George Walford: A Challenge to the Socialist Party of Great Britain

A Challenge to the Socialist Party of Great Britain by George Walford

Foreword

For nearly six months I have been trying to get the Socialist Party of Great Britain to meet me in debate; the history of these attempts is set out in the Appendix. The Party claims to be able to meet all criticisms of its case, and it has declared its willingness to debate with individuals, but it has not eagerly accepted my invitation. The reason, I believe, is that my explanation of their failure to establish socialism (or even to make any useful progress toward it) derives from the theory originated by the late Harold Walsby. Criticism stemming from this source they prefer to avoid.

In the effort to provoke them into defending the confusion they call their “case” I now issue this challenge, intended as the opening statement in a written debate on the question WILL THE WORKING CLASS SUPPORT THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN? Perhaps they will feel bolder now I have given them the advantage of seeing what, in the first instance, they are called upon to answer. We shall see.

I shall do all I can to prevent the Socialist Party avoiding the issue by remaining silent. This challenge is being formally published so it will be on the record, part of the history of the Socialist Party, available to students present and future. It will be advertised, it will be circulated to individual people and to organisations, especially those attacked by the Socialist Party.

I cannot force the Socialist Party either to meet my criticism in public or to admit, publicly, that they are unable to meet it. But I can and shall ensure that if they refuse to attempt to a public answer that refusal will be publicly known.

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WILL THE WORKING CLASS SUPPORT THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN?

I

Mr. Chairman, friends, good evening. And not only to my friends but to the Socialist Party of Great Britain also, good evening. We may as well start off politely, whatever happens later.

My experience with the Socialist Party will be familiar to many members. You’ve left school and you’ve been at work for a few years. You’ve begun to see that things aren’t as good as they might be, you’ve started to think about war, unemployment, low wages, long working hours, food destroyed while people go hungry. You’ve started to become aware of politics. Then you meet the Socialist Party and they tell you there is an answer to all these things: socialism. A society of peace, plenty and freedom for everybody.

And you say: Goody. That’s what I want. I’ll have some of that.

But the party says: Un-uh. Mustn’t touch. Got to get a majority first.

Oh, you say: That’s a disappointment. Anyway, better get on with it.

So you pass your membership test, join the party, and start working to get that majority. And the months go by, and the years start to go by, and you begin to feel there isn’t much progress being made. It begins to sink in on you that the party has been at work for eighty years and has made no progress that matters. It needs a majority, but it was a tiny minority when it started and it is a tiny minority today. So small it’s almost invisible. You start asking questions about this, and what does the party answer? It answers: Never mind about all that, Comrade; the numbers don’t matter, it’s the validity of the ideas that counts. But you didn’t join the party to get valid ideas. You joined it because you wanted socialism.

The party does not call itself the Valid Ideas Party, it claims to be the Socialist Party. It declares its object to be the establishment of socialism, and it is by their contribution to this object that its ideas must be judged. The Party has failed to establish socialism and there is no reason to expect it to be more successful in the future. This means there must be something wrong with its ideas, and I am going to open this debate by showing, at least in part, what that something is. I am going to show that the Socialist Party believes its members to form an intellectual elite, that the case of which is it so proud does not make sense, and that it is ignorant of socialism. And I am going to give evidence for what I say, evidence from the party’s own publications.

Before going any farther, let me emphasise four things I do not say.

First, I do not say that socialism, as defined by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, is impossible; I say two things about it: one, that it is so unlikely as not to be a reasonable objective; the other, that there is no good reason to think it desirable.

Second, I do not say the working class lacks the intelligence to understand the socialist cause; I do not know of any evidence suggesting that non-socialists are less intelligent than socialists. I say the working class, having heard the case through its typical representatives, has rejected it, and the party shows no good reason for expecting a different response in the future.

Third, I do not say society is not changing; I say the evidence does not show it to be changing toward socialism.

Fourth, I do not say that because the party is small this, alone, shows it to be wrong; I say that when the party itself declares it needs a majority, and fails to make significant progress toward that majority, this shows that its ideas are not making any useful contribution to solving social problems and need re-examining.

That’s the end of the introductory stuff, now let’s get down to business. In what follows every quotation followed by a reference number is taken verbatim from a publication of the Socialist Party of Great Britain; the references are given at the end. The Socialist Party claims that its definition of socialism is the only valid one, that it is the only socialist party and that only people who accept its case are properly called socialists. For the purpose of this debate I accept those usages.

