The Monument - Chapter 15 - Class or Human Interests

Submitted by jondwhite on May 29, 2019

About 1951, Tony Turner began giving lectures on ‘What Socialism Will Be Like’. The Party was tolerantly amused. Whenever people asked for some positive statement describing the new society which should emerge from the destruction of the capitalist system, the reply was always that no answer could be given. The attractions of socialism were vested in entirely negative features: it would not, because its foundation was the exclusion of private property, have the problems of capitalism — no wars, no depressions, no poverty or riches, no material conflict from which unhappiness was possible.
The only definite characteristic to which the Party would commit itself was that there would be no money under socialism. Sale and mean of exchange were the marks of private ownership and gain. In the new society, everyone would have unrestricted free access to everything which was produced. The simple proof that socialism did not exist in Russia was not the hierarchy of incomes there but the fact that money incomes existed at all. Waters, writing in the Socialist Standard, instanced the military quartermaster as a prototype for the moneyless society:
‘The storeman does not charge for the blankets that he issues, neither does the medical officer charge for his services. If the service mini was asked to pay rent for his billet, barrack room or bunk he would regard the idea as preposterous. Despite this “non-payment" arrange¬ment, or because of it, the whole military organization is effective . . .
It should not be difficult to visualize a society where such procedures prevailed. ’
Every SPGB member had his answer to the obvious objection that everything known about human nature militated against such a project. Selfishness and acquisitiveness ? These existed precisely where access was limited: no-one, for example, was greedy over water from the household tap. Indolence, where nobody was coerced to work by the need for food ? All work would be a pleasure when it produced personal benefit instead of private profit. Competitiveness and power-seeking again were reflexes from authoritarian societies which denied opportunity and frustrated self-expression. In these regards the SPGB’s arguments as to the nature of the new society and the mainsprings of human

conduct were identical with those of the anarchists; the quarrel with anarchists was over how things were, and the action to take, in this society.
An attempt had been made during the war to initiate propaganda based on the desirability of the new society for its own sake. A little hook called Money Must Go, written and published by ‘Philoren’, described through a series of dialogues the ‘Moneyless World Common¬wealth’ of the future. The authors actually were two non-members named Phillips and Renson. They had projects for further publications of the same kind, but the partnership was broken by the sudden death of Phillips. They remained outside the Party because they felt that it would be unsympathetic to their plans — Phillips particularly, a gentle and studious man, would have found the buffetings hard to bear — and they were right. The Executive Committee considered that Money Must Go was unscientific, and refused to permit its sale through Party channels (though at least one branch admired it sufficiently to sell it illicitly in preference to most of the Party’s pamphlets).
Occasionally writers in the Standard tried to envisage the socialist future. It had always to be made clear, however, that these efforts were speculative; the Party insisted that it would provide no ‘recipes for future cookshops’. The Mint would become a curiosity where money- tokens had been made — a touch of William Morris, this; or the services of bank clerks, accountants, insurance men, and the buildings which were the palaces and outposts of financial empires, would become available to share the useful tasks of production. All of this was vague and unspecific, however. Morris was still venerated, but the tendency now was to assume that the machinery Morris had hated would be essential to the carefree life of socialist society. Machines were there, as Oscar Wilde had said, to relieve men of all the unpleasant jobs:
‘Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing. ’30
Turner’s prediction of socialism began as simple rejection of all the uglinesses of life. G. M. Trevelyan remarks in his English Social History that ‘ugliness remains a quality of the modern city’; Turner’s case was that, for this reason alone, the makers of the new society would do away with the modern city. If socialism meant ferro-concrete highways and fast cars, he did not want it. There could be no mass- production of anything, not only because it was associated with stand- utilized ugliness, but also because it negated personal freedom. The conveyor belt was a dictator, imposing an alien rhythm of work which in its turn compelled conformities in social life. Towns would give place

