Saturday, November 8, 2014

Socialism—A Communist Definition (1949)

From the April 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Daily Worker (22/2/49) William Gallacher, M.P., assumed the role of tutor and outlined a "Lesson for Mr. Attlee." The latter had written a foreword to a new edition of a book he wrote before the war, in which the said: "The progress of events since the war has sharpened the distinction which I drew between the socialism of the British Labour Party and the totalitarianism of the communists." Mr. Gallacher is unable to see the distinction, not because it is a distinction without a difference as far as the system itself is concerned; but he says, "Because there you have an attempt to convey the idea, not confined to Attlee, that there is some special kind of Socialism, invented by the British Labour Party. Of course, it is utter nonsense."

"There can be no national qualification of the word 'Socialism'," Mr. Gallacher remarks. Then, like all good tutors, he commences his lesson with a definition. In precise and emphatic terms he tells Mr. Attlee, for the information of his readers, that: "Socialism means the common ownership of the land and the means of production, distribution and exchange whether here, in Russia, America, or any other country."

Surely nothing is more humiliating for a would-be tutor than to fall down on a definition. Especially when the mistake is so obvious that anyone can spot it.

We would point out to Mr. Gallacher that it is possible to conceive of exchange under a system of private, class or state ownership, but not under common ownership. Exchange is an act that implies ownership by individuals, groups or states. Common ownership rules out all such forms of ownership, and by producing and distributing according to the needs of all, eliminates the necessity for exchange.

Mr. Attlee is unlikely to challenge Gallacher's definition on the grounds of the contradiction it contains. For him nationalisation, public or state ownership is the only definition of "socialism" that is politically practicable.

A sound definition of Socialism must necessarily exclude all the institutions that make capitalism what it is:  a system of exploitation. The highly complex machinery of exchange veils this exploitation because it includes human energy, or labour-power, among the things bought and sold. It makes labour-power a commodity with a price, or wage-scale, adjustable to the practice of capitalism.

Exchange, working in conjunction with private or class ownership of the means of life, is in fact, based on that ownership, and becomes the method by which the producers are exploited. Mr. Gallacher's definition, which includes exchange as something to be owned is common is, therefore, as he himself would say, "utter nonsense."
F. Foan