Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - THE SPGB AND JOHN CRUMP: A REPLY TO OUR CRITICS


The Socialist Party of Great Britain was reconstituted on 11th July 1991. Because of the anniversary there has been some interest in the historical roots of the split.

What were the causes? One suggestion which we wholly reject is that the Party was formed before its time”. Had the Party formed later, its problems would have been just as great or greater.

Among the causes of the split was the way in which the old SPGB allowed people to join who were not really Socialists (in both wars the Party received applications for membership from people who were simply anti-war pacifists).

The Party also allowed the study of history and Marxian economics to cease to be a prominent focus of Party activity. There was also the reverence shown by some members to academics and Left Wing theory as though to have Professors and Doctors of Philosophy in the Party would increase its standing and bring in more workers. We can also add to this degeneration a flirtation by some Party members with anarchist groups and social reform organisations in order to increase the size of the Party. Symptomatic of this decline in members’ understanding of the socialist case was the emergence of factions willing to ride roughshod over the party’s democratic procedures and democratically agreed rules.

The process which finally led to the reconstitution of the Socialist Party of Great Britain can be traced back at least to the early 1970’s with the circulation of a statement: “What is it that prevents the SPGB functioning as a Revolutionary Party”, by John Crump in December 1973. Another statement, “WHERE WE STAND”, published the following year, with 12 signatories including those of Crump and Buick, a group who were active in trying to push the SPGB in a different political direction from the one set out in the Party’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES.

In his statement Crump wrote of continuing his “co-operation with those comrades who still remain in the SPGB…and…that they themselves will go on to form links with revolutionary socialists (sic) active outside the SPGB”. Crump’s link with “revolutionary Socialists” was the pamphlet he wrote: “A CONTRIBUTION TO A CRITIQUE OF MARX” (1976), published by two Council Communist organisations: Social Revolution and Solidarity, both of whom no longer exist.

Ten years later, in 1984, a meeting was held in York by a number of individuals, largely academics. The meeting was kept secret from the SPGB membership. No invitations were issued to Camden and North West London branches to attend. The outcome of this conspiratorial meeting was the 1987 book: NON-MARKET SOCIALISM IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURY (edited by Maximillien Rubel and John Crump); the six writers also included SPGB members, Stephen Coleman and Adam Buick. However, none of the SPGB members involved with the group indicated any connection with the Party in their brief “notes on the contributors”.

A Manifesto: “A Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century” was written by Crump. The Manifesto was a political umbrella under which Anarcho-Communism, Impossibilism, Council communism, Bordigism and Situationism could shelter together. “Impossibilism” is a code for the SPGB. Council Communism refers mainly to Pannekoek’s theories of direct action but also covers those groups, like the International Communist current, who argue for the use of Soviets or Workers’ Councils; Bordigism refers to Leninist vanguardism; and Situationism refers to a cultural avant-garde movement, whose “supreme achievement” was the Paris student revolt of 1968 from whose politics most of the contributors derive their perspective of the world. Crump’s thesis was that such groups had a common objective and should disregard their different views on means of achieving their respective political objective.

No disclaimer was made by Adam Buick and Stephen Coleman to disassociate themselves from the groups attending the conference as would have been expected from members of the SPGB.

We do not want to waste space in Socialist Studies reproducing Crump’s original document. Sufficient quotations are given in the Camden Branch reply to Crump, printed below, to make his political intentions clear. This debate is of relevance to us now in that the issues which later, in 1991, led to us reconstituting the Socialist Party of Great Britain were already an issue which, in 1974, bitterly divided the Party. The Camden Branch Reply to crump throws a spotlight on the many important theoretical and organisational issues which underlie the split.


17th January 1974

1. Statement issued by Crump

1n December 1973 a statement “What is it that prevents the S.P.G.B. functioning as a Revolutionary Party” was circulated to the Party.

It is signed by John Crump (who has ceased to be a member on taking up residence in Japan) but with the following explanation of its origin of the views contained in it:-

“It was written solely by me and distributed by me. But no one is pretending either that these are simply the ideas of one isolated and disgruntled member. All the views expressed in this circular have been developed by means of discussion with other comrades and, whatever the differences which may exist between us in detail and points of emphasis, no one should have any doubt that the basic criticism of the S.P.G.B. outlined in this statement commands a fair body of support within the Party itself” (page 1 of Statement).

