Letters to the Editors from the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
I would like to know your party’s view of those who resort to violence to achieve socialist and communist aims, since does not the Communist Manifesto (talking about communists) end: “They openly declare that their ends can be obtained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”. Also, what do you propose doing with all the present capitalists, the monarchy and the bourgeoisie, once the transition to a socialist state has been achieved.
G. J. Pinkney,
Since socialism (or communism — they are synonymous terms) will be the first society to run in the interests of the majority of people, it must be established democratically by the world’s working class. At present the workers consent to capitalism by allowing representatives of the ruling class to control the governmental machine. Socialism’s establishment depends upon the conscious withdrawal of that consent and political organisation for control of the state machine for the purpose transferring the means of wealth production and distribution into common ownership.
Is this democratic conception of revolution at variance with Marx? In the Communist Manifesto, written in 1848, Marx describes the role communists must play in a relatively undeveloped capitalist system. We cannot expect Marx to have foreseen the growth of limited political democracy over most of the world after his death. As Engels, who lived ten years longer than Marx, later stated, with the rise of parliamentary capitalism the age of the barricades disappeared. That is why the SPGB does not urge fellow workers to take up arms and fight the state; such a conception of revolution is manifestly unrealisable.
Once socialism is established — without the need for a transition period, since we live in an age of potential abundance — there will be no state or SPGB, just democratically organised society. What will the members of that society do with parasites like capitalists and the royal family? We will invite them to democratically co-operate or independently stagnate, for no longer will there be an inferior class to jump to their commands.
I have been receiving your magazine for almost one year now and am in full agreement with the arguments you put forward against the capitalist system. The only weakness I can find is that you have not published any articles which explicitly describe the kind of utopian society which socialism would render possible.
For instance, in certain articles you say that “everything will be made to satisfy human needs”, “wealth will be turned out in abundance” and that “men and women will be free to discover their full potential, to develop their talents, acquire new skills and fulfil their pleasures to the full”.
Certain questions must arise from these statements:
1. How is society to be organised, as surely it will not be possible to ensure that everyone will achieve his or her potential and develop their talents? Who is going to fill the roles of miner, refuse collector, labourer, indeed any job in which the individual will not find fulfilment?
2. How are material goods to be distributed when demand is greater than supply so that, once again, some may not be able to fulfil their potential?
3. What is to be done with people who do not wish to cooperate?
It is always pleasing to receive a letter from someone who is fed up with capitalism and has genuine questions about socialism. We are not advocating a utopia, but a practical, immediate solution to the insanity of the present social order.
You ask, who will do the dirty work in a socialist society? Co-operative socially conscious adults will perform these tasks, as they will do everything else. Of course, some presently unpleasant jobs can be made pleasurable or unnecessary, but given that men and women will still have to do some things they dislike we can only suggest that it is better to live freely and engage in occasional chores than to be compelled to do so because of our poverty. Remember, in socialism individuals will have the opportunity to experience a variety of occupations; to do different things at different times.
If there are shortages in socialism (and this could be so in times of natural disaster), society will democratically have to distribute available goods according to need. ‘From each according to ability, to each according to need’ will be the economic law of socialism.
Those who do not wish to co-operate in socialist society will be free to stand aside. But why should anyone refuse to co-operate when it is in his or her material interest to do so? Socialism can only be achieved when men and women are conscious of the need for collective co-operation.
Please send us any other questions about socialism that you have, for they are bound to be shared by many others. Once you have given our replies your consideration, we invite you to join us in the struggle for a new society.
You say that socialism cannot come about until the majority understand and desire it and democratically take the steps necessary to achieve it. I would object to this in a number of ways. Firstly, it implies that the main role of a truly socialist party is to educate. Fine, but how can you, from your position of putrid insignificance, ever hope to educate the masses, when everything else they hear tells them the opposite with far greater force. I would strongly argue that your present position is suspiciously utopian.
Socialism can be brought about simply by following the example of the USSR. Firstly, a small group of dedicated socialists takes power by means of a coup and then takes the necessary steps to strengthen and modernise the state. (This must come first, because if it doesn’t the revolutionary state will be gobbled up by the forces of reaction). When the state is strong enough to hold its own against hostile and greedy capitalists it must, as the Soviet Union has done, serve its people and work for world revolution. Gradually, slowly, countries will lose their chains and be liberated. Then, and only then, can come about the stateless state, the truly international world.
The process of education takes place when the revolution has taken place; then it can be carried out far more comprehensively and adequately than the SPGB, in its virgin white dogmatism, could ever do. If ever a revolution came along — say, in time of war — would the SPGB take power and seek to carry out this process? I fear not.
Mr. Thorpe does not tell us whether he is one of those dedicated “socialists” planning to take state power in a coup, or is simply waiting for the revolution to come along so that he can lend a hand in the “education of the masses”. Whichever, he’s obviously been reading Lenin and Alice in Wonderland and has got the two mixed up.
Historically, minority action has been a feature of revolutions which swept away barriers to the development of capitalism; this was the case in England, France, America and Russia. By the end of the nineteenth century, under the influence of Marx and Engels, insurrection was rejected as a socialist tactic and the need for the working class to gain control of the machinery of government recognised. A minority uprising against the forces of the state would, in 1980, be suicidal folly, as well as a negation of the Marxist view of wage workers as a revolutionary class. Repeating parrot- fashion what Lenin said may conjure up romantic visions in the simple minded, but in unfortunately does nothing to lessen the terrifying power of modern state machines.
Mr. Thorpe considers himself enlightened but rejects the idea that a majority of his fellow workers could ever become class conscious. Lenin may have come to him in a dream, but it is not to individuals or groups of individuals that we must look for a solution to working class problems. The movement for socialism must be a working class movement, dependent upon working class strength and intelligence. It is elitist arrogance to suggest that most workers are not able to accept socialist ideas, and that therefore what is in their interest must be fed to them on spoons.
It is true, as our correspondent states, that capitalist ideology has a firm grip around most workers' throats, but it is not the SPGB alone that will be responsible for the spreading of socialist ideas. The development of the capitalist system itself engenders the idea of its opposite; it is the inherent contradictions of the system, of human need alongside unused resources and waste, that will continue to give rise to the demand for a system based on human cooperation and need. And because socialism is a society of co-operation, the need for individuals to understand and voluntary agree to its operation is obvious.
Needless to say, there is not socialism but capitalism in the Soviet Union. There, as in the West, all the features of an exploitative society are present: class monopoly of the means of production; the dependence of workers on the sale of their mental and physical energies to an employer for a wage or salary; inequalities of wealth and income; and production of commodities for sale and profit. Socialism, on the other hand, will be a world-wide system, without national frontiers or state machines. It is a society that does not "come along" like a 52 bus, and the SPGB certainly rejects the idea that the socialist revolution could ever coincide with working class support for war.