Friday, December 13, 2013

Jingo Communists

From the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the strongest holds the capitalists have over the minds of the workers is given by the workers' ready acceptance of the dogmas of patriotism. Before the rise of class society, and even until comparatively modern times before locomotives and steamships broke down geographical barriers, the workers did have a real interest in the country of their birth. But now that independent craftsmen and tillers of the soil have become wage earners the basis of patriotism has gone. Still the sentiment persists when even religion is fast decaying, and the master class who control the forces and services of the State are able to identify their own private interests with the instinctive patriotism of the class which has now no stake in the country. This degenerate patriotism is strong enough in the mother countries of the great empires, but it appears in its most degraded form among the members of the so-called subject races. The British Empire is at once the foremost in power and extent, and it has developed this national spirit in its possessions to the greatest degree. In its modern form patriotism began to become a striking-feature during the last quarter of the nineteenth century when, after the unrivalled trade expansion between 1816 and 1875, a period of depression and competition set in. During the previous period sufficient development on capitalist lines had taken place in India and Egypt to lead to the rise of organised agitation for independence, or at least for some measure of self-government.

There had, of course, always been widespread dislike of the foreign rulers, and to this was now added the resentment of educated natives, lawyers, state officials, merchants, etc., who felt themselves arbitrarily deprived of the best opportunities, and whose discontent was of great importance because it was capable of expression. The growing body of native capitalists and traders were, besides, coming to see what a glorious field of exploitation would be open to them if they could but use this volume of discontent to throw off alien rule. In Ireland, although there was no great gulf of race, historical tradition of suppression and religious bigotry supplied all the necessary zeal to the struggle for independence. There were, too, the very real economic grievances of the Irish farmers and merchants, and these latter, with their intellectual leaders and publicists, were able, without great difficulty, to deceive the workers into the belief that all their troubles, too, were due to foreign tyranny. This was, of course, untrue. The workers' only useful aim is to dethrone the capitalist class. It has nothing whatever to gain by assisting one group against another. The Irish workers who were foolish enough to help Irish capitalists to win Dominion Status from Great Britain now have the chance to learn that the capitalist system is the same wherever it exists, and whatever the nationality of the rulers who use the State forces to keep the workers' hands off their property. We, as Socialists, have no sympathy whatever with the demand for independence made by native capitalist groups. We would no mare assist them than assist the British Government against them. A plague on both their houses ! Our only interest is to try to get the workers in both camps to mind their own business and leave this quarrel about the right to exploit to the people who gain from exploitation. Many so-called Socialists think, or at any rate act, differently. Some of them are still very much the victims of the mental disorder called patriotism, and their understanding of Socialism is nil; others are playing a double game which they call "tactics." They argue that as the people among whom it is desired to propagate Socialism are still entirely wrapped up in all kinds of antiquated illusions, then the way to clear their minds is to tack their superstitions on to the Socialist case. It is hard to imagine anything less calculated to further Socialism. When Socialists are so adaptive that they can be Catholic in Dublin, Protestant in England, Atheist in France, Free Trade, Protectionist, patriots and anti-patriots, their propaganda becomes a farce and they degenerate usually into the more or less open tools of local business interests. Some of our blustering wartime pseudo-Socialist recruiting sergeants had a more intimate connection with the "Trade " than is gained by looking down a pint pot.

Whatever differences there may have been between the various independence movements, they had one thing in common there was money in them. In addition, the Irish movement lent itself to the vote-catching of the Liberal and Labour Parties in this country. Owing to the brilliant lack of success of the "tactic" in making Socialists, the professional Parliamentarians at the head of numerous stagnant parties in this country were anxiously looking for new sources of revenue. These political brigands, who live on and by the ignorance of the workers, found what they wanted by lending themselves to the political wire¬pulling of the subject nations. They were willing (they said in the interests of Socialism) to encourage the vilely anti-Socialist national fanaticism which we find invariably associated with such movements. The Communists of this country have given their indiscriminate support (for what it is worth) to a round half-dozen capitalist movements of this kind, and have attempted to justify their attitude by resurrecting a plea that was familiar and discredited in the Socialist Democratic Federation thirty years ago. They talk about smashing up the Empire as a preliminary to the final struggle with the capitalist class. They forget some things. First, there is no movement or combination of movements which has the power to scratch the British Empire, much less dismember it. Secondly, the effect of their attitude is simply to strengthen the patriotism of the British worker and make him still more ignorant of, and hostile to, Socialism.

Thirdly, assuming independence could be obtained and any real progress took place in the development of Labour movements in these countries, the home capitalists would want to come back into the Empire for the assistance of a strong central Government against their own workers. The stampede back would make their present agitation to get out look sick in comparison. The Irish Communist Party, which ought by now to have learned something from experience, is not one whit better. It has pandered to Catholicism and suppressed the Moscow attitude to religion, and it has stooped so low as to appeal to the foul Jingoism which makes the Irish worker so blind to his class interests.

In the Workers' Republic, June 23rd, 1923 (official organ of the Communist Party of Ireland), half a column is devoted to the exposure of a "scandal." The scandal is that the capitalist Free State Government has placed orders for army uniforms in London instead of in Dublin! This staggering charge "can be proved to the hilt if needs be."

Just consider with me the enormity of it. The Free State capitalists keep troops to protect their property against the propertyless Irish workers. During the last few months, for instance, troops have been openly used to help farmers in Waterford against strikers. If the Communists or anyone else kick against the Free State Government they will get shot, and the remedy they propose is to have the uniforms made in Dublin! They wouldn't like to be shot by a man in an English-made uniform, but these internationalists will be perfectly happy if the uniforms are made at home. Their joy would have no bounds if the bullets were Irish through and through, and what would happen if they were made by Trade Union labour as well it is beyond me to imagine.

But we must be fair. Communists are economists as well. "Can you wonder why their is so much unemployment in Dublin?" To think, dear reader, that it has never occurred to you that if only all the capitalists had their army uniforms made at home the unemployment problem would be solved. It never struck these Simple Simons that contracts and jobless workers have a habit of going to the best market, and that if, owing to bad trade, prices are lower in Dublin, the English manufacturer would sub-let the work to the Dublin sweat shops, even if they are not, as is probably the case, already working in harmony.

The Workers' Republic writer, in fact appears to have decidedly more than a grain of sympathy for these clothing bosses; because they "have had to close their doors for want of contracts, and others are standing off their workers for the same reason." These people occasionally have the nerve to call themselves Marxists !

And the excuse for all this lying and humbug is always the same. They are in a hurry and want to bring the poor benighted workers in. On this ground, more than any other, their policy is damned. Not only are the recruits, soaked in religion and patriotism, totally unreliable and of no conceivable value in their present state for Socialism, but their numbers are not sufficient to justify the telling of the whitest and most forgivable of fibs, let alone the turgid stream of corruption these Communists call propaganda. The sooner they give up pandering to working-class political ignorance and devote themselves to teaching (and learning) Socialism, the sooner will the nationality problem be solved. The capitalists of the subject nations will line up with the Central Government of the Empire for protection against the growing unity of the working class, and the way will be cleared for the real fight — the fight for working-class emancipation.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Great Minimum Wage Debate (1996)

A Short Story from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

A deafening hush fell upon the room as the Central Committee of the Slowcialist Workers Party (Official Vanguard to the Workers and Peasant Toilers of Britain) sat down to consider its "line" on the minimum wage. It was obvious, of course, that they must be seen to take a lead on this issue of the moment. After all, they would be urging workers to vote Labour in the next election and it was a crucially cunning Trotskyist tactic to make demands upon that government which it would be incapable of delivering, thus demonstrating for all to see that it is but another capitalist government not to be supported. (This, in turn, would lead the betrayed workers to turn to the iron leadership of the SWP which had told them to vote for their own betrayal.)

Around the table sat men with tactical minds only surpassed by their heroes who had fought that brave struggle at Kronstadt in 1921 against those who dared to criticise their leaders. These men (with the odd Kollontai thrown in for good balance) were the ones expecting to become the Lenins and Trotskys of the future British Bolshevik regime. But first things first, comrades; the task of the moment was to devise an unrealisable reform for the gullible followers to demand.

To his feet rose the impressive leadership figure of Vladimir Cliff, known to his followers as the greatest thinker since Lenin or Derek Hatton. "The inner circle has been considering the question for some months now, comrades. After long and hard discussion and calculation, and not without a few purges I might add, we have arrived at the revolutionary number. WE DEMAND A MINIMUM WAGE OF £4.15 AN HOUR."

The assembled cadres gasped with delight at the wisdom of the latter-day Lenin. It was so obvious, now it had been shown to them, that this was a figure which (a) would whip the workers into a frenzy of excitement; and (b) be utterly undeliverable by the ruling class. A piece of classical policy. The poster designers began work on ways to deliver this message to their followers.

But wait ... for in the heat of the revolutionary joy at the new reform a hand was raised. It was Harry Harrison, the token trade unionist on the Central Committee, always known by the others as 'arry and given the kind of attention deserved by those who are decent fools.

"I don't see why workers should have to put up with £4.15 an hour. It' s a bloody pittance." Impatience grew around the table. Had Harrison not yet realised that the iron discipline of Leninist organisation called for iron agreement on every rusty old worn-out tactic devised at the top? But Harry went on: "What we ought to be demanding is £4.50 an hour; I reckon that would be a decent wage."

Cliff rose. It was obvious that a strict rebuke was in order. Harrison's left-wing infantilism must be curbed. "Comrades," said Vladimir, his best Lenin-lookalike pose dominating the room "we must not allow ourselves to fall into the pit of utopianism. The last thing that we must do is offer reforms to the workers which make us look foolish. Our unrealisable reform demands must at all times look credible or we are lost in the desert of idealistic folly."

To the leader's support came Cracker Callinicos, the leader-in waiting and greatest pseudo-intellectual since Lenin tried to explain historical materialism: "Let it be well understood that the SWP cannot afford to say what workers do not expect to hear. Why, if we were to accept the Utopian demand of £4.50 an hour there could well be demands in our ranks for £14.50 an hour (not least from our university lecturer comrades who are already getting that) and . . . and who knows, the next thing we would see is a drift into dangerous talk about the abolition of wage-slavery altogether and then where would we be?"
Steve Coleman

Socialism, Atheism or Religion? (1969)

From the January 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are hostile to all religions. Yet there is a difference between the socialist attitude towards religion and that of the secularist or atheist. The secularist tends to treat religion simply as a set of beliefs which he seeks to demolish by rational and logical criticism. To the socialist this seems a pointless exercise (as pointless as religion itself). Like the atheist we think that religion is irrational and unscientific, but we also think that the important thing is not simply to subject it to abstract criticism but to attempt to show why it arose and what its role in society is. To do this we apply the materialist conception of history.

Essentially the materialist conception of history suggests that any historical period is to be understood by the way in which men set about satisfying their needs at that time – in other words by the mode of production in operation. It also goes further than this and suggest that the superstructure of society (that is its culture, its conception of legality, its religious and scientific ideas and so on) is rooted in the mode of production. It follows, of course, that in a period of social revolution, when one mode of production is being replaced by another (feudalism by capitalism, for example) there will be a correspondingly massive upheaval in men’s ideas and in the ways in which they interpret the world. It is in this sort of way that marxists explain a phenomenon such as the Reformation. We point out that the protestant ethic is brilliantly adapted to the needs of the rising capitalist class, in the same way that the ideology of the catholic church formed one of the mainstays of feudal society. Thus Reformation and catholic backlash represented the struggle between feudalism and capitalism being fought out on the battlefield of ideas, with religious interpretation and dogma as the weapons.

Socialists avoid taking up absolute or, as you might say,  suprahistorical positions. We do not argue that religion has always been reactionary. Over long periods it did represent a progressive force and it was even a reasonable way of interpreting the world – given the level of man’s knowledge at that time.

If we apply this approach to the present day, we must try to look at religion in terms of the social function it fulfils. We have outlined the role played by catholicism under feudal conditions and set protestantism against its background of developing capitalism, but what can be said of religion in relation to the modern working class? It is a supreme irrelevance – to the average working man or woman in the highly industrialised countries religion has about as much relevance as the phlogiston theory. Of course, this has not always been the case – even under capitalism. When Marx was writing a hundred years ago it was quite reasonable for him to refer to religious ideas as “the opium of the people”. At that time the majority of the working class, such as it was, was still riddled with religion and socialists did have the job on their hands of exposing these superstitions. This was especially necessary because organised religion was an unashamed and blatant defender of privilege and private property, as was shown by the attacks of the Popes of the time and other church dignitaries on the mild reforms which the social democratic parties were campaigning for.

Today it is different. In Britain today religion is only an insignificant weapon in the hands of the ruling class; after all, who takes any notice of what the Archbishop of Canterbury or Cardinal Heenan has to say? But this does not mean that we can afford to compromise our principles by admitting christians and others to the Socialist Party. It ought to be clear from what we have said above that Socialism does not just represent a new and more just society which is therefore worth struggling for. If that were our approach we would be just another bunch of utopians. Socialism instead represents an integrated philosophical system, and analysis of capitalism and previous social orders which serves as a guide to revolutionary activity to liberate the working class. The person who finds Socialism attractive merely because, as a new social system, it appeals to his moral sense, who thinks in terms of “good” and “bad” or applies similar standards to capitalism, is likely to be led up all sorts of garden paths by his unhistorical and unscientific approach.

Another reason why we cannot afford to lower our guard towards religion is that not all countries have reached the level of Britain. In Ireland, Spain, parts of South America and so on religion is still very much a weapon wielded by the present ruling class (despite the odd guerilla priest) . And since we are world socialists and do not just restrict our vision to Britain, we must actively confront religion in these areas – as far as we can. So the fight continues on two fronts, to replace religion and atheism by socialist understanding.
John Crump

Sex in a free society

From the Winter 1985-6 issue of the World Socialist

It is a myth to believe that only the wealthy suffer from sexual and neurotic problems. My work as a Reichian psychotherapist allows me a glimpse of people's private lives, their joys and their misery. There is an enormous amount of shame, self-loathing and guilt. Some feel like automatons, unreal, as if there were a glass wall between them and life. They are full of fear. There is something radically wrong with a society which produces so much unhappiness and tension. I can only help a limited number of people. That is one reason why I am a socialist.

The need for sexual satisfaction is one of the most powerful needs of mankind. Sexual love is probably the most intense form of happiness there is. The advice columns in the magazines, the very existence of many journals, the text of most songs that are written show that people are concerned with the topic. So do the increasing number of books about how to reach orgasm, about positions, and about love.

Puritanism is disappearing. People are encouraged to have sex, even at puberty. These changes have been going on all through the twentieth century, but have been greatly accelerated during the past 15 years. The increasing number of women working full-time, the growth of the women's movement, the mass-availability of effective birth control, play an important part in this change. There is less tyranny over the young and a greater tolerance of sexual needs. There is some freedom and conditions have undoubtedly changed greatly, and even improved. But to call this breakdown of traditional morality a sexual revolution is only part of the truth.

The changes are not as satisfying as they appear. This relaxation of the moral code has not appreciably lessened our tensions and anxieties. There is some freedom but for performance-oriented, stressful sex. The same conditions of life which limit our political horizon also hamper our sex lives. Millions of us are under the constant influence of stimulants and tranquillisers, of alcohol, cigarettes and other pills — which make life tolerable and at the same time stunt us. Leisure time is directed by the media; people are bored, anxious and dissatisfied. There is more schooling, more nervousness, the speed and stress of life is increasing.

In some countries such as Sweden and Denmark these changes happened earlier and are by now more integrated. No doubt people do lead somewhat better sex lives. But people do not seem to be happier because of it. Because, despite decades of reforms, life in these countries is just as much based on capitalism as it is in Britain or the USA.

Distance and aloneness are typical of life today. The chase after money ruins the lives of everyone. Personal ambition, the frustration, the specialisation at work make many into emotional cripples. Intense competition starts in school, carries on into adult living and we accept it as natural. Prestige and success are more important than feelings. Men and women today are manipulated, superficial and poker-faced. To survive, you have to become hard skinned and a go-getter. Apart from their economic problems, people are filled with inner conflicts, strangers to one another, and lonely. It's man against woman and man against man and each of them resentful of everyone else. We may not all suffer direct poverty, like our grandparents did, but life has become tougher. The buying, selling and advertising that dominate the streets have seeped into our emotions, and hardened us.

Capitalism is not merely external, around us: laws, markets, shops, police, the Financial Times, the welfare office. Capitalism isn't only what's happening in a far away country, it isn't only the most unfortunate, the ones who live in a slum who suffer from it. Even if you have holidays abroad and a car and some savings, it affects you. Your unhappiness, while less tangible, is just as much a part of the set-up. The mental hardship, the unfulfilled longing, the neurotic traits hurt you, just like unemployment hampers others.

There is class conflict all round us. And other conflicts: between the individual and the community, between town and countryside, between parents and children, between rational thought and sensitiveness. There is little rest and little relaxation. People are driven to achieve and spare no effort. That is why so many are passive in their spare time and sit in front of the television set. More and more pills are taken. Anti-depressants, mood changers, sleeping pills. It is claimed that they can cheer you up, free you from anxiety and stimulate you.

People are preoccupied by economic need. Security-minded, used to taking orders and eager to fit in. Ashamed of inferior status, fearful that they may lose their job. They are nervous, despondent and their everyday lives are grey. Destructive forces flourish. Antagonisms cover the economic and political arena, but also the relationship between men and women. There are intolerable pressures upon us, and an ever-increasing demand for self-discipline. People see the world as dangerous, they are suspicious, apathetic, isolated. Our whole set-up is one where each is trying to do their own thing. We are brought up to be capitalist-minded in the details of our everyday lives.

One cannot have a monotonous and meaningless job, live in full conformity - and then one day start living a marvellous love life. According to the sex books, one can. But the ability to experience passion (and the talent for rousing excitement in others) is never separate from the rest of one's activities.

For the young, things may at first be brighter. But after the initial period, the number of happy relationships is small. Many develop into areas of mutual resignation. The family, once a haven, is dissolving. Divorce is frequent. The partners have had an inadequate sex education, or none at all. At their routine job they feel insignificant and powerless. At the end of a long day they come home in a bad mood — and pass it on to partner and children.

Capitalism, its competition and the mutual suspicion it engenders is becoming rapidly too complex and stressful. It is a loveless culture and a lonely one. Though outwardly many people live a quiet and orderly life, they are crushed and distressed. Men and women want to overcome their separateness. They want to be warm and gentle, but the system conditions them otherwise.

How do they find a partner? The choice is often made more for protection, security and dependance than for attraction. They use each other. People use each other in marriage, too. Either for security, for a "meal ticket", to get a husband, to have a father, not to miss the bus - that is, in getting a husband before it's too late - or as a cook, a housekeeper, and "a hole". The result is bleak.

There is a constant preoccupation with love and sex. But the lot of many human beings is either loneliness and abstinence, or a relationship which lacks enchantment; or the solace of masturbation and the one-night-stand now and then.

Capitalism severely limits our being. Our love lives are blocked by the sadness and fear and anger we carry inside us - if we have any love life at all. Many people are sexual and emotional cripples. Sex is not a thing apart from the rest of life. The conditions which shackle us in other spheres also come into bed with us. It is not surprising that the capacity to be open, and the ability to enjoy sex are impared. For sex is not something divorced from the rest of our lives, something apart from the quality of our living.

Capitalism produces sick needs, like the desire for large quantities of certain narcotics. In the same way, exploitative attitudes have poisoned sex. People may engage in sexual activities to escape from anxiety, just like others take to drink. Sex becomes a performance, like gymnastics, without emotions. It gives a feeling of relief, a little pleasure, but rarely more than that.

There is much pathological sex. Rape, for example. Nor is the spreading of pornography a sign of sexual freedom, any more than brothels were. Too often sex is something to brag about, a conquest. A way of proving that you are a real man, of demonstrating how potent you are - or affirming that you are irresistible as a woman. Then there are the dirty jokes men tell. Boasting, lying, sexual envy. Burning jealousy, hatred, destructiveness. Masochism, and sadism.

The puritans are not entirely wrong. The sexual activities and fantasies of many individuals are cold and nasty. And dirty. One can understand why the moralists are against sex. But their ideology creates the very attitudes which they disapprove of. Hermits, woman-haters and lechers are part and parcel of the same situation. What I have been describing is the result of age-long suppression of our instincts. Our personality today is the product of mankind living for thousands of years in a brutal, male-dominated society conditioned to privilege, poverty and authority.

During the past two hundred years capitalism has changed our way of looking at the world. It has also changed some of our feelings — and much of our behaviour. Most of us dwell in towns, isolated from the earth on which we live, divorced from the sounds and smells of wood and fields. All we know are urban sprawls, the High Street, and motorways. We rarely walk barefoot, we never pick fruit from a tree and the only animals we meet are a dog and a cat. We have not only lost touch with nature - we have lost touch with each other. We tell our children they must never talk to a stranger. Compassion is rare. Men and women have to armour themselves, and repress their compassion for their fellows.

A repressive milieu affects you from the moment you are born. The child is subjected to many forms of denial and repression. In fact, childhood is the prototype of all later oppression and coercion. The child's spirit is deformed by constant restrictions. Already children deaden themselves. "The father represents and teaches authority . . .The family in capitalist society . . . protects the woman and the children, but its cardinal function is ... to produce a bourgeois outlook and a conservative personality" (Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution). Small children are active and noisy. Their liveliness is soon quenched. They are made - it is hoped -into obedient workers. In some families the children suffer more than in others. In the course of its upbringing the child is "broken in" to what parents and school demand. Which means to what capitalist society requires, broken in to fit the system.

The manifold frustrations of mother and father, their quarrels (the hidden fights just as much as the open ones) inevitably damage the children. There are individual variations, of course. Perhaps the mother sees in her children the only meaning of her life. The only hope. Possibly the father drinks, or maybe he is hypnotised by his ambitions. As a rule the child tries to please its parents, attempts to make itself into whatever they want of it. After all, it wants to be loved by them. As Arthur Janov puts it, every child "is engaged in a struggle to be different from what he is, since who he is has proved unacceptable to society, i.e. to his parents".

What is this armour? It is the sum total of repressions, the sum total of mental attitudes, adverse behaviour, avoidances, and muscle tensions which protect the person against suffering. Protect them at the cost of reducing their spontaneity and aliveness. It is a chronic holding back. The price paid is a narrow personality, a rigid body, a static way of looking at the world. Look at the people on a bus, how glum they look. They tend to hold back most emotions; they hold back their anger, their anxiety, their sadness. The hardened person cannot give of themself, and their ability to enjoy is very limited.

The suppression of feeling occurs in the body. We create a fortress-prison for ourselves, a poker-faced shell. This blocking first arose when the child tried to protect itself from real (or imagined) threats. Since we constantly limit our self-expression and our ability to feel, we become cold and neurotic, afraid to take risks. As adults we build an even harder shell in order to survive in a hostile and complicated world. What matters is doing as you are told (that's what schooling is mostly about), getting a job, keeping your job (however burdensome it might be) and holding your tongue: inhibiting, that is to say, most of the things you might want to do or say.

In the 1930s Reich put forward the hypothesis that sexual repression kept the working class conservative or unpolitical; puritanism prevented the workers from becoming class-conscious, undermined their ability to think rationally, made them passive plodders, made them submit to authority. He tried to connect the demand for social revolution with demands for sexual reforms; sexual changes would make the workers into revolutionaries. Reich's reasoning seems very convincing, but unfortunately it has turned out to be wrong. Fifty years have passed and most of his demands (free availability of birth control, sex education, abortion, etc.) have become a reality, without people becoming more political or more rational in their thinking, or less submissive. The sexual changes that have happened fit in very well with today's capitalism. They are no threat to property at all. It could be argued that better sex (and becoming a parent) keeps people toiling even harder. The demands Reich fought for have become a reality in Denmark and Sweden. He thought capitalism could never grant these things without collapsing. But in Denmark and Sweden, modern capitalism is doing very well, indeed.

Some people have, after reading a great deal of Freud, Reich, Janov and others, come to the conclusion that what we need is people brought up in an entirely different way — according to the principles put forward by some of these authors, according to the lessons one might draw from the treatment of the neuroses. They go in for painless childbirth, self-demand feeding, and the maximum freedom for the child in every respect. And when the child is of school age, they send them (if, indeed, they can afford to, for "free" schools are fairly expensive to run) to a school like A. S. Neill's Summerhill. It is heartening to see the great efforts they make. And yet even their children have been unable to escape neurotic shackles.

We should adopt more natural and freer ways with our children. But even with the best conditions, the child will be conditioned by the world around him. You may escape some traumas, but you'll acquire others. No child is an island . . . the other children will affect them, the neighbours, the headlines of the newspapers, the gangs of the neighbourhood, the drugs around, the television programmes, the unemployment of the father — no one can escape the debilitating atmosphere of this society.

The sexual problems cannot really be solved under the present system. You cannot solve these problems one at a time. How can people be emotionally warm when they are economically dependent and strongly inhibited?

The culture of capitalism is indeed anaemic as regards loving. Hating and fearing are more distinctive for it. We must terminate class society in order that sensuousness can come into its own again.

Socialism aims to do away with artificial scarcity, put an end to all poverty and establish material equality; wiping all frontiers off the map, overthrowing the money economy and abolishing war. But far from being a mere economic and political revolution, socialism is the framework for the unfolding of the human personality. Socialism is a life-affirming environment where we will live much more openly than today. People will re-discover some of their spontaneity and live according to the principle of self-regulation. There will, in fact, be no laws — and no state either.

The aim of socialism is to increase the richness of living and to extend the range of our happiness. Life will be more intense, and yet more leisurely, with the human being as the centre of things, solidarity the rule rather than the exception. And the fruits of the earth belong to all. Work should become a pleasure wherever possible. An active, productive and co-operative life promotes the ability to love. Where work is not gratifying the individual will have no objection to doing it (during a limited time) because it is needed for the common good. Or a new invention will overcome its irksomeness. In a classless community no one will be "employed". Work therefore becomes meaningful and men and women develop their potentialities fully.

The co-operation which the abolition of money brings about will ultimately entail a new sense of self, a new personality. Of course, this may take a generation to happen. It may take a decade or two for people to get rid of the blockings and patterns of behaviour they have acquired under the old society. Everyone will get satisfaction from giving their best. The dominant mode, as Erich Fromm put it, will not be to have, but to be. Such a situation engenders new abilities and new strengths, and new virtues which today are unusual. A new kind of human being, able to live without rules imposed by others, many-sided and generous, who is very different from the stunted mass-person of today.

Only in a situation where there is no need to protect oneself, in a milieu where one can live with the minimum of armour, with the minimum of fear and with rich contact, can our personality expand. Socialism is a society where people are concerned with one another. Men and women are more spontaneous, they are direct, they can and do touch each other and there is an animal warmth to them. Our deepest nature is crushed by the harassing demands of capitalist society. And distorted. It will take time to liberate ourselves totally from the inheritance of thousands of years of inequality, from the shadow of oppression and violence. And therewith begins a sexual road which is rich and satisfying.

Will the family survive? We can't say what will happen, except to point out that socialists are on the side of the lovers. There will be communal raising of children, and much group living, as well as monogamous relationships. Anyone who wants to live in a different way will be free to do so. They will be able to follow their own desires as long as they do not interfere with the lives of others. Supposing some want to prudish and continent, live like Christian or Buddhist monks and nuns? nuns? As far as I can see, that is very unlikely. But they will be at perfect liberty to do so. Socialists have a great respect for the freedom of every individual. In socialism the state will be abolished and a socialist society will include all sorts of views and attitudes to life.

Sex will once again become a pulsating, alive experience. We will have more hope and tenderness. The antithesis between "animal" and "spiritual", between loving and debauched and brutalised fucking will no longer exist. That antithesis is the result of repression. Body and mind will again be a unity. We will approach each other through the sparkle in the eyes of the beloved, through a richer and healthier imagination, through music, poetry and art rather than in the neurotic ways of today. Socialism is concerned with the enjoyment of life. We demand conditions for the real happiness of human beings not the fantasies and intoxications of TV and alcohol of ambition, over-eating and hash.

Socialism is more than the common ownership of the means of wealth production. It is a state of things where there is trust and co-operation, security and the minimum of fear. An atmosphere for the wholesome and maximum enjoyment of one's life. Under such conditions most of the troubles I have described will disappear. Some won't. It would be naive to expect that nobody will have any problems. It is not a paradise we are sketching, but something nearer the longings we all sense. And something far more rational than what exists today. Of course, there will be difficulties. Some women will still have to have Caesarians. Someone who is born a hermaphrodite is likely to have problems. The pain of unrequited love will remain. We do not believe that socialist living can solve every human problem. But the troubles of the majority of humans are not inborn. They are a result of their environment. Of the men I have known who wanted to change their sex, for example, there were several who hated being a male because of experiences in their childhood.

With no money, with free access to everything we can produce there will be no prostitutes. Nor will there be lawyers, haggling about what a woman is worth in terms of money or about who gets what. When a relationship stops there will be no property to leave, no mortgages to disentangle, no separation and no divorce. People's minds will not be twisted by producers making money from sick video shows.

Once people decide to free themselves from worrying about where the next penny is coming from and from the terror of warfare you won't need to preach decent behaviour. It will arise as a matter of course.
Ernst Fleischman

Trotsky: the prophet debunked (1990)

From the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trotsky was born Lev Davidovitch Bronstein, the son of moderately well-off peasant farmers in the southern Ukraine, in 1879. As a student at the University of Odessa he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary. He soon fell foul of the authorities and was sentenced to prison and exile in Siberia from where he escaped in 1902 using the name of one of his jailers on his false identity card; this name — Trotsky — he was to use for the rest of his life.

Trotsky played a prominent part in the 1905 revolt that followed Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, being elected the Chairman of the St. Petersburg "soviet" ("soviet" is simply the Russian word for "council"). Oddly in view of his later political evolution, when the split occurred in the Russian Social Democratic movement in 1903 between the Mensheviks (orthodox Social Democrats like Kautsky in Germany) and the Bolsheviks (supporters of Lenin and his concept of a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries). Trotsky tended to favour the Mensheviks. Stalin and his supporters later took great pleasure in publishing one of Trotsky's writings from this period in which he violently criticised Lenin's conception of the party. Trotsky in fact tried to develop a middle position, evolving his own theory of how the anti-Tsarist revolution would develop.

Both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks saw the anti-Tsarist revolution as being one that would lead to the establishment of a bourgeois Democratic Republic in Russia (the difference between them was that the Mensheviks tended to see this as being done by the liberal bourgeoisie while the Bolsheviks said it would have to be the work of the vanguard party). Trotsky took up a different position, arguing that if the working class were to come to power in the course of the coming bourgeois revolution in Russia it was unreasonable to expect them to hand over power to the bourgeoisie; they would, and should according to Trotsky, take steps to transform society in a socialist direction.

Anti-Tsarist revolutionary
This theory, which Trotsky called "the theory of the permanent revolution", latching on to a phrase used by Marx in one of his articles on the abortive German bourgeois revolution of 1848-9, was absurd in that it implied that socialism could be on the agenda in economically backward Russia. It was however important historically as it was adopted by Lenin himself in April 1917 when he returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland. As a result Trotsky himself then rallied to the Bolsheviks.

In a very real sense Bolshevik ideology can be seen as a combination of Trotsky's theory of the revolution and Lenin's theory of the party. In 1930 Trotsky wrote a book called The History of the Russian Revolution, which is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand this event, not only because the author was an active participant in it but also because it unintentionally shows how this wasn't a working class socialist revolution but an anti-feudal revolution led by a vanguard party.

After the Bolshevik seizure of power Trotsky became, first, Commissar for Foreign Affairs and, then, Commander of the Red Army which successfully won the Civil War against the "White Guards" supported by the Western powers. This gave him an immense prestige both in Russia and among sympathisers with the Russian revolution in the rest of the world. His attitude on other issues during this period was even more anti-working class than that of Lenin who, on one occasion, was forced to intervene to attack as going too far Trotsky's proposal to "militarise" labour and the trade unions.

After Lenin's death Trotsky was gradually eased out of power. He was exiled first to Alma Ata in Russian central Asia and then to Turkey, Norway and finally Mexico. If he had stayed in Russia he would almost certainly have been tortured, tried and shot like Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and the other original leaders of the Bolshevik Party. All the same he still ended up with a Stalinist ice-pick in his head

Degenerate Workers State
In exile Trotsky played the role of "loyal opposition" to the Stalin regime in Russia. He was very critical of the political aspects of this regime (at least some of them, since he too stood for a one-party dictatorship in Russia), but to his dying day defended the view that the Russian revolution had established a "Workers State" in Russia (whatever that might be) and that this represented a gain for the working class both of Russia and of the whole world.

His view that Russia under Stalin was a Workers State, not a perfect one, certainly, but a Workers State nevertheless, was set out in his book The Revolution Betrayed first published in 1936. This is the origin of the Trotskyist dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State" in which a bureaucracy had usurped political power from the working class but without changing the social basis (nationalisation and planning).

This view is so absurd as to be hardly worth considering seriously: how could the adjective "workers" be applied to a regime where workers could be sent to a labour camp for turning up late for work and shot for going on strike? Trotsky was only able to sustain his point of view by making the completely unmarxist assumption that capitalist distribution relations (the privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy) could exist on the basis of socialist production relations. Marx, by contrast, had concluded, from a study of past and present societies, that the mode of distribution was entirely determined by the mode of production. Thus the existence of privileged distribution relations in Russia should itself have been sufficient proof that Russia had nothing to do with socialism.

Trotsky rejected the view that Russia was state capitalist on the flimsiest of grounds: the absence of a private capitalist class, of private shareholders and bondholders who could inherit and bequeath their property. He failed to see that what made Russia capitalist was the existence there of wage-labour and capital accumulation not the nature and mode of recruitment of its ruling class.

Trotsky's view that Russia under Stalin was still some sort of "Workers State" was so absurd that it soon aroused criticism within the ranks of the Trotskyist movement itself which, since 1938, had been organised as the Fourth International. Two alternative views emerged. One was that Russia was neither capitalist nor a Workers State but some new kind of exploiting class society. The other was that Russia was state capitalist. The most easily accessible example of the first view is James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution and of the second Tony Cliff's Russia: A Marxist Analysis. Both books are well worth reading, though in fact neither Burnham nor Cliff could claim to be the originators of the theories they put forward. The majority of Trotskyists, however, remain committed to the dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State".

Transitional Demands
Trotskyist theory and practice is rather neatly summed up in the opening sentence of the manifesto the Fourth International adopted at its foundation in 1938. Called The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, and drafted by Trotsky himself, it began with the absurd declaration: "The world political situation is chiefly characterised by historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat". This tendency to reduce everything to a question of the right leadership (Trotsky once wrote a pamphlet on the Paris Commune in which he explained its failure by the absence of a Bolshevik Party there) reminds us that Trotskyists are 100 per cent Leninists and believers in the vanguard party. They believe, in other words, that workers by their own efforts are incapable of emancipating themselves and so must be led by an enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries (generally bourgeois intellectuals like Lenin and Trotsky). Thus they fall under the general criticism of Leninism and indeed of all theories which proclaim that workers need leaders.

The other important point in the manifesto of the Fourth International was the concept of "transitional demands". The manifesto contained a whole list of reform demands which was called "the transitional programme". This reform programme was said to be different from those of openly reformist parties like Labour in Britain and the Social Democratic parties on the Continent in that Trotskyists claimed to be under no illusion that the reforms demanded could be achieved within the framework of capitalism. They were posed as bait by the vanguard party to get workers to struggle for them, on the theory that the workers would learn in the course of the struggle that these demands could not be achieved within capitalism and so would come to struggle (under the leadership of the vanguard party) to abolish capitalism.

Actually, most Trotskyists are not as cynical as they pretend to be here: in discussion with them you gain the clear impression that they share the illusion that the reforms they advocate can be achieved under capitalism (as, indeed, some of them could be). In other words, they are often the victims of their own "tactics".

Splits and sects
After the Second World War, all the Trotskyists in Britain were united for a time in a single organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which was affiliated to the Fourth International. All the leaders of the various Trotskyist sects (Gerry Healy, Ted Grant, Tony Cliff, etc) were together in the RCP.

Most of the splits that subsequently occurred were over the attitude to adopt towards Russia and the Cold War. The group around Cliff, as we have already noted, took the view that Russia had been state capitalist since about 1928 (up till then it had supposedly been a "Workers State"). Logically they adopted the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow". Longtime known as the "International Socialists" they are now the Socialist Workers Party. Except on Russia they share all the other Trotskyist illusions (vanguard party, transitional demands, etc).

In 1949 the RCP dissolved itself and most Trotskyists decided to join the Labour Party and "to bore from within". This tactic, known in Trotskyist parlance, as "entryism", is again based on the premise that the mass of the workers need leaders and are there to be manipulated. As would-be leaders of the working class, the argument goes, we must be where the workers are; as in Britain the Labour Party is "the mass party of the working class" this is where we Trotskyists must be if we are to have a chance of influencing (that is, manipulating) the workers.

After the general strike in France in May 1968, which seemed to show that student activists could influence the working class directly without needing to pass through "the mass party of the working class", most of the Trotskyist groups decided to abandon entryism and openly form their own parties. Thus parliamentary elections in Britain came to be enlivened by the presence of parties bearing such titles as "Workers Revolutionary Party", "Socialist Workers Party", "Revolutionary Communist Party", "Socialist Unity", etc. Needless to say, they got no more votes than we in the Socialist Party did.

This abandoning of entryism should not be interpreted as meaning opposition to the Labour Party, because nearly all the Trotskyist groups continue to support the election of a Labour government and to call on workers to vote Labour.

One Trotskyist sect, however, decided not to abandon the Labour Party after 1968 but to continue boring from within: the sect now known as the Militant Tendency (leader: Ted Grant). The absence of the other sects meant that they had a monopoly of this particular hunting ground. So when Labour turned left after 1979 they were there ready to recruit new members and increase their influence. In fact the Militant Tendency has undoubtedly been the most successful of all the Trotskyist groups that have ever infiltrated the Labour Party. They control a number of constituency parties as well as the Labour Party Young Socialists. There are even two or three Trotskyist MP's sitting on the Labour' benches at Westminster.

From an ideological point of view, the Militant Tendency follows orthodox Trotskyism. Thus, for instance, they regard Russia as a "degenerate Workers State" — which means they are more backward than many Labour Party members who willingly recognise that Russia is state capitalist.

Trotsky entirely identified capitalism with private capitalism and so concluded that society would cease to be capitalist once the private capitalist class had been expropriated. This meant that, in contrast to Lenin who mistakenly saw state capitalism as a necessary step towards socialism, Trotsky committed the different mistake of seeing state capitalism as the negation of capitalism. Trotskyism, the movement he gave rise to, is a blend of Leninism and Reformism, committed on paper to replacing private capitalism with state capitalism through a violent insurrection led by a vanguard party, but in practice working to achieve state capitalism through reforms to be enacted by Labour governments.
Adam Buick

Do We Need the Market? (1994)

Letter to the editors from the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Thank you for publishing the thoughtful and fair-minded review of my book, From Marx to Mises, in the June 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard. Within the space permitted, I will here reply only to Robin Cox's most important point: his approach to the economic calculation problem.

Decision makers in any industrial system using advanced technology are faced with choices involving comparisons of specific quantities of different factors. These comparisons can never be made in kind.

If you can get the same result with one gallon of oil as you can get with two gallons of oil, it is preferable to use one gallon of oil and save the second gallon for other uses. That purely technical calculation can be done in kind. But faced with a choice where one gallon of oil can be saved by using more of some other resource, no decision can be made in kind. Is the saving of one gallon of oil greater or less than the increased use of some quantity of an other resource (say, five minutes of maintenance labor, or a few days' shorter life of a machine through increased wear and tear, or one ounce of some mineral employed in a chemical reaction)? If such comparisons have to be made, then we need to be able to reduce different factors to common units of cost.

Your review seems to imply that no such comparisons would any longer have to be made under socialism. In From Marx to Mises I give several examples, and many more can be found in the economic literature, or simply by consulting one's own knowledge of economic history or of places where one has worked. If we really do not need to make such comparisons, then the whole Misesian case collapses, and your remarks about stock control are unnecessary. But I maintain that such comparisons have to be made day by day in any unit of industrial production, no matter what the social institutions.

Robin Cox asks us to suppose that the demand for good X increases, and that the current output of resource A is "insufficient to meet this increased demand". He says that "the sensible solution would be to search for some more abundant resource (B) that could substitute for A. At the same time the falling stock of A would constrain the multifarious users of A to economise on it".

I have three comments:

1. Most commonly, every one of the types of resources used in producing X would be simultaneously used in the production of thousands of other things (let us collectively call theseY). So if the output of X is increased, that of Y must be reduced. The current output of A could itself be increased (as well as being withdrawn from production of Y), but any increase in output of A would involve costs (reductions in output elsewhere). Typically, output of A should be increased somewhat, as well as reducing output of Y. Both these developments reduce output of some goods.

2. In the market, people will automatically switch to using more substitutes for A, but the exact degree of this substitution will be different in all the different lines of production which use A. This can be left to the judgement of the people in those different lines of production because there is a public and objective specification of how scarce A is: the price of A. Robin Cox's statement that searching for B, a substitute for A, is "the sensible solution" over simplifies the problem. Aside from the fact that reallocation of resources has to occur immediately, while this "searching" is still going on, such searching occurs all the time, with respect to all factors, and B, like A, will most likely be a factor used in producing many other goods, with a consequent reduction in output of those other goods if more of B is used to make X. The only practicable way to tell how "abundant" B is, by comparison with A, is to look at their relative prices. And B is almost certainly not a perfect substitute for A, so it will still be up to thousands of separate, local decision-makers to determine whether any technical superiority of A is outweighed, in each particular case, by the comparative cheapness of B. This again requires prices (or some other cost indexes) of A and B.

3. Robin Cox states that the falling stocks of A would constrain users of A to economize on A. Are all users simply told that total stocks of A have gone down, and relied upon to reduce their use of it? The stocks might have fallen for many different reasons, so the users all have to act on their theories as to the reasons for the fall; the users have to estimate by precisely how much to cut their rate of use, bearing in mind that such adjustments are always costly (is the use of A to be cut so much, for instance, that any machine which continuously requires inputs of A should be immediately junked?). How does each user of some quantity of A, out of, say, fifty thousand users, knowing that each of the other 49,999 users are making a similar decision, which perhaps ought to be different in every case, determine his response to the news that stocks of A have fallen by ten per cent? If all the users reduce their use of A by the amount they judge best, there is no guarantee that the outcome is the appropriate total reduction in use. Again, a price for A can do things which news about its total stock cannot do. We cannot do without some general unit of cost, to compare the costs of aggregates of different factors, and we do not know of any feasible unit other than prices denominated in money.

You may not be able to conceive of production without money and prices, but we can. The definitive answer to your supposed "economic calculation problem" is a (largely) self-regulating system of stock control in which calculations are made in kind rather than in terms of a common unit like money. A self-regulating system of stock control will permit producers in a socialist society (workplace councils, industry councils etc) to ascertain more or less immediately the availability of stocks of any particular item throughout the system; the communications technology to enable this to happen is already in place. Given this, your assertion that the "only practicable way to tell how 'abundant' B is, by comparison with A, is to look at the relative prices" is absurd.

'Abundance' is a relationship between supply and demand, where the former exceeds the latter. In socialism a buffer of surplus stock for any particular item, whether a consumer or a producer good, can be produced, to allow for future fluctuations in the demand for that item, and to provide an adequate response time for any necessary adjustments.

Achieving 'abundance' can be understood as the maintenance of an adequate buffer of stock in the light of extrapolated trends in demand. The relative abundance or scarcity of a good would be indicated by how easy or difficult it was to maintain such an adequate buffer stock in the face of a demand trend (upward, static, downward). It will thus be possible to choose how to combine different factors for production, and whether to use one rather than another, on the basis of their relative abundance/scarcity. By following the rule of using the minimum necessary amounts of the least abundant factors it will be possible to ensure their efficient allocation. Money as a "general unit of cost" would not come into it.

In further asserting that "if the output of X is increased, output of Y must be reduced" you are begging the question at issue, which is precisely whether or not resources are and always will be scarce. It is to assume that society's resources are fully stretched and that there are no reserves to draw upon. But given the productivity of modem technology and the elimination of capitalist waste, there are likely to be substantial untapped reserves. In addition, socialist society can, as just explained, deliberately plan to produce surpluses of various items just to meet the eventuality you have in mind.

With regard to human resources in particular, even today under capitalism tens of millions of people are unemployed. Though of course in socialism no one will be "employed" as such, the average workload for individuals is likely to be much less (thus resulting in a sizeable reservoir of labour) and the opportunities for individuals to move flexibly from one kind of work to another much greater. This will make much less likely the occurrence of the bottlenecks you foresee in the production of any particular good following an unexpected increase in demand for it.
But scarcity is not simply a function of supply; it is also a function of demand. It is in this area that the anarcho-capitalist critique of socialism, based on its premise of infinite demand, is particularly weak and unrealistic. For it takes little, if any, account of the effect of the social environment on the likely structure and size of demand in socialism.

In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising those products. At the same time, there is in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. This is not surprising for if, as Marx contended, the prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the more the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular. Nor do we accept your premise that prices arise out of conditions of scarcity. They arise out of conditions of private property. So even if genuine shortages occur in the conditions of common ownership that will exist in socialism - it is likely that some shortages (e.g. decent housing) will persist (if only as a receding problem) into the early stages of socialism - this will not undermine the new society by leading to the re-emergence of money and prices.

For socialism to be established, there are two fundamental preconditions that must be met. Firstly, the productive potential of society must have been developed to the point where, generally speaking, we can produce enough for all. This is not now a problem as we have long since reached this point. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by "enough" and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism.

Secondly, the establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Would they want to jeopardise the new society they had helped create? Of course not.

One must therefore assume that whatever shortages may persist can be tackled by some system of direct rationing and will be borne with forbearance - even, one might say, with a sense of altruistic restraint. For whatever the problems that socialism may have to contend with, and there will still be many, if the alternative has to be the re-instatement of capitalism then there would not be a real alternative

Beyond Capitalism (1993)

Book Review from the June 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1968 an article written by a member of the Socialist Party, entitled "Smash Cash", appeared in the magazine OZ. Some years later the author of that article, David Ramsay Steele, was converted to the free market ideas of Ludwig von Mises which he expounds in a book just published, From Marx to Mises: Post Capitalist Society and the challange of Economic Calculation.

Mises (1881-1973) was an Austrian economist whose disciples included Hayek and Lionel Robbins. Early this century, against a background of ascendant Bolshevism, he developed what Steele calls "the most powerful objection that has been made to Marxian socialism". In the 1920s and 1930s, in the wake of the collapse of the Bolshevik experiment of "war communism" (1918-1921), Mises's ideas were widely discussed but from the 1940s began to fade as the fad for Keynesian interventionism grew. But for the failure of, and recent retreat from, Keynesianism itself, Mises might have remained an obscure nonentity. However, the "new groundswell of anti-socialist pro-market opinion" that emerged in the 1980s has prompted a reappraisal of the man — particularly since the collapse of the Soviet empire.

So what is the Misesian objection to socialism? Some of the evidence presented can be summarily dismissed. For example, Steele refers to the failure of "war communism" under the Bolsheviks but the pre¬conditions for socialist revolution did not exist in Russia at the time. The means of production were insufficiently developed to permit a socialist system to function, (even assuming you could have "socialism in one country"). Nor was there the necessary level of popular support to bring it about. Reference to the fatuous claims of "Bolshevik leaders" that they were "abolishing commodity production and money" is irrelevant; you cannot impose socialism on an unwilling (and still largely peasant) population, unaware of what it entails.
Such specious evidence aside, there remains the theoretical argument that there is something in the nature of socialism that makes it inherently untenable. This has two basic components which, though linked, can be separately analysed.

Central Planning
Steele points out that planning as such is by no means incompatible with the market. Within the market there are numerous plans but the interconnections between them are unplanned or "anarchic". The proposal to go beyond planning the parts of production to planning the whole of it, thus requiring a "single vast plan" dispensing with the numerous plans of the market, is what has generally been called "central planning", (though "total planning" might convey the meaning better).

But could a total planning of worldwide production be achieved? Production today is integrated through a complex division of labour. The production of even a simple item is inextricably bound up with the production of numerous other items. When we consider that these in turn require inputs of various sorts for their production, we have an inkling of just how difficult it would be to centrally plan in advance output in every conceivable line of production.

Theoretically, this could be done by constructing a vast "input-output" table. But, for logistical reasons, the best this could achieve is a drastically simplified picture of the input-output linkages that make up a production system; at best the number of items it could handle would probably amount to a few hundred. While each might represent a broad category of goods lumped together for convenience, in reality there are hundreds of thousands of different goods so that any decision made on the basis of such crude aggregated data is likely to result in gross misallocation of resources.

But the problem would not end there for once the Plan has been formulated, assuming it could be, it would require considerable coercion to implement it: how else would it be possible to ensure that targets specified by it were met? This would put it at odds with the democratic nature of a socialist society. Democratic participation would be precluded since this requires informed decision-making whereas no individual can possibly absorb or utilize more than a tiny fraction of the information to operate the whole production system. Inevitably, the power to make decisions would gravitate into the hands of a central administration (or re-emergent state).

According to Steele, "central planning" lies at the very heart of the Marxist vision. Whether Marx and Engels did themselves support Steele's concept of central planning is unclear. Some of their remarks suggest strongly that they did; others suggest the opposite, as Steele himself concedes (p. 316). This ambiguity is well captured by the phrase "anarchy of production". Steele interprets this as pejorative reference to the fact that the total pattern of production is unplanned but it could equally allude to the ungovernable laws of a capitalist economy which manifest themselves through the trade cycle.

A recession occurs not simply because there is unbalanced growth between different sectors of the economy (which might imply the need for centralized planning) but because of the knock-on consequences of such growth within the context of a market economy: an economy-wide contraction of production because the monetary flows are interrupted. As Marx pointed out, it is because of "the very connection between the mutual claims and obligations, between purchases and sales", that disproportionate growth leads to recession (Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 11, 4c). Once you remove the market you break that connection, then any overproduction of some good no longer has a knock-on effect on the rest of production and can be remedied simply by consciously adjusting output to the level required. In this sense "conscious social control" replaces the "anarchy of (market) production".

Steele tells us that Marx set much store by the supposed tendency towards centralization in capitalism — and thus, following Steele's logic, a steady diminution in capitalist anarchy — since it would lead to the "breakdown of the rationale of capitalist production according to the law of value" (p. 72). Yet, curiously, we find Engels in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific saying the exact opposite, that "anarchy" in capitalism grows to a "greater and greater height". This is hardly consistent with Steele's understanding of "anarchy of production" though it does square with the view that capitalist crises get progressively worse.

Perhaps Marx and Engels were at times inconsistent or muddled on this question. But why should it concern us? We are not dogmatists; if they were advocates of central planning in the sense of total planning, we would dissociate ourselves from this aspect of Marxism, and for the best of reasons: a centrally-planned economy is neither feasible nor compatible with the nature of socialism.

What really matters is not what Marx and Engels may have said, but what a rejection of central planning entails. In a model of socialism in which total production is not centrally planned there would be, as in capitalism (and in Steele's sense of the word) an "anarchic" or spontaneously ordered system of production. But there the similarities would end.

Local production
Steele does acknowledge the existence of models that reject both central planning and the market, one being Kropotkin's "anarcho-communism". According to this, "groups of producers (would) govern themselves and federate for occasional common purposes" (p. 217). Such groups would effectively organize production on self-sufficient lines but, in Steele's view, the imposition of local autarky would precipitate a "violent reduction in living standards" (p. 322); it would entail the disintegration of the spatial division of labour and the comparative advantages of regional specialization. Whatever the merits or otherwise of this argument, we do not have to accept that the only alternative to central planning in socialism is localized autarky. In fact the Socialist Party has long argued that socialist production would be carried on at several levels — local, regional and global — though Steele implies incorrectly that this is a relatively recent development and that until the 1980s the Party supported central planning (p. 417).

There may of course be a tendency to produce more things locally in socialism than at present. But given that there will remain a considerable degree of interaction between communities (however defined) in the form of material flows, on what basis will these interactions occur? To suggest that only the market can integrate worldwide production and that "inter-regional movements of goods" cannot be "regulated without trade or prices" is mistaken; it is to fail to distinguish between market-exchange and what anthropologists call "generalized reciprocity" under which goods are transferred between and within communities on the basis of giving and receiving rather than buying and selling.

Generalized reciprocity is a mode of transaction in which neither the value of what is given is calculated (it has no price) nor the time of its "repayment" specified. It thus denotes a kind of social obligation — that we do not simply take from society without giving back something in return — as summed up in the social rule "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs". In this sense, socialism can be characterized as a system of generalized reciprocity.

Economic calculation
Since total planning is an unworkable proposition, it would suffice to show that it was essential to socialism to prove that socialism itself could not work. Steele does not exactly pursue this line of argument; he seems to regard the matter as secondary to his main argument that, in the absence of market prices, economic inefficiency will result, leading to a significant decline in output. This is the so-called "economic calculation argument".

According to this argument scarcity is an unavoidable fact of life; it "applies to any goods where the decision to use a unit of that good entails giving up some other potential use". In other words, whatever one decides to do has an "opportunity cost" — that is the opportunity to do something else which one thereby forgoes; economics is concerned with the "allocation of scarce resources"; the most efficient allocation is one that uses up the least resources in the production of any item and thus leaves the most resources over for other uses, so mimimizing the opportunity costs of producing that item.

Steele provides a hypothetical examples of a "widget" which can be produced by three methods (p. 6): Method A (5 lbs of rubber and 5 lbs of wood), Method B (5 lbs of rubber and 4 lbs of wood) and method C (4 lbs of rubber and 5 lbs of wood). Clearly, B and C are more efficient in terms of resource use than A but how do we know whether B is better than C or vice versa?

According to the economic calculation argument, this requires being able to compare different factors of production, like rubber and wood, and that means reducing them to a common unit. By adding up the total costs involved (expenditure) and the benefits gained (income) in terms of this common unit, we can determine which particular method is most economically efficient by the magnitude of net profit it yields. Of course, there may not be any net profit, in which case it would be uneconomic to produce widgets; the value of resources used up in making them would exceed the value of the widgets themselves and there would be less resources left over for other uses.

According to Steele, such calculations are made possible by virtue of the existence of money; socialism would rapidly regress into chaotic inefficiency unless it can replace money with some alternative that enables society to continue to make such calculations. However, he does concede that capitalist entrepreneurs who make these calculations may often get their sums wrong; given the "anarchic" nature of capitalist production they must rely on shrewd estimates. But what matters is that there is some "objective test of the accuracy of (these) estimates" which profit and loss provides by rewarding those whose estimates are correct and weeding out those whose estimates are incorrect.

Thus, the market process is "self-correcting" while socialism supposedly lacks such a mechanism and has no way of discovering least-cost factor combinations since it has no common unit by which to make cost comparisons. One proposal to get round this problem is that of labour-time accounting with labour time serving as a common unit of cost. But this is beset with numerous difficulties, not the least of which is how do you weight different kinds of labour.

Stock control
There is, however, another proposal which Steele considers which, in fact, turns out to be the definitive answer to the economic calculation argument — namely "calculation in kind". By definition, this assumes that you do not need a common unit of calculation as such a need exists "only where there is commodity exchange". Steele concedes that "some calculations, even within the market, can be done in kind" (p. 86), but believes the scope for this is limited. He also contends that it fails to address, the "fundamental question of how to compare the costs of alternative aggregates of factors" (p. 123), but this only assumes what it needs to prove: that such comparisons are necessary.

Given that socialism will still need to concern itself with the efficient allocation of resources (among other things), how will this be achieved through calculation in kind? The answer rests crucially upon a recognition that production in socialism cannot be totally planned in advance. Steele stumbles over parts of that answer but the long shadow of central planning that pervades his book prevents him from seeing it. This problem is compounded by the fact that the major proponent of calculation in kind to whom he refers, Otto Neurath, was himself an advocate of central planning.

Decentralized production entails a self-regulating system of stock control. Stocks of goods held at distribution points would be monitored, their rate of depletion providing vital information about the future demand for such goods, information which will be conveyed to the units producing these goods. The units would in turn draw upon the relevant factors of production and the depletion of these would activate yet other production units further back along the production chain. There would thus be a marked degree of automacity in the way the system operated.

The maintenance of surplus stocks, as Marx pointed out, would provide a buffer against unforeseen fluctuations in demand (Capital Vol.2) but it would also be relevant to the task of efficient allocation. This is so because of the inverse relationship between the supply of any good and the need to economize or use less of it: the scarcer a good the greater the need for economization.

An analogy might help here. According to the 19th century agricultural chemist, Justus von Liebig, there is a "law of the minimum" whereby plant growth is limited by the availability of whatever nutrient is scarcest — usually fixed nitrogen. Some working principle analogous to the "law of the minimum" would apply to the allocation of factor inputs in socialism.

Suppose that the demand for a good X as registered through the system of stock control rose permanently but that the production of resource A was insufficient to meet this increased demand. In the face of an already committed pattern of factor allocation, the sensible solution would be to search for some more abundant resource B that could substitute for A. At the same time the falling stocks of A would constrain the multifarious users of A to economize on it.

This feedback permits a continual process of discrimination in the use of resources according to their comparative availability. In short, it proves precisely the kind of self-correcting mechanism which Steele claims is the exclusive property of a market system.

Market tyranny
With this claim rebutted, most of what remains of the theoretical argument against socialism falls away. For example, Steele contends that much of the economic activities carried on in capitalism, which socialists regard as wasteful, is in fact "productive". But this is to be expected: if you cannot accept the possibility of an alternative to the market then anything that is functional to the operation of a market economy must, by definition, be "productive". Conversely, once that possibility is accepted the appalling, ever-mounting burden of capitalist waste becomes glaringly evident.

Capitalism, with its obsessive preoccupation with reducing costs is, in many respects the very antithesis of efficient production. We do not refer here only to its obvious structural costs; there is also the important category of externalized costs to which Steele makes barely a passing mention. These arise out of the competitive pressure on capitalist enterprises to pass on — or "externalize" — some of their costs, the repercussions of which, as many documented cases of environmental disasters testify, far exceed any savings that might have been achieved for the sake of profit.

Despite its basic anti-socialist position, this is a book that is both highly informative and lucidly written; it has much to recommend it. But perhaps, ironically, its most enduring value will be as powerful stimulus to fresh thinking about the kind of society we want, a society free of the tyranny of the market.
Robin Cox