S.L.P. Anchors Dragging
In a previous blog I reprinted a chapter from a pamphlet by William Paul of the De Leonist Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain which showed the similarity of his views and the SPGB position .
In this extract of the Socialist Standard a review of William Paul's book "The State" again directs our attention to the fact that William Paul advocates the principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain rather than his own party's policy . The full review will soon be available in the Jack Fitzgerald Archives
"THE STATE: ITS ORIGIN AND FUNCTION," by Wm. Paul. Socialist Labour Press, Renfrew st., Glasgow. Cloth, 2s 6d.
...As this book is issued by the S.L.P. of Scotland with a special "benediction" in the introduction, it is fair to assume that it represents the views and policy of the Executive Committee of that body. If that is so then we are treated to a complete somersault in the policy that organisation has been advocating, with variations, for about twelve years. In 1905 the Executive Committee of the S.L.P., without in any way consulting the membership of the party, endorsed and adopted as a policy the position of the Industrial Workers of the World, had been formed in Chicago in June, 1905. Since then it has in various, and often contradictory, ways attempted to defend the claims of the I.W.W. that the workers by organising into industrial unions—one for each industry—could "take and hold the means of production." They claimed that the industrial unions furnished the "might" to carry through the revolution; that it was the economic organisation that supplied "the power" lacking in the political party, and so on.
How an economic organisation could " take and hold the means of production" while the capitalist class had control of the armed forces was a question neither the S L.P. nor the other Industrialists were ever able to answer. They simply wandered from one absurdity to another in the endeavour to dodge this—to them —fatal question. The endless contradictions and quibbles they have been led into by the catch phrases as "The economic is the basis of the political"; "The political is the reflex of the economic"; "The economic organisation will cast its own political shadow," etc., etc., have been dealt with in the SOCIALIST STANDARD on numerous occasions.
But now comes this volume which flatly contradicts all these years' teachings and takes up the position that the working class must seize political power in order to abolish capitalism.
Quite early in the book this position begins to take form, as on page 41 we read :
"Throughout history the State has slightly changed its form but its role as the weapon of despotism in the hands of the economically and politically dominant class has remained unchanged. It is able to enforce its will upon those who oppose it, because behind its demands it has the organised armed forces of the Society. " (Italics mine.)
Referring to the Civil War of 1644 it is stated . "The revolutionaries by their control of the political machine were able to use the rents of the Royal estates, the levies placed upon the goods secretly bought by the cavaliers, and the taxes gathered up and down the country to defeat the Crown." (Page 151. Italics mine.)
But it is in the last two chapters that this position—so long sneered at by the S.L.P.— is stated in its most complete form. In the chapter on "Modern Capitalism" we read:
"The State has behind every mandate it promulgates the armed force of the nation. It is this power which enforces the will of the ruling class." (P. 190.)
While in the chapter on ''Revolutionary Socialism" occurs the following remarkable statement—remarkable, that is, coming from the S.L.P.:
"In order to facilitate the work of the industrial organisation, it is absolutely imperative for the workers to disarm the capitalist class by wrenching from it its power over the political State. The State powers include the armed forces of the nation which may be turned against the revolutionary workers. The political weapon of Labour, by destroying the capitalist control of the State makes possible a peaceful social revolution. But in order to tear the State out of the grasp of the ruling class the workers' political organisation must capture the political machinery of capitalism." (Page 198.)
This complete reversal of a policy followed for about twelve years is simply staggering. It is a full confession not only that the S.L.P. has been wrong all this time—a fact we have proved over and over again in the pages of the SOCIALIST STANDARD and in debate—but also that the S.P.G.B. has been right in its attitude and correct in its policy throughout its existence.
When the S.P.G.B. was formed in 1904 it laid down one aim—Socialism. It drew up a Declaration of Principles that has solidly withstood all attacks from every quarter. Paragraph 6 of that declaration states :
"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."
