Monday, October 28, 2019

Leave them kids alone (1984)

From the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Between the ages of five and sixteen children are compelled to attend institutions where they are indoctrinated, humiliated, regimented and brutalised. Schools are places which strip children of their dignity and creativeness and make them learned in the idiocy of capitalist thinking and obedient to the authorities which govern the system of oppression.

The position of the school child is pathetic by comparison to that of older workers. In employment, wage slaves can combine in trade unions to affect the conditions of their exploitation; the child at school has no such chance. School governors and head teachers do not negotiate with children — and where bodies like “school councils" do exist, they are mockeries of democracy which lead to nothing but frustration for the student who wants to alter conditions. Capitalists are not able to assault the wage slave whose labour power they have purchased — indeed, it is a legal offence if a boss hits a worker. Not so in schools: although beating is now officially illegal in some areas of Britain, there are still many schools where adults beat children too weak and powerless to hit back. Even where children are not the victims of physical attack by adults, it is often the case that verbal abuse, sarcasm and intimidation by shouting are used as methods of control. Under British law schools must carry out religious indoctrination and physical training. These too are fates which wage slaves are spared: you can, at least, get through a day in the office or down the mine without some moralising trickster testing you on the contents of St. Luke’s Gospel or some brainless lump of muscle screaming orders at you to jump over a wooden horse. At school these events occur weekly, and unless you are enterprising enough to consistently find excuses for avoiding them you are unlikely to go through at least five years of secondary education without being affected. Fortunately for many young people, compulsory religious indoctrination persuades them to keep away from the tedious and absurd fairy-stories for the rest of their lives.

What else is taught in schools? Without doubt some of it is useful, but the critical child must watch out for the bias of the system. Geography, for example, is taught in a way which often fails to make the distinction between the natural and the social: it is one thing to study a river or a continent, but too often “countries" and “borders" are spoken of as if they are part of the “map of the world" rather than the social arrangements of capitalism. Although not as bad as it once was, geography teaching is still remarkably nationalistic and racist. There are still text books which depict little black children as “happy-go-lucky” inferiors destined to lifestyles of fitting deprivation. (This is ironic because, as a serious study of world geography will show, many areas of mass destitution are among the most abundant in natural resources.)

What goes for geography applies even more to the teaching of history. There are two basic fallacies conveyed by the indoctrinators of history in schools: firstly, the belief that history is no more than the story of the past; and secondly, the narrow outlook which identifies only those events concerning the British — or, at most, European — ruling class as being of historical significance. If studying history is to be of any use it must present the student with the question: What next? Schools fall in with the conservative assumption of capitalist ideology that history stopped at the present and now we can expect the revolutions and fundamental changes of lifestyle which have been the story of society so far to cease. The emphasis on nationalism not only affects British schooling: the children of every capitalist country are encouraged to see the past from the angle of their own particular ruling class. Not only are the blinkers of nationalism fitted on those at school; it is still the case today that a student can enter Oxford University to do a history degree and leave three years later having studied only British history.

The indoctrination process does not escape the study of English. Some of it is creative and stimulating, but many children are put off reading literature after leaving school as a result of the boring experience of learning by heart large chunks of Keats or Shakespeare to pass exams. The snobbery attached to “appreciating" literature is enough to put anyone off. Why should children who appreciate the genuine dramatic qualities of Coronation Street or Fawlty Towers believe that it is “proper" to think more highly about the dramatic excellence of Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing?

So, schools do not teach children to understand society, but to understand what the ruling class want us to know about society as presently organised. The socialist message to school students is a simple one: just as you probably will not believe everything you read in the Sun and you certainly should not believe everything you read in The Socialist Standard, so you should not accept everything told to you by your educators. Before accepting, think critically and check the truth by reference to your own experience and that of other people; don't believe, understand.

It is not only "knowledge” which schools distort. One of the principal purposes of schooling is to mould the child’s character. What sort of character does the capitalist class require? Workers who are obedient, naive, repressed, malleable, submissive . . . the list is endless, but can be summed up in one word: exploitable. The educated wage slave is a willing victim of the legalised robbery of the wages system. Of course, capitalists need different types of wage slaves: some to wear suits and operate the calculating machines, others to wear overalls and operate the factory machines, some to wear white coats and operate the get-you-back-to-work service. But the one requirement is that they must be willing to be used by a minority to produce rent, interest and profit.