Crump’s name also appeared, along with those of about a dozen members, on whose behalf another statement, “WHERE WE STAND”, was issued shortly after the circulation of the statement signed by Crump alone.

2. The S.P.G.B.’s alleged failure to seize Opportunities

Crump alleges (page 2) that the S.P.G.B.’s long history “is very largely an uninterrupted series of missed opportunities”, that it has shown “unbelievable slowness and lethargy”, that it never even started “operating as a revolutionary organisation”, that it has a “consistent record of constantly failing even to recognise favourable opportunities as they present themselves, let alone to take serious action in them”.

Among the missed opportunities he lists the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the C.N.D campaigns, and the Labour Government 1966-70.

He tells us that the S.P.G.B. did not make the proper “intervention” or made it too late and therefore failed to exploit the “fairly widespread radicalisation” at work among Labour supporters and others, and consequently failed to recruit more than a handful of members, by contrast with the growth of “nearly all radical groups in Britain” (page 2).

Here as elsewhere he fails to name the “radical groups” and does not tell us what sort of intervention he thinks we should have mounted.

Doubtless if we had changed our Principles so that we could join in the tactics of so-called left-wing organisations, demanding new leaders for the Labour Party, a “more radical” Labour Party programme, and of course telling the workers to vote Labour, we would have increased our membership as they did, but how would this bring Socialism nearer?

In view of his belief that being “radical” is desirable in itself he makes one interesting admission. He writes (page 2) that one of the “radical groups”, the Communist Party, is hardly a radical organisation, is it?” Between the wars, the Communist Party was an outstanding advocate of “militant” intervention in every kind of industrial and political protest movement, doing all the things now being done by other so-called left-wing organisations – and it ends up by being, according to Crump, not even “radical”.

Another of his charges of failure it that the S.P.G.B did not adopt a proposal to republish Martov’s “THE STATE AND THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTION” (pages 3-4).

Crump’s account of what occurred is misleading and takes too little account of the necessary work involved. As an example of what he calls “the more ridiculous arguments which were used by the sectarians within the S.P.G.B. in order to defeat this suggestion” he quotes the opinion of the Pamphlets Committee that it would have limited appeal, making it appear that the Pamphlets Committee and the E.C. were opposed to reprinting the work. In fact, the pamphlets Committee and the E.C. did not refuse to consider publication.

The Pamphlets Committee reported to the E.C. that in their opinion “it would be a useful addition to available information about Marxism and the Russian Revolution, but added: - “Before the Committee commences getting information on copyright, preface, and typing draft, etc. and in view of Party commitments on other pamphlets, would the E.C. make a decision on the Delegate Meeting resolution?”

The E.C. decided to defer further consideration until other pamphlets in hand, “WAR”, “QUESTIONS OF THE DAY” and “RELIGIONn”, were out of the way.

In considering the amount of work involved, Crump makes no mention of the passing of the resolution by Conference to the E.C., the time that would necessarily be taken in detailed consideration of preparing the preface and the text and the commitments of the S.P.G.B. The passing of a resolution by Conference does not do the work.

Crump’s other point is that it is absurd for the S.P.G.B. to say that Martov’s work should have limited appeal, “since Martov is relatively well-known, a booklet carrying his name was likely to be an infinitely more effective vehicle for socialist ideas than a pamphlet written by an anonymous S.P.G.B. ‘er”.

It is a matter of opinion how well a pamphlet will sell but the Party has had plenty of experience to go on. And is Martov’s name “relatively well-known”, for example “to disgruntled supporters of the Labour Party?

We note too Crump’s curious view that workers cannot be impressed by logical argument if presented by an anonymous S.P.G.B. er, but will be infinitely more impressed by a name.

3.Organisations supporting the S.P.G.B.’s Concept of Socialism

Crump writes (page 1) that “today there are others who have come to argue that Socialism is a wageless, moneyless, Stateless society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production”. If this is intended to mean that until comparatively recently this situation did not exist it is not correct.

