Using a copy supplied by Ellis Hillman, IC28 reprinted from the Socialist Leader (journal of the Independent Labour Party) of 1950 a reply by Harold Walsby to two members of the (A-)SPGB who had used the pseudonym “Philoren.” On 4 March 1950 another pseudonym joined in: a letter criticising what Walsby had said came from “H. W. Stanley Bee”, and on removing part of Mr. Bee’s disguise we recognise H.W–sbee. It will be seen that Walsby was careful to support the dummy’s statements with quotations from Party literature; when his opponents failed to make the most of what they like to call their “case” he did it for them. – GW
LETTER from “H. W. Stanley Bee”
Harold Walsby, who claims (in his letter published in your issue of 25/2/50) that he has an unanswerable case against the S.P.G.B., should at least make himself familiar with their position. He appears to think, not only that he has made an exhaustive and penetrating analysis of the S.P.G.B. case, but also that he is the final arbiter of what is “dialectical” and what is not.
Let us examine his position. What does it all amount to? The main charge he lays against us is that we think in terms of “black or white!” Upon what does he base this trumpery charge? Upon the fact (yes, it’s a fact all right) that we call capitalism “capitalism” and refuse to call it “socialism!” What he seems to forget is that capitalism is part of objective material reality and that it has certain objective characteristics which are peculiar to it. So long as they are facts under our very noses, then so long can we be sure that capitalism exists. Surely, that is scientific enough? Surely it is even what he despises so much – namely, plain common sense?
Capitalism, like everything else, changes; but despite all its changes it still remains capitalism. That is a simple fact which all those who wish to modify capitalism in the interests of the workers refuse to face. The basis of capitalism remains always and everywhere the same: the private ownership by the capitalist class of all the means of producing and distributing the man-made things needed to live. This base is the touchstone of capitalism and is an objective material fact. Throughout the whole historical period of capitalist development this fact has not altered. It will remain the same and not alter one iota until the workers decide to abolish it completely. Capitalism cannot under any circumstances operate in the interests of the working class; so long as it exists, the subjection of the workers to the interests of the capitalist class will remain entirely unchanged. Those who state or imply otherwise (which includes all Labour and reformist political groups like the I.L.P.) are calling black “white” and fostering ideas which have nothing in common with socialism. They do not foster anything but the continuation of capitalism, with the economic bondage of the workers and the objective fact of their exploitation by the capitalists left unaltered.
Capitalism, modified or unmodified, reformed by social-democracy or not, will, always present the same major problems for the workers: i.e. poverty, unemployment, war, oppression, exploitation, insecurity, frustration, malnutrition and so on. This is because reforms always leave the basis of capitalism quite unchanged and intact. Capitalism remains basically the same whether administered by Tory, Labour, or any other governments.
Pseudo-socialist reformers and their supporters think falsely that they can do away with the undesirable effects of capitalism without changing the underlying cause, the base of the system. While the cause remains, the effects to which the cause gives rise must also remain. If A is the cause of B, then if A, then B, always and invariably follows. There’s nothing . difficult about it. It’s just common sense and simple logic.
Thus when Walsby accuses “Philoren” and the S.P.G.B. of being “anti-dialectical” and thinking in terms of “black-or-white,” he is merely charging them with calling a spade a “spade!” That is better than calling black “white” and white “black!” His references to primitive Communism, chattel-slavery, and feudalism are completely irrelevant and have no bearing on the matter. He forgets that conditions are always evolving and are never quite the same. He forgets that everything changes and that nothing is ever static. Everything is evolving, is in process of coming into being and passing away. This is the fundamental idea and kernel of dialectics – which, correctly defined, is the science of the universal laws of motion and evolution in nature, human society, and thought.
The whole universe, every objective material fact, is continuously undergoing change – for nothing is eternal, not even the capitalist social “order.” Everything is in a state of flux, of continual alteration. Society and everything with it is continually undergoing transformation. Man’s ideas, which are nothing more than the reflection in the human head of this changing material reality, also change; and they change and evolve the more accurately they reflect the objective world outside us. As Marx said: “The whole of history is nothing but a continual transformation of human nature.”
So far, man, in social evolution and transformation, has solved all the major problems with which he has been confronted – and the workers one day will solve man’s present fundamental problem: the problem of capitalism itself. But they will only do it by calling a spade a “spade” and black “black” and not “white.”
