The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, June 05, 2004

A Socialist Centenary

Britain might not seem a hotbed of ultra-leftism, but it is. In no other country is there an ultra-left organization with hundreds of members, and many more supporters. Its members are for the most part disturbingly normal people. Even more surprisingly, this party is a hundred years old this month.

A couple of days ago the centenary issue of the monthly Socialist Standard dropped through my letterbox. It's an informative and often entertaining read, and I don't just say that because it includes an article by me. The party has, as John Sullivan perceptively noted in 1988, outlived the socialist pretensions of most of its rivals. Having cast a cold eye on everything from the founding of the Labour Party, through the Bolshevik Revolution, to the Welfare State, the End of History and the New Economy, it faces the future with quiet confidence, and looks back on its first century with a forgiveable tincture of Ivor Cutler's 'Scottish education': 'Ah telt ye! Ah telt ye!'

A highlight of the centenary issue is 'Smash Cash', a legendary Oz article from 1968, which tried to put the party's case for socialism across to a largely stoned readership. Its author, David Ramsay Steele, went on to become one of the most entertaining and erudite free-market libertarian polemicists of our time, and to write the definitive work on the economic calculation argument against the possibility of socialism, From Marx to Mises.

Discovering that the SPGB was ultra-left - or to put it more technically, part of the non-market socialist political sector - was for me an intellectual turning point. Reading Steele's article on the economic calculation argument was another. They happened at about the same time, in the late eighties, and around about the time I began seriously writing SF, and have influenced all that I've written.


Post a Comment