Sunday, February 21, 2016

Party News: Election Activity (2016)

Party News from the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 5 May there will be elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly. The Socialist Party will be contesting 3 of the 14 super-constituencies in London and one constituency in Wales (Swansea West, which we contested at last year’s general election).

In London we will be standing in Lambeth & Southwark once again and also in North East (made up of the London boroughs of Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest) and South West (Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond). In all, over a million electors will have the chance to vote for a socialist society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production with distribution on the basis of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’, and against the present-day, capitalist society of minority class ownership and production for profit which all the other candidates will be standing for in one form or another.

More details next month.

Obituaries: Mark Miller and Sammy Cash (1976)

Obituaries from the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

M. Miller

Just before Christmas members in London heard that Mark Miller had died suddenly. It was hardly believable that this lively, lovable man would no longer be among us.

“Dusty” joined the Party in 1935, after being in the Labour Party. Throughout his membership he was in the Lewisham Branch. He never ceased working for Socialism, and was very knowledgeable. After retiring from work he attended a social centre for elderly people in south-east London, where he made the Socialist Standard well known and chatted to everyone about Socialism. What he will be specially remembered for by members is running the canteen at Head Office for several years after our move to Clapham in 1951.

He was a barber by trade. Though his life was an uphill struggle against poverty, he was always cheerful and full of jokes—the usual greeting was “Here, have you heard this one?” In the last few years his chief pleasure besides Party meetings was going to the BBC theatre to listen to concerts of light music.

The like of Mark Miller are the true backbone of the Socialist movement, and his death makes us all sad. Our sympathies go to his brother, with whom he lived.

Sammy Cash

We have learned also of the death of Sammy Cash. He resigned from the Party in disagreement in 1955, but continued to turn up at Conferences, and his amiable, eccentric personality kept him a place in the affections of many older members. He first joined the Party in the mid-twenties, and spoke at countless meetings for us over the years.

Choosing which evil? (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some people never learn. They cherish the most absurd hopes, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Some Labour supporters imagine that things will get much better for them under a Labour government. Maybe they will get a little better. For many groups—the unemployed, the low paid, the retired, the sick relying on a crumbling health service—they can hardly get worse. But don’t count on it.

At every election, including the one coming up, the Socialist Party has had to contend with those “socialists” who are convinced that, though Labour isn’t perfect, it represents the best way forward for the working man and woman. Confronted with the socialist case against all administrations of capitalism, such people argue that you should choose the lesser of two evils. Which is the lesser evil today? Because of the relentless move of both major parties to the centre, in a desperate bid to get votes, giving an answer to that question is more difficult today than at any previous election.

Labour’s status quo
Something might be said for choosing the lesser of two evils if one is markedly less evil than the other, and if you feel that by so choosing you can help to bring nearer the kind of world you really want. I remember feeling that way in the late 1940s when labour had introduced “socialist” measures such as the National Health Service. These, I and many others thought at the time, were steps in the right direction. If there were enough of them, we would eventually have socialism.

We were wrong, of course. Despite the short-term attractions of reforms, Labour had to run the system in the only way it can be run: in the interests of capital. Without majority socialist understanding, the profit system is the real world. 

Because of New labour’s persistent drive away from being the party of labour and towards claiming to be the best party to administer the status quo, it is now very hard for Labour supporters to maintain the “lesser of two evils” argument. The discovery of more-than-trivial differences between Labour and Tory policies requires increasing powers of detection.

Taboo at Blackpool
The always-provocative John Pilger wrote a challenging piece under the discursive title The taboo subject at Blackpool was that a Blair government is quite likely to be nastier and a greater threat to democracy than the Tories (New Statesman, 11 October). The piece was worth reading, not because it puts the case for socialism (it doesn’t) but because it implicitly puts the case against the policies of the party most often traditionally thought of by working people as the lesser of two evils. Here are some extracts:
   “In Bolton I met Janice, aged 20, who lives alone with her baby in a damp dangerous place. The few jobs that come up pay less than the cost of childcare; she has tried them all. She shares teabags with girlfriends. Last week she ate nothing but baked beans. From Blackpool, Gordon Brown offered her prudence and discipline. . .
   When Doreen MacNally, a docker’s wife, went to Blackpool last week, hoping to explain to the conference the importance of the dockers’ struggle in opposing the spread of casual, cheap labour all over the country, she was prevented from speaking . . .
   Instead of regulating rampant markets, Blair leaves no doubt that he will regulate people. He will reform welfare . . .  Too many people go on benefit to stay there, said Blair in Singapore, having just expressed his admiration for Lee Kuan Yew. The likes of Janice will not stand a chance."
   “Under Labour there is no suggestion that MI5 and the police will be deterred from continuing their shoot-to-kill policy. There is no question that the war industry and arms trade developed by Thatcher will continue to be subsidised from taxes.”
It’s a pity Pilger didn’t go on to draw conclusions from this sorry saga. He could have said that changing one set of leaders for another to run capitalism is just wasted effort. He could have said that it’s the basic nature of the profit system that causes the problems and the human miseries, not the individuals elected to run it. He could have said that the sensible thing to do is to get rid of the present system and replace it by socialism. He could have said that the only way to do this is to organise democratically for such a change, in a party that has the establishment of socialism as its sole object.

