present divided into economic and political classes”.
Supplementary question by the same questioner:
“Since man is a political animal, I would like to know if Kilpatrick’s organisation claims that politics will be abolished under Socialism”.
Answer by MR KILPATRICK:
“What I understand by “Political” is that state of affairs wherein we have different economic classes who struggle with each other. Under Socialism classes will be abolished and the political struggles of classes will cease. Society will have to have some method of conducting the affairs of the community and social Administration will be entirely different from the present political system. I would say that man is a social animal rather than a political animal”.
“Did not the workers in Italy take possession of a number of factories and were driven out by their masters who used their control of the State forces through having political power”.
Answer by C. MARTIN B.S.I.S.L.P:
“The people of Italy who took control of the factories were not Socialists but Syndicalists who did not believe in taking political action. The S.L.P. and the B.S.I.S.L.P. believe in talking political action as well as economic action”.
The Chairman at this stage announced that questions would have to cease but further discussion could take place. Each participant would be allowed five minutes.
A. THOMPSON, S.P.G.B.:
“Much had been said of political action tonight by the opponents of the S.P.G.B. but it was quite apparent that they did not understand what it meant. Marx and Engels made it quite clear (as did all literature published by the S.P.G.B.) that political action meant that action which had for its object the control of the governmental powers which controlled the armed forces of the State. Engels pointed out that the workers would have to be in a majority, and thoroughly understanding the necessity for such action before they could establish Socialism.
Much misunderstanding exists as to the Socialist Party’s attitude regarding Trade Unions. The Socialist Party of Great Britain had always made it quite clear that the workers must organise on the political and economic field on sound class lines. Such organisation could not be accomplished by unclass-conscious workers, hence the S.P.G.B. carried on Socialist propaganda everywhere it was possible to do so. Everyone present should study the works of Marx, and when they had done so, they would see that the only organisation they could join, if they wanted Socialism, was the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Mr M’KAY, S.L.P.:
“Shaw’s position regarding Russia was the same as that told by the average bourgeois tourist who had spent a few days there then returned and spoke of things he did not understand. The facts are that the workers in Russia produce consciously in their own interests. Doctors, Lawyers, etc. are paid less than many of the manual workers. (Comrade Shaw: “What is your authority for making that statement”?). A friend of mine, returned from Russia recently, had been forced whilst employed in that country as a Dentist to appeal to his clients who were members of Unions to use their cards in order to obtain wine and cigarettes for him.
The delegates of the Timber Trade while in Russia had taken films of the Russian workers engaged in their employments and the films showed the workers to be strong, well fed, vigorous and healthy specimens of humanity. Work was done under ideal conditions, was not mechanical, and there was no compulsion. The workers, generally, were very satisfied and realised that in the near future all this work would rebound to their benefit. Every stage of the Five Year Plan was of interest to the International Proletariat.
A Socialist Revolution had undoubtedly taken place in Russia, but, as yet, Socialism proper had not been established. It was only a matter of time until it would become a living reality. Meanwhile, the S.P.G.B. theories against Russia but this only shows that they are feeling very sore about the matter, particularly the failure of their pet hates. Eventually the S.P.G.B. will spark out”.
Mr CHARLES MARTIN, B.S.I.S.L.P.:
“Thompson of the S.P.G.B. says that Trade unions are necessary under Capitalism and that is the S.P.G.B. position. The SOCIALIST STANDARD, for March 1915, says that the working class must organise both economically and politically. Shaw says Trade unions are rotten. Shaw seems to be very inconsistent. However it is the main points of the S.P.G.B. position I wish to get after.
Marx digs the S.P.G.B. pretty hard in the “COMMUNIST MANIFESTO” when he says that: “The workers cannot lay hold of the ready made State machinery and wield it for their own purposes” etc.
The B.S.I.S.L.P. says that the workers must organise on class lines on both the economic and political fields. We oppose the Communist Party for advocating reforms and for their bad tactics generally.
The Russian workers got control of the main industries thus getting economic power. With this economic power they soon got political power. All classes in history had likewise to have economic power before they could attain political power. The S.P.G.B. say that the workers must organise economically and politically but take no practical steps to organise the workers on the economic field. They are purely and simply a political party, and as such, is no use to the working class”.
Comrade TRAVERS, S.P.G.B.:
“Industrial Unionism as a method of revolution has still been forgotten by its champions in their endeavour to deal with the scientific position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. This is very significant. Instead of members of the S.P.G.B. studying Industrial Unionism, as desired by Mr martin the boot is on the other foot for it is quite obvious that that the case for Industrial Unionism has been outlined by its opponents tonight than its advocates. If the opponents of the S.P.G.B. will only study the position of that organisation they will soon see that Industrial Unionism is a red herring which must be kicked out of the workers’ path (A voice: “Industrial Unionism is a bird with two wings”). A bird with two wings is of no use if it has no brains. The antidote to the fallacies of Industrial Unionism and the many other red herrings is a sound knowledge of Socialist Principles. Once the workers have that knowledge, and not until they have it, then the business of emancipation will be a relatively simple matter”.
Answer to discussion by Comrade SHAW, SPGB:
The wordy assertions of our opponents fail to touch even the fringe of the Socialist party’s position. Misrepresentation has been resorted to, but this misrepresentation by Mr M’Kay will serve to show up in its true light the attitude of the Socialist Labour Party towards the War. Mr M’Kay says that the Socialist Party of Great Britain deserted the workers when the war broke out in 1914, but let us se. (Mr M’Kay at this stage, on a point of order said that the Socialist party of Great Britain were never with the workers at any time). I would remind you that his colleague, Mr Martin has in his possession the official organ of the Socialist party for 1915, which in itself gives lie to the statement that the S.P.G.B. “packed up” during the war. On that much vexed question of “guts” which annoyed Mr. Martin, let us see what kind of a show was put up by those who possessed, or claim to possess, so much of that commodity. First of all, what did the Socialist party of Great Britain do in 1914? Listen to this. (Quoting from the MANIFESTO of the S.P.G.B.):
“Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism”.