to village communities in which people would weave their own clothes, build their own dwellings and furniture, and grow or make their own food.
In this society there must be complete equality: coercion, even by opinion, was contrary to the spirit of socialism. Each man would pursue whatever occupations he wished, and would be able to turn his hand to anything: pottery, poetry, medicine, farming, building, chair- making, would be part of the weekly round for everyone. The differ¬ences in aptitude which might appear as obstacles to this were merely the outcome of conditioning under capitalism — in fact, anybody could do anything. Turner illustrated his point by explaining how, given the same environment, any man could play the violin like Yehudi Menuhin or chess like Capablanca; any man could, indeed, master Einstein’s mathematics in a few days if he were condemned to death and this made the condition of a reprieve.
All this was seen, for a time at least, as harmless caprice. Members often had hobby-horses, and these quirks of private theory and outlook were part of what made many of them ‘characters’. Turner continued to press and develop his argument, however, and found an ally in McClatchie. The picture of the bucolic future was still more strongly painted, and the Party became wide-eyed at the assertions made to overcome objections. When, for example, it was pointed out that ordinary house-lighting depended on the whole apparatus of modern power-production, McClatchie rose to praise the qualities of oil- and rush-lights. To another question, of the production of books under socialism, both replied in the vein that literature was either escapist rubbish or ephemeral information; few books would be needed and few produced. Transport would be limited to horse-vehicles on land, sailing-boats by river and sea; telephones, wireless, printing presses, all the means of mechanical communication would go and only human contact remain.
In May 1952, Turner sent a circular letter to all the Party’s branches and the Executive Committee. In it, he claimed that the founders of the SPGB had been distracted from describing and prepar¬ing for the socialist future by the need to prove their theory of capital¬ism against opponents. The days of this continual theoretical argument, were over now. Instead of urging the overthrow of capitalism by the working class, what the Party should do now was spread the idea of the new society — and, moreover, present it as the solution of the problems not of the working class but of all humanity. It was at this point that the Party woke up. Turner’s proposition was not irrelevant fancy at all; what underlay it was a rejection of the concept of inexorable class struggle on which the SPGB case was founded.

‘What Socialism Will Be Like’ had been largely a drawn-out opening gambit. Turner did not abandon it; he continued to insist that modern civilization was inimical to the human personality, and that a sane society would start with the abolition of mass production. The main burden of his arguments, however, was increasingly an attack on the SPGB’s central claim that it represented the interests of the working class. ‘A socialist party does not appeal to any class or group as such’, he asserted. ‘It appeals to mankind, not to capitalists, nor to wage-workers, nor to nations, nor races, nor families, nor income groups.’ The sole force for changing society was that of ideas, and these in turn depended on institutional changes within the capitalist system.
Suddenly, thus, the Party found itself immersed in the most passionate controversy of its existence. As it approached its fiftieth year, the man whose oratory had dominated its public life for nearly half that time insisted that the Principles were wrong, that class had become irrelevant, that the coming of the new society involved not an historic mission but the spread of humanistic thinking. McClatchie dropped his support. His bond with the SPGB as it had always been — he had joined in 1911 — was too strong for him to follow Turner into what was plainly a wholesale rebuttal of its tenets. Others came forward to form a strong enough faction behind Turner, however, to make the Party aware that this was more than merely another heresy. There were Sammy Cash, Joan Lestor, and several of the younger speakers and writers. Two of the London branches, Paddington and Fulham, became identified with Turner’s cause, and virtually every branch had its group of critics of the Principles.
At the same time, Frank Evans began his re-assessment of the Party. In 1952 the Conference, yielding to demands for some facility for theoretical discussion, had brought into being Forum, a monthly paper intended for circulation among the members only. The opening issue had the first of a series of articles by Evans called ‘The Nature of the Socialist Revolution’. As with Turner, the Party saw little to trouble it at first (despite a warning by Waite, one of Forum’s editors, that Evans was offering a threat without precedent to the Party). Evans’s language was more than a little obscure, depending heavily on metaphor and allusion, and the case he stated appeared at the outset to be abstruse and speculative. As the series went on, however, its meaning emerged as a complete dissension from everything the SPGB stood for.
What Evans was setting forth was a gradualism reasoned from Marx’s own analysis of the capitalist system.31 The Party’s theory of class struggle and cataclysmic revolution were, he claimed, only the ‘Communist afterbirth’ of the socialist movement. The real dynamic of