He didn’t say those things. So we say them.
Stan Parker

6. What will Socialism be like? (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the December 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: Granted that Capitalism is an undesirable system, what guarantee is there that Socialism would work out the way you suggest, or even that it would work at all.
A: Socialism does not consist of a set of ideas that have been worked out by a few people independently the rest of society. Its establishment is predicted as the solution to the problems of Capitalism and this is the basis upon which all our attempts to describe the future must rest. Before we go into the question of how Socialism will work we have first to show that, given certain conditions, it is possible to achieve. Our guarantee, as you put it, that it will work is that people having the requisite knowledge and desire will make it work. There is no question of Socialism being given a trial, perhaps found wanting, and then going back to Capitalism. The change we advocate is not to be compared with the changes of government of the present —it is a step in the evolution of society as irreversible as that from Feudalism to Capitalism.

Q: Your aim is to abolish Capitalism, but won't this mean removing a lot of what is good dong with the bad ? Where do you propose to draw the line in your revolutionary changes?
A: It is not a case of having to sacrifice some of the “good” points of Capitalism in order to get rid of the “bad." A system of society is an integrated whole, every part of which influences, and is influenced by, the other parts. You may, for example, hold that competition is good and monopoly bad, but since both are features of Capitalism and the latter in fact results from the former, then any judgment on the system must take into account every such “good" cause and “bad” effect. As we see it, there is no line to be drawn beyond which no change will take place. The changing of the economic basis will have its effect upon every aspect of society, but this does not mean that the means and results of capitalist production will necessarily be replaced—what is useful to the new society will be preserved or modified to suit the new conditions.

Q: According to you, Socialism means that people will be able to have what they need just for the asking. Don't you think they will all ask for the best?
A: Human needs are closely connected with what is capable of being produced; thus the need of a radio set is not felt unless society is able to produce radio sets. The desire, under conditions of production for profit, to have certain things will not necessarily be present under Socialism. For example, when people to-day say they need money it is not for its own sake, but for the access it would afford to goods or services which Socialism will provide freely. Similarly, the present demand for anything less than the best (though this often depends on individual preference) is due to the need to buy cheaply. With Socialism, the sole criterion for producing goods and services will be whether they will be used—inferior ones, being unwanted, will therefore not be produced.

Q : There is bound to be a minority who will resist the coming of Socialism. Won't there have to be some sort of organisation to prevent anti-social behaviour of capitalists and their lackeys?
A: It always seems to be taken for granted that the coming of Socialism will be met with fierce resistance by a minority. There is no basis for this supposition which, like most objections to our case, arises from a projection of present circumstances into the future. We cannot deal here with all the implications of this question, except to point out that Socialism has nothing to do with punishing capitalists or anyone else. If you say that there must be an organisation to repress minorities then you are saying there must be policemen, gaolers, judges lawyers—in short, you think Socialism will be like Capitalism is now, which of course it won't be. Anti-social behaviour is not prevented by the existence of the machinery for the detection and punishment of crime, since this machinery does not touch the cause of the problem. When that cause—the property basis of society—is removed the effects will disappear also.

Q: It seems to me that Socialism would only work if society were split up into small self-sufficing units. Do you really think that people in, say, China would be willing to grow rice and freely transport it to the people in Britain?
A: Again, you are imagining what Socialism would be like if it could somehow be grafted on to the present system instead of replacing it. The tendency within Capitalism is towards universality or oneness of the world and not back to smaller communities. Production is for a world market with consequent transport of goods over huge distances. It is not likely that people living in the geographical area (no longer nation) of Britain will be willing to go without everything that is not obtainable within its shores and there will be no need for them to do so. The distribution of food will be according to a world plan, which exists now in embryo but is held back by capitalist considerations of international trade. Since Socialism will operate throughout the world people in one part will no more discriminate against distant populations than they will against their neighbours.

