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' given at Islington Branch (Spring 1982) (reported by P. Lawrence) Report of Statement given by Comrade J. D'Arcy (Camden Branch) given at Islington Branch - Spring 1982 on the question - "What is wrong with the SPGB?" First I would like to mention what would appear to be the difference within the membership of the SPGB, because there is a difference - and I think that difference is manifested throughout the Party the way in which things are moving and the way in which there seems to be a general degeneration - a deterioration - of the Party and its organisation. I think this will eventually have an effect on propaganda - it has already had an effect in my opinion on the way in which the written propaganda is put out - I don't think it is anything like the kind of thing that we should be saying as socialists and I'll go into that detail if necessary later. But the first thing would appear - that the SPGB as an organisation formed in 1904 - had set about its business - had set up its Declaration of Principles-and it has more or less stood still since then -'it relies entirely on its declaration and therefore this was becoming mere of a kind of catechism than an actual live guide to activity. I'll mention this at the beginning because this has been a criticism that has been levelled at myself and other people - that we more or less just mouth what we have read or agreed upon some many years ago - and we have not shown any regard to time or place - and this is to some extent the difference between the ossified, steam age SPGB'er who hasn't taken anything into account - but has just continued to more or less repeat the Declaration of Principles and that this view would cover all contingencies. Now this is the kind of criticism that has been levelled at - as I say - a number of members of the Party. Well, one thing I would like to point out is that there is another angle -that you get within any political party - and this did happen in one particular case when I joined the SPGB a very long time ago - and that is a general impatience with younger people - who have got more time and more energy - and of course they can move around more than people who have been in the movement for a number of years - who have taken on commitments and so on - and they slow up a bit. So there is of course this rather technical argument - that inevitably the younger generation will stand on the shoulders of the old and they will carry on the thing - but they will spice it up a bit - and they will as I say push it forward. They will be contemporary people - whereas the older crowd will be more in the nature of what one might describe as reactionary, Now one position of the Party many years ago was that about two or three years after I joined the SPGB during the last war, I was secretary of a Branch called the Bloomsbury Branch - there were 65 members in the Bloomsbury Branch - there are one or two of them here - and of course i used to come to the meetings as secretary - and I used to sit at Rugby Chambers - and sometimes we got a quorum and sometimes we didn't. It wasn't a very pleasant business sitting in that room waiting on a quorum to turn up - and of course we got fed up with it. Young members of the Branch got competely fed up with it and said - look, we are actually carrying the dead wood - we'll just have to get out and do something - so we did - we went out - that is a few of us left Bloomsbury Branch - we didn't give them any notice - we formed another Branch - we formed the St. Pancras Branch - and among other things we said - look - we don't want to be connected to this old branch because there is a lot of dead wood in it. We want to be active - we want to run meetings - we want to do a host of things that these old people don't seem to be interested in. Of course what we overlooked at the time - we didn't have any disagreements -we were fundamentally happy with the organisation - we said that the Party's case was OK - but we want to spend more time at it - we want to go at it a bit harder - but if we carry on like this we are just not going to get anywhere.
There was no question of principle or different point of view. Of course what we had overlooked was that a large number of the members were engaged in Head Office work - were engaged in the running of the Editorial Committee - there were 6 members of the Branch on the EC at the time - and they were engaged in the running of Party functions which we were unaware of - we didn't know this - or at least we didn't pay much attention to it - of course it showed in retrospect that we might have sat back a bit and had a look at the thing rather objectively. As it happened it didn't do us any harm to form the new Branch. Well this is a clear case of a sort of generation gap argument - the old generation being overwhelmed by the new generation and so on - and I would have liked to have thought that this was the trouble with the SPGB - the idea that here you have got some people in the Party who are getting on - and getting a bit past it - and here is a lot of young fellows coming up and they want to shoulder the responsibilities for running the Organisation - doing the things that are necessary to maintain and sustain the Socialist Party - and I would have liked to have thought that that was the case. Unfortunately I can't accept that point of view. Having had a look at the situation I don't accept it is a matter of people wanting to do what you have done but wanting to do it better. That unfortunately in my opinion is not the case. I think that what is the case - and it is becoming more and more clear - the trouble with the SPGB is that a number of members in the SPGB - quite a large number of members in the SPGB - have got the short cut mentality - they've got the view point that somewhere along the line we can cut the corners of what we have to do - you can to some extent have more flexibility in what you do with your associations with other political people - you can engage in activities which are anathema to the established principles as laid down in the Declaration of Principles - and I think that the present controversy in the SPGB largely centres on this question of the members of the Party - and I might say here it is'nt just young members - because we have some very old - if you like have nursed grievances in the Party for many, many years - and joined forces with the young people and of course many of you are here - and we have got this twin movement as it were going on - on the one hand the youngsters falling for this rather tempting argument that the Party should not have these rigid - if you like - the expression used against members like myself was -we should not have these 'doctinaire people' who have a rigid interpretation of the Party's case. Well, try as I might over many years I have never been able to discover what this means - nobody will give a name to it - nobody has over told me what a rigid interpretation is as opposed to a rather fluid or flexible interpretation-nobody has ever told me what 'doctrinaire' means in relation to the Party's Declaration of Principles. : I should hate for example to be speaking in Hyde Park or Tower Hill - and someone asks me a question - and I reply to the question by reciting clause 4 or clause 5 or clause 6. In other words whether you like it or whether you don't - the Party and its members - old and young - have to live in this world and have to deal with the facts of this situation. In short, this 'doctrinaire' argument - suggests to me - or the 'rigid interpretation' suggests to me that there are members of the Party - I think this Branch is among them - - who do not hold - that a rigid interpretation or a doctrinaire approach to the Party's case - who hold that somewhere along the line - the SPGB has got to show some red blood - they have got to move in-have got to move into the real world - they mustn't miss any opportunities - they have got to try and use whatever propaganda they can - even if it means showing their slip just that little bit - being a bit coquettish but not of course going the whole hog - and the intention I would say is the same intention-that we have got - I have never regarded that basically the members of the Party are reformists - I have said in the past that certain members of the Party have reformist attitudes which is a different thing - as far as I am concerned I shall argue - I have got the information here for the reason why I take this point of view. But, by and large - the real issue as far as I see it - is that there are members who want to move away from the Party's Declaration of Principles -and create some other new circumstances. I also take this view that a lot of members will not face up to the implications of the Declaration of
Principles - they feel that they can move outside them in some way or other-and that of course I think is fatal - that I think is wrong - I say we can deal with this later. Now I would like to go back – I don't think this business started with the secret meetings which as you know took place with the gentleman who is present this evening who was going to put the Party on Broadway - in other words he got the vision that it was these old ossified characters who were keeping the movement back and therefore he was going to move things - and of course we had the famous secret meetings - which really from an SPGB point of view was an absolute scandal - but anyway we had these secret meetings and a number of members here attended these meetings certain procedures were agreed upon -certain tactics were adopted and we saw the effect of them a few years ago -going back four or five years. Well let me just recap on one or two similar campaigns that happened in the Party. A few vears after World War II - we had a number of members in the Party who took this same point of view which is being held - which - I think is held - that the Party really ought to show its got a bit of 'red blood' in its veins - it should not try and move itself too far away from the general stream of politics - it shouldn't be too hostile - it should be more friendly -it should have a more accomodating attitude. There were members of the then Hackney branch - and a number of them of course started to argue with the EC - different things - and eventually it was debated throughout the Party - and it finished up with these members being unable to convince the majority of people within the Party and they left the Party - and some of them joined the Labour Party - that was the Hackney controversy. Well the next controversy after that which followed the same line was a controversy where we had a group of people joined the Party - I can mention these names Mr. Chairman as they aren't members - people like Miller and Barnsdale, Stefan and a number of people who joined the Party eventually they became members of the EC - who presented a document to the Party called 'Where We Stand.' Now we examined this and I have got a copy of it here if anybody would like to read it or hear of it - but this was a general series of vague propositions which did not reflect the viewpoint of the SPGB. It kind of made certain vague innuendoes - it didn't mention the word specifically about smashing the state - it talked about extra Parliamentary activity and a number of things which we did not consider at the time at the EC was the Party's case. And we said so at the time. Now this was signed by a number of people who put this view again that the Party should widen itself - the members who signed this eventually took part in all sorts of reformist activity - a number of them became members of the Aberdeen Group - as you'll remember published leaflets which eventually the EC had to take action on - a number of these members