Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Socialism holds the initiative (1980)

Editorial from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The socialist analysis of society has many unique features. To begin with, it is consistent; it stands now as it did when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in 1904. The reason for this—and here we have another unique characteristic—is that our analysis fits in with reality, with the material experience of society. No other analysis explains the wars, the poverty, the social and other ailments of capitalism.

But one aspect in which the socialist analysis is unique is too often ignored, particularly by those opponents of socialism who are so confused and deluded as to attribute to themselves the very characteristics which they lack. This aspect is the innovatory nature of socialist theory—the fact that it is socialists who hold the intellectual initiative and have ideas and concepts untrammelled by the stale and fallacious presumptions of capitalist politics.

For the politics of capitalism are not innovatory. The kindest description they can be given is responsive, in the sense that they spring up piecemeal as each separate problem of capitalism manifests itself—and usually they die as those very problems expose their impotence.

These responses are staccato, coming in fits and starts and often operating in contradiction of each other. For example, it is not so long ago that, in response to capitalism’s economic crises, the governing parties were devoted to high government expenditure as an answer to their problems. Now, we are told that those same crises can only be cured by lower government spending—which does not mean that, soon, we shall again be offered the panacea of high state spending in some election programme.

This illustrates the fragmented nature of the responsive politics. Capitalism's governments, whatever noises they may make about planning for years ahead, in fact work at the most from one Budget day to the next. Attempts to improve on this—or at least to lengthen the period for which they “plan”-have always come to grief. The Wilson government in 1964, for example, hatched its infamous National Plan which, under the guidance of the bibulous George Brown, was going to organise capitalism into prosperity. It was, of course, not an original notion and who now, in the economic chaos and the poverty of the 80s, remembers that discreditable episode with other than distaste?

So capitalism’s responses are ephemeral. George Brown is only one of a long, long list of politicians whose reputations lie in a grave along with the measures they espoused, in their glad confident morning, as the all-embracing remedy to capitalism’s ills. In George Brown’s heyday, one of the Labour Party’s favourite words was “pragmatic”, by which they meant that their actions were not based upon dogma but on a reasoned assessment of what was necessary in the immediate circumstances. Another way of describing that attitude was expedient. Another was unprincipled.

Anyone entering capitalist politics cannot afford to have principles other than a dedication to their own advancement. At one time, they may genuinely have ambitions to see society improved, to help ease problems like poverty or bad housing, to bring more security to this troubled world. Real experience of government quickly stifles such delusions; promises are broken or forgotten, alliances are forged with onetime deadly enemies, words are used to confuse and deceive instead of to illuminate and unify.

In contrast, the socialist analysis is based rock-firm on the principle that capitalism’s problems spring from the nature of that social system and that they can be abolished only by ending capitalism and replacing it with socialism. This principle stands because capitalism itself is essentially unchanged, as it has to be. Thus a socialist party must be uncompromising and consistent, at all times pressing the case for the social revolution.

And in this we are unique and innovatory. Not for us the discredited politics, the morals and the assumptions of a society based upon the class ownership of the means of living. Only the socialist offers a challenge to capitalism’s assumptions about restrictive access to wealth, about family and sexual relationships, about issues like personal aggression or co-operation, about repression and freedom.

Socialists do not respond to every shift in the weather of capitalism. No economic blizzard casts doubt on the strength of our case, no blast of war persuades us to deny the united interests of the international working class to establish socialism. We are disenchanted, to put it mildly, with the decadence of capitalism and with the staleness and impotence of its responsive politics. We take the initiative; socialism will be the fresh society, which offers the challenge to control our own future.

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