II

The Socialist Party declares its object to be the establishment of socialism, ‘a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.’ [1] It holds that there must be a majority (sometimes it says an overwhelming majority) of people who understand and accept its case before this object can be attained. It has been working since 1904, in a country which now contains some fifty million people, and after eighty years it has some five or six hundred members. In those eighty years hundreds of thousands of workers have heard or read the party case. Many of them have heard it repeatedly. Very few of them have accepted it.

Nearly everybody who hears or reads the party case refuses to accept it, and the party believes that if people do not accept the case that shows they have not understood it. I have had members tell me this directly. They have said, almost in these words: ‘We know these people have not understood the case because if they had understood it they would have accepted it.’

As you can imagine, it takes a good deal to leave me speechless. But that did, the first time I heard it. The blind, unthinking conceit of that answer! If you disagree with the Socialist Party that shows you don’t understand them. They have nothing to learn from anybody. There is no possibility of anybody knowing more than they do and no possibility of them being wrong. They hold the Truth, the whole Truth and the perfect Truth. The only thing the rest of us can do is sit at their holy feet and hope some of their pearls of wisdom will drop into our hungry little mouths.

They say they understand the case and the rest of us don’t. But, they say, this does not mean they claim to be superior. It does not mean they are claiming to be an elite. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. They say they are just ordinary working people. They say the rest of the working class can understand the party case, it is capitalist propaganda and the conditions of life under capitalism that stop them doing so. ‘Those who have seen through the capitalist con-trick are still very few.’ [2]

But what does that amount to? It is a claim that the Socialist Party are the only ones who have been bright enough to overcome the effects of capitalist conditions of life and to see through capitalist propaganda. And that claim shows they think of themselves as an intellectual elite.

III

The second charge I bring against the Socialist Party is of putting forward a set of arguments that, taken together, do not make sense while claiming to be putting a clear and rational case for socialism.

They claim that their case consists of ‘incontrovertible facts and logical arguments.’ [3] I agree their facts are usually sound, but the Socialist Party have no cause to boast of that. Almost without exception those facts are taken from the capitalist press, and if they are incontrovertible it is the capitalist press that deserves the credit, not the Socialist Party. What the Socialist Party is responsible for is what it calls the logic of its case, and that is a long way from being sound. I am going to give four examples, and the first one turns on this question: Do the numbers mater?

The Socialist Party say they need a majority before they can attain their objective. According to The Monument, 1975, by Robert Barltrop (the only book-length history of the party), they reached a peak of 1,100 members in 1949. In 1984 they have between five and six hundred. If you comment on this they are likely to tell you: ‘The numbers don’t matter; it’s the validity of the ideas that counts.’ In 1983, when the party was debating with a communist, I asked a question and that was the reply given from the platform by the Socialist Party speaker: ‘The numbers don’t matter, it’s the validity of the ideas that counts.’

But they also say that whether we live in a socialist society or in a capitalist society depends on whether there is or is not a majority of socialists.

Now, it seems to have escaped the attention of the Socialist Party but I’m sure the rest of us can see it: a majority is a matter of numbers.

According to the Socialist Party the numbers are decisive. It is the number of socialists that decides whether we shall have capitalism or socialism. According to the Socialist Party the numbers do matter.

But the Socialist Party also says the numbers don’t matter.

IV

Now the second example of socialist confusion. The party tell us that present society includes political control by the capitalists. [4] They also say, in their Declaration of Principles, that the present society is based upon capitalist ownership of the means of production. So the capitalists’ political control (being a part of present society) is based upon their ownership of the means of production. Political power is based upon ownership.

All right so far; the terms are clumsy but there’s nothing confused about it. But what else do the party say?

Speaking of the capitalist class they say: ‘Their ownership and control of the industry rests on their control of political power through their political parties.’ [5] And just to prove that really is what they mean, they repeat it: ‘The capitalist monopoly of the means of production rests upon their control of political power.’ [6] Ownership rests on political power.

So the political power is based on the ownership which rests on the political power. That is what the Socialist Party are saying. That is their scientific analysis of present society. The political power is based on the ownership which rests on the political power.

Makes you dizzy, doesn’t it?

When you start thinking about this sort of stuff you have to be careful, otherwise you find yourself thinking it’s your own fault you can’t make sense of it. Or you think the critic drawing attention to it must have got it wrong. But it is a confusion created by the Socialist Party.