That was the attitude of the S.P.G.B. towards the war, but let us see how the men with the “guts” the “Fighting S.L.P” as they called themselves, faced up to the issue. This is from the S.L.P. paper, “THE SOCIALIST”, December 1914:
“The S.L.P. –let us admit it freely, it has been taken by storm, though not so disastrously as other parties. What policy does the S.L.P. follow with respect to this war? We do not know. We are disunited. We are groping for a lead at the present time”.
The Editor of the same journal wrote in the issue of November 1914, three months after the war broke out:-
“I cannot say what the official attitude of the Party is” (Loud laughter).
You have heard the quotations from the organs of both organisations relative to the war, and it will be obvious to you which is the correct attitude.
We have been informed by our opponents that the condition of the workers in Russia are better than in any other country, they have a Socialist government there, but have not got Socialism. No evidence has been presented to us that there is a Socialist government in Russia, we are merely asked to believe the statement. I explained in answer to a question what was going on in Russia, that Capitalism is being built up and not Socialism.
Regarding the position of the Industrial Unionist which S.L.Per and B.S.I.S.L.P.er alike take a stand on, I have enough material here to speak for two hours on the subject but I intend to deal with the main points only due to the lateness of the hour.
On the question of “Economic power” so much beloved by the S.L.P.ers, and Industrial Unionists generally, if they mean the ownership of wealth, then history has much to say on this point which disproves the idea that mere ownership in some miraculous manner confers power on the owners. In England, from the 11th to the 14th century, the woollen merchants were the most economically important class, with all their wealth they were helpless and were fleeced right and left by those who had political power – the feudal aristocracy. The history of every country has been the same in this respect. The capitalist class, under Feudalism in spite of all their wealth were helpless until they wrested political power from the then dominant class in society. If we study the issues raised at a General election in modern times we see, plainly, the struggle between sections of the Capitalist class to get political power in order that their particular interests may be served. “Economic power” is another of the dangerous illusions that the workers must get out of their minds before they can win their emancipation.
Industrial Unionists claim that the Industrial Union has to be organised on a class basis, but Mr DeLeon the Pope of the S.L.P. has made it quite clear that non-Socialists must be recruited into the Industrial Union. Experience of the Shop steward movement on the Clyde showed that the officials, mostly S.L.P.ers were just as reactionary and treacherous as the ordinary Trade union officials. These individuals were outstanding as job hunters.
Another illusion of the Industrial Unionist is, that when we get economic unity we shall automatically obtain political agreement. But what are the facts? In America, we witnessed the two outstanding champions of Industrial Unionism, namely E. V. Debs and Daniel DeLeon, whilst in agreement as to economic organisation were deadly enemies on the political field. They were at daggers drawn all during their lives, one in the reformist Socialist Party of America and the other in the Socialist labour Party. So much for the unity theory.
Industrial Unionism is essentially no different from Trade Unionism in so far as it, like the Trade Unions breeds its own scabs and, on occasion hands out definitely reactionary advice to the workers. During the miners strike in 1921, the advice offered by the S.L.P. in their paper “THE SOCIALIST” was: “Miners do not strike, seize the mines”. Fortunately for themselves the miners paid no attention to such nonsense, if they had done so they would have felt the weight of the Capitalist State. During the industrial troubles of 1926 the B.S.I.S.L.P. circulated the miners not to strike and this at a time when a savage attack was launched against the miners’ wages and working conditions.
The name adopted by the B.S.I.S.L.P. (British Section International Socialist Labour Party) is dishonest as the parent body, the socialist Labour Party in America, repudiates it. Why two Socialist labour Party’s anyway? Both organisations cannot be right, and it is quite plain to all that both are wrong.
The answer to all Mr. Martin’s questions are to be found in the works of Marx and Engels which he is so fond of talking about. Martin’s curiously worded question about the State is answered by Engels, when Engels describes the withering away of the State. The state will not commence to “wither away” until it is in the hands of the revolutionary workers who will slowly but surely build up the new order of society thus abolishing the State functions. The state is a necessary evil, as Marx shows, which is transmitted to the workers through revolution.
The pessimistic wail uttered by our S.L.P. opponents tonight that we will never get a class conscious majority is ably answered by Frederick Engels when he writes: (quoting from the “REVOLUTIONARY ACT”): “When it comes to a matter of the complete overthrow, the masses must participate, must know what is at stake”. All through the later writings of Marx and Engels we find the position put quite plainly that a class conscious majority of workers, in order to establish Socialism, must get control of the State machine”.
Political power is the power to rule. The Capitalist Class have that power to-day and the Working Class give them that power at every election. When the workers understand and desire Socialism they will organise in the socialist party in order to raise themselves to the position of ruling class, by capturing political power. With that power in their possession they will set about the task of building a new order of society which will conform to the interests of all.
At this stage the chairman announced that owing to the lateness of the hour, the time now being 11-35pm, he, much against his will, was forced to draw the meeting to a close.
This was the first time the Socialist Party of Great Britain ever held a meeting in Govan, and the workers present, hearing our position for the first time, were certainly impressed.
Every worker who attended this meeting was presented with a free copy of the SOCIALIST STANDARD. A number of pamphlets were sold.
BRANCH ORGANISER (PRO.TEM).
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.