Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Schooled for capitalism (1991)

From the February 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

When our first daughter was eighteen months, there came through the post some pictures to colour, some stickers and a mobile. “Congratulations! You’ve won a FREE Rupert Funpack in our competition”, said the accompanying blurb. Which was news to me because I didn’t even know we had entered. You thought Rupert Bear was a creation with a taste for natty scarves and a propensity to talk in rhyme? Wrong. Rupert has become an investment adviser. Rupert has diversified into Unit Trusts.

The sales pitch is aimed at the emotional underbelly of the anxious parents who, being unaware of socialism, still realise that there is never something for nothing in capitalism. The investment can easily grow into the kind of money they’re going to need when it’s their turn to face the world, wheedles Rupert. Think of the cost of a car. the deposit on a house, think of all the money your child is going to need when they reach adulthood. How can you refuse an offer couched in those terms? Easy. Investigate socialism, a society based upon production for use, not profit.

But we’re still living in a capitalist society. Capitalists arc determined to keep it that way. A little indoctrination goes a long way. Especially when your child enters the laughingly-called education system. In May 1990, a guidance document on education for economic and industrial understanding was published by the National Curriculum Council. It outlined ways in which the government wanted to see schools introduce pupils to greater economic understanding and awareness. It gave examples of how pupils might be taught to develop an interest in commerce and the economy and learn how to handle their own finances. It suggested that seven-year-olds learn about money through tackling simple maths problems. John MacGregor, the then Education Secretary, said:
We have been encouraging too many of our brightest youngsters to go into non-profit-making activities. I think it is important that more of them understand that we live in a competitive world, including the need to make a profit by meeting customers' requirements.
The Education Secretary was obviously ignorant of the fact that profits derive from the economic exploitation of the majority by a minority ruling class. Or was he?

The enterprise education unit at Durham University is also doing its bit to instil free market values into children. With financial backing of £200,000, given by Marks & Spencer, the Durham University Business School has devised a scheme to teach children as young as five how to become “classroom capitalists”. They are to be encouraged to run their own business and enterprises. The scheme intends to show five- to eleven-year-olds, by the use of comic-strip instruction books, how to make a business plan and how to borrow money from a bank. Durham University’s David Absalom, denying that the scheme would brainwash children into Thatcherite thinking, said

"It’s not political. We hope the children will become more enterprising and have more confidence in their ability to communicate. negotiate and work with other people”. There has been an increase in the number of sightings of flying pigs in the Durham area recently.

The status quo
Emphasising other areas, such as law and order, nationalism and responsibility to society—capitalist society— reinforces the acceptance by the individual of an economically exploitative social system. Education for Citizenship, a draft report prepared for the National Curriculum Council, suggests that from the age of five children should be taught to be active citizens. It says a fundamental requirement placed upon all citizens in a civilized society is the need to acknowledge and accept the rule of law.

The success of the type of tactics employed on the young and impressionable is evinced by the results of a survey carried out for industry at the end of 1989. A survey of attitudes amongst 16- to 24-year-olds found that they were rejecting idealism, looking after number one. and turning against minority groups. A third of those surveyed were racist, a half were homophobic and ninety-four per cent thought that hard work was the key to success. (Young Britain: A Survey of Youth Culture in Transition). These findings, no doubt, give quiet satisfaction to the ruling class who can consider the money it costs them to train the working class and instil acceptance of the status quo into them well spent.

But the cost of training future generations of workers has to come from the total share of the surplus value expropriated from the working class by the ruling class. So why do the working class any favours? A study conducted by government education inspectors at the end of 1989 found that primary schools are increasingly relying on money from parents for a reasonable stock of school books. At the beginning of 1990, MacGregor ruled that schools could charge pupils rent for classroom lockers and parking space in bicycle sheds.

As my daughters reach their teens in the twenty-first century, what can they look forward to? They may come out of the "educational” system with a few certificates and the opportunity to encumber themselves with a loan to fund their passage through university. Perhaps they will think that continued training will result in their getting a "good job". What aspirations for their lives may they have? Well-paid wage slavery? Marriage? House owned by building society? Children? Will they still unconditionally accept a social system that limits their potential to experience the fullest possibilities of emotional, personal and social growth with its reduction of all human experience to a cash nexus? Will their continuing exposure to the prevailing ideas in society, those of the capitalist class. have turned them into homophobic, racist, right-wing, sullen youngsters?