Capitalist schooling teaches children to play roles. Because capitalism can make good use of sexual inequality, schools encourage virility in boys and femininity in girls. After years of this conditioning the educators claim these character differences to be natural. Sexual stereotyping is still one of the most powerful forces for the preservation of capitalist ideology.

In addition to teaching boys to behave like Action Man and girls to be birds, schools teach young workers to fit into the obedience role. For a large part of school life children are learning nothing but to stand up when a bell rings, to start eating when a siren sounds, and to jump through hoops when instructed and to feel guilty when they have disrupted the status quo. The obedient wage slave is a bore of historically unprecedented proportions; many readers will remember the school prefects who spent their later school lives exhibiting the after-effects of a short back and sides to the brain.

What about the people who run the schools — the teachers? They are merely salaried workers who are paid to do the ideological dirty work for their employers. Some of them may be attracted to the “profession" because they like pushing defenceless children around but, on the whole, like other workers who have to run capitalism for the capitalists, teachers are sincere men and women who would rather not have to work within the kind of institutions which schools currently have to be. Like the policeman who thinks he is a social worker, there are teachers who hope to use their position to enlighten their students along liberal lines. But. as has been stated in another context, the educators need to be educated, and many of these trendy teachers have nothing to offer children except indoctrination with a touch of guilt.

Unfortunately for the capitalists, despite the millions of pounds which they spend annually on schooling (more than on military defence because they recognise the value of ideological conformity), the young working class is not acting as required. With what horror do the self-righteous guardians of social conformity regard punks who treat with disdain many of the moral norms of the system. A few years ago Pink Floyd’s record, Another Brick In The Wall shot to number one in the charts, serving as an anthem of youth disillusionment with the schooling process. Although it would be far from true to say that school students who show signs of rebellion in their dress, hairstyles and language are necessarily any more opposed to capitalism than anyone else, there is no doubt that a growing consciousness is emerging among young workers that schools are mucking them about and that society is offering them less than it could. Out of this consciousness will come the growth of socialist thinking. He or she who resents wearing a dull school uniform today could be the socialist who rejects the uniform ideology of capitalism tomorrow. While socialists should not exaggerate the significance of youth dissent, which is a hallmark of our age, we should not ignore the fact that it is part of the process of transition — a transition which will end, sooner or later, in social revolution.

What about children in a socialist society? To begin with, they will be economically dependent on no one, for the wealth of the world will belong to them no less than to their elders. There will be no laws forcing children to study, for in a society of co-operation we will be able to rely on children's innate desire to learn. To begin with, respect for teachers will not be based on fear. Learning will not be the means to passing an examination so as to increase the price of labour power, but to enable one to contribute more usefully to society. The process of learning will not be confined to certain ages, so that by twenty-one formal education is over: in socialist society centres for formal learning, and informal learning through practical experience, will be open to people throughout their lives. Freed from the objective of creating workers, socialist teaching will be able to show people how to stretch their humanity as broadly as possible. Socialism will mark the victory of human consciousness over the domination of capitalist necessity; now, we are forced to confine our thinking within the stultifying barriers of the profit system. In a socialist society, instead of killing off that wonderfully creative ingenuity and imaginativeness of childhood, we will be able to learn from it, to let it express itself fully and to allow our own conception of adulthood to include some of the insights of childhood which the present system has such a need to repress. For too long society has seen children as semi-humans, to be moulded into the pathetic parodies of humanity which men and women under capitalism are today. In a socialist society the great task will be to liberate children from their inexperience and to incorporate the joys of childhood into the lifelong experiences of adults.
Steve Coleman


Poverty and the minimum wage (1984)

From the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is, and always has been, a feature of capitalism that there are big differences in wealth and income between rich property-owners and propertyless workers, but also big differences in wages within the working class. The solution is to get rid of capitalism and establish socialism, in which there will be no incomes from property ownership and no wages system: all the members of society will have free access to the products of industry. At one time leading members of the Labour Party, including Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw, endorsed that idea. The first chairman and leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, declared that the Labour Party existed to achieve it. The Labour Party then abandoned the aim its leaders had once proclaimed (or, as they said, “postponed” it). They did so on the ground that it was essential to be “practical" and to deal at once with the pressing evils of capitalism.

