Saturday, October 7, 2017

What We Mean By Socialism (1986)

Editorial from the March 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

In socialism there will be no social organ of coercion — in short, no state, not even a so- called "workers' state" — and so no police, no armed forces, no courts, no prisons, no machinery to coerce people to do what they might not want to do.

Socialism will be a stateless society in which people will co-operate, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control. to produce what they need as individuals and as communities. This co-operation will be entirely voluntary and so will have to be undertaken because people want to, because they realise that it is necessary and in their best self-interest. In other words, because they have socialist understanding.

Clearly, since such a society can only function with the voluntary co-operation and conscious participation of its members, it can only be established by people who want it and who understand all its implications. By definition socialism cannot be established by a minority. It is just absurd — a contradiction in terms — to suggest that some minority could force the majority to co-operate voluntarily.

Socialism will be a stateless society because it will be a classless society — classless because it will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Or, put another way, the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth — the land, the farms, the mines, the factories, the offices, the warehouses, means of transport and communications will belong to nobody. There will be no private or state property rights over them. They will simply be there, to be used by the members of society to produce what they require to satisfy their needs. The concept of "property" will be replaced by that of "use"; legal property rights enforceable by the state will give way to democratically-agreed rules for using the means of production, a situation summed up by the term "democratic control".

Since capitalism — the social system which will be replaced by socialism — is already a world-wide system, so will socialism be. It will be a world community in which all that is in and on the earth will have become the common heritage of all humanity. Territorial rights over parts of the globe will disappear along with property rights.

On the basis of common ownership and democratic control, production can be reoriented towards what is, after all, its natural goal: to providing the useful things that human beings need to live and enjoy life. In other words, production for profit, production for sale, and production for the market will give way to production solely and directly for use. In fact profits, sales, markets — and money, wages, banks and all the other paraphernalia of buying and selling — will completely disappear in socialism. It will be a moneyless society in which goods will be produced and distributed simply to satisfy some human need or other.

In socialism, just as money and monetary calculation will disappear from the sphere of production, so they will disappear from the sphere of distribution too. Here the rule will be free access according to self-defined needs. People will be able to go into stores and take what they need without having to hand over either money or some "labour card" or any other kind of ration ticket. This will be possible, firstly, because the elimination of capitalism will enable society to produce enough to satisfy the material needs of everyone; and secondly because, contrary to the myths maintained by the defenders of capitalism and class society generally, people's material needs are not infinite.

So the main features of socialism are: world community, common ownership, democratic control, production for use, free access. It only remains to add that socialism is an immediate possibility. All the conditions for its establishment are present except one — precisely the majority socialist understanding we have been discussing. In other words, as soon as this last condition is met. as soon as a majority of wage and salary earners want and understand socialism, it can be established immediately, without any so-called "transition period".

Ireland — New Central Branch (1986)

Party News from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Party has now established a Central Branch. Membership is open to socialists living in areas where there is no existing branch of the Party. Members of Central Branch will be kept in touch with Party activity through a Branch Newsletter and encouraged to attend centrally-organised lectures and training courses designed to help them generate socialist activity in their own areas.

The World Socialist Party is anxious to promote the growth of Central Branch, which is seen as the best way of developing socialist organisation throughout the country. A handbook, giving guidance and advice on the most effective means of getting activity going in areas where no formal branch structure exists, is in course of preparation and will be issued, on request, to any member of Central Branch.

The National Executive Committee of the Party has also agreed to provide Central Branch members with special leaflets, where required, specifically designed to meet the needs of a particular area. Should a Central Branch member, or members, wish to organise a public meeting, the N.E.C. will assist with advice, advertising and the provision of speakers.

