Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: SPGB Proud But Flawed

Socialism or your money back, articles from the Socialist
Standard published by the Socialist Party 2004, ISBN
0-9544733-1-0, soft back, 300 pages.

by Eric Trevett

This review was published in the New Worker 
on 20th August 2004

THE SOCIALIST Party of Great Britain has celebrated the
centenary of its foundation (June 1904) and the production
of its monthly paper with a special edition of selected
articles in a single volume. On an occasion such as this it
would be churlish not to congratulate the SPGB on its
achievement, especially as it purports to be supporting
workers' struggle to end their exploitation and achieve a
socialist society.

Indeed some of the articles, such as the one about the
attack on the Tonypandy miners, are very good in exposing
the ruthlessness of the capitalist class and the betrayal
of right-wing Labour leaders. But the SPGB is based on an
ideological position that is fundamentally wrong and leads
it into a position of condemning any and all attempts
hitherto to establish a socialist society.

Not only that, but the national liberation movements are
also condemned and the valid fight for reforms within
capitalist society also tend to be denigrated. To prove the
point, let us quote a full passage from the foreword of the
collected articles. It is a long quotation but it must be
made in full in order to do justice to the SPGB argument:

"The Socialist Party is particularly proud of the fact
that one of the things we have succeeded in doing over the
past 100 years has been to keep alive the original idea of
what a socialist society was supposed to be  a classless,
stateless, frontier less, wage less, moneyless society, to
define it somewhat negatively. Or more positively a World
community in which the natural and industrial resources of
the planet will have become a common heritage of all
humanity, a democratic society in which free and equal men
and women co-operate to produce the things they need to
live and enjoy life, and to which they have free access
with the principle from each according to their ability, to
each according to their needs." Accepted

For many years it has been accepted that socialist
revolution ushers in a long period of transition before a
communist society is established and in the initial period
of socialism, the principle is not from each according to
their ability, to each according to their need. But it is
in fact from each according to their ability, to each
according to the work they do.

The seed of socialist society germinates in the womb of
the capitalist system and when through struggle  economic
and political  it breaks free of the body of its parent, it
inherits many of he faults, inadequacies and shortcomings
of the previous society. To overcome these, as well as
developing the necessary production to eliminate poverty,
and achieve a situation where co-operation is an even
greater force than competition, will certainly take
decades, perhaps centuries.

When judged by such standards as the SPGB puts forward, it
is not surprising that any attempt to break with the
fetters of capitalism is condemned by the SPGB as being
state capitalist.

In addition the SPGB adopts a position of hostility
towards such countries. For instance, during the vicious
war launched by the United States against Vietnam, the SPGB
declared that they did not support either side and said:

"Of course defeat in Vietnam and the whole of South East
Asia would have serious consequences for American
capitalism. That is why they are fighting. It would deprive
them of access to many raw materials, but more important it
would shift the balance of power around the Pacific in
favour of Chinese state capitalism.

"It is not true that the Vietcong and workers are fighting
the same enemy. The Vietcong are fighting American
capitalism. The interests of workers are opposed not only
to American capitalism but also to capitalism everywhere
including Russia and China.

"Victory for the Vietcong, as we have already explained,
would shift the World balance of power from American to
other capitalist powers. This is not something that is in
the interests of workers, or something they should support.
There is not an issue at stake in Vietnam worth a single
worker's life."

Lest there be any doubt we can include another quote:
"Politically the socialist party nailed its colours to the
mast on the nation or class issue at the outset and the
article here on the rise of Sinn Fein in Ireland is a
stinging attack on the idea that national liberation
movements against established imperialist powers are in
some way progressive and worthy of working class support."

Another crucial issue ignored in this volume is the
question of state power and the concept of the dictatorship
of the proletariat in particular. Without the working class
establishing its authority on society, having command of
its oppressive and persuasive organs of power, socialism
cannot be developed. This goes far beyond the social
democrat idea that socialism can be achieved comfortably by
parliamentary legislation. For socialism to be developed
there has to be mass involvement of the working class,
which takes political power to itself and can effectively
defend itself against the national and international
efforts to destroy it whilst at the same time taking
measures to consolidate and develop conditions for a new

The extent to which the revolution will be bloody or
bloodless depends on the unity and determination of the
working class to champion the interests of the bulk of the
people. This is essential to win firm allies in support of
the revolutionary process. It will also depend on the
degree to which there is disaffection among the personnel
of the coercive forces of capitalism. This will determine
the extent to which the capitalist class, which is being
displaced, can command the loyalty of its state apparatus.

From the standpoint of the SPGB, such an authoritarian
interpretation of socialism would be invalid. But in the
world we live in the working class needs to be aware that
it is dealing with a ruthless adversary, which as we have
seen in innumerable wars does not blink an eyelid at
consigning millions of men, women and children to their

The SPGB's general negative approach to people in struggle
is often reflected in the articles published in this book.
This includes the efforts of the suffragettes and extends
to people active in the peace movement. This is a book that
has to be read very critically. It would be nice to think
that, on its centenary, the SPGB would reflect
self-critically on its ideologically flawed position. Only
in this way can it correct its practice and really play a
positive role in the fight or socialism.

Currently it is in effect opposing and impeding all real
efforts in the direction of socialism because they cannot
achieve full, perfect communism in the blink of an eye. And
this position helps to sustain capitalism.

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