One of the immediate problems that they were going to deal with at once was the existence of large numbers of workers on very low pay. All sorts of remedies have been tried but have been a total failure. Not only is the problem still with us but, according to an independent body — the Low Pay Unit — the lowest paid workers were relatively worse off in 1980 than they had been 95 years earlier when figures were first collected. The Labour Party's programme at the last General Election brought the failure story up to date:
 The next Labour Government will launch an offensive against low pay as part of our strategy for equality. The problem of low pay remains acute both in relative and absolute terms. If low pay at present is defined as less than two-thirds of average male manual workers’ earnings, there were 3 million full-time low-paid workers in 1982, of whom 2 million were women workers. Adding to these figures young workers, part-time workers and home workers, produces a total in the region of about 6 million — a great majority of whom are women.
One supposed remedy was more nationalisation and the expansion of local government services; but many of the “low-paid” are to be found in central and local government and the nationalised industries.

Another alleged cure for poverty was the Beveridge social security scheme after World War II and its accompanying pledge of “full employment” and no more depressions. It has failed in both respects. Along with 3½ million unemployed the depression has increased the number of “low-paid" workers. And this is the SDP-Liberal Alliance's verdict on the social security aspect:
  William Beveridge has been mutilated over the years. Instead of a basic benefit, which was to secure for the old, the sick and the unemployed a tolerable minimum standard of living as of right, we have a complex network of benefits dependent on 44 different means tests. Many people are dependent on benefits which are woefully inadequate.
So the Alliance sees the need for a new Beveridge scheme to remove the accumulated deficiencies of the old one, and to include a new feature, the payment of benefit to low-paid workers in addition to their wages.

Another remedy was to be the election of a Labour government. Their 1918 programme, Labour and the new Social Order, committed a future Labour government to introduce a “national minimum” wage to be applied by law in all fields — employment, unemployment, the sick and the pensioners. In 1935 the leader of the Labour Party, Clement Attlee, in his book The Will and the Way to Socialism, said that the next Labour government would create “an equalitarian society" — the rich and the poor would both disappear. "It would", he wrote, "work to reduce the purchasing power of the wealthier classes, while by wage increases and by the provision of social services it will expand the purchasing power of the masses". When he became Prime Minister in 1945 it was his government which introduced the first of the "incomes policies" designed, among other things, to prevent wages from rising.

At one time it was thought that the remedy for low pay was trade union organisation, but it came up against the problem of industries in which unions did not exist or were quite ineffective. In 1909 the Liberal government created “trade boards" (later renamed Wages Councils) for the industries with "sweated" wages. The councils, made up of representatives of employers and workers, along with “independent" members, were empowered to fix minimum rates which were enforced by law. Wages Councils still exist and it is among the workers in these industries that many of the Labour Party’s "low paid” are to be found. An extension of the Wages Council minimum rates for separate industries, is the proposal for a national minimum to apply generally. The 1983 Labour Party election programme included the statement "we will also discuss with the TUC the possibility of introducing a statutory minimum wage", and this has been taken up by Neil Kinnock.

The minimum wage schemes come up against the facts of life of capitalism. The capitalists are in business to make profit; from the capitalist standpoint the only productive worker is one who brings profit to his employer. If the capitalists cannot make profit by employing workers, they do not employ them. While many companies can adjust themselves to paying wages negotiated with the unions and still make a profit, there are others who can stay in business only if they can get workers at very low pay. If compelled to pay more, they fold up..

This situation was dealt with in 1973 in a report by the Prices and Incomes Board, who said that the enforcement of higher rates in certain low pay fields "results in unemployment among low paid workers whom employers no longer consider worth employing at the higher rates". Some advocates of minimum rates show a remarkable blindness to the realities of capitalism. Where it is a question of the criminal law they know, from the millions of crimes every year, that the enactment of laws against bank robberies, burglaries and so on, does not mean that those crimes do not happen. Where it concerns statutory minimum wages they think it is different, but it is not. The Low Pay Unit reported in 1976 about the Wages Council industries: "In 1974, the last year for which figures are available, 13.4 per cent of employers checked as a matter of routine, were paying below the legal minimum compared with 7.9 per cent four years before". In 1983 the Unit reported: "Last year 35.1 per cent of employers inspected were paying below the minimum compared with 31.5 per cent the year before".

