De Leonist Society of Canada, reply to members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain


The De Leonist Society of Canada
letter to the Discussion Bulletin
continuing the debate with various members
of the Socialist Party of Great Britain
Reprinted from the Discussion Bulletin
Jul-Aug 2000 #102, pages 18-20

Dear DB:

In our continuing debate with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, we claimed in DB100 that "there remains no doubt whatever that the SPGB and Companion Parties restrict their program .of working-class revolutionary organization to the political field!" To which claim Adam Buick took issue as follows:

"The De Leonist Society of Canada have got it wrong. The difference between the SLP tradition and the SPGB tradition is not that the SLP advocates working-class political and economic action to end capitalism while the SPGB advocates only political action....The difference has been one of emphasis."

Now, evidently wishing to cinch his argument, Buick offers three archival extracts from the Socialist Standard, "official journal" of the SPGB -- extracts which begin thus:

(1) "The workers must prepare themselves for their emancipation by class-conscious organisation on both the political and the economic fields....(Socialist Standard, July 1915)."

(2) "The Socialist Party, therefore, whilst holding that the working class must be organised, both politically and economically, for the establishment of Socialism....(Socialist Standard, November 1937)."

(3) "In rejecting the fallacies of the Industrial Unionists the Socialist Party never asserted that Socialist society would result from the actions of parliamentary delegates alone....(Socialist Standard, May 1966).h

Well then, does the foregoing stand our claim on its head? We think not,for we based this on a document whose authority unquestionably outranks the authority of the Socialist Standard. And here we remind Buick of his Party's Declaration of Principles, which declaration is appearing monthly in the Standard over the following footnote:

"This declaration is the basis of our organisation and, because it is also an important historical document dating from the formation of the Party in 1904, its original language has been retained."

Armed thus with the assurance that the Declaration has remained unchanged over the years, we had no difficulty in determining where the SPGB stood and continues to stand on the question of working-class organization for Socialism. The answer came clip and clear in the Declaration's Principle #6, to wit: "The working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery... may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation..." That is, the SPGB's call upon workers is a call which has working-class political organization, not political AND economic organization, as its aim!

We see, then, that the organizational position affirmed by the Party's Declaration of Principles (the Party's most authoritative document) not only contradicts therefore overrides the Standard's 1915 and 1937 versions of organization, but explodes its 1966 claim that "the "Socialist Party never asserted that Socialist society would result from the actions of parliamentary delegates alone..."

Finally, as to Buick's above remarks anent "traditional" differences of emphasis, we note in addition his declaration that the SPGB "has always recognized that workers should/will organise economically, to take over and administer production, as well as politically, to take over political power." But how strong has been this British "tradition"? Strong enough to be elevated as a principle of organization? Strong enough to be included in the Party s Declaration of Principles? Evidently not!


So much for Buick's attempt to disprove our claim that the SPGB's program bypasses revolutionary working-class economic organization. But so much yet to be noted!

For example, the more we explored the 1937 and 1966 extracts, the more apparent it became that the revolutionary spirit in which the SPGB was founded had fallen victim of revisionist reaction. Thus in 1937 the Standard "urges" workers to continue their struggle for the best wages they can get, adding the ridiculous promise that "The trade unions must inevitably [sic!] accept, the Socialist theory ..." Obviously, in the first place, the claim of inevitability has not stood up to historical test. What is more, we can well ask: Why would the trade unions be inclined to "accept the Socialist theory" when organizations such as the SPGB are urging them to "obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power."? Thus again, in 1966, it would appear that the Standard employs its own reading of working-class history as well as its own "logic" in order to put a good face on what would otherwise be seen as the Party's dereliction of its working-class educational duty. As we see it, instead of hanging back until a (possible) day when "many workers want Socialism," it is incumbent upon a political organization flying socialist colors to help that possibility become a reality by itself propagating plans for socialist reconstruction!

At the same time, let us also try to tie up some of the loose ends that remain. Consider the following:

* We wholly agree with the Socialist Standard's November 1937 observation to the effect that "The essential conditions for obtaining Socialism must never be underestimated." We find, however, that the SPGB has repeatedly underestimated the economic power that the control of industry puts at the disposal of the capitalist class. This shortcoming has revealed itself in a great many ways, not least in its seeming overconfidence in the ability of political power alone to bring capitalist rule to an end; not least, that is, in the Party's failure to include working-class economic organization in its Declaration of Principles.

* Concluding his DB100 letter, Buick writes: "Interestingly, the De Leonist Society of Canada's revision of the SLP tradition, in not trying to form socialist unions now..." The statement is ambiguous. If it conveys that we think organization of Socialist Industrial Unions is no longer urgently needed, then it is false! As for his suggestion that we should "abandon labour-time vouchers and the flawed idea that socialism could be established in North America alone," it but remains for him to explain (a) -- why labor vouchers would not be needed in what Marx termed Socialism s "first phase" and (b)-why Socialism could not be established in North America independently of the rest of the industrialized world.

* As regards Buick's final comment following his extracts from the Standard: "(anyone who knows anything about the SPGB knows it stands for a classless, STATELESS, moneyless, wageless society)." We are puzzled why Stateless appears here in bold caps because we, too, stand for a classless, Stateless, moneyless, wageless society. Does the SPGB perhaps hold that political democracy (based upon geographic constituencies) cannot exist independently of the (Marxian) State-that is, cannot be rid of the blight of class rule? That is not our position! We hold that by abolishing the State (i.e. by ending economic class division) Socialism would be able to afford society the greatest possible measure of both political and industrial democracy.


Our debate with the SPGB now appears to have come full circle with little or no agreement in sight. Our criticism of their program continues to bear on the all-important question of working-class organization for Abolition of the Wages System! To conclude in a Buickian mode: "Anyone who knows anything" about the DLSC knows that we cannot condone a "socialist" program that urges workers to "continue their efforts" to better themselves on the wages-system treadmill, knows also that we can only deplore a program that in the name of Socialism rejects Socialist Industrial Onion-ism-De Leon's mastermind contribution to the socialist cause!