Monday, November 18, 2013

Not The Millenium (1987)

Editorial from the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who contributed to the first issue of the Socialist Standard 83 years ago shared an excitement and optimism difficult to conceive 1,000 uninterrupted issues on. As their high hopes dissolved in face of gruesome reality, they did what socialists have done ever since: propagated the case for a free society at every opportunity and by any means, usually with scant success. The journal's vigour and survival through numerous testing times is testimony both to the soundness of our principles and analysis of capitalism's operation, as well as a tribute to the dedication of individuals. That said, self congratulation would be both inappropriate and deluding, given that the subject for which we exist appears as remote as ever.

The Standard has been the product of voluntary effort by hundreds of socialists with widely differing opinions about the best way to present the Party's case. This has helped to mitigate a constant difficulty: we have had to be both a topical commentary on current affairs (a task made difficult by monthly publication) as well as a vehicle for at times abstract and demanding theory. There has always been a band of contributors who wanted us to seek popular appeal with a style of presentation modeled on the tabloid press, but this has lacked support and been impractical because of our numerical weakness. Those who wanted more solid expositions of Marxist theory have likewise had to content themselves with a hybrid which seeks to satisfy both demands.

Although the form of communicating our ideas has varied over the years, political fashion has had no effect on the kernel of our proposition: that capitalism is inherently incapable of reform in the interest of the majority, who must consciously opt for a new society before it can be realised. Our strength has lain in the uniqueness of our case, not in the extent to which we have been able to find common cause with the trends of the day; an accommodating socialism would have had but a short time to live. We have always tried, not always successfully, to contain an arrogance born of a consistent correctness about the century's major issues and events, a weakness for which we make no apology. For it is not we who packed our bags and departed, or are crawling around on all fours in the desperate search for a new road to El Dorado.

Our sometimes harsh treatment of opponents' views has inevitably drawn strong criticism, even from people claiming to be in broad sympathy with our object. Why, they say, after calling a spade a spade, do you find it necessary to finish the job with repeated kicks to the shins in hobnail boots? What's wrong with carpet slippers now and again? Even if we accept that the critic is basically unhappy with the content of our argument, or that abuse for its own sake may lose support for our ideas, there remains a contradiction difficult to resolve: a tolerant society rich in sensibility and feeling can only be realised through the concerted actions of a self-disciplined, combative and ostensibly "hard" body of socialists. The "soft" utopian ingredient of the socialist movement, best represented in the writings of William Morris, adds an important imaginative element to our materialist approach but can never itself be the engine of change. The assumption of the sensitive reader is that a wholly rational and explanatory socialism is required, whereas we know only too well that
Even hatred of squalor

Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh . . .

Unless our articles can draw into the socialist movement those motivated by a deep and bitter revulsion against a system of organised poverty and waste, as well as a appeal to others who consider socialism a good idea, we will rightfully be restricted to the political backwater. Were our true opinions concealed behind euphemism, then how could we continue to criticise the defenders of capitalism for their hypocrisy and double standards? If we contend, for example, the animal rights lobby has obscenely warped and disturbing priorities, or that the aims of black liberation movements are inimical to socialists, then we must unfailingly say so.

We have sought to disabuse workers of a belief that society would be tolerable if only we could reduce or ban armaments, build more houses, feed the hungry, create more jobs, make our priorities green, foster the growth of co-operatives, control crime and hang criminals, or be generally much nicer to each other. While repeated coverage of these issues has given our arguments a firm base in experience, the core of resistance to fundamental change is a widespread belief that society is as it is because of "the nature of things". This inability to accept a distinction between human constants and the products of a class society is the last and most difficult barrier we have to break down. Fortunately, in our efforts to turn the world upside down we have a constant ally in capitalism, which offers its largely passive collaborators a succession of unfulfilled dreams; if consumer choice does not yet extend to the rejection of everything on offer, at least we know that there is always deep dissatisfaction and a constant groping for solutions.

