George Walford: The More It Changes the More Different It Becomes

On the opening page of ‘Socialist Principles Explained’ there is a hint that the Object and Declaration of Principles may need re-wording:

Why do we adhere to wording (adopted in 1904) that in some respects may seem old-fashioned by modern standards?

The reference is only to the wording, we have to expect that if anything is done the effort will be to express the same meaning in more up-to-date phrases. But this may be more difficult than the party thinks; anybody acquainted with what the linguistic philosophers have had to say about the relationship between words and meanings will have doubts whether it can be accomplished. ‘The cat sat on the mat’ does not carry the same meaning as ‘the mat was sat on by the cat.’ But these ‘technical’ difficulties are not the only ones involved.

Consider Clause Four, with its reference to ‘the order of social evolution.’ Social evolution was a concept which came into vogue when Darwin’s work was more of a novelty than it is today; if the wording is to be modernised that will have to go. But it is not just a phrase, it is a concept; if it is omitted then the new meaning may be an improvement on the old but it will no longer be the same.

Or take Clause Six, speaking of use of the armed forces by socialists – socialists who have declared themselves AGAINST ALL WAR; or Clause Eight with its emotional rhetoric about mustering under the banner – this from a party which claims to appeal to intellect and not to emotion.

The Object also raises problems. At present it says of socialism only that it is a system of society and that it will be based on common ownership. Nothing at all is said about its structure or its functioning. It is not even said to be democratic; that ‘democratic control’ refers only to the means of production upon whose common ownership socialism would be based. This cannot sensibly be regarded as an adequate statement of what the party is working for; so long as the party has no more than this to say about its object it is asking the working class to sign a blank cheque and their refusal to support the party makes very good sense. But any attempt to be specific will run into contradiction with statements made elsewhere in party literature, for example the statement in ‘Questions of the Day’ that the people living in a socialist society will be ‘free to run social affairs as they think fit.’

If the Socialist Party do start to re-word their Object and Declaration they will find they have opened a Pandora’s Box – or perhaps a better [metaphor] would be a can of worms.

from Ideological Commentary 14, October 1984.