Before and since the founding of the SPGB there have been organisations and individuals with this as their declared ultimate objective differing, however, from the SPGB on methods of achieving socialism, reformist activities, etc.

THE MANIFESTO OF ENGLISH SOCIALISTS (1890) signed by representatives of the S.D.F., Fabian Society and other organisations (including Morris, Shaw, Hyndman and Webb contained the following:-

Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end and for ever to the wages system, to sweep away all distinctions of class and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sound basis”.

The S.L.P proclaimed the same aim, and the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923 published “A SHORT COURSE OF ECONOMIC SCIENCE” by A. Bogdanoff which contained the following:-

The new society will be based not on exchange but on “natural” self-sufficing economy. Between production and consumption of products there will not be the market, buying and selling, but consciously and systematically organised distribution” (p.389).

every State form is an organisation of class domination and this cannot exist where there are no classes” (p. 388).

It was a common experience in our controversies with the Communist Party and even with the I.L.P. that there spokesmen accepted the S.P.G.B.’s definition of Socialism and confined their attacks to questions of method, whether Socialism could be an immediate practical objective and what to do “in the meantime”.

Which puts the matter in its right perspective: organisations could say that they accepted Socialism as a distinct objective yet by devoting all their efforts to advocating reforms and State capitalism, supporting capitalist wars, misleading the workers by urging them to seek Socialism through “direct action” and civil war.

Crump does not name the organisations he has in mind which claim to accept the S.P.G.B.’s concept of Socialism so we do not know what their other policies and activities are.

4 Economic Determinism – Crump’s Fictional History of the S.P.G.B.

Crump makes no claim now that he stands for the principles on which the S.P.G.B. was formed. On the contrary, he holds that its alleged deficiencies in practice arise from “deficiencies in its theory” (p. 5).

Instead of following the Marxism of Marx the S.P.G.B., according to Crump, took the view that “history” was a mechanical process remorselessly grinding on towards its inevitable destination – “Socialism” (p.5). The bulk of its members were “economic determinists”.

The term “economic determinism” and the interpretation of Marx’s Materialist Conception of History as economic determinism is found in a mixed collection of opponents of Marx (e.g. A.D. Lindsay in his “KARL MARX'S CAPITAL”, Oxford University Press, 1925), “improvers” of Marx such as Herman Cahn (“COLLAPSE OF CAPITALISM”, and “CAPITAL TODAY”), and commentators who have supposed it to be an accurate description (e.g. “MARX AND ENGELS” edited by Lewis S. Feuer).

Prominent among them before, during and after the First World War was Herman Cahn. He held that developments of capitalism which Marx did not and could not foresee had made the imminent collapse of capitalism inevitable. “That downfall will then be like an act of nature, and not dependent on the mental and moral preparation of the peoples of the world for a new form of society which must, perforce, be completely social”.

He said that all we had to do was to sit back with folded arms and watch it happen.

Marx of course did not hold such a view, as his summary statement of the Materialist Conception of History in his Introduction to his “CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY” makes quite clear. He did indeed hold that “The mode of production of the material means of existence conditions the whole process of social, political and intellectual life” and that “with the change in the economic foundations the whole vast superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed”, and that there are in history “progressive epochs in the economic system of society” (the Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal and the modern bourgeois), and that “bourgeois productive relationships are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production”, and “with this social system, therefore, the prehistory of human society comes to a close”. But vital to the whole conception for Marx was that it proceeds through periods of social revolution in which ”men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out”.

In the “COMMUNIST MANIFESTO” it was put in the phrase that history “is the history of class struggles”.

Crump says that the S.P.G.B. did not accept Marx’s view but was founded on the view of history as “a mechanical process” and “economic determinism”. He gives no evidence for this whatever. He does not produce a single statement by the Party that it held this view, or a single statement that it supported Cahn or any other “economic determinist”.

Any number of statements to the contrary will be found in the SOCIALIST STANDARD (e.g. August 1910, page 91).

