Left-wing is a term which comes from the old French legislature, referring to that section of the membership sitting on the left side of the chamber (as viewed from the president’s chair) holding progressive liberal opinions.
Someone claimed that the lesson of history is that people never learn the lesson of history. Obviously this is untrue (otherwise there could never have been any progress, social or technical) but such a cynical view could be justified if it was based on the antics of the Left, because they never learn.
The Left, despite referring to themselves as “socialists” have no confidence in the workers to win through. They tell us, socialism will come eventually someday – presumably, when we are all dead and gone. By this, they mean the job falls not to them but to others sometime in the future. There is no logic to this whatsoever. For the world is ready now and painfully waiting – how is socialism to ever come in the future when we are never to explain it to people here now, for it takes a while? What will happen that might cause this future embrace of socialism, we are never told.
We in the Socialist Party reject the conventional method of political analysis that seeks to understand politics in terms of ‘left’ or ‘right’. The left and right are different only to the extent that they provide a different political and organisational apparatus for administering the same capitalist system. This includes those on the left who aim for socialism some time in the distant future but in the meantime demand some form of transitional capitalism. For this reason the Socialist Party cannot be usefully identified as either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’. Many political groups, somewhat disenchanted with orthodox reformist practice, fancy themselves as "the Left" . We do not. Typically the Left share the following ideas:
1. State ownership is socialism, or a step on the way to socialism.
2. Russia set out on the way to socialism.
3. Socialism will arrive by violent insurrection.
4. Workers cannot attain socialist consciousness by their own efforts, only a trade union consciousness.
5. Workers must vote for the Labour Party.
6. Workers must be led by an elite - a ‘vanguard’.
7. Workers must be offered bait to follow this vanguard in the form of ‘transitional demands’, a selective programme of reforms.
These beliefs interlock and support each other. If, for example, workers are so feeble-minded that they cannot understand socialist arguments then they need to be led. Socialism will therefore come about without mass understanding, by a disciplined minority seizing power. Widespread socialist education is not only unnecessary, it is pointless. If the best workers can do is reach a trade union consciousness and vote Labour, then this is what they must be urged to do. Since workers must have some incentive to follow the vanguard, 'transitional demands’ in the form of reformist promises are necessary, and since these tactics were successful in carrying to power the Russian Bolsheviks, it is assumed that Russia must have set out on the road to socialism. The basic dogma on which all this is founded is that the mass of the workers cannot understand socialism. When it is suggested that the majority of the working class must attain a clear desire for the abolition of the wages system, and the introduction of a world-wide moneyless community, the Left reply that this is “too abstract”, or “too academic”. Indeed, theythemselves do not strive for such a socialist system. None of the Left groups advocate the immediate establishment of a world without wages, with production democratically geared to meeting people's needs. Some of them say, when pushed, that they look forward to such a world “ultimately”, but since this “ultimate” aim has no effect on their actions it can only be interpreted as an empty platitude. Far from specifying socialism as their aim, they are reticent and muddled about even the capitalist reforms they will introduce if they get power. The Marxist revisionist Bernstein dictum's “The movement is everything, the goal nothing” sums up the Left. The 'Left' may claim that it enjoys the best of both worlds, both supporting reforms and advocating revolution. But in fact its revolutionary posturing.
The Left put forward a whole raft of reformist demands that on paper might seem to be appealing. The only problem is that there is no plan to actually achieve these demands - for the reason they are pretend demands. Trotsky himself called these kind of demands "transitional demands" - the idea being to look at everybody else's demands and make bigger demands so they sound great. Occasionally they might achieve a demand which will make them seem sincere, however the idea isn't to achieve these demands - it is to not achieve them! This is the Troskyists' grand master plan to make workers dissatisfied, so the latter will become revolutionary and flock behind their political leadership. In other words the workers are to be the infantry led by the Trotskyist generals. The Left have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.