We now have the S.L.P., in the pages of this book, taking up an attitude that corresponds completely with the above clause of our Declaration of Principles. Has it taken this world-war, with its terrific maiming and slaughter, to drive the simple but fundamental fact of their minds that it is control of the political machinery that is the essential factor in the domination of Society? What have the members of the S.L.P. to say to this complete change of policy? Does it represent the considered view of the members? or is it another example of the E.C. of that body laying down its own policy, in exact opposition to one preached for so many years, without any authority or mandate from the membership? Do the members understand and accept this new situation, and if so how can they justify the retention of their membership in the S L.P.?
Nor is this the only change in the policy of the S.L.P., though it is by far the most important. In addition to the claim that the Industrial Union furnished the "might" and "power" to overthrow capitalism, the S.L.P. claimed that these unions were the "embryo" of the Socialist Republic; that they provided the "framework" or "skeleton" of Socialism.
This silly and childish "Utopianism" the absurdity of which we exposed long ago, would hardly require notice here but for the change of attitude that is now adopted. To lay down here and now the details of what the organisation of production will be under Socialism is on a par with Bellamy's Looking Backward.
In the first place we have no means of knowing at what particular step in the development of capitalist production and methods a sufficient number of the working class will be converted to Socialism to carry through the revolution. The details of the economic organisation must depend upon the particular stage of development at that period. Moreover, the majority of the working class will then be Socialists—otherwise the attempt at revolution will be a fiasco—and they will have the requisite knowledge and ability to construct their economic organisation in conformity with the conditions then prevailing. It is, therefore, easy to see how foolish is the attempt to settle now the details of an organisation that will be called upon to act then. Even when the I.W.W. was first launched we pointed out that capitalism then was outgrowing the "Industrial" sub-division and large combinations of capitalists were controlling whole groups of industries. The increase of this factor that has since taken place and which looks as though it will extend still faster under the form of National and Municipal control as a result of the war adds further strength to this point. In addition it has to be remembered that economic organisations formed now have to fight the battles of wages and conditions of employment now. But to do so with any hope of success they must enrol as many as possible of workers in the particular businesses they are dealing with. This means the enrolment of Socialists (a small number of the workers at present) along with the passive and active anti-Socialists, all in the same union. This fact shows the utter impossibility of forming a Socialist economic organisation until a majority of the workers in a particular occupation have been converted to Socialism. Hence the farcical failure of the various attempts to form "Industrial Unions" before a sufficient number of the workers have accepted these particular teachings.
In the book now under review the question of Industrial Unionism takes so subordinate a place and is so watered down, compared with the former claims of the S.L.P., that if the term "Industrial Unionism" were left out the ordinary reader of the Socialist would fail to recognise this attitude as being the one taken up by the S.L.P. How much has been given up the following quotation will show :
"We see, therefore, that the function of the future administration of society will be industrial. The constructive element in the social revolution will be the action of the Industrial Union seizing the means of production in order to administer the wants of the community.
True to the dictum of social science, that the embryo of the future social system must be nourished within the womb of the old system, the revolutionary Socialist movement sets out to build up within capitalism the industrial organisation of the workers which will carry on the administrative work under Socialism on behalf of the community. Thus Industrial Unionism is the constructive weapon in the coming social revolution." (Pages 197-8.)
This very general and greatly modified position of the S.L.P.'s claims for Industrial Unionism shows how far they have come—implicitly, at any rate—to admit the correctness of our attitude on economic organisation. What the title of the future economic organisation will be is really guess-work now and is only of small importance, though the misleading, anti-Socialist, and Utopian associations covered by the term "Industrial Unionism" will certainly go far to discredit it in the minds of the workers as they become Socialists. Much more educational work requires to be done, however, before such an organisation can be started, for it is only as the workers learn that they are slaves, and clearly grasp that the essential factor in their emancipation is the control of political power, that they will build up the Socialist organisations, political and economic, necessary for the establishment of Socialism.
The nucleus of the political organisation exists now in the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The economic organisation cannot be started until numbers fulfilling the conditions laid down above have been converted to Socialism.
(Socialist Standard, February 1918).