Enough is enough
Capitalism is an anarchic market system—it lurches from boom to crisis with the regularity of the sun rising every morning. It is unnecessary for this generation or the next, or the next, to wait until life has become so intolerable under capitalism that the majority decide enough is enough and look for the alternative. By then it may be too late. By then there may not be a society or planet left to change. The alternative exists now. All that is standing in the way of a transition to a social system based upon production for use, not profit, is a lack of understanding of capitalism, and of a determination and political will on the part of a majority of the worldwide working class to alter the insane society in which we live, capitalism, for a sane one. socialism. It's not enough simply to create another life. That life has to have a future. Which future would you rather have for your children, capitalism or socialism?
Dave Coggan



Obituary: Sidney Beck (1969)

Obituary from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Members who remember the familiar figure of our comrade Beck selling the Socialist Standard and other literature at his post in Hyde Park through fair weather and foul, will be sorry to hear that he died in hospital last December. Sidney Beck joined the Party in 1938 though he had been a sympathiser since the early 1920s. He was well-read and was for a number of years, Secretary of our Hackney Branch. "Beck” as he was known simply to other members, spoke several languages and could always lay his hands on any book that was wanted. Many members were encouraged and taught a lot by Beck, and we will remember him with affection and pride.
Adam Buick

English Journalism (1925)

From the January 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “In England, Journalism, except in a few well-known instances, not having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is still a great factor, a really remarkable power. The tyranny that it proposes to exercise over people’s private lives seems to me quite extraordinary.
  “The fact is that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything except what is worth knowing.
   “Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesmen-like habits, supplies the demands. In centuries before ours, the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump.
   “That was quite hideous.
   “In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to the keyhole.
   "That is much worse.”
OSCAR WILDE.

The Organisation of the Working Class (1925)

Editorial from the January 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC.
Ever since the existing social order originated in the downfall of feudalism, there has been going on a struggle between the two classes of which it is composed, i.e., the capitalist or master-class and the wage-slave or working-class. As a result of this struggle, ever increasing in its intensity and ever widening in its scope, there has arisen a certain degree of organisation on the part of both classes. Up to the present the initiative in the struggle has lain with the masters and the efficiency of their organisation is correspondingly greater than that of the workers, whose lot has in the main consisted of a series of defeats resulting in increased poverty and exploitation. There is urgent need for improvement in the workers’ organisation, hence the propaganda of the Socialist Party.

Socialist theory is the result of scientific effort to explain the class struggle, i.e., to discover its cause, the line of its development and its eventual outcome. Socialists, therefore, are essentially and directly involved in this struggle, and have a distinct point of view to express regarding the organisation of their class.

A glance over the field of battle reveals at once the fact that the workers’ organisation at present is a conglomeration of fragments rather than an organic whole. It consists of innumerable unions professing to function in the interests of different sections, overlapping to an appallingly wasteful degree and confusing the workers by their various “programmes.” It is realised by some of the workers that one union for one class is essential if defeat is ever to be converted into victory. What is not so clearly recognised is that such a union must be a Socialist union.

To exist at all a union of the entire working-class must at least have a common object, and one looks around in vain for any other object but Socialism which is capable of becoming common to all sections. Unity is impossible so long as the mass of the workers see no further than the immediate struggle over wages and hours, etc., which necessarily vary in different localities and occupations. This is not saying that such struggle can or should be abandoned while capitalism lasts. On the contrary, no one is more determined in the prosecution of the defensive fight than the Socialist since those who cannot defend will make poor material for conducting an attack. What does, however, need emphasising is that victory cannot be obtained within the limits of the wage system. So long as the master-class possess the means of life so long will the workers be condemned to poverty and slavery.

The first essential then is a change in the outlook of the workers, in the goal of their struggle. They must become class conscious and take the initiative. They must determine to attack the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour.

The next point to become agreed upon is the line of action or policy to be adopted in conducting this attack. This can only be determined by the nature of the conditions existing. In points of detail these conditions are constantly changing. It is, therefore, impossible to lay down in advance a detailed programme to be adopted in the hour of the social revolution. Certain fundamental features of the existing order make it both possible and necessary, to outline the general character of the policy to be pursued.

