Friday, April 27, 2007

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us

Ken MacLeod , the science fiction writer , has featured the Socialist Party of Great Britain in his novel The Stone Canal , and although a non-member he is well acquainted with the ideas of the SPGB . While doing a search at this site , i came across a number of postings by him in defence of the Socialist Party against what he considered inaccurate criticisms and where he eloquently put the the Party's case . It would do no harm to re-post here .

1:- World Socialist Party are honest-to-goodness pre-World War I Second International-type "Maximalists."
Ken MacLeod:- They themselves don't identify with any current in the pre-WW1 Social Democracy, apart from the original Socialist Party of Canada, which had an 'impossibilist' majority. They acknowledge some commonality of analysis with present-day 'Left Communists', the situationists, genuine anarchist-communists, and Bordigists. The difference is in their programme, in their rejection of vanguardism, insurrection, etc.
They will send you a free literature pack, if you ask, just like the SLP will. And until a majority of workers of the world send away for such literature, them read it, then become ideologically committed to socialism by means of intellectual study, the World Socialist Party doesn't see much point in standing candidates for parliamentary election, either!
Ken MacLeod:- The SPGB, which has identical views to the WSP, most certainly does stand in elections. It gets the about the same level of support for its 'unrealistic' program as the Trotskyists (with very rare exceptions) get for their carefully crafted platforms of transitional demands i.e. from tens to hundreds. Their Euro-election candidate in West Lothian a few years back got about 900 votes.
They expect a majority of the workers of the world to become socialists, but they don't expect them to become socialists by sending off for and then reading literature packs. They expect experience, as well as (obviously) encountering the arguments of a growing number of already convinced socialists, to do the job.
Against the DeLeonist formula of labor vouchers, they argue that Marx is out of date, and that socialism will be an immediate overnight transition to a moneyless post-scarcity economy:
Ken MacLeod:- Correct, they do.
One fine silliness is the SPGB's assessment of Trotsky. Among other idiocies, they attribute to the Bolsheviks [as well as the Mensheviks] a two-stagist theory:
Ken MacLeod:- Where's the idiocy in that? The Bolsheviks did have a two-stage theory up April 1917. The difference with the Mensheviks was over whether the bourgeois-democratic republic would be won in alliance with the bourgeoisie, or against it ('the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry').
They also have spiels like the one "redflag" Camacho was peddling last year about Lenin's "distortions" of Marxism:
Ken MacLeod:- It is, as a matter of fact, perfectly true that Marx used the words 'socialism' and 'communism' interchangeably (in reference to a future society); that he did not use the word 'socialism' to mean 'the lower stage of communism' as distinct from the higher; that Lenin did use (if not introduce) this usage; and that Lenin's definition of 'socialism' or the 'lower stage of communism' differed from that of Marx in that it included wage labour ('All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state [...] and get equal pay') and commodity production, thus equating the transition period with the first stage of communism.
They have the same anti-Leninist bugs up their ass that this newsgroup sees from SLP's "redflag" Camacho, but with less hypocrisy: the World Socialist Party never solidarized with the Stalin purges of the Moscow Trials
Ken MacLeod:- Damn right they didn't, in fact they tore them to shreds at great length in October 1936.
and they never had a hyperauthoritarian leader like DeLeon nor (as far as I can tell) any leaders at all.
Ken MacLeod:- Correct. Not bad for an organization set up in 1904.
You have to admit, a program like theirs more or less takes care of itself ;)
Ken MacLeod:- I know from experience that it's very difficult for people who have learned about Marxism via Trotskyism to *even understand* what the SPGB is saying, despite the clarity of their explanations.

2:- On Tue, 17 Feb 1998, Ken MacLeod wrote: But as to the more serious possibility of 30 billion, the FAO has said for decades, and still says, that current techniques alone could feed five or six times the present world population. Check out 'Feed the World' at for lots of relevant references.
This is a bizarre cult that was started by the "Socialist Party of Great Britain" prior to the Russian Revolution.
Ken MacLeod:- One thing the SPGB is not, is a cult. Their stubborn insistence that socialism will be made by a socialist majority may, I admit, seem a little bizarre to some.
It is a little bit like the DeLeonists, who are also fond of simpleminded solutions. What MacLeod and the SPGB leave out are the environmental impacts of the "green revolution," which include--among other things--water pollution, increased global warming, degraded food quality, and increased health risks due to pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides.
Ken MacLeod:- Another thing the SPGB is not, is ecologically insensitive. Of many possible cites, here's one from the very document I quoted:-
"Which methods are sustainable? Environmentalists rightly show how many of our current productive methods are not 'sustainable' in that they damage the environment for future generations. For example, they now advocate a range of farm practices designed to reduce the need for high inputs of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Integrated plant nutrition with a combination of organic and mineral sources of soil nutrients with tillage and crop rotation can increase crop production; and integrated pest management (IPM) reduces the need for chemical pesticides by making use of biological controls to minimise disease and damage by pests. Such methods could only be used to their full when we remove the market forces that drive producers to the short-term, cheap methods. This short-termism has prevented progress on a whole range of environmental issues."