Here Fitzgerald in debate with a Tory is reported as follows:-

his opponent still persisted in saying that Marx stated that the economic was the only factor, and that man was determined by his surroundings, and in view of that he would read Marx’s own words which were:

“The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society – the real foundation upon which rests the legal and political superstructure. Marx also said ‘Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth

There were many articles in the Socialist Standard on the Materialist Conception of History and none put the view attributed to the S.P.G.B. by Crump. Marx’s own statement on the M.C.H. was published in full in the issue for November 1905.

Crump does offer one quotation which he regards as conclusive proof of his contention. On Page 5 of his Statement he quotes from the SOCIALIST STANDARD, March 1913 as follows:-

Society…moves…under the pressure of growing economic forces making a change in social forms inevitable”.

(The emphasis of the word ‘inevitable is added by Crump

The article in question “Karl Marx in Current Criticism” by Adolph Kohn went over the whole of Marx’s contribution to Socialist thought, including the M. C. of H. That part reads like a paraphrase of Marx’s summary in the “Critique”. It did not put the ” automatic process” “economic determinist” point of view but instead, as Marx did, on the vital element of class struggle. Among the statements made by Kohn but not quoted by Crump are:

History since the passing of Primitive Communism had been a history of class struggles”. This class struggle is the cardinal principle of the socialist party”. So for Kohn a decisive factor was the class struggle.

Crump chose, for obvious reasons, not to mention this. The short paragraph from which he selects his sixteen word extract reads as follows:-

Marx rescued Socialism from the hands of the Utopians and placed it upon a foundation of scientific fact. Not moral appeals but organised political action was the way to fight the capitalists. Society, said Marx, moved not because of changing morals, but under the pressure of growing economic forces making a change in social forms inevitable”.

Crump thinks that the word “inevitable” proves that the S.P.G.B. was not Marxist, but it was, of course, Marx and Engels who wrote in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, the following passage which was later reproduced in Marx’s Capital (Vol. 1 Kerr Edition, Page 837).

What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable”. So, according to Crump’s line of argument Marx, too, was not a Marxist, but a supporter of a “mechanical process” and “economic determinism

Crump not only gives no evidence that the S.P.G.B held the “automatic process” and “economic determinism” view but actually produces two pieces of evidence which shows that the S.P.G.B. did not.

Those who did hold that view were necessarily committed to the automatic “collapse of capitalism” concept. Crump says (bottom of page 6) that the S.P.G.B. “never subscribed to the belief which was popular among so many social democrats before the First World War that ‘history’ would bring capitalism to a point where it would be forced to collapse”.

He also notes that in the early days of the Party its members maintained “a high level of activity”; he finds this “strange”. Indeed it would have been strange for “economic determinists” to have been active at all: why be active when all they had to do was to sit with folded arms and watch the “mechanical process” do its work

How completely the S.P.G.B. rejected “economic determinism” is shown in the pamphlet “WHY CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE” (1932), as for example in the passage:-

“The lesson to be learned is that there is no simple way out of capitalism by leaving the system to collapse on its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely from one crisis to another”.

5 “Guilt by Association”

The idea of “guilt by association” is that you never have to prove that those who you attack actually did anything which can be shown to be blameworthy: instead you accuse them of “associating” with others who acted in this way.

This is Crump’s method when he writes (page 6):-

There is nothing surprising about the fact that the ‘Marxism’ of the early S.P.G.B. was basically the ‘Marxism’ of the Second International. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how it could have been anything else when we remember that the S.P.G.B. originated as a breakaway from the old Social Democratic Federation”.

He follows this up with the oafish remark that the S.P.G.B. was “the mongrel child of Engels, Kautsky, Hyndman and De Leon”.

The “chain of guilt” goes like this: - Engels, according to Crump, debased Marx’s theories (page 6); Engels had great influence on “the Marxists of Kautsky’s generation” (page 6); Kautsky had enormous influence on the Second International (page 70; and Kautsky was “much admired by the members of the early S.P.G.B. too” (page 7).

The logic is staggering: The S.P.G.B. denounced and broke away from and opposed the S.D.F. and the Second International, opposed Hyndman and de Leon and expelled a branch for supporting the De Leonist S.L.P. which, according to Crump “proves” that the S.P.G.B. took over their wrong theories!