Q: How can you possibly tell what people will think and do in the future? Surely all attempts to do so must be pure speculation?
A: We must make it clear that our forecast of the future is not made with the object of laying down what it should be. But we recognise that it is not enough just to agree to abolish Capitalism without having some idea of the system that is to replace it. There would, in fact, be no point to our criticisms of the present if we were not able to show how they can be followed up by suitable action. There is nothing speculative, for example, about the universal desire to live in a world without war, so why suppose that man will become reconciled to its ever-increasing horrors rather than abolish it? The case for Socialism is that man can solve his own social problems by taking action as planned and scientific as he has taken in controlling the forces of nature. If you agree that the idea is sound then your only concern is to get others to accept it, so that the future may be what you and we collectively want it to be.
Stan Parker

5. Tactics for Socialists (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the November 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: Assuming that all you say about other parties is true, do you think you are going the right way about getting Socialism? At present all you seem to do is to talk at street corners and sell a few bits of literature.
A: Having reached the point where you see that our case against other parties is correct, you appear to think that our methods of advocating Socialism are not so correct. We are tempted to re-direct the question to you by asking what is the right way to go about getting Socialism if our’s is not? If there are ways open to us that we are not using then we should like to hear about them. The position is that the amount of our propaganda, which seems so puny in comparison to that of our opponents, is limited by the number of socialists there are. It is not our intention to speak only at street corners or to print our literature in thousands of copies instead of in millions. We try to make the best of every opportunity for propagating our ideas, although we stress that it can only do harm to the socialist cause to compromise them merely for the sake of getting a wider hearing.

Q: It seems to me that the S.P.G.B. must become a larger party before it will attract wide support. Why not do something that will make people sit up and take notice of you?
A: Behind your question is the assumption that the correctness of an idea is to be judged by the numbers who hold it. True, the pressing need is for more people to understand Socialism, but experience has taught us to be very suspicious of any suggestion that this may be achieved by any form of stunt or vote-catching. Our objections to this sort of campaigning is not a moral one, but consists in the fact that it hinders rather than helps the spread of socialist understanding. No useful purpose would be served by merely seeking to attract attention, unless it is for a purpose connected with socialist propaganda, and that is our policy at all times.

Q: Don't you think it would pay you to find out what most people really want, and to talk more about the things they are really interested in?
A: The implication here is that at present we are out of touch with these things. This is untrue. It may look to you as though other parties are concerned with giving you what you want, but this is only their tactics and window-dressing to gain your support for policies that fail to deliver the goods. Most people are interested in getting more money, and almost every reform of Capitalism is based upon some form of this desire—yet it remains unsatisfied for the vast majority. The fact is that what appears to be the “practical” solution to our problems is in reality no solution at all, and the seemingly out-of-touch programme of Socialism is nearest to the satisfaction of present human needs. Unfortunately, many workers are interested (consciously or unconsciously) in making Capitalism work a little better, but in doing so they are acting against their own interests.

Q: Your arguments always seem to be so negative. Why can't you put forward a positive programme that will convince people that you are really going somewhere?
A: If you think our arguments are negative then you can have listened to only a part of our case. It is necessary first to analyse Capitalism, and in the process to clear away the false ideas that are held about it. Then, arising out of this, comes the explanation of what is to take its place—Socialism. If you disagree with us about the “destructive” (but very necessary) first part of the argument then you will not appreciate the constructive second part, nor be able to work out with us the form that the new society will take. You want us to appear to be “going somewhere,” but this can only be in the direction of Socialism if our positive programme is for this object alone.

Q: The ideas you put forward are too futuristic. Can't you make them easier to understand by relating them more to the world as it is to-day?
A: You seem to intend “futuristic” to be a term of reproach, but there is no good reason why it should be—to plan for to-morrow is an integral part of human activity. However, what you probably believe is that too many to-morrows will have to be like to-day before we can hope to get Socialism. The problem of getting people who are living under Capitalism to see the practicability of another system is by no means an easy task, but it is not impossible—if it were there could be no socialists within capitalist society. Certain features and tendencies in the world at present can be used to show what Socialism will probably be like, but analogies such as "all goods will be produced and distributed as freely as water is now” have their limitations. It is important never to lose sight of the basic principles of majority understanding and action upon which Socialism must be built, otherwise the descriptions of the future, though easy to make, may be merely Utopian and a bar to progress.