What happens, particularly at times of heavy unemployment, is that workers receiving less than the legal minimum prefer to keep their jobs rather than report the underpayment. In the depression years of the Thirties the National Congress of the Agricultural Workers Union said that more than half the farm workers were being paid less than the legal minimum wage and cases were known of agricultural workers who, having received illegally withheld pay after an inspector had intervened, gave the money back to the farmer in order to keep their jobs.

Realising that the levels of minimum wages they wanted to enforce would result in workers losing their jobs, some advocates of statutory minimum wages have proposed to get over the difficulty by the government subsidising the industries concerned. This was in fact done under the Corn Production Act 1917. The Act guaranteed prices to farmers for their produce and introduced minimum rates for farm workers in order to meet the shortage of food caused by the German submarine attacks on shipping. The farmers did very well out of it, but farm workers' wages failed even to keep up with the increased cost of living. When the war-time emergency was over the Act was scrapped. Farming is heavily subsidised now and farm workers have statutory minimum wages, but it has not prevented farm workers being among the Labour Party's 6 million low paid.

All the schemes in three quarters of a century to solve the problem of “low pay” have failed, and further schemes promise no greater success. The Socialist Party of Great Britain was right in the first place in holding that this and the other problems of capitalism will not be solved while capitalism continues.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letters: Marx and crime (1984)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and crime

Dear Sir,

I read with great interest the two parts of the article "Marx’s Conception of Socialism” published in the July and August editions of the Socialist Standard.

Firstly, a point of information: the phrase "the judgement of the criminal upon himself" comes from Chapter VIII of the Holy Family by Marx and Engels. The Foreign Languages Publishing House (Moscow 1956) renders it slightly differently, but the sense is clearly the same.
  . . . under human conditions punishment will really be nothing but the sentence passed by the culprit on himself. There will be no attempt to persuade him that violence from without, exerted on him by others, is violence exerted on himself by himself. On the contrary, he will see in other men his natural saviours from the sentence which he has pronounced on himself, in other words the relation will be reversed, (op cit p.239).
Presumably Marx and Engels meant by this that certain categories of human action, which are now classified as crimes, would be considered reprehensible in a socialist society ("human conditions"). However. while individuals might punish themselves in remorse for such actions, their neighbours, moved by feelings of humanity would try to persuade them not to. Which of these tendencies would win out, the individual's remorse or his neighbour's humanity, one cannot predict. The precise category of actions Marx and Engels had in mind is not clear — they do not mean crimes of violence, for these by definition do not exist, since "coercion is contrary to “(truly)' human nature" (op cit p.238).

Secondly I am worried by the statement that "In a socialist society you will only be able to have free access to the things which society decides it will make available for free access". This sounds dangerously like “‘you will only be available to have free access to the things the majority decide they will make available for free access" and it clearly breaches the principle “'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". The article was on much safer ground when it stated that in the early days of socialism, the attitude of relatively opulent workers to "free access" should be: "Don’t take advantage of it". While it may be true that in a socialist society, a majority would be unlikely to abuse its power, nevertheless, the principle of "To each according to his needs" seems to provide a safeguard for minorities, which although only based on “moral" force is better than no safeguard at all.
Clive Hill,
Graduate Common Room,
London School of Economics.


Reply
We thank Clive Hill for the source of the quotation from Marx, in the Holy Family.

Other interesting statements by Marx and Engels will be found in two Pelican books: Karl Marx — Selected Writings (1976) pp. 167/8 and 234/5, and Engels — Selected Writings (1967). pp. 175/6.

Marx and Engels were both examining crime and punishment in capitalist society from the socialist standpoint. Two quotations will indicate the line of their approach: Marx wrote:
 Punishment is nothing but a means of society to defend itself against the infraction of its vital conditions, whatever may be their character. Now, what a state of society is that which knows of no better instrument for its own defence than the hangman, and which proclaims . . . its own brutality as eternal law?
Engels argued that "society creates a demand for crime which is met by a corresponding supply" and added:
 I leave my readers to decide whether it is just to punish criminals under these circumstances.
On his second point, about "free access", Clive Hill's fears are groundless. The passage in the article was an attempt to deal with a misunderstanding about '“free access" voiced by a questioner at a meeting. Reasoning from what goes on under capitalism, with trade unions and other groups making claims and calling on the employers, or the government, or "society", to meet them, the questioner said he interpreted "free access" to mean that whatever any individual though they would like to have society would provide for them. This misses the point that, with the establishment of socialism, all individuals will be members of the community. co-operating together democratically to meet the needs of all on the basis of “free access" and making the necessary production and other arrangements to make it possible.
Editors


Asbestos deaths

Dear Editors

Although the article ‘“Fireproof Death” (Socialist Standard, October 1983, by Gary Jay) is no doubt written with the best of intentions, nonetheless it contains some inaccuracies which this campaign feels should be set right. Perhaps the most important misinformation is the statement. "There are safer substitutes for nearly all uses of asbestos".

