Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is the SPGB an anarchist organisation

Another post of an online discussion that took place here .

Some would say that the SPGB are the political wing of anarchism !!!!

However some comments made here are simply mistruths or misunderstandings .

First lets begin with the structure and orgnisation of the SPGB. In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership , the SPGB is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping admin duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference (and btw all the EC minutes are available for public scrutiny with access on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy ) . All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership . The General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member being a dogsbody . Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past , no personality has held undue influence over the the SPGB . Although some wag can wise-crack that we are "museum marxists" , the longevity of the SPGB as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles and which has produced without interruption a monthly magazine for over a hundred years through two world wars is an achievement that most anarchist organisations can only aspire towards .

Knightrose and Django are correct in saying that there are common misrepresentations and parodies of the SPGB positions rather than the genuine disagreements which they hold ( particularly on Parliament , trade unions and Trenchone's comment is an example of such a typical dismissive and misinformed one that no wriggling is required ). I have put the SPGB case forward on a couple of threads here , A simple search will locate those . But just briefly to set the record straight , the sole purpose of the SPGB is to argue for socialism, and put up candidates to measure how many socialist voters there are. We await the necessary future mass socialist party as impatiently as others and do not claim for ourselves the mantle of being or becoming that organisation . The function of the SPGB is to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. It does not say: “Follow us! Trust us! We shall emancipate you.” No, Socialism must be achieved by the workers acting for themselves. We are unique among political parties in calling on people NOT to vote for them unless they agree with what they stand for. Contrary to rumour, The SPGB do not insist that the workers be convinced one by one by members of the party
".... if we hoped to achieve Socialism ONLY by our propaganda, the outlook would indeed be bad. But it is capitalism itself, unable to solve crises, unemployment and poverty, engaging in horrifying wars, which is digging its own grave. Workers are learning by bitter experience and bloody sacrifice for interests not their own. They are learning very slowly. Our job is to shorten the time, to speed up the process." Socialism or Chaos

This socialist majority will elect socialist delegates to whatever democratic institutions exist ( and these may be soviets or workers councils in some places), with the sole objective of legitimately abolishing capitalism. The SPGB are well aware that if such a majority existed it could do as it damn well pleased, but we consider that a democratic mandate would smooth the transition and we are also aware that the socialist majority might in certain circumstances have to use force to impose its will, but consider this an unlikely scenario.

The difference between the SPGB and anarchists is not over the aim of abolishing the State but over how to do this. Anarchists say that the first objective of the workers' revolution against capitalism should be to abolish the State. socialists say that, to abolish the State, the socialist working class majority must first win control of it and, if necessary, retain it (in albeit a suitably very modified form) but for a very short while just in case any pro-capitalist recalcitrant minority should try to resist the establishment of socialism. Once socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole people, has been established (which the SPGB has always claimed can be done almost immediately ), the State is dismantled, dissolved completely We are not talking years or decades or generations here , but as a continuation of the immediate revolutionary phase of the over- throw of capitalism .

But to end with the Anarcho-Marxist case , some quotes from Marx about the abolition of the State .
In 1844 Marx wrote that
"the existence of the state and the existence of slavery are inseparable" - "The King of Prussia and Social Reform"
Again, as Engels wrote in a letter to Bebel in March 1875,
"Marx's book against Proudhon and later the Communist Manifesto directly declare that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve itself and disappear" .

Then, in a circular against the Bakunin prepared for the First International in 1875, Marx wrote:
"To all socialists anarchy means this: the aim of the proletarian movement--that is to say the abolition of social classes--once achieved, the power of the state, which now serves only to keep the vast majority of producers under the yoke of a small minority of exploiters, will vanish, and the functions of government become purely administrative"

And i am much sympathetic to Joseph Dietzgen (who greatly influenced the council communist Pannekoek). Dietzgen had this take on this problem which we should heed , since the "thin red line" is very thin
"The terms anarchist, socialist, communist should be so "mixed" together, that no muddlehead could tell which is which. Language serves not onlythe purpose of distinguishing things but also of uniting them- for it is dialectic." June 9, 1886

And on anarchists and socialists generally , he said :
"For my part, I lay little stress on the distinction, whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much weight is attributed to this difference."....
"While the anarchists may have mad and brainless individuals in their ranks, the socialists have an abundance of cowards. For this reason I care as much for one as the other."... "The majority in both camps are still in great need of education, and this will bring about a reconciliation in time."-
April 20, 1886

Concerning the hostility clause ,(It only commits the SPGB to opposing all other political parties, defined as organisations that contest elections and/or make demands on governments to enact reforms.) , there needs to be only one working-class class party and that this must be opposed to all other parties which can only represent sections of the owning class and if there were two groups of organised socialists, with more or less the same principles, then it would be their duty to try to unite to further the coming into being of the single "ideal" socialist party, opposed to all others, mentioned in Clause 7. They would both want socialism; they would both favour democratic revolution to get it; they would both be democratically organised internally; they would both repudiate advocating or campaigning for reforms of capitalism. There would no doubt be differences over tactical questions (which presumably would be why there were two separate organisatiions), such as over the trade union question, the attitude a minority of socialists should adopt in parliament,even over whether religion was a social question or a private matter. But it would be the duty of the two groups to find a solution to this and form a single organisation.