V

Now for the third example. The socialists say they accept the Materialist Conception of History, they quote with approval Marx’s statement: ‘The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.’ [8]

What else do they say? They say that of the workers in Britain today, all of them leading substantially the same social existence, some have socialist consciousness and others capitalist consciousness.

The party say with Marx that social existence determines consciousness. If that is so then people leading the same social existence will have the same consciousness. But the party say that people leading substantially the same social existence have substantially different consciousness; some workers are socialist, some anti-socialist.

This is not just a philosophical subtlety. It goes to the heart of the party’s case, it directly concerns the establishment of socialism. The party hold that what is needed for the establishment of socialism is an increase in the number of socialists, an extension of socialist consciousness. This change of consciousness will bring about a change to socialist existence. But they also hold that existence determines consciousness.

They declare their intention to change existence by means of ideas while saying that ideas are determined by existence.

VI

For the fourth example I start by asking: What, according to the Socialist Party, does the capitalist class do? The answer is clear: it owns and it consumes. In the earlier days of capitalism it performed necessary functions but it does so no longer. ‘The owners have now been largely relegated to the position of mere consumers of wealth.’ [9] According to the Socialist Party the class that performs the useful functions, even the functions that are required only under capitalism, is the working class:

The time has long since passed when members of the ruling class could themselves occupy any considerable number of the administrative posts and manage any appreciable part of their activities. From top to bottom all departments are filled by paid or elected officials, and only a very few of these are drawn from the capitalist class itself. Practically all the work of controlling the activities of society today is performed by people who depend for their livelihood upon their pay – members of the working class. The armed forces, including most of the officers, are also recruited from the working class. [10]

And just to make quite certain:

overwhelmingly it is the working class who perform all the tasks necessary for capitalism to function, including organisation, supply of inventions and discoveries, financial operations, administration and so on. [11]

Can’t ask for anything clearer than that: ‘overwhelmingly it is the working class who perform all the tasks necessary for capitalism to function.’ The capitalist class does practically nothing but own and consume.

But now that awkward little question I keep asking: What else do the Socialist Party say?

They say this useless class that does nothing but own and consume is the master class. They say this class of idle parasites struggles with the working class. They say this class that depends upon the workers for all products dominates the working class. All those are in the Declaration of Principles.

The Socialist Party presents the capitalist class as an obsolete, useless relic, they claim that if the workers want to get rid of it they have only to vote against it. They say that practically all control over society is exercised by the workers. At the same time they present the capitalist class as powerful, masterful, dominating.

Why do they do this? It isn’t sensible tactics. Every politician knows that the thing to do is make your opponent appear weak, and small, and contemptible. I am sure the Socialist Party know that, and in their reply to this (if they do reply) we shall see them trying to do it. But with the capitalist class they do not do it. They land themselves in confusion by presenting this class as useless and parasitic and, at the same time, powerful and dominating. I ask again: Why do they do this?

The answer is short and simple: They do it to excuse their own failure.

For eighty years the Socialist Party have been proclaiming socialism. During that time we have had the two biggest wars ever. Generations of socialists have died under capitalism, millions of people have starved to death and other millions have led lives of deprivation. You will find many of the details in socialist literature. These things have happened while the Socialist Party have been at work and they have been able to do nothing to prevent them. When the Socialist Party lists the crimes and horrors of capitalism since 1904 they are detailing their own failure. They scorn the Labour Party because it has not established socialism but they have done no better themselves. They have not got their majority. They have not made any practical contribution to solving the problems they talk so much about. They have failed. Solid, unbroken failure over eighty years.

This has to be explained somehow, and in order to explain it they invent a scapegoat. They take the capitalist class, which they themselves say is obsolete, and they inflate it into a presence that dominates the world. They say this class, that according to them does not manage any appreciable part of its own affairs and does not man or control either the army or the police force, this class that according to them performs practically no necessary function, this class that according to them does not produce any of the means of propaganda, this class that according to them trains nobody, teaches nobody, conditions nobody, yet manages in some mysterious way to dominate the thinking of the great majority.

They present the capitalist class as a useless hangover that can simply be voted out of existence. They also say it is no powerful it is able to prevent the working class accepting socialism.

VII

The four issues I have put forward are not the only ones on which the Socialist Party’s case does not make sense. Here is a selection of others:

They hold that the workers own nothing and that the unemployed suffer greater deprivation than the employed.