It was actually established beyond doubt (see the Anti-Asbestos Campaign Fact-sheet) that satisfactory substitutes for every Asbestos application will be available in Britain by November 1982. I must stress that this is an independent single issue, non-partisan campaign. I say this because you do not necessarily need to be a socialist to realise that when it comes to Asbestos society can no longer afford free enterprise, if you fully understand the nature of Asbestos and its threat — which Gary Jay obviously does not — viz. "Asbestos and similar hazards”. I assure you that Asbestos is entirely in a class of its own as there are no similar hazards. The others that Gary Jay mentions are hazards of chemical poisons or hazards of human mismanagement — minor hazards. Asbestos however is the single most serious threat to life on this planet that I, or anyone else who understands its chemistry, can recognise. In our fact-sheet we ask whether there will be 40,000 deaths per annum in Britain caused by Asbestos in 2022. Even this is a moderate estimate.

Please in the interests of public health and safety do print a summary of these criticisms.
Harry Moss 
The Anti-Asbestos Campaign

Reply
The fact that there is evidence for all asbestos uses being replaced with safer substitutes strengthens the case against a social system which continues to use this murderous material because of its cheapness, and therefore profitability, to the ruling class. This is one of the numerous social problems which are constantly produced by the profit system. The solution is not to campaign against these symptoms individually.

The uses of various unsafe, dangerous and anti-social materials and products have the same social cause — the system of production for profit. By the time that one well-intentioned reform group thinks it has solved a problem, capitalism has produced many more.

Many thousands of people are dying and being injured in ways which could be avoided. They are victims of wars, starvation, insanitary water consumption, industrial accidents and so on, ad nauseam. These are problems produced by a competitive social system. The majority of people, the wealth-producers, produce wealth as wage slaves. Production, production techniques and distribution are geared to profit and not human need.

It was not, as Harry Moss says, simply “human mismanagement" which precipitated the misery outlined in the Socialist Standard article, including Rowan Point, Ford Pintos, thalidomide and poisonous cooking oils. These problems are endemic to our social system. Asbestos is beyond doubt a highly dangerous substance, as information in the AAC fact-sheet illustrates. But asbestos is one of many urgent problems which have the same solution. In a world capable of producing enough food for everybody, more people starved to death each day in 1982 than died from asbestos in the whole year. On the brink of a nuclear war the world now holds the equivalent of over four tons of TNT for every single human being on the planet.

Only in a society of common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth can these grotesque problems be made unnecessary. Socialism will mean production for use not profit. The community will control what is produced with all the care, meticulous research and pride which will flow from the awareness that we are producing for our own good, and not as now to provide profits for an owning minority.
Editors


Cross of gold

Dear Editors,

Re: issue of September 1983

On the bottom line, centre column, you attribute the remark “Shall mankind be crucified upon a cross of gold" to Eugene Debs. I believe that you are actually referring to "you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold" made by William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was a US representative and presidential candidate upon the Democratic Party ticket.

As usual, enjoyed this issue. Keep up the good work.
Merwin Orner 
New Jersey, USA


To "M.K., Scotland"
The Editors would like to publish your letter, with our reply to the important points you raise. However, it is not our practice to publish letters without knowing the name and address of the sender — not necessarily for publication. Please get in touch with us.
Editors

50 years ago: We Still Live (1984)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another year has gone by and a fresh one is commencing. How are things with us, and what are the prospects?

To begin with, there are two things that are worth a comment. The suspension of the Social Democrat (organ of the Social Democratic Federation) a few weeks ago brings to light the fact that the Socialist Standard is the only one left of the group of journals that claimed to appeal particularly to workers in 1904. The others have either ceased publication, changed their names, or only appear fitfully. A similar process has also been at work with the organisations the journals represented. So true is this, that were we to reprint our first Manifesto, which contains references to these groups and journals, it would be like a voice from another planet to the workers of the present generation.

