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Movement or Monument? The SPGB

The Socialist Party has great confidence that our analysis offers the only explanation of capitalism and the necessity of socialism. Socialism means the common ownership where the administration of society would also be transferred into the hands of the people. Socialists are opposed to the idea that a state or a nation must have a single “national” culture to which all its citizens are expected to conform. The way to end capitalism is to build unity among the working class in common struggle against the present rotten system and for a socialist society. We stand for the unity of the working class to achieve a socialism. Our greatest force, however, is the power of correct ideas. Our ideas and case for socialism can now be a powerful lever in the building a new society. No general prosperity will be possible as long as capitalism exists. Only socialism will bring prosperity to all. But socialism can only be achieved by men and women who are intellectually free.

The Socialist Party is the UK’s oldest revolutionary party. Founded in 1904, the SPGB reached its peak of membership and influence in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, though ever since has remained a visibleand self-styled thorn in the side of organisations situating themselves in the Leninist and anarchist traditions. Viewed by many as a monument to revolutionary purity, i nevertheless developed a considerable reputation for Marxist political education – especially in the field of Marxian economics – which continued after the war.

Underpinned by its anti-reformism and infamous ‘hostility clause’ against all other political parties, the SPGB’s sense of being ‘the other’ was emboldened by the rise of the New Left from the 1950s. However, its influence on other thinkers and organisations was sometimes wider than it liked to concede: from, for instance, being the originator in Britain of the theory of state capitalism, to its explicit promotion of the idea of socialism or communism as a society without the wages system, any price mechanism, or money. Whilst the former view influenced the group which went on to found the International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party (to which the SPGB has been opposed), the latter was an outlook which found wider resonance on the ‘ultra-left’. This was specifically in the perspectives of the left communist, council communist and anarcho-communist organisations that developed in Britain from the 1970s, and then in the twenty-first century in groups such as the Zeitgeist Movement.

Democratic political action by a majority that wants and understands socialism is the way we see socialism coming about, not by "socialistic” communes or cooperatives gradually becoming more and more self-sufficient and eventually squeezing out entirely capitalist production for profit. This argument amongst those who want a class-free money-free society of common ownership and democratic control goes back a long time, right back to the origins of the modern socialist movement in the first part of the last century. On the one side was Robert Owen, who spent (and lost) the fortune he had made as a textile capitalist on founding communistic colonies in Britain and America. On the other were the Chartists, whose position was later supported by Marx and Engels, who argued that political action for social change was the most effective way to achieve a co-operative commonwealth.

It might be more pleasant to live in a communistic community but the trouble is they never last. Not because communism is against human nature as opponents claim, but because they can’t escape from the surrounding capitalist environment. Far from them overwhelming capitalism it’s been the other way round. Either they isolate themselves as much as they can from capitalism, in which case they are only able to offer a very frugal existence, or they engage with the surrounding capitalist economy, for instance by selling their products, in which case they get more and more sucked into capitalist ways of doing things. The kibbutzim in Israel are a good example of this. Some of them did start out as communities which didn’t use money internally and in which affairs were run democratically with everyone having an equal say. But over the years they have not only competed successfully on the capitalist market as sellers; they have also taken to employing non-members as wage workers, i.e. become capitalist enterprises.

We are not saying that people shouldn’t live in communistic communities if they want to—we are not in the business of telling people how they should live their lives under capitalism—only that it’s not the way socialism is going to come. We can imagine that, when socialists are measured in millions rather than thousands so that it has become clear that sooner or later socialism will be established in the near future, people will be making all sorts of plans and experiments in anticipation of the coming of socialism and that this will include communal living in the countryside as well as in towns, but we are not there yet since this presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement which must come first. So at the moment, we need to concentrate on spreading socialist ideas rather than promoting experiments in "socialist” living.


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