Source: Socialist Standard, April/May 1935.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
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The following is a summarized report of a debate that took place at Mawney Road Schools, Romford, on March 23rd, between E. Hardy, representing the S.P.G.B., and Mr. Probyn, representing the British Union of Fascists. The subject was “Fascism or Socialism.” The chair was taken by Mr. Wilson, Editor of the Romford Times.
Comrade Hardy opened the debate by pointing out that he was speaking as the representative of the S.P.G.B., and it followed as a matter of course that he was not prepared to defend the principles or policy of any other organisation than the one he represented. It would be necessary in order to consider the case for Socialism and the case for Fascism first of all to take a glance at the existing condition of things, to which Socialism and Fascism are offered as alternatives. The existing system is capitalism. Its essential feature is that the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled not by society as a whole but by a section, the capitalists. Less than one-quarter of the population own between them nearly 90 per cent, of the accumulated property of all kinds. Facing them is the working class which lives by the sale of labour-power to the capitalists. The one class lives by the ownership of property and is a non-wealth producing class. The other class lives by selling its mental and physical energies for wages or salary, based roughly on the cost of living of the various groups of workers.
It was necessary at this stage to remove any misconception about the term working-class. It is not used by Socialists in the popular loose way to describe industrial workers only, but in a precise way to cover all who have to sell their labour-power as their normal means of living. The term applies, therefore, to clerical workers, Government employees, technical workers, salaried managers and so on, making up in all about 85 per cent, of the population.
The consequences of capitalism are too well known to require long description. First there is poverty in the working-class face to face with extremes of wealth in the capitalist class. Then there is unemployment, a normal feature of capitalism throughout its history. Then there are crises which periodically aggravate the normal evils of capitalism. Capitalists permit the workers to produce wealth only if they anticipate being able to sell at a profit. If this anticipation is absent then the capitalists can and do curtail production, close down the factories, etc., and throw millions out of work. Next there is class hatred, an inevitable consequence of the division of society into an owning and non-owning class. Lastly there is war. When the capitalists fear that foreign rivals are endangering their investments abroad, or are threatening markets, trade routes, etc., they set the armed forces in motion when bluff and threats have failed.
These are the consequences of capitalism and they are not recent phenomena as is sometimes supposed, but have existed since the beginning of capitalism.
The remedy is Socialism. Consequently the S.P.G.B. stands for Socialism alone and not for any other isms. “Socialism, the whole of Socialism, nothing but Socialism.” Socialism means a system of society in which the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by society as a whole and in which the members of society co-operate in the production of wealth and have access to the things they have produced. There will be no longer an owning class which does not produce and a producing class which does not own. Socialism will end the evils produced by capitalism. Poverty, the contrast of rich and poor, will be ended. The wages system under which the members of one class sell labour-power to the members of another will likewise be ended and with it will go the unemployment problem. Production will no longer be under the control of a class seeking profit and able to curtail production when the anticipation of profit is absent. Consequently Socialism will end crises. It will likewise end class-hatred and war.
Now that the attitude of the S.P.G.B. towards capitalism had been explained it was necessary to explain where Fascism stands. Because of the evils which flow from capitalism there is always discontent, sometimes increasing, sometimes subsiding. Reformist political parties therefore come into existence rallying the discontented round them by promising to deal with particular evils and using the discontent as a means of raising their particular party to office and the sweets of office. The reformist parties are all bound to fail because they leave untouched the private property basis of capitalism.
The B.U.F. takes its place among the organisations seeking to reform capitalism while leaving its basis intact. “The B.U.F. differs from the older reformist parties in two main respects. The first is that while these talked much of their programme of social and economic reforms and little of methods, Sir Oswald Mosley concentrated all his attention on methods and little on ends. Thus two articles by him (Daily Mirror, March 11th, and Daily Mail March 4th) contained much about reforming Parliament and nothing about what he intends to do if ever in power. The second difference is that the older reformists were democratic while the B.U.F. attacks democratic methods. This is due to the fact that the workers in many countries have seen capitalism administered by democratic reformist parties, and in their disgust at the discovery that capitalism administered by Labour and similar parties is no better than it was before, many of them have turned to an antidemocratic reformist party.