The credibility of the Socialist Standard has never hinged on the size of our readership or the support for our position at elections, but on whether our connection of cause and effect can be seen with hindsight to have been sound. We know that socialism is presently rejected by all but a handful, usually on spurious grounds but rejected nevertheless. In such circumstances we can only persist in the publication of a sane alternative, always bearing in mind that the self-righteous are unlikely to inherit the earth.

A better kind of capitalism (1977)

From the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

"He is considered the most graceful speaker who can say nothing in most words."
Samuel Butler, Notebooks.
At a meeting of business men in San Francisco recently, two speakers put forward their views about the American economic system. They were Michael Harrington, author of The Twilight of Capitalism and the  widely-read Socialism, and Fletcher Byrom, chairman of the board of the Kopper Corporation, a thriving industrial enterprise. Their suggestions for solving American capitalism's problems turned out to be remarkably similar. Only their descriptions of their views were different.

The debate was reported in the New York Times of 5th May. Harrington, described his standpoint as a "democratic socialist" one, while Byrom's word for his projected future society was "technocratic". The symmetry of their proposals makes clear that one or other was using words wrongly; or was it both of them?

Harrington claimed that the American system has undergone changes away from "free-enterprise capitalism" and in the direction of "collectivism". Byrom argued that, with increased mechanization and automation, making people work hard was less important than organizing society better through government.

Both speakers agreed that there is something wrong with the present management of American society. Both proposed, to solve America's problems, a better planned administration. In spite of Harrington's description of the present order as "welfare decadent capitalism", neither saw the cause of the problems as capitalism itself; both blamed the inefficient use of government resources.

Thus, Harrington's "democratic socialist" programme included "increasing public sector employment, redistributing wealth towards the poor, and social control of investment in the United States". And Byrom's "technocratic" solution included the following measures: "longer terms in office for elected politicians, improvements in health delivery systems, inner city schools and other social programmes to reduce unemployment".

The reforms suggested have nothing whatever to do with Socialism. On the contrary, increased state intervention is something required by capitalism. Harrington's ideas are those of a section of the Labour Party, who claim to be able to "reform away" capitalist evils; but they also belong to a school of thought whose roots lie in a book published in 1940 called The Managerial Revolution. Its author, James Burnham, claimed that capitalism was being superceded - it was no longer the owners of capital who controlled society but the "managerial class": salaried executives, engineers, managers and civil servants.

None of these doctrines is correct or provides an understanding of what takes place in the capitalist system. It is based on the ownership - which may or may not be synonymous with control - of the means of living by a class. Wealth takes one form only: commodities, or articles produced for sale at a profit. In some cases distribution, including transport and communications may need to be centrally organized virtually from the outset: the roads and postal system were "nationalized" at a very early stage in capitalism. In others, the production of basic materials such as coal, electricity, iron and steel eventually appears too important to capitalism as a whole to be left to "free enterprise", and the state takes control of them; or, as with agriculture, provides money and lays down conditions to ensure production in line with national policies. All this is necessary capitalist practice.

At the same time, the state is obliged to legislate in what are called "social" matters on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole, or dominant sections of it. The working class has to be educated. Beyond a minimum general standard, the introduction of more complex machinery requires workers with technical skill and scientific knowledge. The state has to intervene (e.g. the central aim of Polytechnics is to co-operate with industry and to serve its needs). Subsidies and controls are used to keep wage demands in check; medical welfare, to minimize the losses to industry through illness; and so on.

The measures advocated by Harrington and Byrom are part and parcel of the profit system. For example, "increasing public sector employment" happens as a matter of course - at certain times. They have nothing to do with a change away from capitalism, and therefore (vis-a-vis Harrington's use of the phrase "democratic socialist") nothing to do with Socialism.

