George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (48)

This is the Second Part of a reply by Mersyside Branch, to IC‘s criticism of the Party. Part One appeared in IC47.

In contrast to the “simplicity,” “contradictions” and “black and white” nature of the Socialist Party’s arguments, IC variously describes the positions that it takes on social, political and economic matters as sophisticated, complex, intellectually demanding, and not capable of being understood by schoolchildren. However, for downright simplicity, if not simple- mindedness, readers of IC should try the following, printed in IC21, under the bizarre heading “If it Ain’t Bust Don’t Fix It“: “Our friends of the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain propose to abolish existing society, under which more than five thousand million people are able to maintain themselves …” (p. 13)

The first part of this sentence, as it is one of IC‘s cherished favourites, has already been dealt with, but it is the second part that is the most mind-blowing in terms of its generality and inaccuracy. In fact there is so much wrong with this statement it is difficult to know where to start with it.

First of all, capitalism is a world system, the predominant mode of production in the modern epoch. Less advanced modes of producing and distributing wealth still exist in certain parts of the globe, but capitalism continues to integrate more and more productive activity into the nexus of the world market. Simply as a matter of fact though, this does not mean that almost the entire world population is engaged in capitalist production, and that capitalism is somehow responsible for the maintenance of 5 billion people. What is more, unless IC‘s definition of “maintenance” is different to everybody else’s, a noticeable proportion of the population are unable to be maintained by the market economy, while many of those who are being maintained are at an absolute subsistence level, often a lower level than that “enjoyed” by previous generations. It should also be remembered (and never forgotten) that the capitalist mode of production has also brought with it pollution on an unprecedented scale, major world wars that have seen the death of millions and millions of the world working class, mass starvation amidst plenty, social strife, and a whole list of social problems that have refused to go away despite the efforts of the reformers. And IC says that the social revolution advocated by the Socialist Party “is an extreme example of fixing something which is not bust” (p. 13)! It has to be said, however, that in one sense this statement is correct, but true to form, not in the sense IC means it. It is true in that capitalism does not exhibit these appalling features when it is “bust” or because it has “broken down” in some way. Capitalism exhibits these features because it is working normally!

The same article in http://gwiep.net/wp/?page_id=9621, “If It Ain’t Bust Don’t Fix It,” goes on to argue that reformers as well as revolutionaries / abolitionists should take heed. It goes on to outline how attempts to reform away one problem often produce a new, unexpected one, IC thereby borrowing (unacknowledged) one of the arguments put by the Socialist Party against reformism. So to summarize, IC argues that the revolutionaries and abolitionists have the (unintended) effect of strengthening the reformists, while at the same time the reformists are running around in circles hopelessly attempting to fix something which isn’t really bust. So if something isn’t bust what do you do? You leave it alone. And this is precisely the position that IC ends up in – a position of utter paralysis.

Although IC sets out to comment on the various ideologies that exist in society, hence its title Ideological Commentary, this is not the function it actually performs. Its function is to defend the status quo and thereby support the interests of those who want to see it defended. It is in this light that readers of IC and those who consider themselves to be supporters of “systematic ideology” should view its object: “The establishment of a society which shall ensure full development and free expression, both in theory and in practice, for all ideologies.” Ideologies and their Functions by George Walford, (p.162).

If the expression of revolutionary and “abolitionist” ideology serves to reinforce reformism, and if reformism is for the most part a rather futile attempt to fix something which isn’t bust, then beneficiaries of the status quo can rest easy … “systematic ideology” is good news for them. It’s good news for Mrs.Thatcher, good news for the Kremlin dictators and the murderers in the Chinese ruling bureaucracy and good news for whole sections of the capitalist class. Despite all this, IC sometimes gives an inkling that it may have some grand master plan in the pipeline, but it is always steadfast in its refusal to tell readers of IC what this might be. After all, those nasty people from the Socialist Party might use it against them.

Anybody left in any doubt as to IC‘s political dishonesty should take a good look at the following: “Until the ‘socialists’ have decided what their case is it is not possible for them to know whether anything put forward is an alternative to it”. (IC15, p. 22)

Please oh wise ones, teach us! However, judging by the Introduction to Ideological Commentary (Revision of May 1989) IC may not be as wise they would like us to think. Referring to “systematic ideology” they tell us that: “We do not claim final or exhaustive understanding of it; the formulation that looked like the ultimate last month needs alteration now, and the partial account given here will be subject to continuous revision.”

If anybody has not yet decided what its case is it is clearly IC, as this statement casts doubt on both the application of s.i. and the method itself. By its own criterion, IC is in no position to decide whether anything put forward is an alternative to s.i.!

