Archive for the ‘SPGB’ Category

The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid (SPGB – 1969)

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

‘The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid’, Socialist Standard, No. 774 (February 1969)


Men will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. “Socialism” means a world-wide society, democratically controlled, without profits, wages or money. This is a practical proposition now.

All attempts to solve such problems as war, poverty, loneliness, miserable and degrading toil, inside a society based on wages and profits are sure to fail. We, alone of all political organisations, use Marx’s slogan “Abolition of the wages system!”

Thousands of people come forward with plans to re-arrange the wages system. They imagine that slavery can be operated in the interests of slaves! They are wasting their time.

One such school of thought is the political group which calls itself “Solidarity.” Their case is presented in a pamphlet entitled The Meaning of Socialism, which declares that the root of misery in work is, not wage-slavery, but the system of management.

The author, Paul Cardan, proposes to keep the compulsion to work through threat of starvation. He even quotes approvingly St. Paul’s injunction “He that does not work, neither shall he eat.” Production for the market is to be retained in Cardan’s “Socialism” but it is to be “a genuine market for consumer goods, with consumers’ sovereignty.” The wages system is to be retained. We are still to be hired and fired, disciplined and dragooned—but with a difference which Mr. Cardan sees as important: instead of the majority of workers being supervised by a specially trained section of workers (management) the entire work-force in each place of production will manage itself democratically, through workers’ councils. The key feature of “Socialism” is that it will “eliminate all distinct strata of specialised or permanent managers.”

The Socialist Party rejects “workers’ management” as a solution to workers’ problems. We insist on the abolition of wages.

It is to be feared that the tyranny of your mates might prove as terrible as the tyranny of your manager, if your mates are equally as bound up with production for sale on a market. This is the crucial difference between “Solidarity” and us. We say that tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet—the permission to live—must be abolished.

The most crucial error in Cardan’s analysis is his belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be guided by “workers’ management” towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and’ imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Cardan that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which members of “Solidarity” ought at least to consider.

Perhaps they will say that the important thing is the removal of the ruling class. It is true that the capitalists, like all ruling classes, live in great luxury and possess immense power. But it is a mistake to think that the workers are poor because the capitalists consume so much. On the contrary, the wealth actually consumed personally by capitalists is an insignificant (and diminishing) fraction of total wealth produced. Taking the consumption of the capitalists and sharing it out amongst the workers would result in a rise for us all of only a few shillings a week. It is a fact that our masters live off the fat of the land, but if they starved in garrets we should still be slaves. Socialists an not primarily concerned, like vulgar moralists and apostles of “fair play,” to indict the caviar and yachts of the Paul Gettys, but rather the misdirection of production: the subordination of consumption to accumulation and the immensity of organized waste and destruction.

Similarly, though the capitalist class has power, we do not merely condemn the arbitrary, irresponsible decisions of those in high places. We condemn also the decisions which capitalists and workers are forced to make as a result of the workings of capitalism’s laws of motion.

“Capitalism without capitalists” could never in fact come about. Should the working-class reach a level of understanding where they could pressurize the ruling class out of existence, they would long since have passed the stage where they would have abolished the wages system and established Socialism. And there are several purely economic arguments why escalating differences in access to wealth would always result from a wages-profits system. But even if we suspend these judgments, and consider “Capitalism without capitalists” in our imaginations, we can see it would be no improvement on capitalism with capitalists. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation not a state of affairs Which Socialist aim for.

Some advocates of “workers’ control” advance the argument that although it wouldn’t solve workers’ problems it should still be supported because workers are too simple- minded to understand the abolition of wages, and must therefore be given “workers’ control” as the sugar on the pill (except that these gentlemen invariably then forget about the pill altogether). Cardan cannot use this line argument, and this is to his credit, for he has quite correct debunked it:

“The Party . . . “knows” (or believes that it knows) that the sliding scale of wages will never be accepted by capitalism. It believes that this demand, if really fought for by the workers, will lead to a revolutionary situation and eventually to the revolution itself. If it did it would “scare the workers off” who are not “yet” ready to fight for socialism as such. So the apparently innocent demand for a sliding scale of wages is put forward as feasible . . . while “known” to be unfeasible. This is the bait which will make the workers swallow the hook and the revolutionary line. The Party, firmly holding the rod, will drag the class along into the “socialist” frying pan. All this would be a monstrous conception, were it not so utterly ridiculous.”