In the first place it is important to realise that the existing order is maintained by political means, i.e., by the machinery of government in the hands of organisations of the master-class. A consideration of industrial conditions soon reveals why this must be so. To-day the occupiers or users of the various industrial plants are not the owners; if they were, there would be no social problem, i.e., no class struggle.

Ownership to-day consists not in occupation but in mere legal title, meaningless, unless recognised and upheld by the forces of the State. The overthrow of capitalist ownership, therefore, and the establishment of common ownership, involves the capture of the State by the working-class. Dispossession necessitates disarmament. The organisation of the working-class must, therefore, be a political organisation, i.e., a Socialist Party.

The nature of its object and the circumstances of its origin compel a Socialist party to oppose all other parties at all times and without exception, since these parties can exist only to preserve in some shape or form the system which the Socialist Party is out to abolish.

The existing confusion among the workers organised in the Trade Unions has enabled a crowd of professional politicians drawn from the ranks of both classes, to form a party claiming to have special regard for the interests of the workers. This party is, financially, nothing but a parasite upon the Trade Unions, depriving them of strength (which could be used for fighting against the masters) in order to further a political policy very little different from that of Liberal capitalists. Such difference as exists between them is of no consequence to the workers. In spite of this fact, however, numerous critics of the Labour Party profess to believe that the Trade Unions are part of it. The Labour Party, is allowed to claim that it is the political organisation of the Trade Unions as such.

The Socialist Party disputes this claim. A Trade Unionist as such has no particular political creed. He may be a Liberal or a Conservative, a Socialist or an Anarchist, or alternatively, utterly indifferent to political matters. The essential concern of a Trade Union is obviously the industrial conditions, particularly affecting its members ; it is a sectional organisation and thus cannot form the basis of a political party whose concern is class interest.

What, then, is the attitude of the Socialist Party towards the Trade Unions? Necessarily it is one of propaganda. To the extent that the Trade Unions defend the immediate interest of the workers, the Socialist Party supports them. It combats, however, every action on their part, political or otherwise, which assists the master-class. For the rest it advocates the obliteration of sectional and financial restrictions on membership. The organisation of the workers must be based upon class interests.

Much valuable time is wasted by some otherwise intelligent workers in advocating detailed plans of organisation. “Industrialists" of various shades endeavour to map out in advance the structure of the revolutionary embryo. They forget that society is an organism and not a piece of architecture; that organs only develop as the need for them arises. The function of industrial administration in the fullest sense cannot pass into the hands of the.workers until they have secured possession of the means of life in the manner indicated above.

The task of a revolutionary-body is, therefore, the accumulation of revolutionary material, i.e.. Socialists. The elaboration of this material into organic shape will depend upon the development of the conditions of its existence, the details of which, not being prophets, we cannot foresee. For us it is enough to proclaim the revolutionary slogan, “The world for the workers,” and to organise and act in accordance therewith.

"A Word on Marxism" (1952)

From the June 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not an exaggeration to state that to-day "Marxism” is becoming almost a household word. Unfortunately this does not mean that over the wide world millions of people have become thoroughly acquainted with the fundamentals of Marxian doctrines. Rather does it signify that the word “Marxist” has become the modern equivalent of “heretic” or “turk.” In other words, when a man is to-day called a “Marxist” people are usually expressing strong disapproval, although they may have little or no idea of the real meaning of the word they are using. As members of the working class concerned with the crying social evils of the modem world we cannot afford such loose thinking. We do not brand or abuse our political opponents; but are concerned rather with a thorough examination of their point of view. We do not reject or accept their statements out of hand. Marxism must be treated likewise by all serious-thinking men and women, and to do this we must ascertain exactly what we mean by the term.

Like the word “Socialism,” “Marxism” has, over the course of the last century, been largely abused and misrepresented. We can, however, in brief form put the essential ideas of Marx as follows: —
1. Materialism.
2. Materialist conception of History. (Including the class struggle.)
3. Theory of Value.
These three components of Marxism are an indivisible unity. The so-called “Marxists” of the “Red” variety who claim allegiance to Marxism yet at the command of their Russian masters flout the class struggle and the most elementary conclusions to be drawn from the theory of value can lay no authentic claim to their title. No one with even an elementary understanding of the Marxian outlook can at one time claim to be a Marxist and in almost the next breath speak of his Christian faith and belief in God. as do many members of the Communist Party, including the one-time prominent Douglas Hyde of “I Believed” fame. Such people have failed to understand the most striking feature of Marx’s ideas, i.e., each central proposition implies and leads logically to the others. Materialism, so to speak, the foundation stone, is a philosophic view of the universe, irreconcilably opposed to religious dogma.