3:- OTOH without transitional demands you end up with : something like the SPGB (never heard of 'em? can't say I'm surprised). They have been around about as long as the British Labour Party and they have correctly pointed out that the problems of society are caused by capitalism and the solution is socialism FULL STOP. They won't be drawn into any fight for partial demands because that means compromising with capitalism.
Ken Macleod responded :- In the interests of clarity among the vanguard of the international working class :-) let me point out that this isn't strictly accurate. The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its Companion Parties in the World Socialist Movement believe that the job of a socialist party is solely to make more socialists (and of course to get elected to all the representative bodies of the world and abolish capitalism when they convince a couple of billion people that it's a good idea.)
They have no objection to workers, and socialists, getting involved in fights for partial demands but don't believe the party should do that. They regard the strategy of transitional demands as elitist and manipulative, as well as downright silly.
K MacLeod wrote:- No, no, you don't understand! The party doesn't support anything (apart from World Socialism) because that might lead people to support the party for the wrong reasons. (The exact opposite of Leninism :-)
I don't get it. Not having a program will encourage people to support the party for the right reasons? How are they going to know what those are?!
Ken MacLeod answer:- Hmm. This is getting disproportionately complicated. The SPGB and its companion parties have as their objective the replacement of global capitalism with a likewise global society of common ownership, voluntary work and free access, which they call socialism.
They believe that such a society can be achieved if and only if a majority of the workers of the world understand and want it, in other words if most of the world proletariat are convinced socialists. Contrary to rumour, they do not insist that the workers be convinced one by one by members of the party.
This socialist majority will (they say) elect socialist delegates to whatever democratic institutions exist, with the sole objective of legally abolishing capitalism. The SPGB et al are well aware that if such a majority existed it could do as it damn well pleased, but they consider that a democratic mandate would smooth the transition. They are also aware that the socialist majority might have to use force to impose its will, but consider this unlikely.
Hence the sole purpose of the party is to (a) argue for socialism, and (b) put up candidates to measure how many socialist voters there are. They are unique among political parties in calling on people not to vote for them unless they agree with what they stand for. (Hundreds of thousands of workers have enthusiastically not voted for them.)
They don't see it as the party's task to 'lead the workers in struggle' or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants' associations etc, because they believe that socialists and class-conscious workers are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. If this sounds difficult to understand, it's because you haven't risen beyond a Leninist level of consciousness :-)

4:- BTW, as you well know, the SPGB is a unique beast and therefore not too relevant. They predate the Russian revolution which they are proud to have denounced within hours. Their programmatic base is an academic,undialectical and abstract 'Marxism'. They have no conception of strategy or tactics, or indeed any understanding of the need to get involved in the class struggle. For 90 years they have been doggedly slogging away building, by arithmetic progression, their little band by holding debates,educationals and tea parties. They are amusing and innocuous and highly irrelevant.
Ken MacLeod:- The jibe about the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) having denounced the Russian Revolution within hours of hearing about it originated, AFAIK, in a footnote to David Widgery's "The Left In Britain".
Here is the central passage of the first recorded response of the SPGB to the Russian Revolution:-
'Whatever may be the final outcome, the Bolsheviks have at all events succeeded in doing what all the armies, alll the diplomats, all the priests and primates, all the perfervid pacifists of all the groaning and bleeding world have failed do - they have stopped the slaughter, for the time being, at all events, on their front.
How much more than this they ever intended to do the future may reveal. They may have higher aims, yet to be justified by success or condemned by failure; but it is an astounding achievement that these few men have been able to seize opportunity and make the thieves and murderers of the whole world stand aghast and shiver with apprehension.'

('The Russian Situation', Socialist Standard January 1918, reprinted in 'Russia Since 1917', SPGB, n.d. (late 1940s?))
Your other comments on them are similarly second-hand and unjust, IMHO.

5:-Remarks on Ken's musings on the SPGB
Fascinating stuff. I know very little about them except that they strike me as remarkably otherworldly. But, I've not come into enough contact with their stuff to be reasonable. For a few dollars you can get almost everything they have in print, and probably free sample back issues as well. Their website's front pages do look a bit icky, but dig deeper. Their pamphlets are not otherworldly at all. Wrong, maybe, but that's another question.
Ken MacLeod:- It has occurred to me that by 'otherworldly' you may mean 'a complete lack of practical engagement with politics' - in which case, the description is apt. They comment, often intelligently, on political developments but they do not seek to influence them.
The eventual outcome of politics in a society which has political democracy and a wage/salary-earning majority is the replacement of the market by a consciously and collectively negotiated organization of production.
The response of Marx and Engels to this proposition was to get stuck in to the development of working-class politics.
The response of the impossibilists to this proposition is to get stuck in to convincing the majority of its truth.
6:- Ken MacLeod:- The older Socialist Party, the SPGB, has never campaigned for bans on racist bookshops and paper-sellers.
The SPGB has never campaigned FULL STOP
On the subject of the SPGB - do they still exist?
Ken Macleod retort:- They certainly do. I voted for their list in Lothian yesterday. (Better them than the Tartan Trots of the SSP.)

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