Reply to the Open Letter to Members of the Socialist Party

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Reply to the Open Letter to Members of the Socialist Party  (1911) 
by The Socialist Party of Great Britain







The circumstances of members of the party by the means of an “Open Letter” by a self-constituted committee, could only be justified if the ordinary channels of Party discussion were closed; but the “committee” cannot even pretend that such is the case. They do, however, imply that the suggestion is not true. Apart from two Conference discussions, there have been a Party meeting, several divisional meetings, and numerous branch meetings specially convened in their duty to report the discussion to the branch members.

Ample opportunity existed, and still exists, for discussion, and the only apparent reason for the use of the “Open Letter” by the “committee” is the crushing defeat their attempts at argument have always sustained in the course of open discussion in the ordinary way.

Apart, therefore, from the errors and misrepresentations of the “Open Letter” (which injure the Party and make it necessary to point out the unsoundness of some of our own members) its promoters are guilty of attempting to form an organisation within the Party, directed against the Party’s position, and thus initiating a policy of sectionalism and disruption.

The self-styled committee demand the revocation of the afore-mentioned reply because, they say, it contradicts our declaration of principles. But neither in their circular nor in the course of the whole discussion have they been able to point out this so-called contradiction. And the reason is a simple one. It is because no such contradiction exists.

They maintain that the “reply” contains matter of a “speculative character”. Yet it is actually a most cautious statement based on positive knowledge and experience. It contains nothing more speculative than an implication that historic laws will continue to be operative –than which few things are more certain. On the other hand, it may be of interest to note that the “committee” make the highly speculative statement that the capitalist class “are compelled to open up ever new avenues of education to the proletariat!”

It is said that we should simply refer enquirers to the declaration of principles. It may be necessary for the “committee” to fob off questioners in some such way, but a reasonable query by a genuine enquirer should be frankly met. It is, moreover, the height of absurdity to refer the enquirer to the declaration of principles for information it does not contain.

It is entirely untrue that we are not prepared to give such replies (as that to W.B.) from our Press and platform. The reply in question appeared in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, and similar statements have been repeatedly been made in the “S.S.” and from our platform. Indeed, the inability to reply to such a query could only indicate an ignorance of the socialist position or an incapacity for propaganda work. “Several members”, it is alleged by the “committee”, maintain that we have, besides a “primary object” a “secondary object” which we “keep in the background2. After being challenged the “committee” endeavoured to foster these statements on various members, but, of course, without success. The statements are sheer inventions.

“No member of the Party”, we next learn, “is elected to Parliament for the purpose of taking part in any kind of legislation, whether by voting for or against it”. On this point members of the “committee” have had curious changes of front, but of the fatuity of their present statement it need only be pointed out that it even excludes voting for Socialism!

And what of their further assertion that the S.P.G.B. advocates Parliamentary action “as one of the possible means” of obtaining control of the political machinery? The members who make that statement have signed the declaration of principles which distinctly states in par. 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”.

Comment is superfluous.

The “committee” admit, in emphatic italics, that the capitalist class “are compelled to dig their own graves” but they do not quite realise that in saying so they have riddled their own case, and conceded much more than was claimed in the Feb., 1910 “SS”.

The majority of the Party are next accused of dividing the “capitalist measures” to be supported under four different heads. Unfortunately for the “committee”, however, the only members known to so divide “capitalist measures”, or any other measures, are the writers of the “open Letter”.

And regarding the measures thus conveniently divided we are treated to some most original “Socialist” teaching. While they correctly say that haggling for better conditions “by the workers with their masters are inevitable expressions of the class struggle”, they go on to make the astounding assertion that this nevertheless and emphatically “constitutes action apart from the Socialist position”. In fact, they go on to say: “attempts at mending such conditions are unquestionably detrimental to our object”. All of which is, to use the language of the “committee” emphatically and “unquestionably” nonsense. It is in flat contradiction with the Party position as laid down in the Manifesto. And as Karl Marx says in “Value, Price and Profit”: “such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvements? If they did, they would be degraded to one level of broken wretches past salvation…By giving cowardly giving way in their every-day conflict with capital they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement”. The “committee” have not yet shown where Marx was wrong in this.

In the same par, they claim from our “stand point” it is absurd to admit that “legislation can also play a part in determining the conditions of wage-slave labour”. From the “committee’s” standpoint, of course, anything may be absurd, but they have no right to speak for the Party, for the veriest tyro in economic history is aware that legislation has practically from its origin “played a part in determining the conditions of wage-slave labour”. Hundreds of instances, from Thomas Wolsey to Asquith, might be given, but the matter is too obvious to require them.

We are then told that the Socialist party has no mandate “to stand for the saving of life and limb of the workers”. Yet the declaration of principles shows that the Party is the expression of the material interest of the working class. Further, the attainment of socialism is dependent on the preservation of the workers in general, and the question of proletarian life and limb may have a very important bearing on the great issue.

The statement is put in quotation marks that “members of our Party” say that “As Socialists we are compelled to support such political measures as universal suffrage and the Referendum”. No names are given, and the statement is a misrepresentation.

