Friday, November 11, 2016

Socialists Versus the Labour Party

The Socialist Party has always been opposed to the Labour Party. We are often asked why. People who think that the Labour Party has socialism as its aim cannot understand how the Socialist Party can be hostile to the Labour Party. And when we explain that the Labour Party's aim is not at all what we mean by socialism, they are still not satisfied. They say that, even if this is true, how can we be opposed to all the praiseworthy and progressive things the Labour Party is trying to do; why don't we give them a helping hand? The answer to this question lies in a difference of theory about human society, and in particular about the capitalist social system in which we live. At one point in history, the Labour Party and the Socialist Party both realised that capitalism as we have known it was defective and both parties wished change. There, however, the agreement ends. The Socialist Party holds one theory and the Labour Party holds a quite different one. Is capitalism a system of society with economic laws that regulate its working and limit the policies and actions of governments - as socialists hold - or is it a mere chance mixture of “bad” and “good” institutions that can be  improved at will by any government that wants to do so - as the Labour Party believes? The Labour Party proposes certain changes which it believes will bring about a great improvement in the conditions under which the mass of the population live and work. The Socialist Party, on the contrary, holds that these changes will make no appreciable difference. The Labour Party sought to “nationalise” (now they aspire merely to “direct”) the principal industries while the Socialist Party held that “nationalisation” will not alter capitalism fundamentally and will leave untouched and deep-seated evils of poverty, unemployment, industrial unrest and war.

Capitalism is called such because the means of production and distribution, the land, factories, etc., are owned by capitalists, that is, by people possessing large amounts of money that they have invested so as to acquire ownership of these means of production and distribution. They may be landlords with their money invested in land and buildings and draw their income from investment in the form of rent. They may be owners of factories or trading companies, or they may have shares in a large number of corporations and receive their income in the form of profits. The Socialist Party holds that capitalism is a system based on the class ownership of society's means of production and distribution, with the working class, the great majority of the population, having insufficient money to be able to live off any income received by investing it, so they live by being employed; by selling their mental and physical energies, in other words their labour-power, for wages while  the capitalist class lives by being owner, their income being derived from the sale at a profit of the commodities produced by the working class, but not owned by them. This is the framework within which governments of capitalism operate, their concern all the time being with ways and means of keeping capitalism running as smoothly as maybe so that the making of profit can proceed, for if it fails capitalism comes to a standstill. The Labour Party as a whole has always rejected this view. It holds that a Labour Government can do what it likes; that it only has to draw up plans for reforms, get them endorsed by the electorate and then put them into operation. This has all the appeal of a seemingly simple, commonsense, practical and direct approach to social problems; more attractive than the Socialist Party's insistence that a new and better social system can only be built on a new foundation, that is by replacing the class ownership of capitalism by common ownership and by replacing the production of commodities for sale at a profit with the production of goods solely for use, without either profit or sale.

The Labour Party theory is unsound. Not that they have not tried to carry out their programmes, but each measure introduced has failed to work in the way intended and the whole lot add up to a superficial tinkering with the system that leaves capitalism essentially unchanged and unweakened. Nothing has turned out as the Labour Party expected it would. Hence the disillusionment and apathy rife in that Party's ranks, the growing despair of the possibility of progress at all.  In every field its earlier lofty aims have been whittled down, distorted or forgotten. To every well-meaning proposal to do something because it is sensible and in the interest of humanity capitalism the retorts is that “the system” will not allow it, as indeed it will not.  At one time, too, they were all in favour of equalitarianism and the abolition of the contrasts of riches and poverty, but capitalism, while they were in office, taught them the absurdity of supposing that you can run capitalism on equalitarian lines

All along the line, it is the same experience. The attractive ideal of the reformer goes through the mill of capitalist legislation and comes out as another pillar propping up the capitalist system. If the reformists are not swept away by the growth of the socialist movement the next years will be spent on the campaigns of rival parties for petty reforms. Labour Party propaganda has not helped the socialist movement. True it has gained an electoral majority for the Labour Government, but only at the cost of remaining silent about the real problem, that of abolishing capitalism and instituting socialism. Labour Party propaganda over the years has got further away from the real issue. Some of the professed socialists, who thought they could use the Labour Party as an instrument for socialism knew that there could be no socialism without dispossessing the capitalists and abolishing the capitalist system. They did not cherish the illusion that socialism could exist while the capitalist class are still in possession, nor did they believe in the now familiar Labour Party doctrine that socialism is gradually being built up inside capitalism. If they were prepared to advance schemes of “nationalisation” it was not an end in itself but because they held (though mistakenly) that the control of capitalist industry by the capitalist State would more quickly make it possible to dispossess the capitalist class and introduce socialism. Today, they would have laughed at by their party colleagues. No longer is there any talk about the dispossession of the capitalists. No longer is there any talk of abolishing the wages system. Nowhere in Labour Party propaganda is there now any endorsement of the socialist objective (clearly accepted by Keir Hardie many years ago), “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Socialist principles have been not merely excluded but forgotten.

The failure of the Labour Governments to solve the problems of poverty, unemployment and insecurity, that are inseparable from capitalism, was inevitable. No application of remedies within the capitalist framework will succeed.

As was argued by the Socialist Party, if the capitalist class were faced with the growth of a powerful movement for socialism among the workers they would fall over themselves to offer reforms in an endeavour to stave off the end of their system. As it is, new evils arrive faster than the reformists can patch up the existing ones. The truth is that capitalism leaves little choice in the way it has to be administered. It is not the good intentions of the Labour Party supporters that are at fault, but their mistaken theory that they can remould capitalist society to their hearts desire. Capitalism is a system; it can be replaced by another system, socialism, when the majority want it, but it cannot be worked in a manner foreign to its nature. Capitalism is not growing into socialism, nor can it be made to. Those who waste time and energy trying to make it do so stand in the way of the movement for socialism. Sooner or later the mass of the population, those who are compelled to work for a living, will be driven by their material interests to set about abolishing the private ownership of the means of production and replacing it by the common ownership of the means of production. In other words, converting all that is in and on the earth into the common possession of all mankind. Labour supporters  largely fail to appreciate the nature of capitalism. They do not see that the evil results of capitalism are the necessary result of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. They believe that a Labour Government can keep capitalism but remove its evil consequences. This is a belief that actual, bitter, experience will show to be an illusion. Capitalism must be abolished. Socialism is the only hope of the world working class

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