society was production itself; a new world was already being brought into being by the ‘proliferation of artefacts’ created by the capitalist system. Evans had no time for postulations of a future utopia simply because they accepted the Party’s assumption of a sudden break-through to the rosy dawn: ‘A purely logical description of future society is no improvement on a pathological description of the present one.’ He reiterated continually the transformations which were taking place while the Party insisted that capitalism could not alter:
‘Our social vision is too narrowly blinkered between exploitation and misery to see the increasingly humane relations of everyday life as counterpart of the increasing mass of use-values and its concomitant relatively more equal diffusion of them. ’
And, repeatedly, he struck at the Party’s most tender spots. It played ‘a charade of St. George and the Dragon called Clause Eight and Class Struggle’; its intellectual strength, the wiping-the-floor with debating opponents, was ‘kingship of a puddle’. He touched waspishly on the psychology of some sections of the Party:
‘Because we stay outside society, in opposition to it, we provide an asylum for the political delinquent, for chips on shoulders, for the Communist who wants a better cosh, for the renegade Christian who threatens hell-fire in increasing misery and imminent destruction. ’
The Party was hardly to be expected to like this. It had problems posed by the way the world had gone; now Evans and Turner were saying these were because the Principles were wrong. Many members recalled that acceptance of the Principles was the condition of joining, and was presumably therefore also the condition of remaining in, the Party. For three years Forum was full of bitter controversy, with a point of exasperation continually in sight. Time and again the Execu¬tive was urged to expel the ‘non-socialists’ in the Party. A special meeting of members at the Holborn Hall made a demand for the Execu¬tive to ‘call upon comrade Turner to put in writing his objections to the Declaration of Principles, and the EC consider whether it comes within Rule 33’.
The Executive, however, was confronted with difficulties. Turner was too experienced in Party procedures to invoke any of the technical grounds on which he might have been expelled. He and the others did not wish to leave the Party; their aim was to persuade it to change its course. They supported no opponent body, nor did they publicly discredit the Party. A few years earlier, in 1948, a branch sought to expel one of its members for having unacceptable opinions, and the Party Conference had ruled that the holding of views was not an offence indictable by anyone.

The Executive itself was divided. The members who thought it important to discuss and evaluate the new ideas insisted that there were to be no arbitrary executions in the meanwhile, and they were influential enough for others to follow their opinion. Some were hesitant to start a purge, however necessary it appeared, which might cripple the Party; it was hard to imagine that Turner could ever be replaced, and the loss of other able members would perhaps be more than could easily be with-stood. But the major difficulty was the extent to which the Party had already accommodated these positions it could not accept. Turner’s ‘human interests’ were linked with the rejection of force for any purpose at all, the pacifist ethic of ends and means that transcended class. Members had come in since 1939 believing this, or something like it, was the Party’s case; others were not certain where they stood.
That is not to say the dissidents were a united body. Evans’s argument was basically a different matter which might have remained a private theoretical view but for the appearance of Forum. There were, inevitably, a few who enjoyed controversy for its own sake and some who, without admitting partisanship, argued for ‘democracy’: the right to expression without limit, even if the aim were to destroy others’ rights. However, the passion and duration of the disputes drew these factions together. Feeling themselves maltreated by the Party, they looked for common ground.
The controversies were further aggravated by two other factors.
During the war one of the ’thirties members, Harold Walsby, had formed an organization to transcend the Party. The Social Science Association, as it was called, was an attempt to draw the best brains from the SPGB and form an haut monde of left-wing intellect. Walsby disagreed with the Party for its ‘mass-rationality’ assumption and its inattention to the dialectical laws. If the Hegelian principle of the interpenetration of opposites meant anything, it was that a new society grew within the old instead of being inaugurated by a sudden cataclysmic act. All history demonstrated this — and contradicted also the Party’s assertion that the working class in near-entirety could be brought to place the logic of its interests above everything else.
Walsby’s theory, which he expounded in his book The Domain of Ideologies, was a simple one closely resembling Comte’s scala intellectus: the quality of beliefs and the numbers of their adherents could be expressed in the phrase ‘the higher the fewer’. Walsby represented political outlooks as layers in a pyramid. At the bottom, and so widest-spread, was Conservatism — crass, appealing to large numbers precisely through its lack of any intellectual quality. Above it came Liberal and Labour reformism, making some demands on thought and