REPLY by Harold Walsby (Socialist Leader 18 March 1950)
If ever an answer to a charge confirmed that charge up to the very hilt, it is the answer made by Comrade Bee to my letter. Not that his defence of the S.P.G.B. is out of the general run. Indeed, it is quite typical, as I shall go on to show.
In the very first sentence of his ludicrous reply he drops two rather heavy bricks. I did not claim (as he states I did) that I had “an unanswerable case against the S.P.G.B.” He is getting me mixed up with his own pseudo-scientific tribe, for it is the S.P.G.B. which constantly claims to have a final, cast- iron “unanswerable case.” (I will produce chapter and verse for this if challenged.)
I merely stated – if he refers to my letter – that the Social Science Association “has produced a pamphlet (that I wrote myself) which presents a detailed critical analysis of the S.P.G.B.’s position and which, a year after its issue, still remains completely unanswered.” This statement is true. [And it remains true in 1987. – GW].
The big frogs (the S.P.G.B. has no leaders, comrade!) the big frogs keep silent in their little pond. Their silence is more eloquent than words – even than Comrade Bee’s. (It is interesting to note that, a few months ago, a number of S.P.G.B.-ers appealed to their E.C. to print and answer the S.S.A.’s case against the S.P.G.B. in the Socialist Standard. Needless to say, it was in vain).
The second howler in the first sentence of Bee’s reply is that I should “at least” make myself “familiar with their position.” Yet nowhere in his letter does he even attempt to substantiate the clumsy implication of this typically foolish utterance.
Instead, after opening his second paragraph with great gusto and a hopeful promise – “let us examine his position” – he launches into the usual fantastic “black-or-white”, “all-or-nothing” diatribes so characteristic of the S.P.G.B.; and then winds up his letter with the familiar schoolboy-parroting of certain generalisations (called by him the “kernel of dialectics”) which flatly and obviously contradict everything he writes in support of his “all-or-nothing” S.P.G.B. opposition to capitalism!
Let us examine Comrade Bee’s position – and when I say “examine” I mean ” examine.” In order to scotch in advance, the old “get-out” that Comrade Bee is an individual and not the S.P.G.B. I will quote official Party publications in support of Bee.
“Capitalism,” writes our worthy Comrade, “like everything else, changes; but despite all its changes it still remains capitalism.” (My emphasis). Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? “But,” says Engels, ” sound common sense, however respectable a fellow he is within the homely realm of his own four walls, experiences very wonderful adventures as soo• as he explores the wide world of research.” Let us give Comrade Bee’s crude piece of “common sense” a slight foretaste of these wonderful experiences.
The S.P.G.B. (like Marx and Engels) divides capitalism into two broad periods: the first, a period of predominant growth and development; the second, a period of predominant decline and decay. (See, e.g. “Questions of the Day” and other S.P.G.B. literature.)
In fact, Comrade Bee himself states: “Everything… is in process of coming into being and passing away.” Now to talk of capitalism, as do “Philoren”, Bee, and the whole S.P.G.B. tribe, as if all its changes are merely superficial, as if they are mere changes of superstructure, as if they are simply changes as such, like “ringing the changes” with bells or shuffling a pack of cards – to speak of capitalist changes in general as though they are not fundamentally related and geared to its basic “process of coming into being and passing away,” is not only crude “common sense” but, in relation to more refined modes of thought, just plain nonsense. Let me give an example to show how absurd it is.
Take, for instance, that period when feudalism was in decay, when nascent capitalism and the capitalist class were revolutionary and rapidly developing “within the womb” of the old feudal social system. Imagine asserting of this period of fundamental decline: “The more feudalism changed the more it remained the same thing (i.e.feudalism)!” Yet this is precisely what our self-proclaimed “scientific” socialists are constantly asserting about present-day capitalism which, according to them, has long passed its period of “necessary” growth and development.
For example, in their pamphlet Nationalism or Socialism? when referring to capitalist change represented by the wholesale nationalisation of industry, the S.P.G.B. say: “What has the Socialist to say of all this? It is to warn the working class that ‘the more capitalism changes the more it is the same thing.'” (p. 67, my emphasis). This nonsense could not even be properly asserted of the early “developmental” period of capitalist growth. Imagine asserting of nascent capitalism: “The more it changes (i.e., the more it becomes fully developed) the more it is the same thing (i.e. nascent and undeveloped)!”