It may also be noted that in order to deprive the relatively small number of Socialist Party members who do not throw IC straight into the waste paper basket, IC is depriving all of its other readers from consideration of its “alternative” – a shame indeed. For if IC did divulge its big secret to the waiting world, Socialist Party membership would undoubtedly receive a welcome boost from all those people who currently think IC really does have an original alternative to world socialism hidden away somewhere. (To be continued)

REPLY FROM IC

Merseyside’s contribution does compel one admission: IC has been wrong in saying the Party tend towards self-contradiction, or make a practice of it. On this evidence they are passionately devoted to it, Merseyside managing to contradict themselves repeatedly even in these few paragraphs.

Trying to rebut the charge of black-or-white thinking Merseyside confirm it. They find it strange that a position which is sophisticated (etc.) should also include simple statements; according to their thinking, it has to be one or the other, black or white.

Trying to disprove IC‘s statement that five thousand million are able to maintain themselves under capitalism, they end up having confirmed it. They say: “Capitalism is a world system, the predominant mode of production in the modern epoch.” If that is so then the present world population do maintain themselves under it. And (a fact they prefer not to mention) many millions, most of them workers, enjoy a standard of living never known before. The charges Merseyside bring against capitalism are largely justified, but by speaking only of failures they mislead. They falsify by selection.

They complain that proper acknowledgment has not been made for what has been learnt from the Party. Ideologies and their Functions (which they quote when it suits them to do so) said: “The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its members have been especially helpful, perhaps not always intentionally so. Without their assistance it is doubtful whether this book would ever have seen the light.” It seems adequate. Members of a party which proudly claims to have been putting the same case for eighty-five years, Merseyside are in no position to accuse anybody else of political paralysis.

Those who want to see the status quo defended greatly outnumber those who want it overthrown; when accused of supporting their interests IC does not rush to repudiate the charge. Those “beneficiaries of the status quo” Merseyside speak of so scornfully include their own party. It is dependent upon the degree of stability, security and freedom provided by modern capitalist democracy.

While the (A-) SPGB persist in standing firmly on both sides of big issues it is not possible to know what would constitute an alternative to their case. When they say the workers run this society from top to bottom the alternative would appear to be that the capitalist class plays a significant part. But the Party also say that themselves. When they say the numbers don’t matter, it’s the validity of the ideas that counts, the alternative would seem to be that the numbers do matter, that it is important to increase the number of “socialists.” But the Party also say that themselves.

Merseyside scorn IC for disclaiming exhaustive knowledge of systematic ideology. Their own party, while proclaiming the virtues of a “socialist” society, also tell us they don’t know what it would be like; only the people living in it can decide that. IC does not claim to have a “case” as the Party uses that term, and does not use the method of argument that consists in demanding alternatives; Merseyside are ascribing their own peculiar practices to a critic.

Controversy of this sort often seems pointless to people holding ideologies more constructive than that of the Party, but full development of the ideological structure requires that the limitations of the repudiative anarcho-socialist ideology be brought out. This means adopting, for the occasion, an attitude even more repudiative than theirs, but there is a significant difference between the two sides. The Party repudiates all views but its own, it is “determined to wage war against all other political parties”. IC takes the contrary stance, recognising that all ideologies possess value and validity and repudiating only the repudiators.

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CORRESPONDENTS occasionally protest that in approaching the (A-) SPGB IC deliberately provokes opposition. IC pleads guilty, but suggests that the alternative needs to be considered. The Party rarely try to counter considered criticism of their case with rational support for it. Committed to repudiation, they respond to criticism with indifference, put- downs or dismissal when allowed to get away with this, and a head-on clash is preferable.

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WHAT IS SOCIALISM?

IC47 listed six meanings of “socialism” recognised by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto, all of them rejected by the “Marxist” (A-) SPGB. Here is another for the collection, from a source at least as well entitled to formulate definitions as the Party, and in a better position to put its version across:

“Sechttlism: As with communism, socialism can mean a variety of different things … At its simplest, the core meaning of socialism is that it is a politico-economic system where the state controls, either through planning or more directly, and may legally own, the basic means of production … The basic varieties of socialism today can be arranged fairly easily on a spectrum … the British Labour Party is only mildly socialist and the Communist parties of Western Europe are very far to the left and very ‘socialist’…” (David Robertson, The Penguin Dictionary of Politics 1988)

The entry goes on to mention Christian Socialism and the German Socialist Party, but our own dear “Socialist” Party of Great Britain does not get a mention.

ARE THEY NOT ANARCIHSTS?

“Certainly the SPGB is an anarchist party, in the sense that it calls for a society where there are no bosses and everything is done by voluntary co-operation, but its members differ from other anarchists in the rigidity of their thought.” (DR, in Freedom 8 Sept 1990, in the course of a review of Beyond Politics)

A. “The socialist revolution will only be possible when there are enough convinced socialists who want it.” (Most Party speakers at most Party meetings, and most Party publications).

B. “The anarchist revolution will only be possible when there are enough convinced anarchists who want it.” (Editorial in Raven 11, Anarchist Quarterly, July-Sept 1990)

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from Ideological Commentary 48, November 1990.