accordingly restricted to a narrower area for support. And at the top were the minorities, particularly the SPGB, supported by mere handfuls because their arguments could be pursued only with mental effort.
The Social Science Association aimed at standing on the pyramid’s apex. What was needed, Walsby thought, was for the select group at the top to realize that followings were obtained not by reasoning but by the grossest appeals to the herd. Chakotin’s Rape of the Masses, a book which described the Nazis’ techniques of mass propa¬ganda, indicated the way it should be done: rehearsed ritual, meaningless slogans, assemblies in which hysteria was carefully provoked. An attempt was made to translate this insight into practice. The SSA hired a hall in South London. The meeting was to be a highly theatrical one, rising to a hypnotic climax with a spotlight on a figure standing in white robes before the huge audience which would be there. The event, when it took place, was not up to expectations, though some blamed the weather. Only a few people came: the masses did not know that they had escaped a rape that night.
Nevertheless, Walsby had been successful in attracting several members from the Party, and for a few years he led a strange, obsessive guerrilla warfare against it. At intervals he produced pamphlets with titles like SPGB — Utopian or Scientific ?; and in 1950 he joined the Party’s postal branch and wrote articles for the Standard under the name ‘H. W. S. Bee’. As the controversies began, he made known that he would place members of his little organization in the Party to disrupt from within while he sniped from outside. There were perhaps four or five whose connection with Walsby was known, but proof was never possible because the SSA had no formal membership; a member of the Party, however suspect, could no more be charged with mere associa¬tions than he could with dangerous thoughts. Without doubt, the little group added fuel to the fires burning in the Party. Dissidents were egged-on, fresh avenues of discontent were opened, and everything done that was possible to weaken the members’ morale.
The other factor was the intensity of the reaction to Turner himself. ‘Turneritis’ dissolved in splenetic anger. The bulk of members felt deserted and deceived: the man they had idolized had let them down. In others, however, — most characteristically, the speakers and members near the centre of the Party — the accumulated resentments of years now found a motive. How often the phrase ‘Tony Turner’s Party’ had rankled ! how often, too, speakers at indoor meetings had smarted when questioners required that they be answered by Mr. Turner, please. For the first time in fifteen years it was possible to exclude Turner’s name from the lists for debates and indoor meetings, on the righteous grounds that a renegade could not be relied upon.

The controversies reached their height in 1954, the year of the Party's fiftieth anniversary. A special jubilee edition of the Socialist Standard was to be produced; a grand meeting was proposed, to be held in St. Pancras Town Hall in June, as near the date of the Party’s found¬ation as possible. Turner was left out of both. At the meeting three veteran members, McClatchie, Kersley and Lake, were to speak of the Party’s early years; for the main speakers, from a full list the Executive chose Wilmott and Coster. Conscious of the deliberate slight, Turner asked the EC why he had been passed over. Ironically, only Coster and Wilmott held his brief: both acknowledged him as a better speaker, both desired that he should have the platform on this occasion. But the rest of the Executive was either silent or adamant: they no longer recog¬nized his right to represent the Party.
There were a few more months before the Party made up its mind. The arguments continued. One recalls sitting up till three in the morning discussing social motivation with Turner; Saturday-night debates between Wilmott and Turner in the Party Office, members crowding the room and sitting on the staircase; walking home after Executive meetings which had raged on until midnight, trains and buses gone. The heat and acrimony were tremendous. Verbal inhibitions did not exist. Some dissident members, indeed, complained that they were abused as opponents had never been. The answer to them was that to argue with opponents was the Party’s work, and arguing with members an obstruction to it.
The titles alone of many of the Forum articles indicate the anger of the disputants. ‘Castrated Socialism’ (an epithet for the ‘human interests’ case); ‘The Sentimental Anarchists’ (Turner, of course, and his associates); ‘Damn the Capitalists (No Soothing Syrup)’ — the extreme suspicion of anyone who rejected the class struggle; ‘Revision¬ism and Renegades in the SPGB’; many more like them. Under the heading ‘Turner — or Principles’, Harry Young made a savage personal attack on Turner:
‘Unable to be an ordinary member joining with other men and women as comrades in a common effort in a Party: determined, even if it means becoming the Party clown and getting expelled, to occupy the centre of the stage at all costs, he has posed as the universal authority on everything, laying down the law for everybody else on subjects, the names of which he can hardly spell... A self-confessed illiterate (“I can’t write”) he has not hesitated to tell Party writers what to write . . . Like most people who abandon principles, he has become mentally bankrupt. ’
The dilemma remained, however. Turner and his supporters