We would certainly endorse this attack on Vanguardism, but it is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of absurdities which Cardan peddles.

In order to make credible his notion of “Socialism” (capitalism minus capitalism’s laws) he says that modern techniques of production are introduced under capitalism more to reduce the freedom of workers than to increase profitability:

“Machines are invented, or selected, according to one fundamental criterion: do they assist in the struggle of management against workers, do they reduce yet further the worker’s margin of autonomy, do they assist in eventually replacing him altogether? . . . No British capitalist, no Russian factory manager would ever introduce into his plant a machine which would increase the freedom of a particular worker or of a group of workers to run the job themselves, even if such a machine increased production.”

This astonishing claim is made without the smallest shred of evidence being supplied. Whilst it is possible that a few shrewd managers may accept a cut in short-term profits for the sake of insuring long-term profits by fragmenting workplace organization, the intricate conspiracy necessary for Cardan’s sweeping statement to be true would be humorous to contemplate. It borders on paranoia to attribute “ever minute division of labour and tasks” to the management‘s conscious attempts “to combat the resistance of the workers.” Division of labour, and other atomizing and features of modern techniques, are primarily the results of attempting to maintain or increase the level of profits. Modern productive methods are dictated, at a given of technology, by market laws (that is, from the management’s point of view, laws of costs and revenue) and largely outside the will of the capitalists themselves, or that of the managers.

A lot of Cardan’s propositions are developed in contrast to what he calls “Marxism.” It is quite apparent that he is abysmally ignorant of Marx’s theoretical system; the “Marxism” he denounces is the crudest mish-mash of fifth-rate Bolshevism. That is doubtless a further condemnation .of the dire results of Bolshevik confusion-mongering, but it hardly excuses Cardan for making statements about Marx without having read him.

For example, in The Meaning of Socialism, we read:

“By “Socialism” we mean the historical period which starts with the proletarian revolution and ends with communism. In thus defining it, we adhere very strictly to Marx. This is the only “transitional period” between class society and communism.”

Marx of course, never drew any distinction between Socialism and Communism, and always gave these words identical meanings. “Solidarity,” like the “Communist” Party and Trotskyists, concede that it is necessary to abolish wages and money, but say that this is an “ultimate aim” (translation: not an aim at all).

It is also claimed that Marx has been proved wrong by what happened in Russia, because private property was abolished there without his predicted results. Cardan ought to consider Marx’s statement that as long as power over people exists, private property exists. Cardan further believes that Russia has abolished unemployment, which is admittedly not ignorance of Marx, but of Russia.

It is alleged that Marx saw the domination of men by machines as an inexorable consequence of the advance of technology, as a fact which had to be accepted even in Socialism. This is an outrageous howler. Marx was at great pains to stress that the domination of living labour by dead labour was in point of fact an optical illusion. When the instruments of labour appeared to be outside the control of Man, it was in actuality the case that Man’s social relations were outside his control. Thus when Engels talks about the “mastery of the product over the producer” he does not mean that the products are actually the masters, but simply that they seem to be, as long as producers cannot control their social organization of production. They will remain unable to do so as long as these are commodity relations (1). Socialists have always emphasised that in Socialism production will be organized not just to make more goods, but also to make work itself enjoyable.

Like most Left-wingers, “Solidarity” believe that the Russian Revolution was Socialist. This belief is not an accident, but is closely related to their other misconceptions. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” wrote Marx. The Nightmare of Leftism, which weighs so heavily on the brains of today’s Romantic Revolutionaries, is the tradition of capitalist revolutions: the glorification of bloody insurrection, a mystical “Peoples Will” or “Proletarian Consciousness” which has no connection with what people actually will, or what workers actually understand, and hence the disparaging of political democracy, and the theory that revolutionary workers can be “held back” by a Party apparatus. “Solidarity” is no exception. Its ideas belong to the past; they have no future.

