George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (62)

Letter from Stan Parker:

Sir,
I have to tell you that I did not like much of IC60. Some 30 years ago I left an intolerant and sectarian but otherwise politically persuasive SPGB, but last year I found it had changed. The 1904 principles are no longer holy writ, although still valid in essence, and there is a much keener desire to get people into the Party than throw them out.

I want to spend the rest of my life helping to bring about socialism or at least moving society in a socialist direction. As an organisation the SP isn’t perfect, but then as human beings none of us is perfect. I wish you were with us rather than standing aside from us, patronisingly ‘recognising’ and ‘accepting’ us as just one expression of one of several ideologies. You complain (IC60,9) that to condemn capitalism and the state by listing their horrors while omitting their achievements is a ‘one-legged‘ argument. What achievements? Surely we deserve a better society than capitalism; why should we be even- handed about weighing up its pros and cons?

Yours etc.
Stan Parker

REPLY
Members of the (A)-SP are not supposed to like IC. ‘The 1904 Principles are no longer Holy Writ, although still valid in essence.’ Nobody that we know of ever has suggested the Principles were Holy Writ, or doubted that the Party believes them to be valid in essence. What we need to know, what prospective members need to know, what anybody taking the Party seriously needs to know, is this: Does the Party still maintain that its Principles are valid as printed? Our correspondent does not tell us, but his phrasing suggests it does not. To say that they are ‘still valid in essence’ implies that they are now held to be valid only in essence. Other members speaking and writing for the Party still claim that they are valid as printed:

Steve Coleman: ‘Our attitude is stated in our Declaration of Principles, written in 1904 and still valid today.’ (Discussion Bulletin No.45, Jan – Feb 1991).

The Socialist Standard of October 1993: ‘This Declaration is the basis of our organisation… ‘ And lest any doubt should remain, the Standard goes on to emphasise the importance of the wording: ‘… and, because it is also an important historical document dating from the formation of the Party in 1904, its original language has been retained.’ If our correspondent wants to claim that the Object and Principles are no longer valid as printed in every item of Party literature, but only ‘in essence,’ he should take it up with Mr. Coleman and the Socialist Standard.

When he rejoined the Party last year, did he accept only the ‘essence?’ Or did he put his signature to the usual form setting out the Object and Principles in full, declaring his understanding and acceptance of them?

This question, whether the Party maintain a commitment to their declared principles, carries greater importance than may appear. They have long claimed that the requirement for all members to understand and accept the Object and Principles, as printed, distinguished this Party from all others. It meant that all members knew just what they were committed to while members of other parties, not having equally clear principles, might have joined under a misunderstanding. If the Party no longer require commitment to the Principles as printed this claim collapses.

‘a much keener desire to get people into the Party than to throw them out.’ This change must have been very recent, for in 1991 this party of some five hundred members threw out twenty-three of them, including some of the longest-serving. We welcome this new attitude and look forward to hearing that these members have been welcomed back into the fold.

This party still declares itself, in every one of its publications: ‘determined to wage war against all other political parties.’ Not sectarian? Not intolerant?

Wanting to move towards socialism, our correspondent joins an organisation that has spent ninety years moving away from it. With world population rocketing upwards while its own numbers hardly change, this party now stands thousands of millions farther from a ‘socialist’ majority than when it started, and it moves backwards more rapidly each year as the population increases even faster.

What has modem capitalism achieved? The conditions within which this unprecedented increase in human life has taken place.

Anybody proposing to do away with a social system needs to be extremely even-handed in weighing up its pros and cons, for otherwise they risk destroying something whose value they have not recognised.

Our correspondent belongs to an organisation that moves steadily away from its declared objective, that (if we listen to him) doesn’t know whether it holds to its declared principles or only to some unspecified ‘essence,’ that desires to get people into the Party while excluding a substantial part of its former membership, and (according to him) sees no need to understand the value of what it proposes to destroy. While returning a polite ‘thank you’ for the invitation, IC prefers not to join.

THE PARTY have long been ascribing their lack of support to the fact that most of those they call workers have not met the jumble of truisms, self-contradictions and blundering absurdities that they like to call their case.

Putting up four candidates for the Euro-Elections of 1994, they will have their Socialist Manifesto distributed to one million households. What excuse will they come up with when the overwhelming majority of those receiving it still continue to support or accept capitalism? (Socialist Standard October 1993, 158)

THIS PARTY tells us:
a) that capitalist production is carried on for profit;
b) that capitalist production is carried on entirely by workers – who don’t get any profit.
a) that capitalist wars are fought over possession.
b) that capitalist wars are fought mainly by workers – who, win or lose, get no possessions.

from Ideological Commentary 62, November 1993.