Q: People are put off by your sectarian attitude. Why not encourage them to join, and be less strict in admitting members?
A: Let us make it quite clear that nobody is put off being a socialist because our Party contains only socialists. What you really mean is that we don’t try to enrol people who can be whipped up to do almost anything in a suitably emotional atmosphere. Even if such people were to join the S.P.G.B. they would only leave when they found out what it is all about. The idea of joining with non-socialists in order to achieve “immediate aims” has dogged the Party since its inception, but it has steadfastly refused to sink its socialist identity for the sake of what appear to be immediate advantages. We are as sincerely sorry as you that our organisation is not larger, but (if you will forgive the phrase) it is the quality, not the quantity, that counts. There is only one sort of tactics for socialists living in a capitalist world, and that is to help make more socialists.
Stan Parker

4. Leadership (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the October 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: You say there is no place for leaders in the socialist movement, but why do you attack the whole idea of leadership just because some leaders are enemies of the working class?
A:We don’t object to leadership because we want to be cussed, but because we see it as one of the biggest obstacles to the spread of socialist ideas. Capitalism has developed to the point where workers (all whose livelihood depends on selling their energies) run society from top to bottom. Owners of capital need not play the smallest part in the undertaking which produces their rent, interest or profit; they can even have their wealth added to while in a lunatic asylum. Yet still most workers haven't seen the possibility of a world without masters, a world which would be run in the interests of all mankind instead of those of a capitalist or “leading” class. There are no leaders in the socialist movement because there will be no leaders under Socialism—there can be none in a society based on equality of status and the willing co-operation of all in production solely for use.

Q: But surely there have always been leaders in all forms of society? What makes you think that under Socialism it will be any different?
A: Leadership only makes sense when there is a ruling class and a ruled class, and it implies that most people are incapable of organising affairs in their own interest and so must accept the dictates of a few. Ours differs from all previous revolutionary movements in that it doesn’t aim to replace one ruling class by another but to abolish classes altogether. You say there have always been leaders, but you must realise that their existence has been and is bound up with the institution of private property. All leaders are placed in a privileged position by their followers, who either agree with the policies laid down or think they can do nothing about them. By contrast, Socialism means that nobody will be placed in a position of governing others.

Q: Don't you think that those who have qualities of leadership can help to build up a following for the socialist movement? What’s wrong in doing that?
A: Leadership does not work out that way. But the fact is only those can help to establish Socialism who understand their class position in society and are determined to end it. If there are leaders then there must be the led, but there cannot be much difference between their ideas, since a leader can only offer to lead where he is likely to be followed. He is not really in advance of his followers, as you seem to think, because if he stops leading them in the direction they think is the best open to them they will soon desert him for another who will. People who are easily persuaded to think one way by a powerful personality can usually be persuaded by a more powerful one to change their minds. Socialist ideas do not depend on such barren methods for their propagation.

Q: It’s obvious that most people prefer to leave political thinking to others. How else than by leading people, in the sense of showing them the way, do you expect to get them interested in Socialism?
A: One of the main reasons for people acquiescing in the continuation of Capitalism, is that they are led to believe it is the only possible system. It is just because they are so used to being told what is good for them that they are often puzzled when we say “We can’t lead you to Socialism—you must understand and build it yourselves.” The blunt truth is that if people want leaders they want class society, and if they want class society they cannot want Socialism. But more and more of them will become interested in Socialism because they are faced with the same problems as we are, and failure to solve them within Capitalism will eventually lead them to see the necessity of abolishing it. We do our best to point out the road to Socialism and to encourage others along it, but there can be no substitute for their knowledge of what is needed to achieve the goal.

Q : Don’t you think it would be a good thing if you could work out a definite plan for Socialism that people could easily understand? That way you would give a lead to others without giving power to individual leaders.
A: We are always eager to help people to understand our case and to discuss with them the difficulties and objections they have concerning it. From our understanding of the past and the needs of the present we try to show what the future classless society will look like. But what you propose is that we should work out all the details in advance, and present them to the as yet non-socialist majority as a sort of pill to be taken for their sufferings under Capitalism. If we did that, however, we should be acting no differently from the reformers who offer to lead the working class to better conditions and consistently fail to do so. The lesson is that no matter how well-meaning you may be, once you are given political power you must follow where events lead and, without a majority of socialists, that cannot be to Socialism.