The British Union of Fascists has a number of points in its programme, but the outstanding : characteristic is that although they claimed originality none of it is new. The whole has been taken over from other reformist parties. Even the name “Fascio” was in use as the name of an Italian Labour paper thirty or forty years ago and it was probably there that Mussolini picked it up. Regarding the Fascist doctrine of leadership, this again is old. Ever since its formation the S.P.G.B. has been doing its best to combat the leadership idea among the workers. What is needed is not leaders, but Socialists who know what they want and how to get it.
But let us examine Mosley’s credentials as a leader. In the first place there are two people who have regarded him as a genius?Lord Rothermere and Mr. Ben Tillett. That alone is almost enough to damn him. Mr. Tillett was once an admirer of Horatio Bottomley, and Lord Rothermere’s admiration of Mosley places him alongside others whom Lord Rothermere has recently described as geniuses?Hindenburg, Hitler and the ex-Crown Prince of Germany, the man who used to be held up to ridicule as a figure of fun in the Daily Mail, under the name of Little Willy. Since 1918 Mosley has belonged to a number of parties. He was led up the garden first by Lloyd George and the leaders of the Conservative Party. Then he stood as independent, then he was taken in by J. R. MacDonald and Maxton. Then he formed the New Party and then the B.U.F. Here you had a leader who could be taken in by a whole succession of political quacks. Look at it from another point of view. The Fascist idea of leadership implied the ability to choose men to act as his lieutenants. Before he formed the New Party Mosley got 17 M.P.s and the late A. J. Cook, the miners’ leader, to sign his manifesto. Ten of them deserted before the Party was formed and all but two or three deserted afterwards.
This ended the first speech for the S.P.G.B.
Mr. Probyn said that as usual he found nothing new in the Socialist case. He had been a Socialist for ten years and had even flirted with the S.P.G.B. However, he would leave the question of Socialism until his second speech and would first put the case for Fascism.
The remarks made by his opponent relating to Sir Oswald Mosley contained nothing new. He had heard them many times before. With regard to the alleged arrogance of Sir Oswald Mosley he hoped to see every single person in Great Britain just as arrogant. The fact that he had been backed by Rothermere and Ben Tillett, both of whom Fascists detested, was no argument against Fascism. They were not going to quarrel with anyone who gave them publicity.
The Fascists had never claimed there was anything new in their programme. What they did was to take all that was best in the other programmes. Is it going to be said that a sewing machine is bad because it is borrowed from abroad ?
There were many points of similarity between himself and his opponent. The present system was rotten and a system that did not guarantee a full life to all must go. Fascism does not believe in class distinctions although recognising that class struggle exists. It asks people to remember first of all that they are British people, born in this country, and entitled to a full and free life. The present organisation of capitalism for private profit had as its roof the international organisation of finance. It was international finance that exhibited solidarity and with which Fascism quarrelled. The so-called international solidarity of labour was a myth. Great Britain was our own country for which many of us had fought, believing that we were fighting for a new world as promised by the Welsh wizard, Lloyd George. But we found we were wrong, it was a delusion and we were not going to fight for it any longer. That is the be all and end all of it. Democracy was a farce and a failure. It has never yet accomplished anything and never will. Any government given power to govern should do so for all and not for sections, as at present.
Socialism asks us to wait until world conditions are ready for a change, but that will be over 500 years hence. We are not going to wait until every Hottentot has a bicycle. Fascism believes in getting down to earth and making the best of the material we have now.
Unemployment, slums and so forth are on the increase and have been existing for generations. We are trying to build up a new nation while some people are waiting for the New Jerusalem. We want our pie now. The problem of production has been solved, but not that of distribution. The present system has got into hands of international bankers who are the real power in the world to-day ?Baldwin and his like are only puppets. Fascism is going to break this stranglehold in Great Britain anyhow.
Ownership does not matter. What really matters is what is done with the thing owned. A revolver lying on the shelf at home is harmless, but used in the street to shoot people is dangerous. That is where the control must be exercised. The ownership of the means of production has to be controlled in the national interest and not from Whitehall but by the whole people.
There are three classes in society to-day: employers, employees and consumers. Fascism proposes that each shall be represented on a board of management in the interest of the community? Be British is what counts first. Produce to the fullest capacity in order that consumers can have ample. Fascism prohibits the importation of what we can produce ourselves. We are brought up to believe that Great Britain cannot support itself?it is a psychology taught by our governors who want cheap foreign goods and to export to foreign markets. Industries are transferred abroad (as in the case of jute) and workers here put out of work by those who own the industries. Money made in cotton here is taken to China and used to develop production that competes against Lancashire. The people who do this are the international financiers. Hence the necessity for the national question first.