who signed this statementsome were expelled and the others left - all except one - this one member was returned to the Party or rather he turned and rejoined the Party after he had made a statement to the EC that he entirely repudiated the contents of the statement 'Where We Stand' - so this was the same line of argument that the SPGB really were not in the 20th. Century at all. So as I say - the line we took was why is it that members of the SPGB find it necessary to sign a document - 'Where We Stand' - when they had already signed a document - the Declaration of Principles - indicating where we stand. Why was it necessary to change course - did this supplement the D of P? -or did it in fact take a different view? - and of course it did take a different view. Now the last controversy as you know was the famous one of Comrade Weidburg, Now this took a different line. In the past these various controversies -' they failed - or rather the members who started upon them were'nt abld to bring them to a conclusion - a satisfactory conclusion - because they could not meet the weight of the criticism of the members who were in the Party. In other words many of them were putting forward their stuff but when it came down to it - arguing the propositions that were argued at the time and the members were answering - they could not face up to it - and this is why the Weidburg campaign took a different turn. I mena the members who signed this statement 'Where We Stand' - or the one member who left and
the people who supported hin - and I think there are at least one or two in this room at the moment found themselves in the obscurity of Haringey Branch and outposts like the Bolton Branch - and places like - I know these are big up and coming people now but basically I'm looking at the situation as it was then - and they found themselves - and suddenly they get a chance - they've got this messiah came along - got the young people to go in for a campaign - but a campaing with a difference. And the campaign; - instead of dealing with the arguments - the campaign dealt with the member dealt with the individual - it dealt with people who - the old members of the Party - the idea was that you get rid of old members of the Party and then they won't be able to argue - get them off the EC - stop them from speaking - every time they try and run meetings try and run one on top of them and so on - in other words - try and. prevent these people from carrying on. How I think this is happening now - I think this is happening now - there are attempts being made your Branch for example tried to stop our Branch from running education classes - if you remember you moved a resolution asking the EC trying to stop us from running education classes. Well this in other words was a difference - that you are more or less attacking the individual and a number of individuals instead of the argument, Now what happened? When this campaign started it was in the first instance addressed against people like myself - I used to write for the Socialist Standard some time ago and every article I wrote for the Socialist Standard was criticised - I didn't realise at the time that the criticism which came from one particular Branch - I know that the Hampstead Branch joined in the chorus - it didn't really know much about what was going on - and then individuals took part in this criticism against articles which I was writing and articles which other people were writing - it was all part of a sustained campaign against the SSPC - it was a campaign - and this was admitted by one of the people who took part in it -- I remember your Branch who admitted that the campaign - they had achieved the objective and the SSPC was dismissed -or discharged if you like - or not voted on. I think the date was 1977 or 1978 - I can't remember off hand - but that was the position that the individuals were voted off. There was a campaign - a scurrilous campaign against one member in particular-Comrade Baldwin - and of course Comrade Baldwin wasn't elected - I wasn't elected to the EC - and a number of us and literally you had a clean sweep. Well since then there has been several other clean sweeps. You've had a clean sweep of EC members last year - got rid of 6 members of the EC last year - or they didn't stand - they subjected these members to the indignity of a party poll when they had been democratically elected by the Party at the beginning of the year. But you have got people in Croydon Branch who joined forces with other Branches and tried to get - had the effect of making it absolutely impossible for these members to carry on their work as members of the SPGB and as members of the Executive Committee. Now we are probably going into the details as to why this happened - but since this has happened you have got to the sorry stage in this organisation where in order to get work done at Head Office you have got to bring somebody down from Bolton to do it - you can't get it done by London people - you have got to bring people down from Bolton to do it. Your committees are all sewn up. The propaganda is highly selective. Speakers who take the so called traditional point of view of the Party are not chosen to do Party meetings. There is an erosion of the democratic processes of the Party - when in the old days - if a member was fed up "with the way in which the Party functioned he had got a right - he had got a right to go to the Executive Committee and complain - and if he felt that he was getting a raw deal from a committee he could write to complain about this. And so had a Branch. Now we have got to the situation in the Party where the EC will not publish a Branches resolution if it is too long - this is the position - that although they are bound under Party Conference rule to publish Branch resolutions and still the EC doesn't do this. - We have got a situation where the propaganda of the party ....
