Letters to the Editors from the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
The real world
As a reader of the Socialist Standard for several years now and interested in your analysis of the capitalist system and its replacement by Common Ownership, I am left wondering at times if it is not some wonderful dream that captivates us all from one time to another when we become so depressed at our horrible grey surroundings that we need some escapist illusion to take our minds away from it all. However, be that as it may, I would now like to comment on aspects of the SPGB’s case:
You heavily criticise the Left Wing' stating that it's just another part of capitalism, but surely these elements which exist, no matter how negative, unruly and disorganised they are most of the time, are also a necessary part of material reality. They are also surely every radical youth's first introduction to political rebellion—where they see themselves as dangerous 'revolutionaries'—and, no matter how crazy you think they are, they exist as part of the opposition to a terrible exploitative system.
Come on, let's be realistic. When I was 18 back in the mid-sixties and ‘raring to go' I didn't run to the good old SPGB. I investigated the 'Socialist Labour League', the International Socialists, the IMG. All right, no way did they hold the same credentials as yourselves in consistency in their adherence to the ideas of Marx and Engels—but they have adopted some of the radical notions of these two major revolutionaries who also believed in a quick demise of the system. You can rail against the Left's romanticism and their political confusion but I repeat they are a necessary part of reality.
You say that the 'Socialist Workers Party' should fight to establish socialism instead of campaigning for the 'Right to Work'—or against the Poll Tax or whatever other issue is thrown up by capitalism—but wouldn’t it be completely extraordinary if workers didn't campaign and vent their anger against varying detrimental aspects of the system?
You say that real socialists do not get involved in such futile ‘goings on', yet these are real people in a real capitalist world acting out of despair and frustration—can you really imagine a strong-minded worker getting so angry about what is happening that he rushes to join the Socialist Party of Great Britain to sort things out once and for all!
You are talking about workers with no patience who want quick solutions which are being offered by various sects on the 'Left' and I agree if they follow these ratbags up the blind alley they will become even more disillusioned and apathetic, but what do the Socialist Party offer in its place? Do you seriously expect workers to abandon their ‘Right to Work' signs and 'Maggie Out' demands for the placards of the Socialist Party who would have us marching through the city streets with 'Abolish the Wages System' written on them!
Come on SPGB. come into the real world—capitalism will end one day; other systems will evolve in line with conflicts, confusions and contradictions, and whether future systems are based on common ownership, exploitation, state dictatorship, or something as yet unconceived will be determined by humankind's expediency at crucial stages—not by a small clique who forever professes to be more Socialist Than Thou' without advancing the cause of positive human progress one whit!
The "left wing" are not a "part of the opposition" to capitalism. On the contrary they advocate merely a variation to its form (that is the state capitalist one) in which the wages system, buying and selling, police, armies and so on will continue to exist. They peddle the illusion that it is in our class interest. Do not be fooled by their use of the words “socialism” and “communism" or by their use of Marxist terminology. The test to use is a simple one—will the successful outcome of their policies result in the abolition of class exploitation and its replacement by a world-wide system of common ownership of the means of life with production for use and free access by all to the wealth produced?
Clearly the political organisations you mention do not work for this end as an immediate practical possibility. Indeed at election times they urge the working class to vote for the Labour Party. Nothing could be more dangerous and futile because, as they themselves admit, the Labour Party is a reformist and capitalist organisation committed to running the system of production for profit.
Agreed that many sincere and well meaning people "vent their anger" with the system by actively taking part in "left wing" activity. We are unclear why you consider this exercise in futility "necessary". It will not remove the cause of working class misery, rather it will confuse the issue which workers everywhere should have always before them—capitalism or socialism?
Confusion gives rise to frustration and often to apathy which is a barrier to the democratic class conscious political action which must be undertaken if we are to liberate ourselves. Changes in society don't just happen, they are the result of human activity in pursuit of class interest. This is how the change from capitalism to socialism will come about, and it will take a lot of patient hard work to build a socialist majority because there are no short cuts. We do expect workers to give up their support for organisations which simply tinker with the problems of class society. Sticking plaster solutions must be abandoned if we are to free ourselves by taking control of the state and its armed forces, using them to take into common ownership under democratic control the whole of the means of wealth production and distribution. Until that time comes (and it cannot come quickly enough) capitalism and its horrendous problems will continue to afflict the useful majority in society.
Now that the Communist Party of South Africa has been unbanned, it is possible to discuss its mistaken policies openly in South Africa. We reprint below a letter published in the Johannesburg "Star" on 26 February.
In the article "Alone is my joy—after 40 years" [The Star, February 8), Joe Openshaw states: "After 1948 I ceased being an active communist but continued to have faith in the economic arguments propagated in ‘Das Kapital’ and in Marxism".
And he concludes: "The upheavals in the Soviet Union and in the communist bloc have shaken me, but joining the Communist Party seemed a good idea at the time. My conviction still is that socialism could work if not perverted".
The last point, "the perversion' of socialism”, has been the central deception of the Bolsheviks from before 1917: and their followers, as well as their mainstream opponents and detractors, have "gone along with" the distortions of Marxism, to support the introduction and development of state capitalism in Russia and elsewhere. The Leninists "adapted” Marxism to suit their programmes after the overthrow of Tsarist feudalism.
Joe, your "faith” in Das Kapital and Marxism is very sad, in view of the obvious fact that you have never understood either of these. Das Kapital defines capitalism as a system of commodity production based upon wage-labour and capital, whose purpose is the realisation of the surplus- value wrung from the working class and contained in all commodities. This system prevails in Russia and in all modern countries in this world.
Finally, Marxism does not propose or support minority and/or insurrectionary action for/by/on behalf of the world's working class, but insists on the need for the democratic self-conscious, political act of the said class—when sufficiently enlightened—to replace commodity production by production solely for use, freely and willingly, based on the new relationship of common ownership and control of social production by the whole of society; not by the state, which will no longer function.