There are a considerable number of subscribers to the Socialist Standard throughout the country who may be interested in making a positive contribution to socialism. Central Branch provides them with an opportunity to do this. For details, write to:

V. Polland, Secretary, Central Branch, World Socialist Party, 41 Donegall Street. Belfast 1.

Forcible Entry (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The number of reported rapes in Britain rose last year by 29 per cent (Home Office Statistical Bulletin on Notifiable Offences) and the National Society for the Protection of Children estimates that reported cases of child sex abuse rose by 90 per cent in the same period. As with all crime statistics, such figures should be treated cautiously — some of the increase in the rape statistics is likely to be due to a greater willingness among women to report sexual attacks. However, given the widely accepted fact that reported rape and sexual attack is only the tip of the iceberg, it seems reasonable to assume that the incidence of sexual violence is alarmingly high.

The response of the government and the judiciary has been to advocate harsher penalties for rapists and to suggest measures that will afford greater protection to rape victims. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, recently issued sentencing guidelines to judges which are intended to result in more uniformly severe sentences for convicted rapists. Such measures may lead to more women reporting rape; they will almost certainly lead to more rapists being imprisoned. But they will almost certainly not lead to fewer rapes or sexual assaults. The call for tougher measures represents little more than a knee-jerk response to the problem — the need to be seen to be doing something — and reflects a lack of understanding of the causes of sexual violence. Despite the ritual cries of the right, moralists of all political hues and the law and order lobby, rape is not a new phenomenon. It is neither a consequence of a "decline in moral standards" nor a result of the so-called permissive society. Rape has been a feature of most societies throughout history, but what constitutes rape has changed with time, as have the attitudes to both rapist and victim.

Women’s bodies — men's property
The idea that women are (or ought to be) independent and autonomous individuals is a relatively recent one, that is still far from being accepted among much of the world's population. In general women are economically, legally and socially inferior to men. In many parts of the world women have no legal title to property — they themselves are the property of their fathers or husbands. In such situations rape is likely since there is little respect for women, who have no real rights over their own bodies. But the "victim" of a rape is seen to be the father or husband, since it is their goods that have been stolen or damaged by the rapist.

In feudal times peasant women were subject to the rule of both their fathers or husbands and of the feudal lord. The practice of jus primae noctis (the right of the first night) was common in much of Europe. The feudal lord had the right to take the virginity of the bride of any of his vassals or serfs unless the couple paid a certain amount of produce in redemption dues. This practice must have amounted to rape in many instances but was not treated as such because of the nature of the prevailing property relations. More recently in the American South a similar practice was common among white slave owners. Black women were often forced by their masters into sexual relations against their will. Such rapes must have been common knowledge and yet no action was taken against the rapists. In Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries domestic servants were frequently the victims of the unwanted sexual attentions of their employers. There was no direct ownership relationship between the servant and the employer — she was in theory free, an employee not a slave. And yet to refuse her employer might mean the loss of her livelihood. (To agree and risk pregnancy would also effectively mean the loss of her job. Pregnant maids were usually sent packing, many were forced into prostitution as the only alternative means of earning a living.)

The idea of women as property to be sexually exploited continues to the present even though the law in most modern westernised nations formally recognises women as independent. Sexual harassment of female employees by their male employers is commonplace. Again women are faced with the choice of suffering in silence or risking losing their jobs. The idea of women as men's property is reflected in the fact that in many countries rape within marriage is not a crime. The marriage contract is such that it is considered to effectively represent permanent consent of the wife to her husband for sexual relations. In the recent Ealing vicarage rape case the tabloid press seemed to regard the offence as especially despicable (and hence newsworthy) for a number of reasons. Firstly, the woman who was raped was a clergyman's daughter and therefore "respectable"; and secondly the rape took place in front of her boyfriend and father an affront not only to her but to them. Implicit in the reporting was the idea that they had suffered an injury not just because they were forced to witness a despicable act and themselves suffered physical injury, but because the rapists were taking something that rightfully belonged to them.