It is useful to record these two points, because those of our readers who were alive and interested in the working-class movement 30 years ago will remember that the formation of the Socialist Party was greeted with contempt and anger as a splitting movement by a group of youthful upstarts. We were promised a speedy death. But we still live, and we flourish without the aid of trickery, trumpery or trumpets.

The fact that we flourish, however, is not really a matter for great congratulation. We ought and might have expected to be progressing far better than we are doing. The case we put forward is simple and it appeals directly to the interests of all who depend for their existence upon the sale of their mental and physical energies — members of the working class.

[From an editorial "Our New Year Message". Socialist Standard, January 1934.]

Socialism will work (1984)

From the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists stand for the establishment of a system of society fundamentally different from that which exists now. In a socialist society the means of producing and distributing wealth — factories, farms, mines, docks, offices, transport — will belong to the whole community. Common ownership will do away with the need for exchange, so that money will have no use.

Production in socialism will be determined by people on the basis of social need, not profit. At the moment people may need wealth but, unless they can afford to buy it, they must go without. Production is geared to sale with a view to profit. Socialism means production solely for use: bread to eat, houses to live in, clothes to wear.

What will be the incentive to work in a socialist society? There will be no wages, for in a classless society no person will have the right to buy another person's ability to work for a price. Work in socialist society will depend on co-operation and the voluntary decisions of men and women to contribute to society in order to keep it going. Just as an individual could not survive if he or she did not eat, drink or take basic health care, so a socialist society would not survive unless the people in it acted cooperatively in a spirit of mutuality.

Socialism will not be a Utopia where all the problems of existence have vanished. Unpleasant work will still have to be done. Of course, much of the dirty work of the profit system, such as killing and conning and counting bank notes, will be dispensed with immediately in a socialist society. Other unappealing work can probably be taken care of by labour-saving machines. Where dirty work will have to be done in socialist society we can be quite sure of two things: firstly, it will not be done by the same people all the time — members of society will take turns; secondly, such work will be carried out by socially conscious men and women who will appreciate that society belongs to them and therefore its less pleasant tasks must be performed by them. In the knowledge that we own and control the earth, and all that is in and on it, it is unlikely that human beings will refuse to attend to the dirty work within socialism.

What about the lazy people in a socialist society? Critics of the socialist proposition often tell us that socialism would be confronted with millions of men and women who would refuse to do their bit to make society run efficiently. Indeed, socialist society will contain millions of babies and infants who will not be able to work down mines or milk the cows; but, in the sensible knowledge that these dependants will be the providers of tomorrow, we do not think that the inhabitants of socialism will let babies starve to death. Fifteen million children under Five die of starvation every year at the moment — a society based on production for use would not tolerate such obscenity. There will be those in socialist society who are too old or too ill or too incompetent to offer much to society; but they are not lazy and there is no reason why society should not allow them to give according to their varying abilities and take according to their differing needs. And if one who contributes less takes more, why should this be a problem in a society which is based on the satisfaction of needs? Those people living in a socialist society who are too lethargic to work will not be a drain on society's resources for very long, for if they lie in bed for long enough they will die — of boredom, if not of inertia.

But is it not the case that, given a society of unrestricted access to social wealth, human greed will lead people to consume all the wealth of society within one month? Such is the “problem" foreseen by the critics of socialism. To begin with, their prediction is based on the false assumption that socialism would be a society of consumption only, whereas it would obviously be a society where what is consumed would have to be matched by what is produced. So, if people in socialist society decide to eat ten dinners a day — as our critics seem to fear — there will have to be provision made to produce enough food to satisfy such unhealthy gluttony. Of course, in cases where people want what society is unable to produce, or has democratically decided it will not produce, their consumption will have to be limited. This may be bad news for the Utopian but. for the worker who is currently deprived of what he or she needs (not because society cannot satisfy the need or has decided democratically not to but because it is unprofitable to do so) the idea of democratically organised production for use is infinitely preferable to the present social arrangement. For example, the thousands of pensioners who have died of hypothermia are not likely to reject the socialist proposition because it will not allow them to eat ten dinners a day; at least a society based on producing for needs will ensure that no one is unable to have access to warmth.

