George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain (43)

SOME BACKGROUND
This party set out in 1904 to get a majority for ‘socialism’ – more accurately described as anarcho-socialism. the world population has increased by thousands of millions while the number of ‘socialists’ remains in the hundreds – of people, not millions. Further from their majority than when they started, they believe they are making progress.

They claim that those who reject their ‘case’ have failed to understand it, but in fact there are good reasons for rejection; to accept it is to demonstrate a failure of understanding.

IC undertakes to print any statement of up to 1,000 words carrying the approval of this party, or one of its branches (and will probably agree to print a longer one). Letters from individual members will appear subject to the normal editorial considerations. Each issue of IC is sent to all the branches, discussion groups listed in theĀ Socialist Standard, official journal of the Party.

DO THE WORKERS RUN SOCIETY? AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS
G. Walford to the Socialist Standard Production Committee, 22 July 1989:
“About Ourselves”, in the June Socialist Standard, says an essential feature of capitalism is a class, not the working class, who control the means of production.

This leaves the Party with no evidence that the workers are capable of operating the means of production by themselves; they have only done it with this other class in control.

The Committee to G. Walford, 8 November 89:
We are sorry for the delay in replying to yours of 22nd July and regret it got overlooked by recent pressure of work, exacerbated by annual holidays.

However, now that we have returned to your letter, we must say that you are quibbling. Your whole case rests solely on a play on two different senses of the word control. When we say that one of the essential features of capitalism is a class, other than the working class, which controls the means of production we mean that there is a group in society which controls access to the means of production and the aim of production, i.e. the use to which the means of production are put.

You pretend to understand this as meaning that we are saying that this is a class that controls the operation of the means of production. In fact, of course, the organisation of the means of production and the actual physical manipulation of the means of production are carried out by members of the working class; which is what we mean when we say that the working class runs society from top to bottom.

So there is no contradiction between saying that under capitalism the capitalist class control access to the means of production and the use to which they are put and saying that the working class operate the means of production by themselves. Today, of course, they do so for the benefit of the capitalist class. Tomorrow, in a socialist society, they will do so for their own benefit or, more precisely, for the benefit of society as a whole.

G. Walford to the Committee, 23 December:
Thank you for your letter of 8 November, replying to mine of 22 July. The accusations of quibbling, of playing upon words and pretended understanding, merely waste time and space, leaving the arguments still to be answered. Your attempt to provide an answer plunges the Party deeper into confusion.

First, it contradicts the distinction drawn, in Principle No. 2, between the class which produces but does not possess and the class which possesses but does not produce. You say the capitalists control access to the means of production and the aim of production; if so, they do not merely own but play a part in production.

Second, if this other class performs the functions you ascribe to it then the working class does not run society “from top to bottom.”

Third, your statement confirms what is said in my letter of 22 July. If what you say is so, this leaves the Party with no evidence that the workers are capable of operating a productive system by themselves. They have shown themselves capable of operating one only when access to the means of production, and the aim of production, were controlled by another class.

Your final sentence confirms this yet again. It is a bare assertion that the workers “will” operate the means of production by themselves. If you are right in saying that the workers have never operated a productive system without the capitalists playing some part, you cannot have any evidence showing, directly, that they are capable of doing this.
If you claim to have such evidence, please produce it.

THE MOUNT EVEREST FALLACY
“… if some can escape from the ideology which we were taught since the cradle, then we have a right to expect others to respond historically in the same way.” (Steve Coleman, in the Socialist Standard, Oct 89)

Coleman is using this argument to support the Party case, so “others” has to mean the majority. He is saying that if some can climb Mount Everest then we have a right to expect the majority to do so. Or, in an example closer to the Party’s concerns, if some workers can become capitalists we have a right to expect the majority of workers to become capitalists.

MARX AGAINST THE (A-)SPGB
In the Socialist Standard of October 1989 R. Lloyd quotes, with approval, the Communist Manifesto: “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority.”

If so, then the proletarian movement cannot be the same thing as the group of some seven hundred people calling itself the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

ARE THEY ANARCHISTS?
“The solution to repressive laws is not better government but no government.” (Socialist Standard Aug 78, p. 149).

“The achievement of state power to govern over people has never had any place within socialist thought. The state could never exist within socialist society… ” (Tony Dobson, Socialist Standard Oct 89)

WHICH CLASS RUNS SOCIETY?
“… if some can escape from the ideology which we were taught since the cradle, then we have a right to expect others to respond historically in the same way.” (Steve Coleman, in the Socialist Standard, Oct 89).

(Yes, the same quotation was given above, but why not make the most of a good thing?)

According to Coleman, in order to become “socialists” we have to escape from the ideology “which we were taught since the cradle.”

The Party tell us that all living by the sale of their labour-power are workers. This includes the overwhelming majority of parents, teachers, journalists, in fact the overwhelming majority of those who in any way teach children – and, for that matter, adults.

If Coleman and the Party are both right, the workers teach the workers the ideology which maintains capitalism.

from Ideological Commentary 43, January 1990.