Q: You admit you’ve got to send delegates to Parliament before you can overthrow Capitalism, so why baulk at having democratic leaders now?
A: You have only to look at the Labour Party to see why. In its early days quite a few of its leaders were no doubt sincerely in favour of abolishing Capitalism. But they thought that the working class would have to be led to it, and the means they adopted were those of getting into Parliament on the votes of reformists in order to advocate Socialism. So they stood for Parliament, but when they were elected the means (political power) became the end in itself. Thus we see that as such leaders push themselves forward their “Socialism” recedes farther into the future and is eventually lost altogether. You must not confuse such leaders of the working class with the delegates the socialist movement chooses to carry out its will. The former have no mandate to abolish Capitalism even if they wished to do so—the latter are the instruments the majority in society will use to institute Socialism. To think in terms of political power without political knowledge on the part of those who make up that power is to oppose all that Socialism means.
Stan Parker

3. Can the others understand? (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the September 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: Doesn't the slow growth in membership of the S.P.G.B. show that most people just won't take an interest in Socialism in the way you expect them to?
A: If you judge the progress of socialist ideas solely in terms of the enrolled membership of the S.P.G.B., then our task does seem to be fruitless. But we don't agree that the present size of the Party is a measure of the impression we have made on those who have heard our case. There is a vast difference between the reactions of someone who hears our case for the first time and those of a regular critic who has passed the stage (if he ever went through it) of misrepresenting and abusing us. In the early days of the Party, particularly during the first World War, our audiences were far more hostile than they are to-day. The growth of political tolerance, the rising general level of political understanding which is a result of Capitalism's own development is reflected in the more sympathetic and reasoning way people approach our case.

Q: Surely there must be something wrong about your arguments if you fail to convince people that Socialism is desirable? Wouldn't you have got many more people to become socialists by this time if you had been advocating what they really want?
A: You can't judge the soundness of an idea by the number of people who hold it or by the speed with which they may take it up. Because the number of socialists is only a fraction of the number who have heard our case (itself only a tiny fraction of the population) it doesn't follow that we are out of touch with their ideas, hopes and desires. On the contrary, we are the only Party able to talk in terms of the sort of world most people want to live in, although we point out that it must be the result of their own political efforts and cannot be "given" to them by leaders. One of the worst results of Capitalism is the cynicism and fatalism it has bred, typified by the widespread belief that war is inevitable even though nobody wants it. Socialists don't put forward what is unwanted, but rather what is wrongly believed to be unattainable.

Q: What do you think stops you from making progress? Don't you think that the herd instinct and unwillingness to accept new ideas weigh heavily against you?
A: You seem to be trying to find excuses for the attitude to Socialism that its opponents encourage to be held. It's not primarily because it's a “new idea" that people don't accept it. Unfortunately Socialism is usually confused with some form of State Capitalism and is most often attacked by those having little or no knowledge of what it really means. Capitalist propaganda does take advantage of this following the herd feeling, but when we meet our opponents singly they nearly always answer the challenge of Socialism by falling back on others' alleged inability to understand it. If you understand our case it's up to you to win others to your point of view, not to bemoan their not holding it.

Q: You talk of winning others to your point of view, but doesn't it occur to you that they don't want to be won over? You must face the fact that most people haven't got the same outlook as you SP.G.B'ers.
A: We try to win others over to our point of view because that is the only way of achieving our object. If they don’t accept the case for Socialism then we must continue to discuss it with them on the basis that what we understand others can also. When you refer to our different outlook you probably mean our opposition to all other parties, but there's nothing remarkable in taking up that position once you realise they are all opposed to what you want. Of course, it's tempting to believe that all you have to do is to vote for the right party, and our opponents play on this desire to take what appears to be the easy way out. Although capitalist propagandists don't often specifically attack the S.P.G.B. they certainly do go to great lengths to prevent workers from developing a socialist outlook. There is a sort of "honour among thieves" that does not allow any of our opponents to question the continuation of the present economic system.