In 1904 the SPGB raised the banner for such a single, mass socialist party and offered itself (proclaimed itself, actually) as the basis or embryo of such a party (Clause 8). Not only did the working class in general, or in any great numbers, not "muster under its banner" but neither did all socialists. So we were left as a small propagandist group, but still committed to the principles set out in our declaration of principles. But we have never been so arrogant as to claim that we're the only socialists and that anybody not in the SPGB is not a socialist. There are socialists outside the SPGB, and some of them are organised in different groups. That doesn't mean that we are not opposed to the organisations they have formed, but we are not opposed to them because we think they represent some section of the capitalist class. We are opposed to them because we disagree with what they are proposing the working class should do to get socialism -- and of course the opposite is the case too : they're opposed to what we propose. Apart from the SLP and its offshoots, nearly all the others who stand for a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society ( "the non-market, anti-statist sector") are anti-parliamentary. For the SPGB , using the existing historically-evolved mechanism of political democracy (the ballot box, parliament) is the best and safest way for a socialist-minded working class majority to get to socialism. For them, it's anathema. For the SPGB , some of the alternatives they suggest (armed insurrection, a general strike) are anathema. We all present our respective proposals for working-class action to get socialism and, while criticising each other's proposals, not challenging each other's socialist credentials (engaging in comradfely froiticism) . In the end, the working class itself will decide what to do."the thin red line " is condemned to remain thin it seems . At a later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today. In the meantime, the best thing we in the SPGB can do is to carry on campaigning for a world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's natural and industrial resources in the interests of all Humanity . We in the WSM/SPGB will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action; the other groups will no doubt continue to propose their way to get there. And we'll see which proposal the majority working class takes up. It's not us handful of socialist/anarchists today who're going to establish socialism, but the mass of people out there. Until they move,we're stymied. Until then we agree to disagree. Those who want to argue that such a society should be established through democratic majority political action based on socialist understanding, and who want to concentrate on arousing this, will join the SPGB. Those argue that it will come about some other way, or want to do other things as well, will join some other group.And while at the same time addressing ourselves to non-socialists we should also keep on discussing with each other, which is what this LIBCOM forum is for .

From the comments of some on this thread , there is no need for them to have a clause in their equivalent declaration of principles to express hostility against the SPGB .
To paraphrase Ken McLeod in the Stone Canal, an SPGBer answering the charge of sectarianism from a Trotskyite exclaims:
'how can a member of a split from a split from a split from a split from a split from the Fourth International call US sectarian?'
Such a similar reposte can be so easily directed at those on the anarcho/council communist milieu . In the main , it remains true that no other organisation or group comes anywhere near the comprehensive case which the SPGB set out. If there was one, myself and many others would be joining .

I have not claimed that we are not a political party but insist that we are a unique political party . The SPGB is the oldest existing socialist party in the UK and has been propagating the alternative to capitalism since 1904. A Marxist-based ( but perhaps a William Morris - Peter Kropotkin amalgam , may be a better description ) organisation . It is a non-Social Democrat 2nd Internationalist , non-Leninist 3rd Internationalist , non-Trotskyist 4th Internationalist political organisation that is a formally structured leader-less political party .( under UK electoral law , a registered political party , which we are, has to name its leader and to comply the SPGB simply drew a name out of a hat and i doubt any member recollects who it was )

We share one thing in common with the IWW in the sense that unions should not be used as a vehicle for political parties and have their control fought over . The SPGB have always insisted that there will be a separation and that no political party should , or can successfully use , unions as an economic wing , until a time very much closer to the revolution when there are substantial and sufficient numbers of socialist conscious workers . And for the foreseeable thats far off in the future . It is NOT the SPGB's task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants' associations or whatever , because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves.For the Lenininist , all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles or whatever .) , whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles.

We agree with Anton Pannekoek who said:-
'If...persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day'.

Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. This is where the Leninist Party also goes wrong. They think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of "the struggle" thus circumventing the realm of ideology - the need to educate . It does not. The workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy; it has to be transformed into a socialist consciousness.Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion. It has to link up with the practical struggle. The success of the socialist revolution will depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement.( Knightrose has argued that when it comes to socialist consciousness the SPGB puts the cart before the cart-horse, and personally i accept he has a point ) .

Just to reiterate, the real difference with the SPGB and various anarchists/syndicalists is over which form of activity and organisation--political or industrial--is the more important. Our view is that it is the winning of political control which is more important and that is why we emphasise this ( and in the past may have made a fetish of it but i think there is much more of a balance on the matter these days , and just maybe , the anarchists could also shift their position in return.)

What we do share in common with anarchism , however, is failure to convince the majority of workers of the strengths of both our respective positions , and that is worth debating sometime.

And anyone who considers the SPGB to be Leninist BECAUSE we hold a set of basic principles must also disagree with many anarchist organisations , who also have a collective identity and strategy that they understand to be the most appropriate means for establishing socialism/anarchism .