That because the objective of the peace movement remains vague and undefined therefore that movement can possess unity only of emotion, not of aim and that although their own objective remains vague and undefined (only people living in a socialist society can decide what it shall be like) the Socialist Party possesses unity of aim.

That the workers have an interest in opposing capitalism not only because they suffer under it but because it does not provide them with the best of everything and that they have an interest in supporting Socialism although it will not be able to provide them with the best of everything.

That their Declaration of Principles must be taken as a whole and that each clause must be considered separately.

That the conditions are and are not ripe for socialism now. If you can’t believe they say any of that then look at this extraordinary pair of statements:

Socialism is ours for the taking. [12]

The only remaining barriers against this system of integrated world production [i.e., socialism GW] are the class relations of capitalism, the profit motive and the political division of the world into rival capitalist nations. [13]

Socialism, the party tell us, is ours for the taking; all we have to do is overcome the barriers that stop us taking it, and even so they omit the biggest barrier of all. On their own showing they have still to get their majority.

VIII

I have accused the Socialist Party of imagining themselves to be an elite and of putting forward a case that does not make sense. I have given evidence to support each of these charges. Now for the big one. I accuse the Socialist Party of Great Britain of ignorance of socialism.

If you ask a party member what a socialist society would be like, they will tell you. Oh yes, they will tell you. They will tell you everything about it down to the colour of your harp. But if you ask what evidence they have to support what they say, it all dissolves. What they are saying is nothing but guesswork and personal preference. Individual members may speculate but the Socialist Party, as a party, do not know what a socialist society would be like.

Oh, yes we do, they will say. Why, it says in the Declaration of Principles what it will be like. So you look at the Declaration, and you find that a socialist society would be based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Clause Eight speaks of freedom, comfort and equality but those are not descriptive statements, they are aspirations. The only firm statement about socialism in the Declaration is that it would be based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by, and in the interests of, the whole community.

There you are, they will say. That’s it. That is socialism. You can’t ask for a better definition than that.

But I do ask for a better definition than that. When I ask what something is, or what it would be if it were to exist, I am not satisfied to be told what it would be based on.

The Socialist Party quote Engles:

… according to the materialist conception of history the factor which is in the last instance decisive in history is the production and reproduction of actual life. More than this neither Marx nor myself ever claimed. If now someone has distorted the meaning in such a way that the economic factor is the only decisive one this man has changed the proposition into an abstract, absurd phrase that says nothing. [14]

According to this Socialist Party pamphlet, if the Socialist Party say that in a socialist society the economic factor would be the only decisive one they are putting forward an abstract, absurd phrase which says nothing. According to their own pamphlet the economic factor is not the only one; there would be other factors affecting socialist society. Do they tell us about those other factors? They do not. Do they claim to know about them? They do not. They call that ‘constructive blueprints,’ and they say it is a ‘futile game’ which they always refuse to play. [15]

They say themselves they don’t know what a socialist society would be like: ‘In a socialist society all human beings will be social equals, free to run social affairs as they think fit.’ [16] If this is so then the people living in a socialist society would be free to run it in ways the Socialist Party have never thought of. The Socialist Party themselves are saying they do not know and cannot know what a socialist society would be like. Only the people living in such a society can know that.

And having said that, do you know what they go on to do? Oh, come on; you must be expecting it by now. Having said that they do not know and cannot know what a socialist society would be like they go on to list sixteen features such a society would possess.

If you find that incredible, I can sympathise. I can hardly believe it myself. But it’s all in the first few pages of their pamphlet ‘Questions of the Day.’

There is one thing socialists are supremely sure of. They are certain that socialism would be better than capitalism. But they say themselves they cannot know that. All they can know is that socialism would be different from capitalism. It would have a different basis so it wouldn’t have the same problems. But it would have its own problems, and for all they know those might be worse than the problems of capitalism.

The evidence from eighty years of experience goes to indicate that socialism is an unattainable objective. Even worse than that, there is no good reason to think it is a desirable one; for all the Socialist Party know it might turn out worse than what we have.

I have shown, with examples, that when you take different parts of the Socialist Party case and put them together they do not make sense. Why do the party put forward such a case?

