Saturday, March 29, 2008

Do They Mean Us? #12

No idea why, but I seemed to have put this blog series in cold storage in recent months, but along pops the letters page of this week's Weekly Worker to bring it back to life:

SPGB time-warp

I was intrigued by the letter from Alan Johnstone of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (March 20).

Over the past 20 years or so, the ‘Socialist Party’s’ house journal has become a shadow of its former self, having been transformed into a coffee table glossy, containing long, rambling, self-indulgent articles on the state of the world and the individual, denuded of any study of Marxism, or need for revolution, or the role and changing nature of the state in any such process.

Johnstone’s party in its reverence for parliamentary bodies is trapped in a time-warp and unable to find a way out. It has ditched its former, strictly defined identity, but failed to develop one relevant to the 21st century, which is why it is decaying, demoralised and internally fractious.

It is true that Marx once maintained, between 1870 and 1883, there was a possibility of a peaceful transformation of bourgeois democracy into proletarian democracy in the United States and Britain (Johnstone even denies the desirability of proletarian democracy!). At that time monopoly capitalism did not exist, imperialism had only just been born and bureaucracy and militarism were not yet highly developed. Later, in 1917, Lenin stated - in his outstanding scientific study of the Marxist theory of the state and revolution - that this exception was outdated and non-existent and that in these two countries too the destruction of the bourgeois state machine and its replacement by a new one was the indispensable precondition for the proletarian revolution.

Parliament did once function as the executive of the capitalist class in its struggle against feudalism. But with the development of monopoly capitalism, parliamentary democracy - democracy for capital - lost its validity. The dominant section of the ruling class could no longer control events through this machinery. A new apparatus of government was developed: a cabinet and prime minister with supreme power; increased use of ‘orders in council’, statutory instruments and other powers to ministers; a well organised civil service, central and municipal; a police force and a standing army. Other instruments of coercion such as the judiciary and prisons are complemented by the ideological apparatus of the educational system, the mass media and, lastly, parliament.

‘Democratic’ methods are always preferred by the capitalist class as being more effective, but history, logic and common sense tells us that when democratic means and other methods of influencing opinion start to fail, the real powers behind these come into play: the repressive machinery of the law, the police and prisons in individual cases, the armed forces when the threat to capitalist policy and safety is on a large scale.

The conclusion is that the only way to solve the contradictions of capitalist production, to put an end of class conflicts, international wars and environmental destruction, which are inseparable from capitalism, is for the conscious organisation of the working class to take power by revolutionary action, to destroy the capitalist state machine and carry through the change to socialism, on the basis of which a communist society can develop.

Andrew Northall


Ouch. Hell hath no fury like an ex-member sticking the boot in.

"Internally fractious"? Absolutely. It's having one of its periodic rows and I wouldn't pretend there is any light at the end of the tunnel, but it's kind of cute for a latter day Leninist accusing the SPGB of not adapting to the 21st century.

And the dig about the coffee table Socialist Standard not measuring up to its inky ancestor from the late eighties? Curious accusation to make which doesn't really bear out on close inspection. I actually have some sympathy with any critic - friendly or otherwise - raising the issue of there not being enough theory in the pages of the Standard but that criticism was equally valid in '78, '88, '98 and 2008. It's rooted in an ancient Conference resolution which means that the Standard is primarily aimed at the first time reader which means, in my personal opinion, that it will always be caught between two stools.

If Northall's criticism is to hold any water, it's a criticism he should have been making in '88 or '98, never mind 2008, but that would mean that he'd have to explain what he was doing in the SPGB during all that time.


ajohnstone said...

i have to give credit to the weekly worker though for permitting a series of SPGB letters ( = mine , why not send your comments to them ) to be published . Are they that desperate to appear open and tolerant . Or are we just a novelty item and considered no threat .

The exchanges continue but i'm wondering when they will put a halt to them.

Darren said...

I think it's part of their raison d'etre of 'openess before the class' to publish critical letters in their press, so I'm not that surprised that your letters have been published. Has their been any cuts/editing to your original letters?

I remember the one time I wrote them a letter they did cut one or two lines but I'd can't remember why they may have been cut. May have been the length. May have been my sawdust prose.

With regards to them a halt to the correspondence at some point? I'm guessing that their editorial policy is similar to the Socialist Standard Editorial Committee: they're happy to publish ongoing correspondence until it hits a brick wall or both parties are just repeating themselves in a circular fashion.

Duncan Money said...

One of them told me not so long back that they publish pretty much anything that gets sent to them, because they don't get that many letters.

They even occasionally publish press releases and pretend they're letters.

Darren said...

Hello Duncan,

Well I know they committed week in week out to having a page (sometimes a page and a half) of letters, so I guess they bring it on themselves. ;-)

Not sure about the matter of using press releases, but I have seen in its pages 'letters' that I'd originally seen as contributions to the UK Left Network. I don't know if it's a case of the author also forwarding on their comment as a letter to Weekly Worker, or the CPGB actively soliciting/poaching comments to be used as letters. (And, no I'm not suggesting that they use them without permission. Maybe they just spot a contribution of interest, and contact the author for use within its pages.)

But I do think it's funny when CPGB cadre answer letters in their paper using one of their 'party' names. ;-)