One last question on Harrington's contribution. He argues for "redistributing wealth towards the poor". It sounds humane and unexceptionable, yet it betrays lack of comprehension of what capitalism is about. Why does he think they are poor? They are, of course, wage-workers and the dependents of wage-workers, or the unemployed ones. In a book called The Other America: Poverty in the United States, published in 1962, he spoke repeatedly of "cheap unorganized labour" as the basic problem. But the working class as a whole is condemned to poverty, differing only in the degree of it. Apart from charitable handouts, there is no means for workers to get wealth "redistributed towards" them (whatever that means).

They can and will struggle for higher wages and improved living standards, and the capitalist class at times finds itself forced to pay higher wages for labour-power. The fundamental wage-labour relationship which is the cause of poverty remains. Attempts to redistribute wealth by reform legislation have been going on for for a lifetime in Britain - and the reformers now admit that they have failed. In The Other America Harrington calls poverty "needless", as if it were the result of carelessness or mismanagement. As long as he thinks that, he is not thinking of Socialism.
Alison Waters

A World Without Money - 5 Questions (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are socialists suggesting that we should do away with money and revert to barter?
No, we are not. Both money and barter are forms of exchange. Exchange is only possible when there is private property. In a society in which all wealth is owned in common there will be no property to exchange and there will therefore be no need for money or barter. When you get dressed in the morning you do not sell your clothes to yourself, nor do you barter them for some other possession, for you cannot exchange that which is already yours. In socialist society there will be free access to all social wealth because men and women will commonly own the means of production and distribution.

Without having to pay for goods and services will people take more than they need?
Why should they? As long as there is enough wealth to provide for everyone (and the potentiality already exists), people in socialist society will take freely to satisfy their self-determined needs. There will be no need to take more than you want because tomorrow you will be able to go back and take more. Socialism will not come into being without conscious socialists and such people will appreciate the importance of reasonable co-operation. If, for example, there is a shortage of a particular resource in socialism, they will have to co-operatively and democratically ration that which is available. The so-called greedy man is an invention of capitalist anthropology: a worker is said to be greedy if he wants more than his wage packet can buy him.

Is the price system the best way of allocating resources?
Look around and see. The world is abundant in resources, yet poverty is the lot of the majority. The buying and selling system, based on production for profit, is economically inefficient from the point of view of those who produce the wealth. Socialism means free access to all wealth and production solely for need. This will mean that in a socialist society bread will be produced simply so that people may eat it, and not for sale on the market with a view to profit.

Without wages or salaries, who will do the dirty work?
In society which can land men on the moon and fire missiles across the face of the earth to within inches of a target, the technology certainly exists to do away with much of the unpleasant labour of society. Instead of research into more and more sophisticated killing machines socialism will devote resources to improving productive efficiency from the point of view of both the wealth producer and the wealth consumer. Work in socialism will be based upon voluntary co-operation and not the coercion of the wages system. The division between work (enforced drudgery) and leisure (when your time is your own) will be ended by socialism.

Instead of advocating a world without money, shouldn't socialists be campaigning for a fairer distribution of money?
To expect "fairness" from an inherently unequal is a form of utopianism which has diverted the working class movement for far too long. Under capitalism wealth ownership is concentrated into the hands of a small minority of the world's population. These are the people who have plenty of money. Most people can only obtain money by selling their mental and physical energies to an employer for a price called a wage or salary. You will never get rich by working for money. The only way for the working class to get rich is by getting rid of the money system.
Steve Coleman

Morris and Revolution (1990)

From the October 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Morris's News From Nowhere is a speculative work in the same genre as More's Utopia. It challenges us to reject mere piecemeal reforms and to aim for a real community of co-operation. Some would call him Utopian, both for rejecting reformism - what E.P. Thompson calls his "purism" - and for speculating as to what such a socialist/communist society might be like.

However, Engels, contrasting Utopian Socialists to "Scientific Socialists" focussed on the point that the latter base their argument on class interests. Utopian Socialists lived at a time when the working class was emerging as a new class "quite incapable of independent political action . . . an oppressed suffering order". Marxists however recognize the working class as a "revolutionary class", capable of changing society.