For centuries man’s thinking had been dominated by idealism and metaphysics, and it was not until the development of industrial Capitalism that modern materialism began to take its rightful place in the study of the natural world. So long as the material world was viewed as a realm devoid of objective laws, and subject to the overwhelming power of “mind,” little progress could be made towards an understanding of its real nature. With the rise of materialism, however, and greater emphasis on empirical methods astounding achievements were made in all branches of science, particularly in the natural sciences during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Marx’s concern , was to apply this highly successful methodology to society itself, a task hitherto inadequately attempted. We are led then to a materialist conception of society.

The materialist conception of history seeks to explain the causes of social progress. Its subject matter, human society, has a history covering a period of thousands of years. Marx took the relevant facts of history and, using the scientific method, sought to make them intelligible, and it is probably in this field of study that he made his greatest contribution to human understanding. To discover, as it were, the motive forces of social development, to lay bare the principal causes of great social changes, was a herculean task. Up to the time Marx commenced his studies, changes in the political structure of society, supposed to be brought about by man’s growing insight into absolute principles, were generally accepted as the dominant factors in social development. Starting with this supposition Marx (who was himself a student of law) found it impossible to give a coherent explanation of events around him. In his own words, “I was led by my studies to the conclusion that legal relations as well as forms of state, could neither be understood by themselves nor explained by the so-called general progress of the human mind, but that they are rooted in the material conditions of life . . . .” (“Critique of Political Economy,” page 11, translation from second German edition, 1904, Chas. H. Kerr & Co.). Following this line of thought Marx was led to a conclusion which he summarised as follows: “In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society —the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.”

Marx set to work with the germ of his new idea to unravel the real causes of social change. It had long been known that widely differing forms of social organisation had existed. In early times whole communities had owned in common the things they needed in order to satisfy their needs, including the land and their primitive tools. At other times men lived divided into classes, some property owners and a majority in subservience. The important questions for Marx were, how had all this arisen and how could the degradation and poverty of the many be abolished? Must the idea of freedom and emancipation from bondage remain merely an ideal or, by the study and an understanding of the past, would it be possible for the subjugated majority to set themselves upon the sound path towards their emancipation?

By the detailed application of the M.C.H. to the world in which he lived his penetrating examination into the economic processes of his contemporary society Marx both answered these questions and developed the third basic tenet of Marxism—the Labour Theory of Value.

This theory, i.e., that things reproduced for the purpose of exchange, exchange in proportions determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time involved in their production, gives us an insight into the economic workings of the everyday world that makes clear the cause of our major social evils and the path along which we must act in order to remove them. On all sides we find tremendous accumulations of wealth produced for a market. The workers who produce this wealth receive in return through their wage packets only a part of it. Their buying power in terms of money is obviously less than the total money value for the wealth they have produced; otherwise there could be no profits. In order to profitably dispose of the consumer goods produced by their respective workers capitalists are compelled to seek entrance to markets abroad. But, and this is the important point, looked at on a world scale, the capitalist class has ultimately no outlet. What happens in fact is that the endless struggle for markets, cheaper goods, profitable sources of material and other economic advantages results in continual struggle between on the one hand the workers and capitalists, and on the other armed struggle between rival capitalist powers. We can see from the foregoing that the class struggle, the ever present conflict of economic interests between the “haves” and the “have nots” expresses itself in the modern world in the. opposition of the working class to the capitalist class. In short, the class struggle is at all times a property struggle and as Marx and Engels so clearly pointed out has characterised the whole of man’s written history.

In a short article of this kind detailed examination of Marxian theories is out of the question. As it is, the foregoing is a somewhat simplified statement best supplemented by careful reading of recognised Marxian classics. One thing is certain, we can do no better than to study Marxism through the writings of its founders, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

One last word. Socialism, the world we are striving to obtain, is not a pipe dream. It is the name that we, in common with Marx and Engels, give to the society that will follow capitalism—a world in which property and the problems arising therefrom will no longer exist

An understanding of Marxism is a means towards that end.
Joan Lestor


Capital, science fiction and labour (2009)

From the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Can we rely on technology to bring down capitalism?