(Interjection) (J. D'Arcy) - I have not finished. (Interjection) - You moved that on the EC (Chairman) - No interruptions please. (J. D'Arcy) - Yes we have a situation where the propaganda of the Partyinstead of as it were - being participant democratic organisation - where what we say in discussion - where what we say at Branch meetings - where what we say at Conferences and so on - and there is a general consensus which forms the basis of our approach/ in propaganda - in other words which forms our case because our case isn't as it were the spontaneous combustion or the thoughts of one or more individuals - it is a product of an aggregate consensus of members within the organisation - this is the way in which the Party has worked for donkey's years and that is the reason why the Party has kept alive but now we are getting a caucus - we are getting as it were a leadership where an individual can publish a Party statement - which is a completely rubbishy statement - highly prejudicial to the interests of the Party The Executive Committee don't even take the trouble to look at this thing goes out and immediately of course a blazing row starts - and of course is still coming. Now that of course is not an advance of democracy - that is a retardation of democracy, democratic practice and so on. This is the effect. You've lost the members of the Party - you've lost members who have been engaged in useful work - you've lost writers for the Socialist Standard - you've lost quite a number of people in the Party and you've got a divided Party. You've got -a Party which in fact is divided at the present time against itself. Nov; this would seem to be a ridiculous situation. That having regard to the activities of this organisation we have been in existence for 80 years. It takes us all our time to get the odd people -the odd member - and it takes us longer to train these people and get them moving in propaganda - in writing - in speaking - or even in organisation and yet this activity which is taking place at the present time is alienating large numbers of members of the Party - but they are not the slightest bit interested – to the point where I no longer consider myself not a part of the SPGB. I sometimes wonder when I read EC reports - I wonder sometimes -is this the SPGB? Last year for example there was a complaint against certain members of the EC -there was a move in the normal way in the Party to at least tell these members what they were being complained about - they asked for a copy of the letter and of course there was no copy - members of the EC voted not to give it to them -in other words - these various actions - is a general erosion of the democratic processes of the Party. Now, as I say this is not a personal thing - it isn't a personal thing - I wish it were - as I see it there is a group in the Party who want to move against the Declaration of Principles - I think this Branch is a part of it. Last year you supported a move to change the D of P - you got 4 if not 5 Branches to go along the same line - and one Branch who did - I don't know if they actually supported it - Croydon Branch the people who initiated the deal - the Stoke Group - put forward a series of proposals asking Conference to set up a Party poll to discuss the Declaration of Principles or change them -actually they proposed the changes - well a number of people supported the Stoke Group in this Party poll well there was no Party Poll because there wasn't a sufficient number of Branches supporting it. Well the Stoke Group left the Party - they left the Party - and when they left the Party they brought out a long statement as to why they left the Party -and among a number of other things in this statement they said things like -look - we want to get rid of things like the working class - we don't want to talk about politics - we don't want to talk about political power and so on -in other words they became a bunch of anarchists - and that was absolutely clear from the statement they circularised - which we obtained a copy - and this was absolutely clear from the text of their
statement - well this statement went round Branches - and one Branch - the Croydon Branch - wrote back to them and said - look - you don't want to go outside the Party - you don't really want to - they were sympathetic to the view point of the Stoke Group - well surely they are a bunch of anarchists. - people who completely repudiate the class struggle - repudiated political action - repudiated even the classification of working class. So the present situation as I see it is - and I think you will have to come out with what you are after soon - there isn't at this present moment as I can see a major issue - there is plenty of straws in the wind - and I think the first straw seems to be this constant almost Mafia form of organisation which is taking place within the Party. Well there seems to be a general hostility to people in the Party who've been in the Party many, many years - who have performed what I would call certain services to the Party over many years and I think that the object behind that is to clear the decks and then move on to something else. This is my view. And I think this 'something else' could be summarised in the kind of rubbish that was published in this Polish leaflet - and whoever - well, I know who wrote it - they know absolutely nothing about the situation - they shove something out in the flame of the Party - which I've had to repudiate twice by the way - and I shall repudiate it again - the SPGB supports the solidarity. Incidentally we had similar statements made during the seventies - the early seventies in the SS the SPGB supports the squatter's movement - the SPGB supports stealing a loaf of bread - now a few months ago there was an article in the Standard which finished up by saying that the workers should steal the World from the capitalists - the workers should steal the World from the capitalists and everything that is in it and on it - well I don't know what you think about this sort of proposition. But we were putting forward similar propositions in the seventies - members were saying that we should support this campaign - support that - support Czechoslovakia - Support Poland and