The Utopians saw society as presenting "nothing but wrongs; to remove these was the task of reason. It was necessary . . . to discover a new and more perfect system of social order and to impose this upon society from without by propaganda" (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific). What is it that prevents Morris, with his capitalist background, his lack of experience of working class struggle, and the emphasis he gave to propaganda from being called a "Utopian Socialist"?

How the change could come
In News From Nowhere, his most widely-read work, Morris set out in detail how, in 1890, he thought the "change" might come about. Central to his concept is his view that the new society is the outcome of working class struggle, based on awareness of class interests. Like Marx, he perceives the working class as a revolutionary class, not merely as "the oppressed". In some details - for instance, Trafalgar Square demonstrations attacked by soldiers and police - he reminds his readers of recent events, fresh to their memory.

The 1880s had been a period of recession - the Great Depression. Morris suggests that a major economic crisis, resulting in working class suffering and discontent, could help trigger revolution. In News From Nowhere there is a highly developed workers' industrial organisation -  the "Combined Workers". And, crucially, class-consciousness is enhanced by the economic crisis and the "spread of communistic theories". This led to the Resolution of the Combined Workers, effectively a demand for workers control, demanding that control of the "whole natural resources of the country" be handed over to the Combined Workers.

However, the workers' movement was not politically powerful and the government (first Liberal, later Conservative) decided to crush it. Extra soldiers were brought in and a militia was recruited, but the government "did not dare use them".

The media "blazed into the fury of frightened people", and leading businessmen put pressure on the government. In a state of siege, troops were used to massacre the (mostly) unarmed demonstrators in Trafalgar Square.

The workers arranged free distribution of food and created a new form of organisation - "a new network of workmen's associations". This was able to carry on the struggle even when the leaders of the movement (the Committee of Public Safety) were arrested, or, when free, active only as "a focus of opposition".

With the general strike ("a weapon stronger than street fighting") and impending civil war, there was also the "rapidly approaching breakdown of the whole system founded on the World Market and its supply". Two years of civil war followed and the working people were victorious. The soldiers had mostly joined them, and qualities of leadership and organisation were developed in the struggle.

. . . Or Could It?
In Morris's account of this imaginery struggle there are inconsistencies and somethings downright unbelievable. One is that the working-class, so class-conscious, so well-organised, should have only a few representatives in Parliament. Another is his view of the speedy effectiveness of the general strike: in 1926 workers found out that this could last longer than a few days and would not shake the system, as Morris suggested.

Then there is the suggestion that world capitalism could be brought, in such circumstances, to the point of collapse. In a serious economic crisis, mass strikes do not really hurt the employers much. It is the workers whose families are first to feel the pinch of hunger, even if the strikers do organise free food (as in the 1889 London Dock Strike). In a crisis, factories can be shut down while directors and shareholders play a waiting game till despair and distress force the workers back.

But there were historic precedents for some of the developments Morris suggested. The government's inability to use its troops at an early stage to crush the revolution is paralleled in Belfort Bax's comment on the fall of the Bastille, achieved with the support of the mutinous French Guard, showing the "eminent utility of popular 'force' if only applied at the right moment". (Bax, The French Revolution, 1890).

However, in News From Nowhere, Morris seems not to recognize the crucial importance for the working class of gaining control of the state and its administrative machinery. It seems that, if the soldiers had not come over to the revolution, the workers - poorly-armed, with no military training - would have gone into battle against trained, organised and well-equipped government forces. In real life, that would have been that.

When the time comes that the workers are determined to overthrow the capitalist system, they will only be able to do this if they have the political power to prevent the state's armed forces from being used to crush the revolution. That is why workers have to be organised politically. The state exists precisely to defend the interests of the owners of property in the last resort, against us and our movement.

In 1890, when News From Nowhere first came into print as a serial in Commonweal the League was splitting. Morris and other socialists could no longer work with the anarchists who had come to dominate the Socialist League. Some of these advocated "direct action", others terrorist methods - the so-called "propaganda by deed". All rejected political organisation and using parliament.

