Harold Walsby: Dogmatic Nonsense

(Here we continue our series of reprints of Walsby’s articles from the Socialist Leader, begun in IC27, with copy supplied by Ellis Hillman. This is from the issue of 15 April 1950. Walsby is answering an article by two members of the SPGB, writing under the pseudonym of “Philoren,” which appeared on 25 March. Following his usual practice he quotes enough of their article to show what he was responding to. – GW)

When you sock an arrogant bully for six and show him that you can dish it out better than he can take it, in most cases he quickly changes his tune. He puts on an air of injured innocence, says he was really being “inoffensive” and meant no harm; he complains that there was no call for such a “vitriolic” or “so trenchant an attack” upon him, etc. etc.

It is the same when one effectively deals with the S.P.G.B.’s arrogant and aggressive dogmatism (for which, by the way, they are proverbially known in working-class politics). The sadistic glee with which they greet the prospect of “caning” or “bashing” (as they put it) some really inoffensive trade unionist or Labour supporter (with what they call “the cudgel of socialist knowledge”) is somehow not repeated when the Social Science Association opposes them. Instead, they are soon singing a different tune.

The latest example of this comes from “Philoren” – a pseudonym hiding the identity of at least two S.P.G.B.-ers! – who complain that they have been caused “no little wonder that our inoffensive and pertinent letter … should have stung Mr.Walsby to so trenchant an attack…”

My attack, they say, “displays a lamentable show of childish pique … He seems annoyed”, etc. etc. This complaint will cut no ice with discerning Socialist Leader readers who – noting their marked change of tone – will see that what they lament as “pique” or “annoyance” is no more than ridicule, a polemical garnishing of the real arguments with which they persistently refuse to deal.

The first part of their “reply” is taken up with this stupid lament and a lot of irrelevant guff about their personal motives in writing their book. Wading knee-deep through this tarradiddle we come to a further complaint. They say I have failed to understand their words “There is no need for a long-term view of social evolution.”

They go on: “The paragraph from our letter which Mr.Walsby quotes … makes it quite clear … there is now no need to regard socialism as a project destined for the dim distant future, but as a system of society which could be achieved now”! (my emphasis). “In other words”, they proceed, ” we claim that socialism offers an immediate solution…”! (their emphasis!). This nonsense is supposed to show my failure “to understand.” Let us examine it. Since “Philoren” stress that their view of socialism is not “similar to” but completely identical with the S.P.G.B. they will excuse us if we take them at their word.

According to the S.P.G.B. a necessary prerequisite for the establishment of socialism – in fact, the crucial prerequisite today – is “socialist understanding” on the part of the vast mass of the world’s workers (2,000 million of them!) But does anything approximating to this necessary condition, this crucial prerequisite, anywhere exist?

According to the S.P.G.B. it does not. Not a sign of it: “We are in a position to-day, where, a hundred years after the Manifesto, there is not yet even the beginning of a real mass movement for Socialism as we conceived it. We continue to speak, and write. But the response compared to the mass parties is nil. We are beating our heads against a brick wall of illusion, myths and apathy in the hope that the wall may fall one day.” (S.P.G.B.’s companion party in Australia, Feb., 1948. For other quotes to same effect see my pamphlet S.P.G.B.- Utopian or Scientific?).

Now, how can a solution be an “immediate” one, how can it “be achieved now” when the necessary conditions for that solution have nowhere begun to exist? How “socialism” (which, they say, presupposes a stupendous mass growth of “socialist understanding”) can possibly be “an immediate solution” and “could be achieved now” at a time when the essential condition for its achievement hasn’t even yet begun to exist, we will leave “Philoren” and the S.P.G.B., who evidently believe in miracles, to “explain.” No wonder, as I said, they tell us “There is no need for a long-term view of social evolution!”

Next, they try to show that the S.P.G.B. view does not imply that the long growth of the labour movement is “one ghastly series of mistakes” – their view, namely, that the labour movement, for the last half-century or more, has (to use a few of their terms) “fooled,” “misled,” “swindled,” “duped” the working class, has ” wasted its time,” etc., and that instead it should have adopted the S.P.G.B.’s position (see numerous S.P.G.B. publications).

And in their attempt, they, as usual, tie themselves in further knots. “The growth of the labour movement,” they tell us, “can be satisfactorily explained in terms of the material conditions of the working class in their struggles of the past century and a half.”

So, having “satisfactorily explained” how the objective ‘material conditions’ have necessarily given rise to the mass “growth of the labour movement” and ipso facto how those same objective “material conditions” necessarily have not given rise to the mass growth of the “scientific socialist” movement – having, in short, “satisfactorily explained” how socialism cannot be “an immediate solution,” they proceed to tell us that it is!

The S.P.G.B., mark you, were telling the workers this self-same contradictory twaddle half a century ago. For a solid half-century, according to them, socialism has been “an immediate solution” when all along they knew that the objective “material conditions” could only mass-produce a “non-socialist” labour movement!

This is like telling us that pigs can fly while “satisfactorily explainine from “material conditions” why pigs cannot do anything but remain on sweet terra firma. What a case! What crass asininity!

Space forbids dealing with the rest of all their confused mishmash in one letter. I shall continue in my next.

from Ideological Commentary 30, November 1987.