Near-future science fiction frequently explores the possibilities of imminent technologies  – gadgets that haven’t been designed yet, but could be given recent real advances in technology and design. Whilst its track record on such predictions – such as us getting to Mars by 1977 and everyone having rocket cars by 2002 – have been a bit wide of the mark, others have been much closer and in fact actively conservative compared to the real historical record.

 Authors such as Charles Stross in his Halting State or Ken Macleod in his Night Sessions explore a future where mobile phone technology linked up to glasses which display information to the wearer can link up with technology like google Earth and GPS systems to tell them, just by looking, who lives in a house and what criminal records they have and other known details. They explore the expanding pace of technology, as the machine intelligence of computers begins to exceed that of the living human beings. Iain M. Banks in his Culture novels explores the after-effects of that process, where humans served by loyal robots live in a post-scarcity, anarcho-communist, space-faring society.
 A tool enables a human to do a job, while a machine effectively replaces human labour. A robot is a sort of machine. The word itself is Czech, coming from a play about automatons, and it means worker, but with connotations of slavery. The international standards organisation defines a robot as: “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications." In other words, a type of machine.
 Robots do not have to be physical, and many expert systems can be described as a robot of sorts. When your word-processor corrects your spelling, that is a type of robot.
 Futurists talk of a “singularity”. This represents an "event horizon" in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers, following the creation of strong artificial intelligence or the amplification of human intelligence. Futurists predict that after the Singularity, humans as they exist presently will cease to be the dominating force in scientific and technological progress, replaced with posthumans, strong Artificial Intelligence, or both, and therefore all models of change based on past trends in human behaviour will be obsolete.
 The technological singularity refers to a situation in which technological advancement begins to accelerate to the point where new designs are produced, basically, before old ones are implemented: where super-intelligence exists. More prosaically, when the robots begin to be able to do our thinking for us. Proponents of such an eventuality point to growth of computer processing power and the growth of communications and transport technology. They mark how the time taken for products to reach ubiquity and obsolescence is falling – it took 70 years for telephones to become ubiquitous, the iPod has managed it in about 8, for example.
 Already 3D printers have been developed that can make models and parts out of silicon and plastic – and that will lead to faster development of prototypes. Those 3D printers can also produce 60 percent of their own parts. If they get to 100 percent we’d have multipurpose machines that could reproduce themselves, and maybe even adapt for different tasks.
Drastic effect
 Machines making machines. That would have drastic effects on the labour market. Robin Hanson writes in the on-line magazine IEEE Spectrum:
“The relative advantages of humans and machines vary from one task to the next. Imagine a chart resembling a topographic cross section, with the tasks that are ”most human” forming a human advantage curve on the higher ground. Here you find chores best done by humans, like gourmet cooking or elite hairdressing. Then there is a ”shore” consisting of tasks that humans and machines are equally able to perform and, beyond them an ”ocean” of tasks best done by machines. When machines get cheaper or smarter or both, the water level rises, as it were, and the shore moves inland.” (“Economics Of The Singularity”)
 Depending on how these contours actually lie, this could mean mass displacement for millions of workers: redundancy on a grand scale. From shop staff to clerks, essentially human posts could be done away with by “simple” intelligences or machine expertise.
Of course, this trend has been continuing since capitalism began. As Hanson notes:
“The (…) proliferation of machine-assembled cars raised the value of related human tasks, such as designing those cars, because the financial stakes were now much higher. Sure enough, automobiles raised the wages of machinists and designers.”
 Throughout history, the labour market has had winners and losers, swings as well as roundabouts. New workers have always been recruited to replace those thrown on the scrapheap; but in this scenario, new workers can be designed, trained up and introduced faster through machinery than it would take to breed and train a new generation of humans.
 The suggestion throughout discussion of a technological singularity is that productivity would soar. In essence, it would herald an abundance economy. For some radical “transhumanists”  – those who foresee the human body being merged with machines – this would mean the end of capitalism.
 The capitalist mode of production carries with it a strong impulse for this sort of increasing productivity:
“The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends, caeteris paribus, on the productiveness of labour, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. It will further be remembered that, with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions.”
 The result of which is the fact that:
“…the growing extent of the means of production, as compared with the labour-power incorporated with them, is an expression of the growing productiveness of labour. The increase of the latter appears, therefore, in the diminution of the mass of labour in proportion to the mass of means of production moved by it, or in the diminution of the subjective factor of the labour-process as compared with the objective factor.The additional capitals formed in the normal course of accumulation serve particularly as vehicles for the exploitation of new inventions and discoveries, and industrial improvements in general. But in time the old capital also reaches the moment of renewal from top to toe, when it sheds its skin and is reborn like the others in a perfected technical form, in which a smaller quantity of labour will suffice to set in motion a larger quantity of machinery and raw materials.”  (Marx, Capital, Vol 1, Chapter 25)