I said that the working class will ultimately decide the means to emancipate itself .
The SPGB stands by its analysis that we should use Parliament, not to try to reform capitalism but for the purpose of abolishing capitalism and that at the same time, the working class will also be organising itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going . The SPGB case of the primacy of political action has not been hid in any of my posts . Its a point that we will disagree upon and as i said we present our arguments and let the working class choose.

Another principle held by the SPGB is the need for the majority to understand and support the socialist transformation of society . Anarchists have to envisage some other means of expressing the popular will and public demand than a parliament elected by and responsible to a socialist majority amongst the population. But what, exactly? It would have to be something like the Congress of Socialist Industrial Unions or a Central Council of Workers Councils or Federation of Communes . Possibly similar bodies such as these will exist at the time, the SPGB has stated that they probably will arise , but would any of these bodies be more efficient and more effective and even more democratic in controlling the State/central administrative machinery than a socialist majority elected to Parliament by universal suffrage in a secret ballot.Simply go to Anarchist FAQ for descriptions of how the soviets were manipulated and gerry-mandered by a minority .

Goodness me , Trenchone is projecting a travesty of interpretation of the SPGB and its aim of capturing the State machine .

Which part of
"the socialist working class majority must first win control of it and, if necessary, retain it (in albeit a suitably very modified form) but for a very short while just in case any pro-capitalist recalcitrant minority should try to resist the establishment of socialism. Once socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole people, has been established (which the SPGB has always claimed can be done almost immediately ), the State is dismantled, dissolved completely We are not talking years or decades or generations here , but as a continuation of the immediate revolutionary phase of the over- throw of capitalism .
did he not understand from my earlier post .

And lets be clear , there are government departments such as of health and agriculture and environment which according to Trenchone will all be relegated to history and the experience and skills and knowledge of socialists within those organisations will not be utilised to tackle the problems facing the re-structuring of society and its socialisation .
Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised , so that socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Parliament and local councils , to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental , can and will be used to co-ordinate the immediate measures to transform society when socialism is established . Far better , is it not , if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise to win a majority in parliament , not to form a government , but to end capitalism and dismantle the state.

As for having confidence in the working class , Trenchone doesn't even trust them with the vote .

The SPGB say that the capitalist’s legitimacy comes from their ‘democratic’ rule, so we believe that the capitalist’s legitimacy can be totally be broken by taking a majority in Parliament . But “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The owning class has a supreme weapon within its grasp: political power, – control of the army, navy, air and police forces.
That power is conferred upon the representatives of the owners at election times and they, recognizing its importance, spend large amounts of wealth and much time and effort to secure it. In countries like Britain the workers form the bulk of the voters; a situation the employers are compelled to face and deal with. Hence the incessant stream of opinion-forming influences which stems from their ownership and control of press, radio, schools to influence the workers to the view that capitalism is the best of all possible social forms. And that only political groups who accept this view are worthy of workers votes. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible.Therefore , the first, most important battle is to continue the destruction of capitalism’s legitimacy in the minds of our fellow class members. That is, to drive the development of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing that should be destroyed.They must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule .

The SPGB view its function to be to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. The abolition of capitalism MUST entail organisation without leaders or leadership. The act of abolition of capitalist society requires a primary prerequisite and that's knowledge on the part of the individual as to what it is that is responsible for his or her enslavement. Without that knowledge s/he can only blunder and make mistakes that leave their class just where they were in the beginning, still enslaved. That knowledge must precede intelligent action. And intelligent action in this instance means intelligent organisation ( A lack of unity of ideas and purpose always ends in defeat even for the non-socialist and non-revolutionary groups and parties.). The working class must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party and i have said it previously , a mass party that has yet to emerge ,not a small educational and propagandist group such as the SPGB . This future party will neutralise the state and its repressive forces and there is no question of forming a government and "taking office", and then it will proceed to take over the means of production for which the working class have also organised themselves to do at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed (workers councils or whatever) to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

However , before we are labelled pure and simple parliamentarians “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The real revolution in social relations will be made in our lives and by ourselves, not Parliament. What really matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised, to take over and run industry and society. Electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society.

Irrelevant and out-dated ideas - i beg to differ .

Since some weary of my lengthy replies , and some simply don't take any notice of what is stated in them , preferring to repeat their own prejudices , i refer Trenchone to anarcho's earlier comment.
No, they [the SPGB] are Marxists. In fact, probably the closest Marxists to Marx and Engels in the UK. Key issue of difference is over fighting for reforms if a socialist gets elected. They reject it, arguing it would produce reformism. Marx and Engels advocated it and it did, as Bakunin predicted, produce reformism....
As discussed here, the SPGB agree with Marx and Engels that universal suffrage equates to the political power of the working class and that it can be used by socialists to capture the state, which would then be reformed to make it more democratic -- which would then quickly wither away...
In terms of goals, what they call socialism is pretty much communist-anarchism. They just disagree with anarchists on the best way to get there -- they support, as per Marx and Engels, "political action" (voting) while we support direct action.

A fair summary of the SPGB position.

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