Yet, since 1884, the electorate was, overwhelmingly, working class. If. once united on a clear objective, the workers could organize themselves effectively in a political party, they could obtain control over the executive.

The League's failure served as a lesson for other Socialists. In his introduction to the American edition of Plekhanov's book, Anarchism and Socialism, Robert Rives La Monte made the point "every revolt from the Socialist Party in America, which is based on disgust with the fact that it is a 'pure and simple' political party of 'ballot-worshippers' is destined to repeat the history of the Socialist League", to land "in the quagmire of Anarchism". Plekhanov's book was important since it argued that "every class war is a political war".

To prevent a repitition of the League's failure, the Socialist Party of Great Britain's Declaration of Principles was explicit in asserting the necessity of political organisation and action.

A 'Quasi-Socialist Machinery'
The other significant trend at the time Morris wrote News From Nowhere was the birth of the "New Unionism". Whereas previously trade unions had represented mainly the (Liberal) "aristocracy of labour", the radical New Unions mobilised casual and low-paid workers. But along with New Unionism, workers were being encouraged towards what Morris called "palliatives". In Commonweal, in 1890, Morris wrote
The hope of the partial and vulgarised realisation of Socialism is now pressing on us . . . The whole set [of] opinion amongst those more or less touched by Socialism . . . is towards the New Trades' Unions and palliation. Men believe that they can wrest from the capitalists some portion of their privileged profits  . . . [but] I say for us to make Socialists is the business (Where Are We Now, in Political Writings of William Morris, ed. A.L. Morton)

Not that he thought it enough merely to "make Socialists". Later he wrote
I cannot fail to see that it is necessary somehow to get hold of the machine which has at its back the executive power of the country . . . And that the organisation and labour which will be necessary to effect that by means of the ballot box will be little indeed compared with what would be necessary to effect it by open revolt (in May Morris, Supplementary Volume II, pp. 350).

At the same time (1892) he was stating clearly his position on the Fabian, 'gas and water socialism', and the other partial demands:
rise of wages, shortening of hours of labour, better education etc., all these things are good, even in themselves, but unless they are used as steps towards equality of condition, the inconvenience they will cause to the capitalists will be met by changes in the markets, and in the methods of production, which will make the gains of the workers mere names. (Quoted in E.P Thompson's William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, revised edition, 1976, p.600).

Morris's yardstick for assessing the long-term benefit of welfare state or other Labourite nostrums for making capitalism less unacceptable was simply: would it help to educate the workers towards Socialism? He warned that social democratic measures could be seen as "ends in themselves", rather than as promoting and encouraging "a knowledge of the aims of socialism", and a longing "to build it about". He foresaw that capitalism might accept this "quasi-socialist machinery" and use it as a means of safeguarding the system, with "the workers better treated, better organized, helping to govern themselves, but with no more pretence to equality with the rich, nor any more hope for it than they have now". (Political Writings of William Morris, p.229). That lecture, Communism, should be compulsory reading for all in the Labour Party who call themselves socialists!

This lecture also expresses Morris's confidence in the working class to establish socialism:
Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel. If our ideas of a new Society are anything more than a dream, these three qualities must animate the due effective majority of the working-people; and then, I say, the thing will be done.
C. Skelton

Socialism Now (1989)

From the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following text was presented at the international conference in Barcelona on Models of the Future, New Technologies and Cultural Tradition.

We live today in the epoch of the commodity. The vast amount of wealth produced throughout the world takes the form of goods and services which are marked, which are intended for sale in order to realise a profit. As Karl Marx wrote at the beginning of Das Kapital, wealth under the capitalist mode of production presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities. In this respect little has changed since his day, except that the buying and selling relationships which characterise the commodity form of wealth production now permeate almost every conceivable form of human activity. To enhance the efficient realisation of surplus value, the dignity of all human relations have had to be further and further debased into the mould of what Thomas Carlyle, as early as 1840, called the cash payment nexus. But this form of society has developed only in the most recent fraction of human history and pre-history. The question I intend to pose here is how the commodity society and its culture can be transcended.
In the literary tradition of utopias, the first tendency was to place the social paradise firmly in the distant past, with the implication or hope that through some religious or moral upheaval such a state of grace might one day be returned to. In the first century BC, Ovid wrote in his Metamorphoses of the Golden Age when men of their own accord, without threat of punishment, without laws, maintained good faith and did what was right. Likewise, in the fourteenth century AD the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in his poem The Former Age of a time without profit, property or war, but bemoaned the terrible moment when this was spoilt by men digging up bits of metal in the darkness, Looking for gems in the rivers. The parallel here with the Biblical idea of the Fall is quite apparent. Other medieval utopias added a magical element, such as in the Land of Cockagne where roasted geese would fly through the air advertising themselves by shouting Geese, all hot! all hot!. In the land of Cockagne,
All is common to young and oldTo stern and haughty, meek and bold...For drink there is no need to ask,To take it is the only task.

This second type of utopia set in the authors time but in far-off lands found its English archetype in Sir Thomas Mores Utopia of 1516. More recently, the principles of social harmony and equality which feature merely as ideals in the early utopias, have become far more tangible possibilities. In the last century the American author, Edward Bellamy (author of Looking Backward, 1887) stated revealingly that The Golden Age lies before us and not behind, and it is not far away. Return to the Garden of Eden has re-emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a real political demand that the earths resources should become a common storehouse for the benefit of all. As a starting point, however, the literary tradition of utopian vision is of great importance, for in it we see attempts to explain the property relations which poets like Geoffrey Chaucer clearly regarded as in some way unnatural, artificial and undesirable. In the mythical convention, our social exit from the Garden of Eden coincides historically with the rise of private property and the state. But with the Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century, there began to develop the possibility of a genuinely scientific basis for translating these poetical myths into anthropological reality. It has since been shown by modern anthropology that, for the majority of the 50,000 years of the species homo sapiens, and for an even greater majority of the evolutionary timespan of our immediate predecessors, there was a complete absence of the modern social relationships which we now take for granted. The political state and the property relationships which have given rise to money simply did not exist.
The conditions of early agriculture, with its fluctuations between scarcity and surplus, appear to have generated the power struggles, with the subsequent evolution of property relations and money. The technology of the late twentieth century, with its potential capability of meeting the needs of the whole population, could lay a foundation for transcending those class relationships of sectional ownership and control, which have evolved during the past few thousand years.
Repeatedly in recent years, statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation have demonstrated that world resources could be sufficient to feed the total world population several times over if fully cultivated. A UN Report of 1970 states that the surface of the earth has hardly been scratched. The 1976 UNFAO Yearbook found that enough grain is now produced to provide everyone on earth with more than 2lb. (3000 calories), and a special issue of Scientific American in September of the same year reported that current resources could meet the needs of twelve times the world population at that time. But the world market system is such that production must be trimmed to match sales potential. For example, we have the quota system which is a fetter on the production of wheat, rice, sugar, coffee, cocoa, rubber, tin and copper, while so many millions are starving or destitute. And this purely to defend the profit margins of companies like Nestles, which has a higher turnover than the Swiss government and spends more on advertising each year than the entire UN World Health Organisation budget (Swiss Information Groups for Development Policy: Nestles Report, 1976). With the removal of this profit barrier, incredible forces of production would be unleashed.
What then of the technology we inherit from the unplanned and uncoordinated leaps and bounds of the worlds scientists over recent generations? It has become a cliche to state that todays global distress and dislocation results from the intrinsic nature of the technology itself. This is to mistake substance for present use. With a global transformation of social relationships, in which the capital-labour conflict between owners and non-owners of productive resources would be replaced by production for use under social control, present technology could satisfy all basic material needs. The paradoxes of modern technology have been well summed up by Mike Cooley, who writes, for example, that todays computers objectify the knowledge of skilled workers into push-button machines:
so the employer now appropriates part of the worker himself through the intervention of the computer and not just the surplus value of the product. Thus we can say that the worker has conferred life on the machine and the more he gives to the machine the less there is left of himself!