In a bind
 Capitalism is in a bind – it wants to use as much labour as it can as little as possible. That is, while it, on the one hand, sets its production goals as limitless, an infinity of riches and products, it wants to spare the precious labour that gives it an edge in the competitive battle. This is what the shackles of capital mean to labour – that goals and activities that are within the practical bounds of human endeavour are left unsurmounted because it is not capitalistically efficient to do so. Capitalism prefers the increasing refinement of the productive process to the actual attainment of any specific outcomes or goods.
 This brings us to an important factor. As E. P. Thompson noted in his The Making of the English Working Class – the working class made themselves. Workers, and their demands for waged labour as compared with the previous forms of bonded labour, were in the forefront of promoting market relations. Professor Robert Allen of Nuffield College, Oxford, an economic historian, goes so far as to suggest that a significant contributing factor to the Industrial Revolution occurring in Britain was the relatively high (at that time and in the world) real wages of the workers here. Particularly, they were high relative to fuel costs and capital costs. The importance of this is that it incentivised innovation and mechanisation. Similar features have been attributed to American industrialisation. The high costs of labour, and capitalism’s drive to spare labour if at all possible is a key motor of capital accumulation.
 This, then, presents us with a bind. Capitalism spares labour, cuts labour and labour costs, while it grows. Further, as we’ve seen above, whilst it accumulates, it cheapens the products of industry. This presents us with a situation in which fewer people are employed in production, and in which the cost of employing productive labour actually falls. The mass of use values they can command may well increase, but the value of their pay declines. We can see this in the recent history of the United States “Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20 percent of households” – that’s from the CIA’s 2005 factbook on the US economy.
Emancipating Labour
 Hanson sees a situation in which we would all have to become capitalists, living off interest, because labour would no longer pay, but if what has been suggested above comes to pass, then we simply wouldn’t have that option, and a form of labour feudalism could emerge.
 In response to a questionnaire, when Marx was asked what were his goals, he simply replied “The emancipation of labour.” This brings us to the crux of the matter - technology emancipates us from labour, but so long as a vast swathe of humanity depends on the sale of its ability to work labour will be in the chains of capital. Socialism, the emancipation of labour, would see a situation in which rather than try at all costs to spare labour, we will freely chuck it at problems because we would be working towards definite ends, rather than an ever increasing size of profit.
 It would be nice to think that technological progress would simply evolve capitalism away. If we believed that, we could shut up shop and simply become cheer-leaders for advancing bleeding-edge technology. The dangers of the alternative, a kind of stagnant capitalism based on cheap super abundant labour unable to fight back, is quite terrifying. We've seen how capitalism does have a drive to advance technology, but one that may be undercut by its dependence on waged labour. Waged labour has not been the passive tool of capital, but an active and essential participant in driving capitalism onwards. We as workers cannot sit by and hope that a magic bullet will solve our social problems, and our active organisation remains essential to attaining socialism.
 Productive forces encompass more than technological capacity, and include the organisational and mental capacities required for a given form of society. The friction between capital and labour was a source of technological innovation, that friction was a productive force. Socialism will free up labour, irrespective of technological capacity, to use whatever technological powers are available. Socialism is not a by-product of technology but of social consciousness.
Pik Smeet


What is Socialism? (2017)