Reformist political parties in opposition always claim how much better everything would be if only they were in power. Everything would be better: the NHS, the environment, the economy, industrial efficiency and productivity. On top of all this there would be savings of many millions, even billions, of pounds, giving us all more spending power as well as big savings for businesses.And how is all this to be achieved? By two old leftist illusions; taxing the rich and nationalisation disguised as public or social ownership. If all their proposed reforms were adopted – nationalisation, the multitude of changes in the tax system, defence budget cuts, etc., we’d still be living in a money-driven, buying and selling economy, still working for wages and salaries, still insecure, being hired and fired, in short, in capitalism. The demand for reforms will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain. The aim of the left-wing has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. The source of the wealth would still be the surplus value wrung from the working class. Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, the Left becomes caught in a pointless and frustrating circular battle with an economic system that is based on exploitation. As long as the accumulation of capital takes precedence, either in the hands of the individual capitalist or state institutions, the primary concern of exploitation of labour and making profit will take precedence over the concerns of human need.
The ideology of national capitalism, reflecting the interests of small-scale capitalists, is still strong and finds support both from the “right-wing ” and the “left-wing” who beat the same nationalist drum. The Left in effect argue that workers should support national as opposed to transnational capitalism (Cuba or Venezuela,for example). Socialists, on the other hand, don’t take sides in this conflict between different sections of the capitalist class. The Left downplays the idea of directly challenging the system and organising an alternative political economy and is working instead on the terrain of capitalism.
The Left like to act as though they are Moses, and lay down the commandments in stone for ignorant followers to obey. Left Wing propaganda offering leadership adds to the impression that the worker is an inferior being who is incapable of thinking, organising and acting and imbues further the master-and-servant mentality of the worker. As already stated all Left organisations start from the premise that workers are too stupid to understand or want socialism by their own volition. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing "professional revolutionaries" who will lead workers to the promised land.
When someone comes across the Socialist Party for the first time, a common reaction is to consider us as just another left-wing political organisation. The Left use similar terminology to us, talking of socialism, class struggle, exploitation, etc, and invoking Karl Marx. But digging a little deeper will show that our political position is very different from that of the Left. The Socialist Party is not on The Left. There is so much manipulation, dishonesty, and downright erroneous thinking connected with the Left that we would not wish to be associated with them in any way. We are not and never have been connected with Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin. We are not related in any way to The Socialist Worker's Party, or The Socialist Labour Party . We've never had any connection with the Communist Party, or any of it's offshoots. We have always been opponents of nationalisation and the idea that capitalism can be reformed away. Unlike the Left, we did not feel that the working class should have to experience yet another Labour government to realise that it would be anti-working class. We are a party that consciously does not have leaders and our members are all members of the working class. There's nothing wrong with contesting elections, but if socialists are going to do this it should be done on a sound basis: getting elected on a straight socialist programme but not about trying to get elected through non-socialist votes on a programme of attractive-sounding reforms to capitalism. It should be clear that the Socialist Party is quite unlike the Left , and that we are definitely and for good reason not part of the Left. We in the Socialist Party are very much a different breed from all those others who like to use the term “socialist”.
We have often been told that the real problem is the lack of unity of the working-class movement. Some say to revolutionaries “Don't split the Left. We are all working for the same goal, so why don't you join us? We can get strength through unity.” What we are not told is what basis there can be for unity. It is not the wish of the SPGB to be separate for the sake of being so. Are socialists supposed to unite with those who want to reform and administer capitalism? Or do we unite with those who claim socialism can be established by a well meaning leadership without a class-conscious working class? Do we unite with those who see socialism as a system based on state control and state ownership of industry: and lastly, do we unite with those who refuse to recognise the parliamentary road to socialism? Revolutionaries must reject this appeal if they are to remain revolutionaries. If there is no common ground upon which agreement can be reached then there can be no unity. Our analysis of the Left is not based upon some narrow sectarianism—it's based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in revolutionary garb in order to hoodwink the workers. The Left is an expression of all the political mistakes made by the working class last century—from the Labour Party to the Soviet Union. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute. However, a socialist organisation will get nowhere without a firm grasp of democracy, sound Marxist principle, a disdain to conceal its socialist objective, and a membership in full possession of the facts about current society and the revolutionary alternative. Unlike the Left we openly advocate common ownership and democratic control.