A weapon of war
Throughout history rape has featured significantly in war. Although in recent times rape of women by an occupying army has been officially outlawed, it is often unofficially ignored, condoned or even encouraged. The examples are numerous and provide a ghastly indictment of the brutalising effects of war.

During the First World War. as the Germans advanced through Belgium and France in 1914, their progress was accompanied by a deliberately mounted campaign of terror: looting and burning of houses and rape. If these tactics were intended to cow the "enemy" into submission then they partly backfired since the Allied powers used the rumours of the "depraved Boche" as a useful propaganda tool to stir up nationalistic sentiment among workers and encourage them to enlist in defence of "their women" against the Germans. During the Second World War the ideology of fascism led more directly to an acceptance of rape: the exaggeration of masculine values, the frequent depiction by the Nazis of Jews (and also Slavs) as weak and effeminate and the denial of humanity to these racial groups, made rape almost inevitable. Mob rape of Jewish women made its first appearance during Kristallnacht in November 1938 but as the German army moved through Europe, homes were looted and women raped despite the fact that sexual relations between Germans and Jews were officially prohibited on grounds of racial defilement. For some German soldiers a conflict was created as a result of their acceptance of the ideology of racial superiority: on the one hand it dictated that they remained separate from Jews and on the other it dictated that since Jews were sub-human they were fair game for all sorts of brutal behaviour including sexual humiliation and rape. A woman survivor from Bergen-Belsen describes the consequences of such conflict. Held at a police station in her German-occupied Polish village, she was forced to strip in front of the Gestapo, was knocked about and then dragged by one man into an adjoining room:
    I was in a small office and the German had a long heavy whip in his hand. "You don’t know how to obey. I'll show you. But I can't have you. scum, because you're Jewish, and filthy. What a shame! He swung the whip across my breasts. "Here's what you can have for being a dirty Jew — instead of me — this!" He lashed the whip again and again and I fainted. (Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, Penguin, p.51)
Sexual humiliation and violence of this kind was commonplace to men and women. Jewish and non-Jewish, both inside the concentration camps and outside.

But it was not only the Axis armies that raped during the Second World War. When the Allied forces moved into Europe driving back the Germans, women were again raped, but most especially in Germany. As the Allies occupied Berlin rape was so common that one commentator wrote: The fear of sexual attack lay over the city like a pall'' (Brownmiller. p.66), and there are accounts of German women who dressed in army uniforms since they felt it would be safer to be mistaken for a German soldier than a German woman.

The use of rape as a weapon of war combined with the traditional view of women's bodies as man's property in the war in Bangladesh — with tragic consequences for the women concerned. During the nine month conflict an estimated 200,000 Bengali women were raped by Pakistani soldiers. Husbands and fathers in village societies frequently ostracised the raped women — they were now defiled and regarded as damaged property and therefore unmanageable. Many were pregnant as a result of their attack and were forced to leave their villages.

During the war in Vietnam the South Vietnamese army did rape but fewer attacks took place while they were fighting in "their" country than occurred during the invasion of Cambodia in 1970. Among the Viet Cong there were both stern injunctions against rape and severe reprimands for those who did. The reason was that as a guerilla army the Viet Cong were dependent on villagers for food and protection. They could not risk alienating villagers by raping the women.

For the American army in Vietnam rape and prostitution were inextricably linked. Most US army bases had military brothels nearby, set up in the full knowledge and with the full support of the officers. The women who worked in them were South Vietnamese for whom prostitution was an economic necessity. (Economic need is almost as effective as physical coercion in forcing women to have sex with men against their will). Brownmiller writes:
   . . . as the American presence in Vietnam multiplied, the unspoken military theory of women's bodies as not only a reward of war but as a necessary provision like soda pop and ice cream, to keep our boys healthy and happy turned into routine practice. And if monetary access to women's bodies did not promote an ideology of rape in Vietnam, neither did it thwart it. (ibid. p.92)
Rape then has been, and continues to be. a horrifying aspect of war. The maleness of the military, the total environment of violence and the brutalising effects of that violence are breeding grounds for rape. But rape in war has an important symbolic quality too: it is a symbolic occupation, a forced humiliation and imposition of subordinate status. Rape is the act of a conqueror and women's bodies merely part of the spoils of victory.