From the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Extract from a Socialist Party contribution to a panel on the subject organised by the Platypus Society on 23 March.
In 1893 in Britain William Morris took the initiative for the publication of a Manifesto of English Socialists which declared:
'Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end forever to the wage-system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sound basis.'
That this was signed by such non-Marxists as GB Shaw and Sidney Webb shows that, at that time, the difference between reformists and revolutionaries, possibilists and impossibilists, was not so much over what the aim was as over how to get there.
This definition of socialism was shared by Marx and Engels. They themselves got it from workers in the 1840s in Paris and Manchester who called themselves 'communists' or 'socialists'. This definition is reflected in the Communist Manifesto which talks of 'the communistic abolition of buying and selling' and endorses measures advocated by 'Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism' such as the abolition of the wages system and 'the conversion of the functions of the State into a mere superintendence of production'.
In other words, a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interest of the whole community. This definition of socialism was shared by the tenors of the pre-WW1 Second International still read today: August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg and by Bolsheviks such as Alexander Bogdanov, Stalin and Lenin himself. They all argued that socialism would be what the Germans called a 'natural economy' as one where wealth would be produced directly for use and not for sale on a market.
Here, for instance, is August Bebel, one of the most popular leaders of German Social Democracy, on 'the future society' in his Women and Socialism:
'It does not produce “commodities' to be bought and sold,but produces the necessaries of life that are used up, consumed, and have no other purpose … There being no “commodities” in future society, neither can there be any money' (Society of the Future, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971, p.47. Bebel's emphasis).
And the Bolshevik Alexander Bogdanov, in a textbook used both before and after the Bolshevik coup:
'The new society will be based not on exchange but on natural self-sufficing economy. Between production and consumption of products there will not be the market, buying and selling, but consciously and systematically organised distribution' (A. Bogdanov, A Short Course of Economic Science, Labour Publishing Co, 1925, p. 389. His emphasis)
In 1848 Marx and Engels had called it 'communism'. In his preface to the first English edition of the Communist Manifesto, forty years later in 1888, Engels explained why it hadn't been called a 'Socialist Manifesto' (because at that time 'socialism' was more associated with various schemes proposed by Utopian Socialists who rejected the working class struggle for political power as the way to get there). So, had the manifesto been first published in 1888 it could just as well have been called 'The Socialist Manifesto' and might in fact have been better understood if it had been. This reflected the fact that, for Marx and Engels, 'socialism' and 'communism' were interchangeable terms describing the same society they expected to see replace capitalism.
The change of meaning of 'socialism' – a decisive break with previous practice – came in 1917 when the Bolsheviks planned to seize power in Russia. Up till then Lenin had held the same definition of socialism as the rest of the Second International and also its view that a socialist revolution was not possible in a backward country such as Russia. When he returned in April 1917 from exile in Switzerland, Lenin astounded even members of his own party when he proclaimed that the immediate aim of the Bolsheviks was now to seize power, not to complete the bourgeois revolution as had previously been their policy, but for 'socialism'.
When those who stuck to the Second International definition of socialism reminded him that this was not possible in Russia, he cleverly gave the specious reply 'You are talking about Communism but I'm talking about Socialism'. As he put it in his The State and Revolution when critics 'talk of the unreasonable utopias, of the demagogic promises of the Bolsheviks, of the impossibility of 'introducing' socialism, it is the higher stage or phase of communism they have in mind...'
He immediately went on 'And this brings us to the question of the scientific difference between socialism and communism', a distinction which no one had ever heard of nor was remotely 'scientific'. In 1875 Marx had indeed written about a 'first phase' and a 'higher phase' of communist society but, as just pointed out, this could equally have been said to be about a first and higher phase of socialist society. In any event, these were, precisely, phases of the same society – a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. They were not two, distinct types of society.
Lenin's innovation (distortion, actually) was to label the first phase 'socialism' and the higher phase 'communism'. By 'communism' he meant what before 1917 had been called 'socialism'. Not that his definition of 'socialism' corresponded with Marx's 'first phase of communist society'. Referring specifically to 'the correct functioning of the first phase of communist society', Lenin wrote:
'All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of a single countrywide state “syndicate”. All that is required is that they should work equally, do their proper share of work, and get equal pay...' (Chapter V, section 4).
So the wages system was not to be abolished. Instead, everyone was to become a hired employee of the State. This, of course, was not socialism in its previous sense but state capitalism, the wages system under new management. Which in fact is what the Bolsheviks did eventually establish in Russia.
As the Bolsheviks retained state power and enjoyed a certain amount of prestige among militant workers and with the aid of the Russian state, they were able to impose their definition of ‘Socialism’ at the expense of the previous definition. Hence, today's confusion where most people equate socialism with state capitalism rather than with its original meaning.
Adam Buick