It is said people in Great Britain will never stand a dictatorship, but there is now a dictator in every street. What are landlords, managers, foremen, etc., but dictators? Fascism is striking at the heart of capitalist dictatorship in England. It is true that it is not proved that England can be self-supporting, but all Fascists say is that there is plenty of land that can be put under cultivation. They are going to help the farmer to take an active interest in the land but that he is not going to make large surplus profit out of it. They quite agree that work is good for all people.
We are ruthless and we are going to attack all vested interests of bankers and present trade unions, etc. Under Fascism franchise will be on an occupational basis and the representative will be a member of the trade that supports him, and so will be able to talk intelligently on industrial questions. Fascists believe in private enterprise. Every man and woman should own a stake in the country but no one will be allowed to exploit his ownership. The State will be absolutely supreme. Community interest will be paramount and no one will be allowed to do anything against the interest of others.
The aim of Fascism is to develop production to its utmost capacity and so organise affairs that production and consumption balance.
In his second speech, Comrade Hardy pointed out that several ideas incorporated in the Fascist programme were suggested in the first place by the writings of Bishop Berkely 200 years ago. They were borrowed from Berkely by Mr. Strachey who helped Mosley to form the New Party. There is a close parallel between Mosley’s admiration for the public works schemes of Mussolini’s government and Berkely’s writings, with, however, one interesting omission. Berkely advocated slave labour or “temporary servitude” for the unemployed. The resemblance to the Fascist Labour camps is obvious, but Mosley was no doubt squeamish about advocating slavery here. Sir Oswald Mosley spends much time denouncing the Parliamentary machine. Yet there is abundant evidence that when the majority really wants something Parliament can get measures passed, from first stage to last, in 24 hours.
Regarding Mosley’s promise that under Fascism the electors would be allowed to vote periodically for and against the continuance of Mosley in office, would Mr. Probyn tell the audience when and where the rank and file of the B.U.F. had ever voted for and against Mosley as their leader? The B.U.F. undertook to “eliminate” party politics. Did this mean that there would be no debates allowed?
Mr. Probyn had stated that Fascists despise Lord Rothermere. That does not get over the obvious fact that the latter, as well as other big business interests, look with approval on the B.U.F. Rothermere does not give free publicity to the S.P.G.B. It was obvious, too, that Mosley has been able in the Fascist movement, as in the New Party, to obtain funds from wealthy men. He had himself spoken of big business sympathy with his movement.
Mr. Probyn had said that Fascists recognise the existence of the class struggle. The struggle is a fact arising from the existence of a propertied and a property less class. What is the Fascist remedy for this ? Writing in the Daily Mail (March 23rd, 1934) Sir Oswald answered this question as follows: “Our object is to remove barriers of class by removing differences in dress.” Fancy trying to remove the differences between millionaires and paupers by putting them in shirts of the same colour !
The Fascist speaker had claimed that governments should govern in the interest of the whole community. As, however, he had admitted that classes exist, how can a government govern in the interests of an exploiting and an exploited class simultaneously ?
The Fascists say they cannot wait for Socialism; they want something now. All the reformist parties have used this as an argument against Socialism. Mussolini has been in power for 13 years and Mosley in his “Greater Britain” explains that Mussolini has so far failed to carry out a programme to solve the problems of capitalism. The B.U.F. could not get a majority at the coming General Election. Suppose for the sake of argument that they got one in 1941. On the experience of Mussolini’s slowness it would be another 13 years, 1954, before they began to do something.
Comrade Hardy drew attention to the statement that governments are only tools of international financiers. How was it, then, that Mosley, after being an M.P. since 1918, took a post in the Labour Government in 1929? He must on that showing either be a tool or be very stupid. Regarding the Fascist promise that workers would vote occupationally, did this mean that the small number of employers and the large number of workers would have “equal” representation? If so, it would mean in effect disfranchising the workers.
It was absurd to say that J. R. MacDonald is or was a Socialist. The S.P.G.B. had always denounced him and his policy. Almost all the points in Sir Oswald Mosley’s “Greater Britain” could be found in “Where Socialism Stands Today,” written by a number of Labour Party “intellectuals,” but neither of the two books has any bearing on Socialism. They are merely two statements of reforms of capitalism.
