From the November 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the foggy atmosphere of Labour Party conferences “socialism” is the self-conscious rallying cry of the faithful, and sop to them when used by the party leaders. (“Socialism” is a rallying cry of a different kind at Conservative conferences.) At Blackpool this year “grass roots” enthusiasts, from the constituencies and the Unions, talked earnestly about the evils of capitalism and called on the Government to carry out “Socialist” policies. Realizing only that “something” is wrong in society they live in perpetual hope of legislating the nastiness out of capitalism. Despite all evidence to the contrary many still see nationalization as the panacea to solve capitalism’s problems. Not understanding how capitalism works, delegates appear to think that Governments have unlimited resources at their disposal. Or that a cut in spending by one Government Department (usually Defence) automatically provides more money for another. In the Pensions debate Jack Jones claimed that the recent NATO exercise would have paid for quite a few Christmas bonuses.
In defending cuts in Education spending Shirley Williams said that in the real world we have to be “realistic Socialists”. We wish that her audience would learn about Socialism. The realism would include the complete rejection of the idea that the Labour Party represents the interests of the working class.
Delegates in the majority opposed Government policy on health, housing, immigration and the Euro-poll. The debate on direct elections to a European Parliament produced more “socialist” rhetoric. (Comment also on MPs who did not now make the short journey to visit their local constituency party and who might disappear altogether in Europe.) The Government had already agreed with its EEC partners on the principle of direct elections. When the conference voted firmly against this decision a delegate asked for the suspension of standing orders so that the Party leader could comment. This was ruled out of order by the Chairman, Tom Bradley MP, on the grounds that there had always been a clear distinction between the party conference and a Labour Government. O Democracy!
After this debate came fraternal greetings from the Co-operative Party. Followed by Tom Bradley’s serious suggestion that those who had complained about the evils of capitalism during the week had one way of opting out of these evils — they could shop at the Co-op!
We suggest that the first step to removing the evil of capitalism is to understand how the system works. When capitalism was in its infancy the early Socialists, looking at working class conditions, could only reject the consequences of capitalist production as bad. In the absence of an analysis of its essential character they were unable to define the only satisfactory solution to working-class exploitation.
The Labour Party and its supporters have never had this excuse, for the mystery surrounding capitalist production was solved by Karl Marx long before the Labour Party was formed. Using the labour theory of value, Marx was able to explain how the working class is exploited. Workers are paid the value of their labour power but only part of their working time is necessary to replace that value. For the remaining time their labour is unpaid. This unpaid labour is the source of the surplus-value appropriated by the capitalist class. Further, the materialist conception of history enabled him to present capitalism in its historical context. By looking at the way the means of life were produced and distributed, and the relationship of different social classes to that production and distribution, he was able to show that capitalism was the inevitable sequel to feudalism. Social development did not end with capitalism. The struggle between the two remaining classes would result in the downfall of capitalism.
Since Marx expounded the materialist conception of history and the labour theory of value, Socialism has had a precise meaning. It can only properly be used to describe the worldwide social system which will replace capitalism. When the working class takes the conscious, political steps to end its own exploitation it will emancipate the whole of mankind. Socialism, the system then established, will be based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means for production: something the Labour Party has never proposed.