On the October Revolution Mr. Cardan comments:

“Many people (various social democrats, various anarchists and the Socialist Party of Great Britain) have said that nothing really happened in Russia except a coup d’état carried out by a Party which, having somehow obtained the support of the working class, sought only to establish its own dictatorship and succeeded in doing so.

We don’t wish to discuss this question in an academic manner. Our aim is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution. The questions which are important for us are different ones. Did the Russian working class play a historical role of its own during this period? . . . The independent role played by the proletariat was clear-cut and undeniable.” (From Bolshevism To The Bureaucracy.)”

To this we can only retort that the view attributed to the Socialist Party is surely too silly to have even been held by anyone. All capitalist revolutions are highly complex phenomena, and 1917 was no exception. Cardan’s aim “is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution,” despite the fact that in his writings he persistently refers to it as such, no less than four times in this particular pamphlet prior to the above excerpt! Of course workers played an independent role in 1917. Workers have played an independent role in every capitalist revolution without exception. That should be elementary.

Two questions have to be asked; they answer themselves. Had Russia in 1917 reached a level of development where abundance for all was possible? And did the Russian working-class in 1917 possess a clear understanding of the need for a wageless, moneyless, stateless society?

To sum up, movements for “workers’ management,” “workers’ participation” and “workers’ control” (though their various adherents distinguish very loudly between these three) will probably be used by capitalism, as in Yugoslavia, to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management, and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to muffle the trade union struggle and enhance the process of exploitation. This is not what the members of “Solidarity” want, but then neither is the present structure of the steel industry what Labour Leftists wanted. “Workers’ management” is a cul-de-sac, to replace the cul-de-sac of nationalization. Please, don’t take another fifty years to see through this one. . . .

We say that in an epoch of potential Plenty the cry should be, not “workers’ management,” but “To each according to his wants!”

(1) This point is made abundantly clear in Marx’s Wage Labour And Capital, and Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, and is frequently stressed throughout Marx’s writings.

What’s the alternative – SPGB leaflet for March 2011 TUC demo

March 18, 2011 1 comment

“What’s the alternative?” As capitalism remains mired in crisis, and criticisms of the system become more commonplace and compelling, expect to hear this question asked more and more. It is often used politically and rhetorically – because every sensible person is supposed to know the answer. The idea that “There Is No Alternative”, or TINA, is one of Thatcher’s enduring political legacies. It will often be asserted angrily in political debate, which is revealing. No one feels the need to angrily assert the truth of the law of gravity. No one, then, should feel the need to angrily assert the fact that there is no alternative if there isn’t one. They do because there is.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has organised this national demonstration against the government’s spending cuts. It has been called a ‘March For The Alternative’. Which sounds great. At last, after decades of ‘TINA’, an alternative! Unfortunately, the TUC’s alternative looks much the same as ‘business as usual’. The alternative, according to them, is ‘Jobs, growth, justice’. This is indistinguishable from what every political party in this country, whether of the left or right, promises every election time. We should not be too surprised by this. The TUC, like all trade unions, exists to win a better deal for wage-slaves. This is a laudable aim, and we support it. But we do not just want to win a better deal for wage-slaves. We want to abolish slavery. We are wage-slavery abolitionists. As one socialist famously put it, we ought not to exaggerate to ourselves what these trade-union struggles and demonstrations and ‘actions’ can achieve. “We ought not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market.” Instead,
we need to organise for something new.

That was Marx in 1865. Unfortunately, his advice has been mostly ignored, including by those counting themselves as his followers, ever since. In the words of the linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky, “the effort to overcome ‘wage-slavery’ [has] been going on since thebeginnings of the industrial revolution, [and] we haven’t advanced an
inch. In fact, we’re worse off than we were a hundred years ago in terms
of understanding the issues.”

Chomsky is right, and it’s the reason we in The Socialist Party devote so much of our time and energy to promoting an understanding of the issues. We seem, in fact, to be the only political organisation in this country to take this task at all seriously.