The Fascists, like the older reformist parties, talked about developing the Home market. Yet we have seen that when they get in power they carry on the struggle for foreign markets as before. Mussolini is pressing for the development of Italy’s foreign trade in Africa and elsewhere, and Schacht, the economic dictator of Germany, is now reported to be planning subsidies for German exports in order to gain more markets.
The Fascists talked of helping the little man to resist the encroachments of big business. Mr. Probyn had said that Fascism will not attack private property. How, then, would the Fascist movement, with its big business backers, carry out their promises to the little man ? Would they not break their pledges as had Fascists abroad ?
The opposition has again made a wonderful speech and said nothing, and now I want to know what Socialism is. Opponent talked vaguely of common ownership and democratic control?of capitalist owning everything and worker nothing. Dan Griffiths has compiled a. book of definitions of Socialism drawn from reliable sources and he finds there are 263 different definitions. Some said it was a scientific attitude, others that it was a religious attitude. Some said it was just an attitude to life, others that it was a principle, and others again that it was an idea. One definition said it was sunlight opposed to darkness and so on.
It is generally agreed, however, that Karl Marx is the basis of all views and K. Marx appeals to all that is base in humanity. One favourite rant is the theory of surplus value, but many people, including Dr. Lindsay, have shown from Marx himself that the case is wrong. It is useless to declaim against Ramsay MacDonald and Dr. Lindsay. They represent the view of seven or eight million people. Professor Laski and Bertrand Russell have made similar criticisms of Marx’s theories. Marxist economics cannot stand up to facts and they are just the meanderings of a disordered mind. The S.P.G.B.. have not made much progress since 1904. The movement represented by MacDonald and Lindsay has made much more. Levelling down is the Socialist’s idea. If a man has any property he is going to take it away. There have been some practical attempts at Socialism during the past 200 years and all have failed. The earlier attempts were made where there was plenty of undeveloped land and there was the best chance of success but everybody in the communities fell out. They could not work agreeably together. In the middle of last century Louis Blanc opened national workshops in France, but the only result was to land the people in debt and make them worse off. It has been the same since. The fact is human nature won’t face Socialism. In Icaria community all people were the same, they wore the same clothes, etc. It all finished up by them starving as they were too infernally lazy to do anything.
These experiments, including Russia, have cost the lives of millions of people already.
With reference to Fascism abroad, Mussolini did not come into power to introduce the corporate state, but to get the people out of the morass they were in. The corporate state idea grew up later. We, here, start out with the idea. We don’t care what happens abroad, we are concerned with what is happening here and dealing with it and not indulging in pipe dreams of Socialism. The British capitalists who exploit all over the world are worse than the foreigner, but there are also Socialist employers who exploit fellow Socialist workers.
My opponent has taken what I have said out of its context. What I said was that we would not seek foreign markets with the aid of the British army and navy. Wherever we go it will be on the basis of an equitable exchange.
We are not concerned with whether big firms or little men give us financial support. Anyone who wants to subsidise us can do so, I am willing to take away a cheque to-night. It does not matter where the money comes from. Fascism, however, is financed by its members and we are up against it, and have just as much difficulty in carrying on from a financial point of view as others.
We are opposed to economic advantages reaped by big firms. People who invest in multiple shops, owing to their capacity to buy in large quantities, get cheap goods from abroad?that is where little men fail. We are going to stop this and compel all to buy at same price. The Corporation will set a price for all. The small man will have his rights and his voice will be heard on the council.
My opponent asks when Sir Oswald Mosley ever takes a vote on the continuance of his leadership. He does not take a vote because we do not believe in taking a vote. Counting of noses is not an effective method, it includes the village idiots. The voice of members of the Fascist party is heard daily in shaping our policy and supporting the continued leadership of Sir Oswald Mosley. What we say to you is, here is a policy, are you prepared to accept it ?