The S.D.F. and Hyndman were under constant attack in the SOCIALIST STANDARD from the first issue. A large part of the Party’s first Manifesto was devoted to this. De Leon and the second International were attacked (see for example “S.S.” August 1906). The Party tried to get the Second International to accept a socialist – class struggle basis (“S.S.” Jan. 1905), and failing to get this declined to send delegates to the Second International’s Congress at Stuttgart (“S.S.” April 1906) and ceased all connection with the Second International.

But Crump’s trump card relates to Kautsky. He tells us (page 7) that Kautsky “was much admired by the members of the early S.P.G.B. too. In fact, his reputation within the S.P.G.B. was so high that of the first five pamphlets produced no fewer than three were translations of Kautsky’s works”.

The Party did indeed publish as pamphlets (“FROM HANDICRAFT TO CAPITALISM”, “THE WORKING CLASS” and “THE CAPITALIST CLASS”), parts of Kautsky’s book “THE ERFURTER PROGRAMME”, and announced in 1906 “our present intention to reproduce the remaining sections of the book in pamphlet form as early as possible, and finally to issue the whole of the work in book form”.

It was being specially translated by a Party member and the translation “approved by Kautsky”.

So the S.P.G.B. was hypnotised by Kautsky’s “reputation”, or was it?

For Crump omits to tell the rest of the story. When it comes to the fourth proposed pamphlet, “THE CLASS STRUGGLE”, the Party found it objectionable on many grounds and refused to publish it (It was later published by the S.D.F.).

It will be observed that Crump does not say what was wrong with the three pamphlets that were published, or that there was anything wrong at all.

This is the “guilt by association” technique.

6 Reforms

Crump (page 7) notes that the S.P.G.B. “was hostile right from the start to the reformist policies pursued by the social democratic parties”. But where do Crump and his associates stand? He writes (page 9):-

The “utopians within the S.P.G.B reject many of the efforts of the working class to improve their conditions”.


the S.P.G.B., does not understand “the crucial importance of the workers’ attempts at democratic self-organisation (today this means in a whole range of organisations – tenants’ associations, claimants’ unions, parent teachers’ associations and student unions, to name but a few)”;


it is only by engaging in a wide range of day to day struggles that the working class can possibly obtain the confidence in its own ability and the degree of understanding necessary for it to overthrow capitalism”.

Further light on what this means is given by the statement circulated by Manchester Branch, of which Crump was a member, to the Delegate Meeting in 1970 and Conference 1971. It contained the following:-

That the Party should support, i.e. agree with and encourage, working class action to improve workers’ living standards not only on the industrial front but also in housing, education, and other welfare fields”.

This proposed retrograde change in the Party’s attitude to reforms would mean abandoning the attitude the party took at its formation, which was endorsed by Party poll and reaffirmed by Conference Resolution in 1971.

A major reason why the S.P.G.B’ broke away from the Social Democratic Federation was the S.D.F.’s support of reforms. The first issue of the “SOCIALIST STANDARD” in September 1904 contained the following about the S.D.F.

Today for all purposes of effective socialist propaganda they have ceased to exist, and are surely developing into a mere reform party, seeking to obtain the provision of free maintenance for school children”.

(See also Editorial in “S.S. October 1904, “The Futility of Reform”).

In the early days of the Party we were referred to as ‘the small party of good boys’ who could not make a mistake because we did not take part in the day-to-day struggles of workers on the industrial field and the struggles for reforms.

This was the attitude towards us of the S.D.F., the I.L.P., the S.L.P. and the Fabian Society. Robert Blatchford formed the Clarion Fellowship for the purpose of getting into touch with the workers by supporting reforms. About 1910 the Herald League was formed for the same purpose. Two of our members who were speakers, Dickie Fox and Grainger (known in the Party as Ginger), joined the League on the grounds that it was necessary to engage in the workers’ day-to-day struggle (after the 1914 war Grainger re-joined the Party).

So Crump is only repeating an old, old story.

What now has come of the parties and groups that advocated ‘getting among the workers’? The S.D.F. and the Clarion Fellowship and the Herald League have disappeared. The I.L.P., once a very large party, has been reduced to insignificance and the same is true of the S.L.P., while the Fabian Society is just part of the Labour Party. Between the wars many more groups cropped up claiming to find short cuts to socialism by engaging in the workers’ day-to-day struggles and disappeared after a short existence. G.D.H. Cole formed or joined in some thirty such bodies.