The alternative, then, is not the amelioration of our suffering under the wages system. It is the abolition of modern slavery – the emancipation of labour. Under slavery, you are sold to a master once and for all. Under wage slavery, you hire yourself out by the hour or the week or the month. The basic relationship between master and slave has not changed. We need to get rid of the master, take the means of making a living under our collective ownership and control, and organise our own lives, democratically, and on the basis of freely organised, freely given work.
In a word, the alternative is Socialism.

The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Tel: 0207 622 3811. Email:

Categories: SPGB Tags:

World Revolution – The SPGB: Parliamentary Cretins

February 1, 2011 5 comments

J. Sinclair, ‘The SPGB: Parliamentary Cretins’, World Revolution, No. 7 (July 1976), pp. 28-29

A relevant article by the SPGB can be found at this link.

Stolen without permission.


In 1929 Lenin published What Is To Be Done?, an argument for argument for revolutionary organization to be just that, a centralized organization of revolutionaries. His ideas won majority agreement at the 1903 Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party in opposition to the conception of a party as a body embracing many divergent opinions. In the same years the British Social Democratic Federation was rent by a debate over the proposal of its leadership to open the Federation’s doors to all “sympathizers who were against social injustice”. The critics of this proposal stood for revolution and against compromises with the reformists of the trade unions, the Fabians and the Independent Labour Party. They were dubbed the “impossibilists”and those of them who were expelled from the SDF in 1904 formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The subsequent histories of the Bolshevik Party and the SPGB, however, are as different as they could possibly be. The former organization, for all its errors and misconceptions, was a living part of the struggles of the working class in the years that followed. Able to learn and express the lessons of the new epoch of capitalism, it rose to the needs of the world proletariat in its first great revolutionary attempt. Even in its degeneration with the defeat of the
revolutionary wave, the Bolshevik Party gave birth to revolutionaries who could carry the lessons of the period into the future. The Bolsheviks were, and remain, an inspiration to revolutionary workers the world over.In contrast, the story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the subject of a recently published book by Robert Barltrop, is no more than the history of a sclerotic organization and its membership. (1) Coming out of the underdeveloped British marxist tradition, the SPGB took up a position of parliamentarism, reinforced by its own sectarianism, which confined it to a local British perspective and effectively isolated it from the real movement of the working class during and immediately after the 1914-18 war -a movement which expressed itself in the form of the workers councils and against the decaying vestiges of parliament. The SPGB’s sectarianism was derived with irresistible illogic from the Declaration of Principles adopted at its founding conference: that “as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party”. If there could be only one such party, that by definition had to be the SPGB! The principles of the SPGB have remained unaltered despite the subsequent experience of fifty years of capitalism in decadence. Their ‘marxist’ terminology has always been combined with a practice entirely irrelevant to the needs of the class struggle in this historic period.


The SPGB claims for itself the honour of being one of the few organizations which were against both world wars.
Theirs was not, however, the revolutionary opposition of the Bolsheviks who called on the workers to turn the
imperialist war into civil war. The SPGB merely stated in 1914 that the workers were “not concerned with the present European struggle” and then chose to sit out the war until normality returned. There was no conception that World War I was only a foretaste of the future of the capitalist system and that there could be no going back to the old methods of struggle.

In 1914 the SPGB’s internationalism extended only to stating that they had “no quarrel with the working
class of any country”. (2) At the beginning of World War II, the editors of the Socialist Standard objected to this milk and water statement on the grounds that the party did have a quarrel, “a big one”, with workers stupid enough to be led into another war by the bourgeoisie, instead of following the example of the SPGB and educating themselves for socialism. (3)


One of the main expressions of the SPGB’s pedagogic view of the working class is the party’s conception of parliament as the means to revolution. In the past, parliamentarism in the workers’ movement has meant, first, the use of parliament to gain reforms for the proletariat within the nation state when, in the ascendant period, the bourgeoisie could grant lasting improvements. Secondly, it has meant the use of parliament as a tribune for the parties of the working class. It was in the latter sense that the Communist International imposed on its members parties, participation in parliament as part of the 21 conditions of membership in the Third International. Against this tactic the ‘ultra-left’ took up what is now the communist position of anti-parliamentatism. In the words of the Communist Workers’ Party of Sylvia Pankhurst, it was necessary: “To take no part in elections to parliament and the local governing bodies, to expose their futility to protect, or to emancipate the workers, or to administer Communism.” (4)