A culture of rape
Most men see rape as an offence committed by other men — sick, pathological deviants. But rape is at one end of a continuum of sexual behaviour much of which is characterised by, at best, insensitivity and at worst brutality and coercion, and forms part of a masculine sexual culture. Sexual success measured in terms of the number of "conquests" and the frequency of the act, rather than the quality of the experience, is an important element of what it is to be "a man" in our society. Most men don't live up to the macho image and hide their own fears and insecurities about their sexual relations behind a mask of sexual bravado. To admit to fears or anxieties about their sexual relations would only compound the feelings of inadequacy: the expression of emotion is considered a sign of weakness for men.

For most men this may have no more effect than to make them unhappy or anxious. For others sexual relationships become less risky if the emotional content is removed — the aim of relations with women then becomes a quick screw rather than a relationship which recognises that a woman is a person, not just a vehicle for sexual pleasure. For some men pornography serves a similar purpose — safe sex from a distance. Not only emotions are removed from the experience but women themselves are disembodied passive objects available for men's use. But for some men the conflicting feelings about sexuality and their emotional response to women will be acted out through sexual violence or abuse of women (or children). Rape represents the end of this continuum of impersonal sex — the emotional content of the sexual relationship removed entirely or distorted into something like hate, the feelings (and indeed, in many cases, the identity) of the woman irrelevant; the woman herself dehumanised. This is not to say that there is a necessary causal relationship between, say, pornography and rape, but that they form part of a total sexual culture which encourages rape.

In a society where relationships between people in general are dehumanised — employer and worker, buyer and seller it is not surprising that sexual relations too are so often dehumanised. Sex becomes just one more arena for the expression of conflict or the exercise of power. In certain situations like that produced by war; in societies where women are still regarded as inferior to men, in cultures where racial superiority is part of the dominant ideology, then rape is likely to be prevalent. But in our society too. rape is an implicit part of our sexual culture. Think of the language used to describe sexual relations (men talk of "having" a woman); the depictions of women in tabloid newspapers (sexually available and passive objects for male pleasure); the jokes that are told which are demeaning to women and glorify aggressive masculinity; the popular wisdom that is handed down — that women say "no" when they really mean "yes", or that women play hard to get; the comments made by judges hearing rape cases (that women contribute to the offence by wearing certain clothes or by being in a certain place at a certain time); and finally the stereotypes that we are brought up on — the passive, yielding female and the aggressive male driven by uncontrollable sexual desire. All these factors contribute to a cultural environment in which rape and other forms of sexual abuse and violence are likely to occur.

It is not only rape that we should be concerned about but the whole spectrum of sexual behaviour. And we cannot begin to understand that until we understand the nature of the wider society from which it is derived. Sexuality is natural but there is nothing natural about the ways in which we express that sexuality: it is shaped and conditioned by the society in which we live and the kinds of sexual expression that are considered acceptable are a product of particular cultures at particular times. The fact that so many people in our society express their sexuality in ways that are twisted, coercive, violent and brutal should make us very concerned about the nature of the society that produced that sexuality.
Janie Percy-Smith