Crump (page 9) backs up his argument with a reference to what Marx and Engels wrote in the “COMMUNIST MANIFESTO” about the Owenites and Fourier’s supporters. The reference will be found towards the end of the “Communist Manifesto”, in the last section on “Critical Utopian Socialism and Communism

Crump does not actually quote what Marx and Engels wrote about the Owenites and Fourierists. It reads:-

They, therefore violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new Gospel”

“The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France, respectively oppose the Chartists and the reformists

As the S.P.G.B. does not oppose political action but, on the contrary, urges it as the all-important working class action to achieve Socialism, the relevance of this to the S.P.G.B. is hard to discover.

Such political action for Socialism stands in sharp contrast with Crump’s advocacy of the Party supporting workers’ attempts to improve their living standards by demanding reforms. It will be observed that Crump does not here commit himself to the view that the workers’ demand for reforms succeed in their object of improving workers’ conditions but only that they should be supported as attempts at self-organisation.

The workers have made many efforts at self-organisation, including the trade unions, the cooperative movement, the Chartists and Owenites, and large numbers of political organisations including the S.P.G.B.

In a very broad sense workers can learn confidence in their ability whenever they undertake democratic organisation, though only too often the effort has, through misdirection, culminated in disappointment sand apathy.

The early enthusiasm for far-reaching social changes shown by the cooperative movement has ended in producing business organisations hardly distinguishable from the rest of capitalism.

The similar voluntary democratic enthusiasm of the trade unions has produced largely apathetic, bureaucratic organisations, increasingly based, not on voluntary membership and democratic control, but on the compulsory membership of the “closed shop” unions, committed to the Labour Party.

A century and a half of such activity has little enough to show of what Crump calls “the degree of understanding” necessary for the overthrow of capitalism.

Since the workers who engage in these reform campaigns are seeking thereby “to improve their conditions”, most of the political result is to induce workers to vote for whichever party of capitalism undertakes to introduce reform legislation. It is no accident that the trade unions, the cooperatives and all of the so-called left wing organisations tell the workers to vote for the Labour Party.

Crump uses a more specific argument in relation to the idea of “free transport” (page 9). It should be welcomed, he says. “in order to encourage some workers to think beyond the idea of abolishing certain prices…in the direction of a society of completely free access to all products”.

Of course the Party should, as it always has, keep before the workers the concept of a social system with complete “free access”, but the idea of so-called “free transport” under capitalism belongs to a quite different category, the illusion that workers can escape or lessen the burden of the endless wages struggle by getting some things “free” – what Engels derisively described as “all so-called social reforms which aim at saving or cheapening the means of subsistence of the worker”.

By lowering the value of labour-power they reflect themselves in the money wage as the capitalists have always appreciated. Hence the industrial capitalists’ abolition of the Corn Laws (at the expense of the landed interest0 to enable cheap food to be imported and enable wages to be correspondingly low; the introduction of “rent control” by a Tory Minister in 1915; the subsidised house building; the government food subsidies and “price controls” of wartime; the provision of free elementary education in place of fee-paying schools etc.

In individual industries the provision of “free” supplements to money wages is as old as capitalism – the “free” board and lodging of farm workers, domestic servants, hotel staff and shop assistants, the hundred years old “free pensions”, “free uniforms” and “free medical attention” of postmen, the “free travel” of railway and other transport workers. It all went along with correspondingly low money wages.

In many cases the demand of the newly organised workers was to have these illusionary “free” supplements turned into cash. What happens if Crump’s army demanding “free supplement” meets the other army demanding that they be turned into cash?

7 Trade Unions

Crump complains (page 8) that the S.P.G.B.’s “commitment to support the trade unions in their efforts to improve workers’ conditions…never takes any concrete form”.

What “concrete form” could it take? Our limited resources are for our own work.

What the Party has done for the trade unions has been far more valuable than anything “concrete” could have been. The early members, a high proportion of whom had had wide experience in the Unions, applied Marxian economics and political teaching to show trade unionists the possibilities and limitations of trade union action.