Comrade Hardy pointed out that he had described Socialism in his first speech, and the S.P.G.B.’s principles are published in every issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD. Socialism is a system of society based on common ownership. Mr. Dan Griffiths’ list of definitions contained all sorts of things but he believed it did not contain anything from the S.P.G.B. He was not here this evening to discuss Marx. He would, however, say this, that if disordered minds were being discussed, what about Hitler’s Frankfurt Institute of biological mumbo-jumbo and witchcraft where records ; are kept of the racial history of a man’s father and mother, grandfather and great-grandfather, and so on ? Bertrand Russell, Laski, and Lindsay , had been quoted as to the unsoundness of Marx’s economics. Not one of these is an economist and not one of them is competent to express views on Marx’s economic theories. Laski had admitted as much regarding himself.
Mr. Probyn, ignoring the fact that Socialism the fact that Socialism is a system of society, instanced a number of Utopian communities as if they had some bearing on Socialism. In one case he said that the Utopians were so keen about uniformity that they made all suits of clothes the same size. This is, of course, not Socialism, but capitalism gone mad, but talking of uniformity, what about the Fascist aim of compelling us all to wear shirts of the same colour ?
Comrade Hardy repeated that he was there to defend the principles and policy of the S.P.G.B., not the reformism of the Labour Party. Not only had Professor Hearnshaw recently written to The Times pointing out that State capitalism is not Socialism, but at least three of Mosley’s sometime associates, the late Mr. A. J. Cook, Mr. W. J. Brown and Mr. Maxton, had declared that the Labour programme is not Socialism but State capitalism. If, however, Mr. Probyn denied the right of the S.P.G.B. to speak for Socialism, he might retort by denying the right of the B.U.F. to speak for Fascism. The late Miss Lynton-Orman, founder of an older Fascist party, had denied Sir Oswald membership as not being a fit and proper person to speak for Fascism.
Mr. Probyn had referred to the slow progress of the S.P.G.B. We had had much of our time taken up combating the errors of all the political parties of which Mosley had been a member. It was from all these parties that Mr. Dan Griffiths’ so-called definitions of Socialism were obtained.
Marx had been accused of advocating banditry. His advocacy of common ownership was an act of restitution. As for banditry, what of the German Nazi’s theft of trade union funds?
Mr. Probyn had said that the receipts of funds from big business men would not make, any difference to the principles of the B.U.F. Why, then, was it that Mosley is dropping the black-shirt idea and recruiting members who are just ordinary political members without uniform ?
If, as is claimed, the B.U.F. is now hard-up for funds, that would only mean that Mosley had added still another to the list of his political failures.
He said he was only concerned with the B.U.F. He would ask the audience if there was anything wrong in a person changing his view. Is it suggested that no one should change ? Sir Oswald Mosley did right to go into the other parties as they were the only ones existing. When he found them rotten he left, just as a workman discards a bad tool and shapes a better one. Fascism is too strong in this country for anything to stop its march to power. It will succeed just as day follows night.
In Italy in 1920 the trade unions had no funds to seize as several strikes had already broken them, and the same was true in Germany. The fact was that trade union leaders had been getting rich and palatial offices which were built out of trade union funds. What has to be recognised, however, is that different nations have a different mentality, and what would be looked upon with horror by one country is quite alright in another. Germans as a race do queer things and so do others. In Japan, for instance, prostitution is looked upon as an honourable profession. What we do is alien to the mind of the Hottentot.
Ramsay MacDonald has the support of ten or twelve million people and we will no doubt see a pure Socialist racket at the next election.
To take away people’s property is pure banditry. And how can you restore property to those who have never had it ?
When the British Union of Fascists came into existence they could have called themselves anything they liked. The British Fascists, represented by Miss Lynton-Orman, was only a sub-committee of the Conservative party with a party bias, they were also strike breakers. The B.U.F. stood for a classless organisation.
As far as the division in the party is concerned, which was referred to by his opponent, all it amounted to was a division between uniformed and ununiformed men. The uniformed men were the active supporters of the movement. The objection raised was only a quibble.
His opponent had not made out a case against Fascism. He himself had the SOCIALIST STANDARD every month, but he could not see anything constructive in the little panel referred to?it was all beautifully vague.
We can’t get away from the fact that the S.P.G.B. supports all the rottenness of Marx. Pure Marxism was tried in Russia and only succeeded in killing millions. Matters were only improved when Stalin put it aside.
The class war has no economic basis and is only the figment and meanderings of a disordered mind.
The S.P.G.B. simply proposes to continue on its longest way for the next 666 years as it has in the last 31 years.