George Walford: The (Anarcho- ) Socialist Parties (55)

Readers will recall that the (A-)SPGB last year divided themselves, after a long dispute, into two parties, one based in Head Office, SW4 (this retains control of the premises, the Socialist Standard and most of the funds), the other in N12. Both retain the original Object and Declaration of Principles. As one result of the split, IC now has support for its description of the SW4 party as anarchist; the N12 party also applies this term to them.

In doing so it bases itself on their approval of a 1985 Conference resolution declaring that the state would be abolished immediately a Socialist majority gained power. This, N12 declares, goes against Principle No. 6, which calls upon the working class to organise for the conquest of the powers of government, including the armed forces. “The Party, from its inception” declares N12, “has always insisted that control of these forces and of the machinery of government is essential and guarantees the orderly transition from capitalist society into Socialist society.” To dismiss this requirement, going for immediate abolition of the capitalist state, constitutes Anarchism. IC agrees that the SW4 party is better described as anarchist than socialist – we have been saying so for years. But what of N12?

They trace the anarchist tendency in the Party back as far as the 1985 Conference resolution. Before that, they tell us, the Party had “always” insisted on the need for control of the armed forces to ensure an orderly transition, and they themselves hold to this, the original party line.

It is true that the Party has, since its foundation, included among its Principles No. 6, specifying the need for control of the armed forces in order that they may be converted into an agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege. But N12 have committed an elementary error in failing to note that this is not all it has maintained. As IC has pointed out before, and more than once, when considering any statement by this party (that will have to be amended to “these parties”) one needs to ask: What else have they said? Well before 1985 they were saying things which amount to repudiation of N12’s interpretation of Principle 6. Questions of the Day (the edition of 1969, antedating the 1985 resolution by 15 years) includes these statements:

The rulers of state capitalist Russia claim that their dictatorship is the instrument by which capitalism has been overthrown and replaced by Socialism. This claim is defended in Communist Party propaganda on the ground of a statement made by Marx in 1875 that:

Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revol- utionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. (Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme).

A detailed study by Hal Draper of the occasions on which Marx and Engels used this and similar phrases provides convincing proof that Marx here meant nothing more than was meant by the statement in the Communist Manifesto that the working class must achieve ‘conquest of political power.’ (New Politics, Vol. l, No. 4, Summer 1962). (30-31)

This publication of the Party contradicts N12’s assertion that the Party “has always insisted” the view they take to be the correct one.

If that does not carry conviction, consider this: N12 speak (twice) of a “transition” to follow the attainment of power by a socialist majority. They repudiate immediate abolition of the state; a transition requires time. The same edition of Questions of the Day” lists among the Party’s contributions to Socialist theory:

Recognition that there is no longer any need for a ‘transition period’ between capitalism and Socialism… Socialism can be established as soon as a majority of workers want it and free access soon after. (86)

The pre-1985 Party, to which N12 declare allegiance and of which they claim to be the re-constitution, said there was no need for a transition period. It put forward what they themselves assert to be an anarchist position.

The SW4 party calls itself, for all except formal and legal purposes, the Socialist Party. The N12 one calls itself the Socialist Party of Great Britain. IC, making the minimum changes required to achieve greater accuracy, will term them respectively the (Anarcho-)Socialist Party or (A-)SP and the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain or (A-) SPGB.

(Based on the document headed “August 1991 THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN”, issued by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, [address])

from Ideological Commentary 55, Spring 1992.