The Party urged trade unionists to abandon their trust in leadership; to keep control in their own hands, and have a ballot before a strike and on the acceptance of the employers’ offers; to recognise that the dominant power in society is with those who control the machinery of government, including the armed forces, and that consequently the employers backed by the government can always win if they regard the issue as vital and are prepared to fight it to the end; that therefore if a strike does not succeed quickly it should be called off and a more favourable opportunity awaited; that trade union action cannot dispossess the capitalist class or lead to Socialism; and that support for the Liberal, Tory, Labour or any other party of capitalism should be abandoned.

Nearly two centuries of trade union action on the lines of the S.P.G.B. proposed shows how right we were. If trade unionists had used the Marxian analysis to understand how capitalism works they would have saved themselves from the futility of their belief in the past thirty years that capitalism can be “managed”.

As workers we are all individually engaged in the struggle to improve or defend our wages and conditions of labour but the Socialist Party itself is only concerned with one struggle; the struggle for Socialism. To this end it must keep the struggle as clear as possible of misunderstanding, and from running up blind alleys.

8 The 1914 War and the Russian Revolution

Having noted the high level of activity and enthusiasm among Party members up to 1914, Crump writes (page 7):-

The First World War and the Russian Revolution between them proved a traumatic experience for the economic determinists within the S.P.G.B. however. Well over half the membership fell away – presumably disillusioned because “history” seemed to have let them down

Of course they were not “economic determinists” and “half the membership” did not fall away because they were disillusioned or persuaded that the Party’s principles and policy were unsound. The number of workers who left to support the war or to join the Communist Party were a tiny handful.

It was war conditions themselves which set the Party back. For four years propaganda opportunities were curtailed, members scattered, many were “on the run”, in prison or Home office camps, others had left the country or were forced to move to get a living, with disastrous effects on branch organisation, and a small number who were able to carry on had to do so in the face of great difficulty.

Of course the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Communist Party with its seductive promise of a quick road to Socialism made Socialist propaganda even more difficult but there was no disillusion. Members who came back to the country after the war and those who joined then found a mood of impressive confidence in the soundness of the Party’s case.

9).Crump’s Remedy

Crump (page 10) doubts whether the S.P.G.B. can be changed into the kind of organisation he wants, but he adds this:-

I shall continue to co-operate with those comrades who remain in the S.P.G.B. to continue the struggle there and I am hopeful that they themselves will go on to form strong links with revolutionary socialists active outside the S.P.G.B.. in this way the revolutionary organisation which we are all working to establish will be built, possibly as a revitalised S.P.G.B. but more likely independent of it”.

At which point it would be natural to expect the “revolutionary socialists” to be identified, but we are not told. Are they the “all sorts of radical groups” referred to on Page 2, but again not named?

What are their principles, policies and activities?

Party members who accept the Declaration of Principles on which they joined the Party will at least have been warned what to expect.

10 The Future of the S.P.G.B.

In one respect Crump’s attack on the principles of the S.P. G. B. is to be welcomed: it provides the occasion to look again at certain aspects of the Party case at its formation.

The Party declared its acceptance of the basic principles of the Marxist economic analysis of capitalism. Experience has completely justified this against, among others, the Keynesian myth about the possibility of managing capitalism, so enthusiastically taken up by the trade unions and by the Labour Party.

Likewise the Party accepted the Marxist view about the necessity of gaining control of the machinery of government including the armed forces, as set out in Clause 6 of our Declaration of Principles. Subsequent experience has fully justified this against the futile and destructive advocacy of so-called “direct action”.

A third aspect is the Party’s function as a propaganda organisation for Socialism. Not being “economic determinists” the Party at its formation saw the need to explain to the workers the nature and the workings of capitalism, to present the concept of Socialism as an alternative, and to show how alone Socialism could be achieved, and along with this to avoid the confusion that would result if we allied ourselves with reformist or other non-Socialist organisations.

Nothing has happened to invalidate this and in the meantime the fading attractions of Labourism and so-called Communism should encourage us to go forward with at least the confidence and sense of urgency of the founders of the Party.

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