The Socialist Party is a thorn in the side of the left-wing and our mere existence means that the Left are required to meet the arguments of traditional Marxism. Part of its task is to liberate the idea of socialism from the immense accumulation of ideological baggage that has become its burden. By stripping this away the Socialist Party reveals the core simplicity and practicality of socialism. It has been said that the capitalist system digs its own grave; it does not! The only way it will be consigned to history is when a majority of people take political action to end it. What the capitalist system does do, and has no choice about it, is develop a material basis for what could be a new socialist society. These developments are in the global fields of production, distribution, administration, and communications. They bring with them the possibility of a different world system with a good life for all people in conditions of peace, cooperation and well being. The Socialist Party analysis of social problems and their causes clarifies what is happening in the world of economics and politics from the point of view of working people, searches out the causes of problems and is a pointer to solutions. Without this socialist criticism, clear understanding would be lost, leaving only a veil of mystification which conceals the real interests and motives of dominant power groups.
Those who take a 'gradualist' view believe that a new society can only be introduced piecemeal through policies of reform. For this, the all-important issue is to capture political control to form a government. It is assumed that such a government would be not just in political control but also economic control. Then, through legislation on such problems as housing, health care and education and pensions, living standards for working people would be raised. Such a government, working in close collaboration with the trade unions, would be able to raise the level of wages for all working people. At the same time, through the nationalisation of industry, and through corporation tax, inheritance tax, and death duties, the owning class of capitalists would be removed from all sectors of production and taxed out of existence. This we can describe as the reformist road to socialism and has been adopted by the progressives and liberals of the left-wing and has filled manifesto after manifesto with lists of demands.
The Socialist Party takes a different view which argues that the condition for the establishment of socialism was not simply the capture of political power. To be successful, political control had to be supported by a majority of people who fully understood the meaning of socialism together with what would be involved in the change from capitalism to socialism. It was held that unless this majority of socialists was achieved, capitalism would continue. Their campaigning is directed at raising socialist consciousness through meetings, leaflets, pamphlets and a socialist journal. It argued that the best way to defend worker's interests within capitalism was to build up a strong, principled socialist movement. Members of the Socialist Party have based their criticism of the reformist route not primarily on political theory but on economic theory. This was a crucial difference between what came to be the reformist policy and the revolutionary policy. The reformists began with a political objective which was the capture of political power. The SPGB began with an economic analysis of the capitalist system which set out the limitations of political action within capitalism and therefore the need for a revolutionary change. They understood that no government, however well intentioned, or given to revolutionary aspiration, could direct the course of capitalist economic development simply by the application of political hopes. They argued that the mechanics of the market system are driven by economic laws which are inherent in the system and which are not susceptible to ideological direction or government control. It was accepted that politics could make a marginal difference but ultimately, economic factors would be decisive in setting a framework of constraints on what governments and therefore society can do. In this view, production is both regulated and limited by what can be distributed as commodities for sale at a profit in the markets. The idea that class ownership and the profit system could be subjected to gradual abolished through reform change was an illusion. It meant that socialism could not be introduced gradually by reform but only as a result of conscious political action by a majority of socialists.
It is inherent in the capitalist system that it generates discontent and protest but it has also been unfortunate that the long history of protest has been empty of political action that could end the system. Inevitably, the causes of problems are left intact and lead on to a further rounds of protest. This reduces protest to political theatre. Because it is impossible for the capitalist system to serve the interests of the whole community it constantly throws up issues that demand action by those who are socially concerned. The great danger in being diverted from campaigning for socialism and swamped by campaigns to "Ban the Bomb", "Stop the War", "Cancel the Debt," or whatever. This becomes not just a diversion but an end in itself. Inevitably, it becomes a campaign for an "improved" version of humane capitalism. Though the scripts may vary and the actors may change the message is the same, "we demand that governments do this, that or the other!" It is in this process of campaigning for a re-branded or a reformed form of capitalism that the work for socialism tends to become lost. Those who in the past felt that action should be limited to making capitalism a better system, have contributed, albeit unwittingly, to the present state of things. A sane society cannot be postponed without accepting the consequences of the postponement. The spectacle of thousands, demanding that governments act on their behalf is a most reassuring signal to those in power that their positions of control are secure. Repeated demonstrations do little more than confirming the continuity of the system. It is in this sense that most, protest is a permanent feature of the status quo. The point should be to change society not to appeal to the doubtful better nature of its power structures. The Socialist Party analysis is not only a criticism of the capitalist system, it also a criticism of the political activities of most working people. However, no matter how true the analysis and how correct the proposed political action required for their solution and the building of a better world, the ideas of the Socialist Party, nevertheless, failed to influence the every-day thinking of our fellow-workers, mostly ignored although it is the party that shines the light of hope in a world heading towards disaster.
Adapted from the late Pieter Lawrence, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods