Friday, August 28, 2015

Socialism before reformism (1983)

From the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many objections to the case for socialism are rooted in the argument that, while a social system based on common ownership of the means of production and distribution with free access to wealth is highly desirable, something must be done now about the problems which afflict the human race.

This argument, which on the face of it has much merit, for the problems of capitalism are urgent and horrific, makes a number of concessions to the socialist case. It agrees that capitalism cannot satisfy the needs of its people, that it must continually throw up wars, poverty, famine and the like. It concedes that the customary political parties do little to alleviate the situation; it does not raise any objections that socialism is somehow at odds with "human nature", that people are naturally so divisive, aggressive and greedy that a co-operative society could not survive. It does not waste time in questioning whether a moneyless, classless society is practicable. It accepts that what are now everyday blights on our lives simply will not exist when we have socialism.

But such concessions, though important, are not conclusive to the reformists. Millions dies each year, needlessly, in famines; the world's power blocs possess an obscenely high level of destructiveness, enough to kill each one of us again and again; in this country alone there are millions living in slums, or homeless, or in the direst poverty. Such problems—and there are many others—say the reformists, must take priority over any efforts to revolutionise society. We must act now to get rid of the bomb, to organise food supplies to the famine victims, allow special state benefits to the needy. When we have cleared up these matters it will be time to turn our minds to socialism.

The reformist argument then spells out, often in impressive detail, the current social troubles. It tells us, with the help of graphs, tables, statistics, about the scope of these and their effects on people's lives. Thus CND has a wealth of knowledge about the numbers of nuclear weapons in existence, their destructive power, the area which one bomb could wipe out, how many it would kill at once, how many it would leave suffering a slower, more agonising death, how it would cripple millions of survivors with radiation diseases. As an indictment, an encouragement to question why a modern society should devote such effort to destroying itself, it is impressive and valuable.

From that type of indictment the reformists proceed to an assumption that the problem can be eliminated by applying some piecemeal remedy to it. CND is sure that nuclear weapons can be abolished simply by persuading the government in this country to do just that, on its own. Oxfam workers are convinced that food shortages can be dealt with by rushing supplies of the stuff to the areas which are suffering from famine. It needs, runs the reformist argument, no more fundamental action than that.

In fact, in terms of logical argument, there is a massive, unbridgeable chasm between the indictment and the policies which the reformists put forward as the solution. There is no evidence to support the assumption — for it is no more than that — that capitalism's sickness can be cured by taking each symptom separately without any reference to the cause and to the fact that all the symptoms spring from a common basis.

In the case of CND, despite over a quarter of a century of marches, demonstrations, sit-downs, terms of imprisonment, the weapons are still there, growing worse and more threatening as they proliferate across the world. We live less securely now than we did when CND first came into being. This applies also to the other issues we have here discussed; the most sanguine of reformists can offer no hope that they are diminishing in intensity. Indeed, such is their grip on our lives that the reformist campaigns cannot relax in the assurance of success; all the time they must keep up the pressure and start new protests, each making the same claims as their discredited and exhausted predecessors.

The unbridgeable chasm bars the way because the reformists are following the wrong route. An effective indictment of social problems should lead to an analysis of them and then to their cause. Nuclear weapons spring from the fact of modern war, which is directly attributable to the basic nature of capitalism. A similar approach to the other problems will point to the conclusion that they also have the same root cause. And from there it is a small, irresistible step to the final argument, that only by abolishing capitalism will we rid the world of its problems.

But abolishing capitalism is not the end of it; as human society must continue, what is to replace the system of class ownership of the means of life, of war, famine, poverty, avoidable disease, insecurity? The only other basis possible is the opposite of private ownership — it is communal ownership of the means of production and distribution and their democratic control by the entire human race. That is socialism.

An examination of capitalism, then, leads by a series of logical steps to the conclusion that socialism is the next, necessary, step in social evolution. Capitalism is critically sick and there is need for urgent treatment. The human race need not continue to suffer the nuclear threat, or endure famine and poverty and we must act at once on that knowledge. Only socialism will answer human needs; only socialism will enable us to build a world which allows the people to live co-operatively, in abundance and freedom and to contribute to the limits of their abilities.

The priority is socialism.

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