In the fourteenth paragraph it is said that “to admit the capitalist class to be the benefactors of the working class because they are compelled by the economic development to weaken their stronghold can only tend to efface the bitter hostility”, etc. This insinuates either that the reply to “W.B.” Upton Park, “admits” the capitalists to be full of kind intentions towards the workers – which is absolutely false – or that the weakening of the capitalists’ stronghold is not of benefit to the workers – which is utterly stupid.

The “committee” next ask, how can Socialists support measures they cannot enforce. They would prevent us even supporting Socialism until it is here, because we cannot now enforce it! The “committee” should ask themselves how they can vote for a candidate if they are not numerous enough to elect him, or why they should use the vote at all –then they might find out just where they are.

And what an original picture they paint of the capitalists dividing themselves into faction to keep us busy backing up their legislation! As applied to the S.P.G.B., however, the picture implies a mis-representation of the Party position and an insult to the membership.

We have, nevertheless, at least one opportunity of agreeing with the “committee”. It is absurd to insist that there is necessarily “a suspension of hostility to the capitalist class by supporting some of their measures”. Do we not learn from their “Open Letter” that the capitalists are compelled to dig their own graves” and weaken their own stronghold”? Obviously, then, according to the committee’s” statements, the support of certain “capitalist” measures may be consistent with the most bitter hostility to that class.

The complexity of the capitalist system was never given to the Conference as the reason for supporting capitalist measures. Nor was it said that “Socialists were sent to parliament to assist in legislation”.

While the upholders of the Party’s position in the matter have never tired of pointing out the progressive crushing of the workers in economic development, they have, nevertheless, pointed to the whole of the facts, and not to a mere mutilated formula. It is suicide to deny the facts as the “committee” would have us do. Sectional benefits to the workers have occurred and do occur. And as Marx shows, working class action does put the break on capitalism’s downward trend, and is so far a benefit to workers. Finally, it is in every case a positive benefit to the whole of the working class when they gain a new and effective weapon or fresh coign of vantage in their fight for Socialism.

Before taking leave of the “Open Letter” we may note one or two of the strange inconsistencies which illustrate the incoherence of the “committee’s” position.

They say that “the capitalist class are as powerless to interfere with economic development as the working class”, and that they are “compelled to open up ever new avenues of education to the proletariat”, and are also compelled by economic development to weaken their stronghold”.

The reply the “committee” wish to revoke correctly interprets the declaration of principles. It insists on the attitude of the representative being the expression of the Party’s position in view of the full facts then to hand. And it frankly faces the eventualities of the situation in the light of working-class interests. As the party has repeatedly stated, in the course of our fight we are prepared to take all we can get that will help our class.

The reasons we do not advocate reforms have been stated again and again in our Press and from our platform and need no repeating here, while any measure that might conceivably benefit the workers would only be dealt with, favourably or otherwise, as dictated by the advancement of our object. Therefore it is absurd for the “committee” to suggest that we should have a programme of “reforms and palliatives”. Even with regard to a useful proposal the complete measure would first have to be drawn up to avoid our being held responsible for, or expected to help, any fraudulent measure. Moreover, even if useful in one set of circumstances it might be harmful in the other, and would often have to be sacrificed to the main issue which is our guiding star. Consequently a programme of the sort suggested is impossible to us, and in making the suggestion the “committee” either do not understand, or they misrepresent, the position of the Party in this matter.

As the first E.C. said in the editorial to the second number of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, so we say now:-

“When a strong Socialist party, fighting directly for the establishment of a Socialist regime and prepared in their progress to secure any advantage that will act as a new vantage ground in their further fight, is organised, then the capitalists will be only too ready to offer and to give each and all of those palliatives as a sop to the growing Socialist forces in the country.

“We have, therefore, to recognise all the time that it is only possible to secure any real benefit when the people themselves become class-conscious; when behind the Socialists in Parliament and on other bodies there stands a solid phalanx of men clear in their knowledge of socialism and clear in their knowledge that the only way to secure the Socialist Commonwealth of the future is to depend only on the efforts of themselves and those who have the same class conscious opinions”.

And in the unique election address issued by the Party it clearly stated that “the candidates of the S.P.G.B., therefore, while quite prepared to use local powers for such small temporary benefits as may be forced from the capitalists’ hands for the workers in those districts, nevertheless do not seek suffrage for this, which can only be a secondary business of the political party of the workers”. And it went on to point out how little could be obtained short of Socialism.

The E. C., therefore, has simply upheld what has been the Policy of the Party since its formation. To do otherwise, indeed, would be to stultify the Party and to sacrifice the working class to half-understood phrases.

The self-styled committee itself is not of one mind on the matter, and one of their numbers has already recognised that his position is inconsistent with adhesion to the declaration of principles. The hollowness of their pretended arguments has again been shown, and it remains a fact that during the whole discussion not a single point has been successfully urged against the accepted position of the Party as laid down in the E.C.’s reply to W.B. of Upton Park.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).