so on and now - as I say - we've got this rubbishy thing which has been put out saying the SPGB supports Solidarity -members just don't know what Solidarity is - they are being told that Solidarity is a trade union which it isn't - part of it possibly is - and of course they are saying that the SPGB support it and I think it is purely opportunist -I don't think the people who wrote that care a damn about the position in Poland - I think this is excellent from their point of view - an excellent opportunity - an excellent peg to hang - to advertise the Party -and it doesn't matter a damn about the situation of workers in Poland as long as the Party gets something out of it by way of publicity -'that is my interpretation of it. But nevertheless its this kind of thing which is highly prejudicial to the SPGB - highly prejudicial to speakers "in the Party who obviously if this Party existed in Poland at the present time - we would have to oppose the Solidarity movement - because the Solidarity movement stands as everybody knows or at least ought to know for the economic and political reform of the Polish nation. How that is not a socialist slogan yet that is one of the aims of Solidarity. Now if we were in Poland, we would have to oppose that kind of proposition. I won't go into, the other stuff - I can do -silly rubbish about the banks and the rest of it. But by and large this is the kind of statement which I think people are using within the Party to try and bring the Party forward - in other words -in their attempts to sort of try and sell the Party to the workers they feel that they ought to move over into this kind of area. Well the Party will be really shown to be a warm blooded organisation -sorry for everybody - sorry for the Poles - I don't know if you have got the Afghanistans on the list - sorry for the Indians sorry for the rest of it - in other words things that you can't possibly cope with satisfactorily. So Mr, Chairman - as you know I'm probably being a bit provocative here - but I would say Mr. Chairman that if the Party continues to be divided and to take these sort of Mafia tactics - to isolate itself - or rather to isolate certain members. - to act as if you've got the -one man attitude - one man knows it all - one man writes the propaganda and either you take it or you leave it -and there is no participation - you take it or leave it - this is the Communist Party - this is the Labour Party - this is the way they go on -little committees working in secret - write their stuff - push it out - and the rest
of the lambs or the sheep have to follow - and this is the SPGB or this is the SPGB at the present time- I mean there is not one member of that Executive Committee saw that statement - not one of them saw that statement except the individual who wrote it. And yet that is supposed to represent the biggest - shall we say the acme of political activity in 1981 - the Polish crisis - and yet the SPGB comes out in favour of an organisation like Solidarity - which of course is a purely reform attitude because the organisation Solidarity is "not a trade union. Common sense ought to tell you that an organisation that is formed within one year can hardly have 10 million members in it - I mean even the statistics of the thing - the way in which it is formed should tell you that, But apart from the fact that the SPGB supports the general formation of trade unions - which we do - the Party has a fairly sensible and has a quite reasonable approach to this - we have written this up in our pamphlet -Questions of the Day - well we lay it on the line that the Party does favour the development of trade union action and trade unionism in these backward countries and so on. But we have got to make it absolutely clear that we do not agree with people like McShane and others (that is the secretary of the Metal Workers union) who have published this book on Solidarity - that the development of Solidarity must take place on both an economic and political front - which is their view - in other words they see it as an organisation which has both a political and an economic side. To conclude Mr. Chairman - if this thing goes to its logical conclusion -that is at some point somebody is going to lose patience and turn out an atrocious pamphlet or statement which is highly prejudicial - then you will have something that probably you might have thought never would have happened - you will have two SPGBs. You will have two parties and you will have the parties of course shouting against each other because don't think for a moment that people who have spent their lives in the Party are going to go away and die - I mean people who have been in the Party for forty and fifty years just don't -they just don't back away. So if it is an issue that by carrying out a certain line of activity we can further the sort of common aim of the Party - and this is openly discussed - and everybody is in agreement that this is a line of activity that is worthy of pursuit - obviously we are all in favour. Do you think we have got some objection - the old members have got some objection to innovation? - new things happening or new techniques? Things in the Party have happened which are competely different from when I joined the SPGB - I mean the rule book for a start has changed completely I don't entirely agree with it - I don't go along with some of the rules in it - but nevertheless the idea that there is different ways of pushing the case for socialism - and there are people who are ready and willing - socialists are capable people who are able to propagate the point - to absolutely throw them away - to cast them aside - suggests to me that you do not want to push out the view which has been the traditional SPGB view -you want to push out another view. I don't know what this particular view is - I don't know what it is - all I know is that there is a chasm in the Party - there is opposition between members of the party - and I say that opposition does not make sense unless there is a different line of action which certain members want to pursue which will come into conflict with the line of action which has been habitually pursued by the SPGB.
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