Are You in Control? (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Have you ever thought how much your life revolves around work? Not even the time you spend at home is your own, it is spent recuperating from one day's employment and preparing for the next. You need to regain your energies by eating and sleeping; if you have a bath and iron your clothes, it is mostly for the purpose of turning up at work reasonably sweet-smelling and dressed in a manner that is socially acceptable. This situation was described very well by Karl Kautsky in Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx:
  Thus from the standpoint of reproduction, the worker is engaged in the interest of capital, not only during his labour time, but also during his "free'' time. He eats and drinks no longer for himself, but so that he may maintain his labour-power for the capitalist class. It is therefore not a matter of indifference to the capitalist how the worker eats and drinks. If, instead of resting and recuperating his labour-power, the worker gets drunk on Sunday and has a headache on Monday, the capitalist does not regard this as an injury to the worker's own interests, but as an offence against capital, an embezzlement of the labour power that is due to capital.
One of the most exciting prospects of socialism is that for the first time since the beginning of property society we shall regain control of our time, of our lives. As it is today, the lower you are down the social ladder, the less money you have in your pocket which means limited options and a low level of control. Continent-hopping executives are as much members of the working class as are cleaners at the local school but it is doubtful if they feel the same incentive to spur on the revolution.
   Contrary to popular belief, it is not high-powered business executives who suffer most from stress-related diseases. Unskilled manual workers develop and die more often from cancer, heart failure and chest diseases. Even middle managers have 40 per cent more heart attacks than top executives. Manual workers have to put up with more stressful working conditions, their lack of control over their working lives and boredom with the job they do can reduce frustration and anger. (Guardian, 12 February 1986).
Within capitalism, work is often the only place people's natural need to communicate and socialise with others can be expressed. It may seem a better alternative than home, if home is a constrictive cell consisting of four walls, a TV set and an uncommunicative spouse. It is usually to be preferred to trying to exist on the dole. Commuting between the double prison of home and work you may feel you are fleeing from one unsatisfactory situation into another.

So how do we spend our leisure time? Apart from frantic activity or total collapse at weekends, a lot of our "free" time is spent on what Marx called "animal" activities:
   As a result, therefore, man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions — eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up. etc; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.
   Certainly eating, drinking, procreating, etc. are also genuinely human functions. But abstractly taken, separated from the sphere of all other human activity and turned into sole and ultimate ends, they are animal functions. (The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844).
In some jobs, employees sell not only their pure labour power but such things as "appearance". "sociability" and the "right" kind of part-time interests — if they prostitute themselves completely to their employers they will take home unpaid work voluntarily and have few other subjects of conversation but possible promotions/demotions and other goings on at work.

For all this devotion, workers' labour power is just a commodity to be bought on the market or discarded in the best interests of profit and capital. Every year, there is another crop of eager young school-leavers to be picked, at their physical and intellectual peak and usually ready to work for less than more established wage slaves.

Meanwhile, the lid is kept firmly on a discontented and frustrated population, whether it is the police force with their tougher methods of crowd control or GPs prescribing large amounts of tranquilisers. According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, unemployment and the stress of threatened job loss may increase families' consultation rates with general practitioners by as much as 20 per cent. (Financial Times, 14 February 1986). The article goes on to say that "Prescription rates in Wales, Northern Ireland and the north-west are up to 50 per cent higher than those in areas such as Oxford"

Our life in capitalism becomes more and more fragmented, more and more specialised. There is a specific period in our life for learning, another for working, then some more compartments for "leisure activities" and so on. From an early age we are encouraged to decide what we want to do for "a job" as adults and our time in the education system is spent training for a particular slot in the capitalist machine. Work under capitalism is supposed to be the pinnacle of our lives, the coveted goal reached in young adulthood when our roles as passive consumers can really begin. Many "happy young couples" have been conditioned to expect that their main pleasure and purpose in life is to consume; carpets, sales, best buys, cookers and three-piece suites then, as the old cheap rubbish wears out or they are persuaded that "changing" leads to happiness. the whole thing starts all over again — a life-time revolving around the acquisition and replacement of shoddy things.

Real sensitivity is blurred and genuine human caring has a hard time in the ruthless reality of the capitalist market place. Everything has its price and competition is so much a part of our every day experience that it penetrates and sours even our personal relationships. Greed, ambition and self- interest are held up as virtues in capitalism. Let us be really ambitious and use these so- called virtues against the system that fostered them.
Torgun Bullen