At the same time, he re-iterates the warning that no technological design is ever completely independent. As we design technological systems, we are in fact designing sets of social relationships (Architect or Bee?, 1980). The key determining factor in the future development and use of this technology will be whether or not the class ownership of these productive resources persists, with its resulting drive for profit and therefore a cheapening of production costs. In a rare comment on what might follow from an abolition of the capitalist law of value, Marx stated that:
In a future society, in which class antagonism will have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production, but the time of social production devoted to different articles will be determined by the degree of their social utility. (Poverty of Philosophy, 1847)

With the nineteenth century evolution of the modern capitalist economy, there arose the demand for an end to wage slavery. Still, however, there was the assumption of needing to look backward, in the English case to peasant independence prior to the Enclosures of common land. The idea of forward-looking political action and the visionary power of utopians were, however, combined to powerful effect in the late nineteenth century. In the English context this can be seen most clearly in William Morris whose News From Nowhere (1890), although often seen as mere romanticism, was in fact intended as a direct inspiration to the socialist movement within which he played such an active role. Drawing equally on the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels, and his pre-Raphaelite-based concern with art as creative labour, he set out the possibility of a world in which the money system had been replaced by a democratic community in which wealth was produced purely for use, not for sale, with the many social benefits which flow from that premise. Of course, there are many advances which the present century has been able to add to the insights of nineteenth century revolutionary thought. The Womens Movement, the surge in recent years in awareness of environmental issues, and the increasing understanding that state capitalism is not a step forward but the re-emergence of the same monster under a different guise all these are major aspects of such advance. But the key contribution made by pioneers like Morris remains as valid and important today that is, that emancipation must be organised by those who are to be emancipated, and must depend on the consciousness of a majority. There can be no socialism without socialists indeed, without their being in a clear majority. This logical combining of socialism and democracy as mutually integrated ideas has understandably been so far less well received in Spain, France or Latin America, where anarchist and syndicalist tendencies have been stronger than in England. But the notion of socialism as the ultimate extension of democracy in the economic field, and the idea that means must harmonise with ends in its establishment these arguments remain compelling in their logic throughout the world today.
At the turn of the century, the social democratic movement was split between those who believed that the problems of capitalism could only be solved by getting rid of capitalism itself, and those who thought it more practical to wrestle with the effects of the profit system, reforming its problems away one by one. In France, Paul Brousse of the latter tendency boasted of being a Possibilist, supporting what Karl Popper was later to call piecemeal social engineering. But the social system we inhabit must at any point in history either be firmly grounded on human interests or based on minority interest, as expressed in the present epoch by the surplus realised through the market sale of commodities. There is not a possibility of compromise between these options of production for profit and production for use. Moreover, human society must either continue to be, or cease to be an organised expression of alienation, in which our powers and capacity to control ourselves and our environment are placed outside of our conscious control. This process, in which the power humanity has to shape its future is externalised or channelled off into some real or imaginary outside force has taken many forms historically. Whether feared and worshipped as God, elevated into the inevitable as market forces, put into a uniform, elected or supported as the state forces of an authoritarian government, what we see is humanity as a whole discarding our responsibility for our future by bowing to the transient power relationships which have so far evolved. It was this paradox which the poets referred to above were trying to solve by writing with relish of a Former Age of social harmony and one-ness.
It is because of the misery which still prevails that people continue to be so interested in better times and places, whether in the past, the future or the other side of the world. But the old dream of social unity, which must also mean global unity, has now been thrust noisily on to the stage of possibilities as the twentieth century approaches its end. It was the commodity, the production of wealth for profit, which encouraged the building of a world market. This has forged a kind of global unity, but on the fragile foundation of continuing competition. Ironically it is now only by abolishing the commodity form of wealth production, with all its destructive side-effects, and replacing it with production for use, that a real global and social unity can be established.
Steve Coleman