But what about this greed ? The critic of the socialist idea is truly worried that in a society of free access, people will take more than they need. Now it is quite true that if the stores were opened tomorrow and workers were invited to go in and take as much as they want without having to pay there would be a mad rush and the stores would be empty within a day. But why should this be the case if the stores are always open for free access? It would be odd indeed for the inhabitants of socialism to store dozens of loaves of bread, which would go stale before they could be eaten, when the option would exist to go to the store and collect a new loaf of bread each day or few days. It would be no less odd for us to read today of workers filling their lungs up with water because they fear that when they next turn the tap the free liquid will no longer be there to consume. Perhaps, in innocence, the earliest inhabitants of socialism will indulge in a few feasts of conspicuous over-consumption (who would be surprised at such action after years of poverty and social inferiority?), but such antics will soon end when the physical consequences of such irrationality are felt.

But is it not the case that, even if classes were abolished and all people were equal, a hierarchy would soon arise again and society would be back to square one? The opponent of socialism feels convinced that inequality is a phenomenon from which society can never escape. Perhaps — and only perhaps — socialist society will not eliminate inequalities of talent: one person might be a greater pianist than another will ever be, while another will run faster than another could ever train to run. But this does not mean that socialism will establish a hierarchy of pianists or athletes or poets or brain surgeons. In a co-operative society it will be recognised that poets cannot write their literary masterpieces unless the miner is willing to bring the coal from under the ground. Humanity lives interdependently. And who is to say that miners will not be poets when they are not down the mine and the greatest chess player in socialism will not sweep the streets so that the greatest brain surgeon can walk to the hospital without rats biting at the ankles? The rigid division of labour which is a feature of the present system will not exist in socialist society.

In general, critics of the socialist proposition are not saying that they are opposed to the establishment of a socialist world, as defined by socialists. Most of them are raising objections to socialism which reflect their own conditioning by the present social order. The “problems" which they fear are based on the wrong assumption that socialism is going to be imposed on the conditions of capitalism, including the consciousness which props up the system. Of course, a majority of people whose minds are still filled with the ideas and prejudices of the profit system could never run socialism. That is why the Socialist Party of Great Britain states emphatically that there can be no socialist society until a majority of workers understand and want it. Only then will the baseless fears of socialism’s critics become as absurd as the quaint old fears of the Victorians that electricity in all homes would lead to dangers which society would be unable to handle. Yes, the future always looks strange when people’s minds are imprisoned within the past, but the nearer we get to the next stage in social development the less strange the idea of production for need becomes.

There are thousands of workers walking around with ideas in their minds which are close or identical to those advocated by socialists; as that number grows, and as they gather into the conscious political movement for socialism, the doubts of the critics grow fainter and more absurd and what once seemed unthinkable rises to the top of the agenda of history.
Steve Coleman

Letters: The Basis of Socialism (1974)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Basis of Socialism

Dear Sir,

Perhaps I may be permitted to make one or two observations in your letter columns on the Dec. issue of your excellent paper. I am mainly concerned with the wriggling by ALB in his otherwise very fine article on the question of Marx’s reference to payment by labour vouchers in the early stages of socialism. ALB says that Marx was writing at a time last century when the powers of production had not yet reached the pitch at which abundance of wealth could be created and it may well be true that had be been writing now he would not have talked in these terms. It remains a fact, however, that socialism is a society of abundance or nothing. Shared poverty may be viable for a few idealistic settlers on a kibbutz but this is not the meaning of socialism. Surely, therefore, it is clear that the circumstances of Marx’s day were such that socialism was not possible and that Marx was not correct in suggesting that it was. I suggest that Marx’s contribution to socialist thought was sufficiently great that it could stand the observation that he was not infallible and that socialists do not accept the possibility of establishing the new society except in conditions of abundance. The wriggling is really unnecessary. Perhaps I could add that the concept of labour vouchers or whatever is rather ludicrous anyway. How could even Marx have computed the correct number of time vouchers for a coal miner and a Shakespeare?

A couple of small points in connection with “So they say”. The author, RAHB, makes an excellent point when he shows that the Church, as property owner, need not charge 11 per cent mortgage interest and that the professional financial journalist of the Observer could not be expected to see the obvious. On the other hand I suggest he is wrong in his next paragraph to decry protection to the consumer on the grounds that all interest is extortion and only socialism will get rid of it. But some interest is more equal than others and it must be useful to the borrower to know if he is really paying 15 per cent or 50. As to the usefulness of the proposed cooling-off period, it is not true that a second mortgagee would never get the benefit as his creditors are breathing down his neck. He may well be borrowing to buy something new and if he finds the rate is too high it would clearly be important to him that he should be legally enabled to back out.
S. Gamzu, 
London, N.W.11

Reply
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never regarded Marx as infallible; on a number of points, e.g. his taking sides in some nineteenth-century wars, we have frankly stated that he was wrong. However, S. Gamzu is virtually claiming that to have advocated Socialism in the nineteenth century was wrong. This we cannot accept.