argued their right to remain within the Party and try to get it on new paths, and the rest of the Party fumed and raged. Finally the Executive took a step to break the deadlock. As 1954 ended, it put a question in referendum form to every member of the Party:
‘Shall members of the Party who do not accept its Object and Declaration of Principles be called upon to resign and, if they refuse to do so, their membership be terminated ?’
The proposal was bold and ruthless, but its manner was skulking. Members who might not have dared against Turner’s oratory, or knew no answer to Evans’s logic, were enabled in privacy to cast a vote which expressed all their frustration: no identification, no question, no argument would follow.
The question was answered with an unmistakable affirmative. The decision was made. In future, there must be an obligation of acceptance: the Party would never again allow a member to try to change its fundamentals. The 1955 Conference carried severely-worded resolutions amplifying and underlining the decision. The one which was most clearly directed at Turner ran:
‘This Conference holds that any member who no longer accepts the Object and Declaration of Principles should resign from the Party. This does not apply to a member who, whilst accepting the Object and Declaration of Principles, wishes to discuss interpretation, rephrasing or alterations that are not fundamental. A member who advocates the abandonment of the Object or the Declaration of Principles or the Class Struggle basis or the capture of political power, in fact puts himself outside the Socialist Party. ’
All that remained was the ‘mopping-up’. Only two members were actually forced to leave by the application of the referendum decision, John Rowan and S.R. Parker. Frank Evans was asked for his resignation. He wrote a letter full of charm and sincerity to the Execu¬tive Committee, offering to lock his disagreement away if he might remain a member (his father too had been in the Party since the early days); if the EC insisted he leave, he ended, ‘it was a nice Party, and thanks for having me’. Disarmed, the EC left him alone. A small number of other members, perhaps ten in all — Joan Lestor32 and Cash were among them — resigned stating that they no longer accepted the SPGB.
Turner was charged, as a separate matter, with having campaign¬ed among members for the abolition of the Declaration of Principles. His appearance and defence at the Conference were the last dramatic episode of his twenty-five years in the SPGB. Conway Hall and its galleries were crowded with members and visitors; other Hyde Park orators sat listening, their presence possibly doing him the reverence

which the Party now refused him. The charge in fact was not sustained – badly worded and clumsily presented, it fell. Turner knew that noth¬ing had been altered, however, and he wrote his resignation when the Conference was over.
The final indication of Turner’s incorrigibility, in the Party’s eyes, was given in his defence of himself before the Conference. He was willing, he said, for his membership’s sake and the socialist movement’s good, to fall into line — but for one thing. The Party’s sixth Principle still stood for armed force as part of the means to establishing socialism. This, he would never accept. As soon as the words were spoken, every member in the hall knew there would be a fresh indictment.
The Party took up the point after he had left and made its position clear. A statement by the Executive Committee, published in the Socialist Standard, said:
‘Should a violent minority attempt to destroy Socialism they would have to be forcibly dealt with . . . no violent minority could be allowed to obstruct the will of the majority. ’ this was what members had denied, all through the war. From the controversies of 1939, Turner’s pacifism had been accepted without ''summing its political implications. It meant the placing of ‘human interests’ above the interests of class; and, in the end, rejecting the latter altogether. Now the Party had to recall that class was what it stood for, and choose between it and another way of life.
One wheel had turned full circle; there was another symbol besides. Turner’s departure was a line drawn at the end of the mass- orators’ age. Had he remained, there would have been no more vast crowds to stand before platforms and to pack halls. A short film of his last speech in Conway Hall unconsciously marked the symbolism and made it more poignant. The film was silent, its action all semi-comic jerks. Watching it was like seeing a performance in melodrama from the early cinema years; one knew the actor to have been great, in an era that had now gone.
For the Party, nevertheless, there was to remain a feeling of being under siege.