This S.P.G.B. “black-or-white,” “all- or-nothing” crude common-sense, to quote Engels, “becomes one-sided, restricted and abstract and loses its way in insoluble contradiction. In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence it forgets their coming into being and passing in their repose it forgets their motion. It fails to see the wood for the trees. For everyday purposes, we know and can definitely say, e.g., whether an animal is alive or not; but on more precise examination we find this is a highly complicated matter… It is just as impossible to establish absolutely the moment of death; for physiology demonstrates that death is not an instananeous, momentary occurrence but a very protracted process.”
Imagine asserting of a dying animal that the more it changed the more it remained the same! But “the more capitalism changes,” says the S.P.G.B., “the more it remains the same thing”; What arrant rubbish! What idiotic, misleading nonsense! These pseudo-scientific greenhorns are the people who, for half a century, have opposed the I.L.P., Labour and other working-class movements and accused them of “misleading” the workers, of binding the workers “back” to capitalism, etc.
Now what of the “insoluble contradictions” – mentioned by Engels above – into which this crude mode of thought lands itself? Do the pompous numbskulls of the S.P.G.B. land themselves in insoluble contradictions (insoluble, that is, for the S.P.G.B.)? They do, brother, they do!
We’ve pointed out scores of these “insoluble contradictions” elsewhere, but just take Bee’s letter. As I have said before, the S.P.G.B. pays lip-service to dialectics and, from time to time, parrots some of the appropriate phrases and generalisations. But it fails to apply these generalisations to its actual analysis of capitalism – indeed, it dare not, for bang goes its black-or-white “irreconcilable antithesis” and opposition to every shade of grey in the political calendar, be it ever so white! It dare not abandon its all-or-nothing “metaphysical” isolation of capitalism from socialism, for that would mean abandoning its own isolation from the actually-developing working-class movement! Now for the “insoluble contradictions.”
Bee: “…everything changes and nothing is ever static. Everything is evolving, is in process of coming into being and passing away …Society and everything within it is undergoing transformation.’ “Socialist Standard” (July 47, p.61): “… there is nothing absolute, static; all is relative, changing.” (My stress throughout).
Bee: “The basis of capitalism remains “always and everywhere the same … it will remain the same and not alter one iota until the workers decide to abolish it completely … the subjection of the workers to the interests of the capitalist class will remain entirely unchanged… their exploitation by the capitalists left unaltered…Capitalism…will always present the same major problems for the workers…reforms always leave the basis of capitalism quite unchanged…While the
cause remains, the effects to which the cause gives rise must also remain…”
S.P.G.B. pamphlet – Is Labour Government the Way to Socialism?: “…the Socialist Party holds that ‘nationalisation’ will not alter capitalism fundamentally and will leave untouched the deep-seated evils …From the standpoint of working-class interests, nothing of importance is changed.” Socialist Standard (Nov., 48): “In spite of…far-reaching changes one thing has not altered – the exploitation of wealth producers…All the boasted intellectual eminence at the disposal of governments is incapable of solving the problems of war…in this also there has been no change…” (My stress throughout).
Bee: “The whole universe, every objective material fact, is continuously undergoing change…Everything is in a state of flux of continual alteration…Society and everything within it is continually undergoing transformation…”
But enough! This is where we came in. These addle-pated amateur philosophers apparently live in a universe which keeps stopping and starting like a shunting railway engine! No sooner have they settled for black-or-white “common sense and simple logic” than the ‘whole universe, society and everything within it” inconsiderately starts moving. No sooner have they switched to “the universal laws of motion and evolution in nature, human society and thought,” when the whole damn thing stops again! Everything changes, capitalism changes, it doesn’t change basically, the base is the cause of evil effects, the cause doesn’t change, the evil effects don’t change, the major problems don’t change, the S.P.G.B. doesn’t change, what the hell does change? The more capitalism changes the more it stays the same, but “human nature,” of course, is “nothing but a continual transformation.” You see how faifhfully man “is the product of” and “reflects” his social environment?
And these people actually presume to educate us in this “scientific socialist” balderdash!
from Ideological Commentary 29, September 1987.