The reason begins to appear when you notice an oddity in their attitude toward socialism. Another party will try to prove the practicability of its preferred system of society by demonstrating that it, or some approximation to it, has existed and functioned. The communists, for example, used to claim, and some of them still do claim, that the system of the USSR is if not communism at least the halfway stage toward it. The Socialist Party make no such claim. They insist that socialism has never existed anywhere and that it never can exist until it instituted, without any transitional period, as a world-wide system. [17]

This entails two consequences. First, it means there can be no preliminary experiments with socialism, no pilot project; until it has been instituted there can be no direct evidence, from experience or experiment, that it will be an improvement on capitalism or, indeed, that it will work at all. Second, any opposition there may be to the Socialist Party cannot be supported by experience of socialism. The Socialist Party accept the first of these consequences for the sake of the second.

Every system of society which has been tested in practice has revealed defects. Socialism, never having been more than a vision, retains its immaculate purity. The fact that it is merely a mental construct, with no direct evidence that it would in fact be viable, appears to the Socialist Party not as a drawback but as an advantage. It leaves them free to present it as possessing every desirable feature and no undesirable ones (while also holding, as we have seen, that they do not know and cannot know what its features would be). This is not the behaviour of people striving toward a real, working, three-dimensional society, it is the behaviour of people trying to establish an invulnerable theoretical position, one which cannot be defeated in argument.

That is the solution to the puzzle presented by the Socialist Party. That is why they put forward the case they do. They are not seeking to establish a different system of society. They are seeking victory in argument.

I have shown that on each of four big issues the Socialist Party say two things which when put together do not make sense (and I have listed other examples). By doing this they achieve two things. First, they get the argument they need. Whatever an outsider says to a socialist, the socialist can contradict it and start an argument. If the outsider says the capitalists run society the socialist will say no, they don’t, the workers perform all necessary functions. If the outsider says the workers run society the socialist will say no, they don’t, the capitalist class dominates. I have shown you the party saying both things in their pamphlets. Second, with a two-headed case the party can hop from side to side as convenient. They are able to avoid getting committed to a single specific statement and thereby risking defeat in argument.

The party declare that a majority is necessary for socialism. When confronted with their failure to make any significant progress toward that majority they hop to the other side, saying: ‘The numbers don’t matter: it’s the validity of the ideas that counts.’

When arguing with the party, terms to look out for are ‘fundamentally,’ ‘in the last analysis,’ ‘basically,’ and their equivalents. These often signal the hop from one side to the other.

The party says it is the working class which operates capitalism. When you point out that if so then it is the working class we must blame for exploitation, war and the rest, they hop to the other side. They say that although the workers operate capitalism yet ‘fundamentally,’ or ‘basically,’ or ‘in the last analysis’ they do so under capitalist domination.

The party hold that social existence determines consciousness, and if that statement means anything it means that consciousness does not determine consciousness, ideas do not determine ideas. If this is so then for the party to apply their own consciousness directly to that of the working class, to ‘put the party case,’ to attempt to change ideas by the use of ideas, is futile. When this is pointed out to them they hop to the other side, saying that although ‘fundamentally’ (etc.) existence determines consciousness, yet immediately, in practice, ideas can change consciousness.

If you think of the Socialist Party as working to establish socialism then their behaviour is absurd and their case does not make sense, but once you see that the purpose of their behaviour, and the function of their case, is to demonstrate intellectual superiority by winning arguments, then everything falls into place. People with a serious concern for social problems sometimes join, but they don’t stay long: with a few transient expectations members of the Socialist Party are people looking for argument. The party provides them with an unending flow of arguments they can usually win (sometimes in person, sometimes by proxy, through a party speaker or writer). It gives them what they want, and that is why they are members. They themselves declare that their interest is in argument. They just call it by a different name: ‘putting the party case.’

There are not many people willing to devote themselves to winning arguments; that is why the party is tiny and, from all the evidence, will remain so.

Now, in conclusion. I have charged the Socialist Party with thinking themselves an elite. I have charged them with putting forward a case that does not make sense and claiming it to be clear and logical. I have shown them falling over their own feet, scoring in their own goal, and punching themselves in the eye. I have charged them with ignorance of socialism. And I have given evidence for each one of these charges, evidence from the party’s own publications.

These are not trivialities. This is not nit-picking. These charges cut to the heart of the party case. If the party are to continue claiming to have a rational case they must answer these charges, and I want to hear those answers. But I don’t expect we will hear them. If the Socialist Party are running true to form they will not seriously attempt to defend their case. Their reply, if they make one, will be an attempt to distract our attention by talking about something else.