The parliamentary activities of the ‘marxists’ of the SPGB fly in the face of all previous and present proletarian positions on the subject. “Parliament gives legal sanction and protection to capitalist ownership. Once that political power passes into the hands of a conscious working class, capitalism can be abolished and socialism established immediately.” (5) Such a conception was explicitly refuted by Marx in his writings on the Paris Commune. Because the bourgeois state is organically adapted to the needs of capital, it cannot possibly serve as an instrument of socialist transformation. “The working class cannot just lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” (6) The old state apparatus must be entirely smashed and replaces with new revolutionary organs of power. But despite the fact that the SPGB used to celebrate the anniversary of the Commune every year during the first decade of the party’s existence, it showed itself entirely unable to grasp the importance for the proletariat of the heroic weeks of the Commune.

It is apparent from all this that the SPGB sees the working class only as a collection of atomized individuals who cannot understand capitalism, and who are only able to be united for the overthrow of capitalism through the ballot box, thanks to the untiring educational work of the SPGB. In the present period, the fact that the SPGB talks about some aspects of the communist programme, such as the abolition of wage labour, can enable it to serve as a source of confusion for militants emerging from the new upsurges of the class struggle. But in the coming revolutionary confrontations between the working class and the bourgeoisie the role of the SPGB will be indistinguishable from that of any other bourgeois parties. They will wash their hands of the real movement of the class, as they have in the past, and join in the call for elections which act as a means by which the bourgeoisie can mystify the class and divert its struggle into the safe channel of bourgeois democracy.

In 1947, comrades of the left communist group, Internationalisme, in France (a fore-runner of the ICC) criticized the reactionary conceptions of the SPGB and its ‘companion’ parties in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia (Internationalisme, no.17, January 1947). Internationalisme pointed out, for example, that the parliamentary vision of the SPGB meant that if the SPGB came to power it would inevitably have ot manage a decadent capitalist state in which all the reactionary institutions of capital would be pitted against the working class. It saw that the reformist, pacifist, and gradualist conceptions of the SPGB were a legacy of the period of decline in the Second International. And it noted that it wasn’t accidental that parliamentary mystifications had proved so effective a weapon of capitalism against the workers’ councils in Central Europe in 1918-19.

Barltrop mentions that in 1947 the Dutch Spartacus group ‘invited’ the SPGB to an international conference of revolutionaries, comprising groups from France, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. If such an ‘invitation’ was ever sent, it was unknown to the other groups which attended the conference (among them Internationalisme); the SPGB, in fact, was not even mentioned at the conference. In any case, one Hardy of the SPGB is reported as saying that “the initiators of this conference were not plain-minded socialists looking for a way out of chaos, . . . but hardened politicos.” Balrtop adds: “Thus in the end the Party agreed that it had nothing to declare but its hostility to the European revolutionaries.” (p.129). The SPGB has consistently behaved in this manner towards the working class and its revolutionary minorities. A recent offshoot of the SPGB, the Social Revolution group, follows faithfully in its progenitor’s footsteps. Lost in a whirlwind of confusion, this pathetic collection of ‘libertarians’ is doomed to sterility and disintegration – a fitting tribute to its parent organization, the SPGB.

Barltrop has unintentionally done a service for the new generation of revolutionaries by making it apparent though his book, the role the SPGB is destined to play in the future. We can be confident, however, that in the next revolutionary upsurge (unlike the last one following the first world war) the Socialist Party of Great Britain will at last be swept into the dustbin of history.

John Sinclair

1. Robert Barltrop, The Monument: the story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, (Pluto Press, 1976). Barltrop is himself a member of the SPGB.
2. The Socialist Party and War, 1970, p.61.
3. Barltrop, p.79.
4. The Workers’ Dreadnought, Febuary 11 1922.
5. Socialism SPGB Library no.9, 1941, p.41.
6. ‘The Civil War in France’ in Marx, The First International and After, (Penguin, 1975), p.206.

Categories: ICC, SPGB Tags: ,