Monday, March 26, 2018

Letters: Back to the land? (1997)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

What would the members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain do with the money, if they unwittingly won (through a third party perhaps) millions of pounds on the Lottery. Pools or suchlike?

Would they (1) take large tracts of land out of conventional land ownership (and use), and live and share the resources of that land according to Socialist principles as much as is possible, in their own lives, more than they do at present, and amongst increasing numbers of new members further increasing their share of land, or (2) put the money towards doing what they do at present and that is to pay for the use of capitalist "machinery" to spread socialist knowledge and awareness, paying their members capitalist expenses, paying capitalist printing costs, hire of halls, and other capitalist expenses that it takes to run a political party and magazine, postage, telephone, stationery, etc.?

Personally speaking I would say (1) would be better and the most effective, because you could still do no. (2). i.e. spread awareness, but at increasingly less and less money cost because "true" socialists would begin to own collectively more and more socialist and not capitalist resources, such as their own energy supplies, wood, recycled paper, mills, etc. to use, as well as their own moneyless food supplies, etc. thus allowing more effective use of what money is available, and have a much greater impact on the increase of the present activities of the Socialist Party.

This land which would be the physical practical place of where socialists arc practising socialism (albeit constrained by the limits of capitalism that we are all forced to live under) and would be an interesting, inspiring enjoyable place to visit, and also given that you do stick to socialist principles, would not this land, lands, unlike Animal Farm stay socialist? And another thing—you have already spent the time and energy put in by your loyal members.You in fact could be doing two things at the same time—creating socialism and educating socialism.
Frank Bowman,
Flint


Reply:
If we were to obtain such a windfall, since we are a democratic organisation the decisions as to how to use it would be taken democratically by the membership. We can’t see our membership, however, deciding to spend it on the sort of land project you have in mind since that would be contrary to our conception of how socialism will come about.

We imagine the money would be spent on doing what we do now better and on a bigger scale. We could obtain our own printing press and perhaps bring out a weekly paper as well as a glossy monthly. We could pay socialists to work full-time as journalists, designers, printers and experts in distribution. We could put organisers in the field. We could start a publishing house to bring out books and pamphlets, both reprints and new material. We could contest more seats at elections and run a more high-profile campaign: if we put up more than 50 candidates we could have party election broadcasts which we would have the money to do well. We could help our companion parties and socialist groups in other parts of the world expand their activities too. We could step up our advertising and publicity.

Such a windfall would enable us to redress a bit the present imbalance in favour of pro-capitalist propaganda. It would enable us to convince more and more people that socialism is the only lasting solution to the problems they face and that socialism can only be established when a majority of people have come to want and understand it and organise to take democratic political action to achieve it.

That—democratic political action by a majority that wants and understands socialism—is the way we see socialism coming about, not by "socialistic land colonies gradually becoming more and more self-sufficient and eventually squeezing out entirely capitalist production for profit.

This argument amongst those who want a classless moneyless society of common ownership and democratic control goes back a long time, right back to the origins of the modern socialist movement in the first part of the last century. On the one side was Robert Owen, who spent (and lost) the fortune he had made as a textile capitalist on founding communistic colonics in Britain and America. On the other were the Chartists, whose position was later supported by Marx and Engels, who argued that political action for social change was the most effective way to achieve a co-operative commonwealth.

It might be more pleasant to live in the moneyless communistic community you envisage, at least to start with, but the trouble is they never last. Not because communism is against human nature as opponents claim, but because they can’t escape from the surrounding capitalist environment. Far from them overwhelming capitalism it’s been the other way round.

Either they isolate themselves as much as they can from capitalism, in which case they arc only able to offer a very frugal existence, or they engage with the surrounding capitalist economy, for instance by selling their products, in which case they get more and more sucked into capitalist ways of doing things.

The kibbutzim in Israel are a good example of this. Some of them did start out as communities which didn’t use money internally and in which affairs were run democratically with everyone having an equal say. But over the years they have not only competed successfully on the capitalist market as sellers; they have also taken to employing non-members as wage workers, i.e. become capitalist enterprises.

Two further points. First, we are not saying that people shouldn’t live in communistic communities if they want to—we are not in the business of telling people how they should live their lives under capitalism—only that it’s not the way socialism is going to come. Second, we can imagine that, when socialists are measured in millions rather than thousands so that it has become clear that sooner or later socialism will be established in the near future, people will be making all sorts of plans and experiments in anticipation of the coming of socialism and that this will include communal living in the countryside as well as in towns, but we are not there yet since this presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement which must come first. So at the moment we need to concentrate on spreading socialist ideas rather than promoting experiments in "socialist” living—Editors.

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