The subject of this debate is:

WILL THE WORKING CLASS SUPPORT THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN?

If you think about what I have been saying you will come to the only possible answer. Will the working class support the Socialist Party? Not if they’ve got any sense, they won’t. And so far, on that question, the working class have shown very good sense indeed.

REFERENCES

The Socialist Standard is the official journal of the Socialist Party. The other titles given below are those of Socialist Party pamphlets.

[1] The Object of the party, printed in all its publications.
[2] The Socialist Standard May 1981 p. 82.
[3] The Socialist Party and Historical Materialism, 1975, inside back cover.
[4] Questions of the Day, 1969 p. 21.
[5] Ibid p. 13.
[6] Ibid p. 52.
[7] The Socialist Party and Historical Materialism, p. 60.
[8] Ibid p. 60.
[9] Ibid p. 46.
[10] Question of the Day, pp. 20/21
[11] Object and Declaration of Principles: Socialist Principles Explained, 1975, p. 10.
[12] The Case for Socialism, p. 52.
[13] The Socialist Standard December 1982, p. 235
[14] The Socialist Party and Historical Materialism, p. 63.
[15] Questions of the Day, p. 5.
[16] Ibid p. 5.
[17] Ibid p. 86.

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APPENDIX

On 17 February 1984, I sent this letter to the Secretary of the Propaganda Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain; it explained what had one before:

Dear Secretary,

On 7 December 1983 I wrote inviting the party to debate. On 7 February 1984 – two months later – the Propaganda Committee replied, apologising for their delay. The reply asks, fairly enough, what arrangements I propose, but it does not say that if they are acceptable the debate can go ahead. It says only that the Propaganda Committee ‘will do our best to ensure that a speaker is provided.’ This has the effect that I am to commit myself to arrangements while the party remains free not to send a speaker and that, of course, is neither equitable nor acceptable.

My letter of December 7 made it clear that I think a debate would be best conducted in writing. Having invited the party to verbal debate and received in reply an acceptance in principle which amounts to a refusal in practice, I now invite them to a written debate. This time I suggest specific arrangements in the first place, while making it clear that I am willing to consider modifications of them.

1. I send the party an opening statement to which they reply. I respond to their reply, they send a concluding statement. Their statements to be on the same size of paper as mine and to occupy no more pages than mine.

2. The four contributions to be printed as sent, as one publication, by photo-offset, under the title: WILL THE WORKING CLASS SUPPORT THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN? A DEBATE BETWEEN GEORGE WALFORD AND THE SOCIALIST PARTY.

3. Printing to be at my expense. I to send at least five free copies to Head Office and at least one free copy to each branch of the party. If the party want a supply for their own use they to tell me, before printing, the number required, and to pay for these at the cost of production.

4. The party to insert in the ‘Socialist Standard’ one displayed advertisement of not less than one eighth of a page announcing the publication, that it can be bought from (the address given) and price. The party before the debate is printed, to quote me at a price at which this advertisement will be reprinted as often as I pay for it.

If you are willing to engage in a written debate but prefer other equitable arrangements, please let me know. May I hope for a quicker reply this time? The party looks forward to socialism, but I have to make the most of this short earthly life.

Sincerely, etc.

That letter was sent on 17 February 1984. As I write this, on 1 May 1984, no reply has been received. The proposed conditions seem to me reasonable enough but the Socialist Party have not accepted them. They have not even responded to my invitation to name other conditions they would prefer. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, in spite of all their bold talk about being willing to meet any opponent, they are trying to avoid debate.

It may be thought reasonable that a party should not debate with an individual, but the Socialist Party has said otherwise. On 13 September 1983, the Executive Committee passed this resolution:

It is the view of the EC that the party will debate with any individual provided it is thought that a successful meeting will result.

The statement suggests a somewhat restrained enthusiasm for democracy. It would take a determined anti-democrat to refuse a meeting expected to be successful; the convinced democrat is willing to debate even at the risk of defeat.

The invitation – now a challenge – remains open, with two changes. I shall now want to insert a short Forward explaining that I had to overcome their reluctance to debate and the title will be changed to: CHALLENGE TO SOCIALISM. GEORGE WALFORD AND THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN DEBATE THE QUESTION: WILL THE WORKING CLASS SUPPORT THE SOCIALIST PARTY?

May 1984

See also: IC vs SP (1986) and more references to A Challenge to the Socialist Party of Great Britain.