Monday, May 9, 2016

Fair Shares or Free Access (1973)

From the January 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most common clichés to emanate from the ranks of the tin-pot reformers and muddled leftists is the idea of creating a society based on “fairness" and “justice”. A typical example of this comes from Richard Crossman who believes that, for a Labour government,
It is the duty of the state to plan the use of our national resources so as to maintain work for all and ensure fair shares of the national income between different sections of the community. (Towards a Philosophy of Socialism; New Fabian Essays, 1952.)
Socialists are not taken in by this kind of sentiment. We know full well that “our resources" cannot possible be used rationally for the benefit of all within the context of capitalism. People such as Crossman believe it is possible, by means of welfare and taxation reforms, for a Labour government to run capitalism in the interests of the working class. In fact, any redistribution of wealth which does take place does so within the capitalist class. What the Social Democrats are incapable of grasping is that, given a capitalist mode of production, a capitalist distribution must follow. They would do well to read Marx who, when criticising the German Social Democratic Party for demanding a "fair distribution of wealth”, asked:
What is a “fair distribution”? Do not the bourgeoise assert that the present day distribution is “fair”? And is it not in fact the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise from economic ones? (Critique of the Gotha Programme.)
Socialism will not be a system of society based on “fair shares" or shares of any kind. The word “share" is a concept only applicable within the context of a society in which scarcity is an ever-present feature, in which there is a constant struggle between competing groups for scarce resources. Because of the immense technological strides made by capitalism, it will be possible, in a society organised on a socialist basis, to produce such an abundance of goods, that far from having any proceeds of sharing out, the principle will be “to each according to his needs.”

Just as objectionable, from the socialist point of view, is the use of the word “fair”. Those who use this word imply that there is some abstract and universal principle of fairness or justice and that the task for Socialists is to construct the world according to these eternal principles. Such an idea is a denial of scientific historical materialism. Ideas and principles do not exist in a vacuum, apart from the rest of society, but on the contrary are brought into being by the society in which they exist. It may be true to say that ideas have a life of their own, and may perpetuate themselves after the need for them has disappeared; but, in general, ideas grow out of the material basis of society and, once the material basis of an idea has died, the idea will die with it. All ideas must be seen as part of the historical development of man. This is the basis on which Engels poured scorn on the Utopian Socialists, summing up their ideas as follows:
If pure reason and justice have not hitherto ruled the world, this has been the case only because men have not rightly understood them. What was wanted was the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and who now understands the truth. That he has now arisen, and that the truth has now been understood, is not an inevitable event, following of necessity in the chain of historical development, but a mere happy accident. He might just as well have been born 500 years earlier, and might then have saved humanity 500 years of error, strife and suffering. (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.)
Socialists emphatically repudiate the utopian and moralistic notions of “fairness” and “justice” as irrelevant and meaningless. When the working class establish Socialism they will be motivated not by any abstract principles but by their class interest in ending the system which deprives them of the wealth which they alone produce.
B.K. McNeeney

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