The basis of Socialism is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. This was possible in Marx’s day, and indeed would have provided a framework within which the means of production could have been developed much more rapidly than under capitalism to the stage where abundance and full free access was possible. What would not have been possible, perhaps for a generation, would have been the full implementation of the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. This, however, does not mean that there would have had to have been “shared poverty”. Certainly, the former members of the capitalist and landowning classes would have had to suffer a drop in their standard of living, but for the great majority Socialism, even without full free access, would have brought a vast improvement compared with their lot under capitalism.

The labour-time system mentioned by Marx certainly would have had many anomalies, some of which he himself pointed out, but since it never has been advocated by the Socialist Party (see, for instance, the Socialist Standard, October, 1920, republished in “50 Years Ago” in October 1970) we are not called upon to defend it.

Further, as our article pointed out, today, in this age of potential abundance, this is a discussion of academic interest only: full free access could now be very rapidly introduced once Socialism was established. This is the position of the Socialist Party, whatever Marx may have advocated in the last century and irrespective of whether he was then right or wrong.

On the question of protecting borrowers of money, our contributor’s point was that the protection can only be marginal to the real problem. If, as Mr. Gamzu says, a borrower is contemplating a non-urgent purchase he may well have time to change his mind and wait. Few borrowers, we think, are in that luxurious position; to the degree that they need the money quickly, their ability to be choosy about it diminishes.
Editorial Committee.


Incentive to work

Letter
In the event of the establishment of Socialism in this country or any country; whereas people would take a job preferential to his ability and aptitude, how would one influence a person to mine coal (taking into account that machinery could not be put to this work) as the work is held in much disfavour, unless incentives were given to do the work?

Yet in a Socialist society, every person would take what he needed to sustain life, including creature comforts. For that matter how would people be encouraged to do any job held in his or her disfavour?
P. W. Ralphs, 
Stoke-on-Trent


Reply
We do not envisage a Socialist society existing solely in any one country. The question of carrying out work which is necessary to society will rest with the members of society. If the supply of coal is considered a necessity, it is logical to conclude that those who have brought Socialism into being will take steps to ensure that the supply of coal is maintained.

Apart from the enormous changes which will become possible to make the physical conditions of labour more pleasant, work will be viewed in the new light of usefulness to society. The incentive to carry out work will therefore lie in the personal knowledge that one’s efforts are meeting a social need. The maintenance of Socialist society where starvation, the threat of warfare, unemployment and poverty with all its implications are things of the past, and where men and women are free to work in harmony for the sole purpose of satisfying their social requirements, will be the over-riding incentive.

The pre-supposition that machinery will not be available to carry out certain work is dubious. Professor Meredith Thring (mechanical engineer at Queen Mary’s Hospital, London) has recently been complaining in the press that his coal-mining machine with caterpillar tracks, television eyes, and diggers, which could be operated from the surface by “a man in an armchair” and could work in currently “unworkable” coal seams, to produce four times the amount of coal now produced, has been rejected by mining engineers [whose] theories, according to Professor Thring, are out of date.
Editorial Committee


Letter

I read Socialist Standard No. 832 and although I enjoyed it and learned from it I must say I totally disagree with the “enlightened use of the ballot box” sentence. Unless you mean the MPs etc. are in the public eye hence able to reach the people. Otherwise you must mean that MPs have the ability to change (politically) things which is spurious. Lenin says that the system is such that even if every seat is taken by a socialist-minded person nothing will change. It is fail-safe. However, maybe I misinterpreted the sentence.

Keep up the good work!
Karl Buckie, 
Edinburgh.

Reply
No, we do not propose that “socialist-minded” MPs have the power to change the system. The condition for establishing Socialism is an electorate — i.e. the majority of the working class — that understands and wants it. This is what we mean by “enlightened use of the ballot box”: sending delegates to Parliament with the mandate not to administer capitalism but to abolish it. And this was what Lenin rejected.
Editorial Committee