From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party of Great Britain claims that the majority of the working class are capable of understanding Socialism. This being so we are often asked the question, why then, are there not many more Socialists? At present the vast majority of workers mistakenly can only see the solution to their problems in reforming capitalism in one way or another. Capitalism itself is not questioned, it is only the patching up of its effects that is attempted.
From our point of view, one of trying to make Socialist ideas known, the problem is not one of understanding, but of communication. Today information is mainly passed on by television, radio, and the press, to which the SPGB is virtually denied access. Consequently with our limited resources our activities in spreading Socialist knowledge are confined to what we are able to do in the way of writing and distributing our literature, out-door and indoor meetings, and discussion with people we come into contact with at work or anywhere else. There was a time when political meetings took place in the open on street corners where one could go and listen to speakers almost any day of the week. A minority voice stood some chance of being heard then. With the advent of television those days are gone and minorities without access to the modern forms of mass communication have found it increasingly difficult to make their voices heard.
What is seen and heard in the mass media is the misuse of the word Socialism, and distortions of Marx’s ideas. This means that we are called upon to waste a lot of time in explaining what Socialism is not, that Socialism does not yet exist anywhere. What is important about the mass media is not so much that they create attitudes and values but that they continue to reinforce existing ones. Socialist ideas are not propagated in a vacuum but within capitalist society, meeting all the obstacles and prejudice of capitalist ideology. A great deal of expense and time is spent perpetuating attitudes which maintain the capitalist system. Marx wrote, and it still applies today, that “The prevailing ideas in society are the ideas of the ruling class.”
It may be concluded that there seems little chance of establishing Socialism and such a conclusion would be correct if it were simply a question of the efforts of the SPGB alone. Important as these efforts are, they are not in themselves sufficient to prepare the working class for the establishment of Socialism. Working in opposition to capitalist ideology are the facts of capitalism itself. Capitalism has not only produced the material conditions of potential abundance, where the forces of production conflict with the property relations, but has also brought into being the working class whose necessary task is to act in their own interest in abolishing the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour.
It is also a fact that capitalism will not let workers rest content, it is forever throwing problems in their way. Old problems such as poverty and relatively new ones such as pollution, drug addiction, increasing mental illness and many others. All the time capitalism with some fresh horror demands that we sit up and take notice. Of course “escape”, provided by TV, bingo or the football match is always forthcoming. But it is no solution. The problems, tragedies and frustrations of capitalism are not so easily escaped.
Also capitalism needs to educate and train its workers in order that they may be able to carry out the functions necessary to the ever changing technology and the race for profits. Capitalism puts an emphasis on scientific method and adaptability, yet work on a factory production line for instance requires that a man should be merely an appendage of the machine, with his movements dictated by the machine. In the Daily Telegraph (18th May) Peter Knight wrote, referring to a BBC-2 programme dealing with Ford factory workers:
The programme vividly depicted the noisy, monotonous routine of the production line where men lose their identities as they work with almost robot efficiency. As one pointed out, they are programmed to do one thing and that is the one thing they keep on doing.
For those workers, like many, the kind of job they do is only a source of frustration to them. How many workers anywhere gain satisfaction from their jobs? It is another of the many pressures of capitalism which will continue to drum into the heads of its victims the need to change the system of society which forces many of its members for the best part of their working lives to live like robots.
To those who say “Yes Socialism is a good idea, but you will never get the majority of people to understand it,” we ask: If you can understand Socialism, why not then the majority of people? Members of the Socialist Party are no more or less intelligent than most other people. What we say is that if you think Socialism is such a good idea why not find out more about it? Then join with us in helping to explain it to fellow workers so at least they may have the opportunity of deciding for themselves.
For those who think us idealists and say “Yes it sounds like a very fine ideal, but reality just does not work like that", we reply that Socialism is not an ideal. It is based on the sound facts of the way human society evolves, and the way capitalism works. We are not asking for a change of heart — we are asking for the conversion of the means of production from private or state ownership to common ownership. This is not an ideal but a practical and material demand that is in line with the interests of workers throughout the world. If you still think we are after an impossible ideal listen to Engels who wrote in Socialism Utopian and Scientific:
The final causes of all social changes and political revolusions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy but in the economics of each particular epoch.
The material conditions for Socialism have long been in existence. All that is needed is for the majority of the working class to realise their common interest in abolishing capitalism. That mighty force would then have arisen, the class-conscious working class with one objective — the establishment of Socialism. With this end in view, and armed with Socialist knowledge, the working class will fulfill their role. This great and final act as members of the working class will free them from the chains of the wage-labour and capital relationship which now holds them in its grip. Then they will emerge as men and women in a classless society, securely resting on the sound basis of the common ownership in the means of production. The wars, the rat-race, the poverty and all the other evils which arise from property society would then have gone from the scene of a truly human society. Men, women and children would then be free to develop their potential and their relations with each other as human beings.