Q: If people take any interest in politics at all they want to see some tangible results from their efforts. Surely you must see you will make no headway unless you can compete successfully with other parties?
A: It's true we could make headway if we made extravagant promises—so can any party for a while— but that has nothing to do with Socialism. Your argument presupposes that people will always be fobbed off with unfulfilled promises and other devices that all our opponents use to gain a following. Our view is that the slow growth of socialist ideas is not because people are hostile towards them but because they are preoccupied with seemingly more practical ways of improving their conditions. It amounts to their trying vainly all possible ways to solve their problems within Capitalism before they see the necessity of abolishing it The growing disparity between the conditions most people want and those they have must eventually lead to such action.

Q: I think you have set yourselves an impossible task. Why waste your time trying to make people understand something they know can never come in their lifetime?
A: The task is only impossible so long as people like you believe it's impossible. We don’t advocate Socialism just because we think it will be a good thing for our descendants—we do so because it is possible to establish it in our lifetime. Remember that we are not a race apart from our as yet non-socialists brothers; some of them are at this moment acquiring the same ideas that made us socialists. Even supposing the road to Socialism is as long as you imply, is that any reason for not starting on it? Our challenge to you is to suffer conditions like the present that any form of Capitalism must bring or to become a socialist and help to build a society really worth living in.
Stan Parker

2. Incentive to Work (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the August 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: Since there will be no money and no payment of any kind under Socialism what will be the incentive for people to do the necessary work?

A: It’s true that most of us at present have to go to work to get money, but this is not an end in itself being only the means of obtaining some of the things we produce. Capitalism puts a price tag on everything, including workers’ energies which are bought by the employer for wages. To the capitalist class “having money” means having the means of exploiting the labour of others. Far from ensuring that all necessary work is done. Capitalism sacrifices the needs of human beings to the demands of markets. Textile mills are not closed because nobody needs textiles, but because not enough have the money to buy what they want. In contrast under Socialism the incentive for all to work will be the direct satisfaction of human needs. Everybody will have equal access to the wealth of the world, to which they will contribute to the best of their ability, and they will need no incentive other than the knowledge that they will be helping themselves and others to live full and happy lives.

Q: If people weren’t forced to work if they didn't want to wouldn't most of them very quickly give it up and just take what they want without putting anything in?

A: The mistake you make is in thinking that work under Socialism will have the same objectionable features—low pay, long hours of boring routine, needless risk to health and limb, etc.—that employment has under Capitalism. When freed from conditions associated with exploitation work will not be looked upon as a necessary evil but as the normal activity of mankind. Hobbies, voluntary work and often an unwillingness to be pensioned off disprove the theory that people will only work for money. The cash incentive may now be strong but it is also very anti-social, since it results in many useless and harmful acts, from the stupidity of ticket-clipping to the monstrosity of world war. Under Socialism only useful work will be done and those whose labour is now wasted or employed for anti-social purposes will be free to help. In those circumstances it is difficult to imagine anybody refusing to put something into the common pool, though individual contributions will neither be forced nor will any attempt be made to relate them to consumption.

Q: Under Socialism we should presumably all choose the work we like doing, if any. But suppose a lot of us decided to do one job and nobody would do another?

A: What makes you think such a state of affairs would exist? It's true there will be the need for organisation and division of labour, but the scope for utilising all the varied human talents will be far greater than exists today. More people will be able to do more things and will be free to express themselves in ways which property society denies them. Of course if the work is harmful to doer then society will either go without the product or find some other way of obtaining it. Remember that Socialism is only possible when a majority of people understand the need for it and what it entails. The fact that people will be free to do the work they like means that there will be nothing to make them do otherwise—but, being sensible folk, they will not insist upon doing something the result of which nobody wants. Since everyone will be encouraged to use his particular abilities to meet society’s needs, the question of certain social-needed work not being done will not arise.

Q: Who’s going to decide how much of everything each of us needs'? Wouldn't there be difficulties in allocating those things which are bound to be short occasionally?

A: Who will decide how much you need? The answer is—you will! Nobody can tell you now how much food will satisfy you since you are the best judge of that. Even capitalists do not keep on eating just because they can afford to. Under Socialism the whole productive and distributive machinery will be geared to satisfying self-expressed human needs. It’s very unlikely that people who have succeeded in building a society free from war, poverty and the other evils of Capitalism will be baulked by the problem of distribution. A temporary shortage of a certain type of goods or service will be the cue for those who are willing and able to change their contribution to the work of society, to do so.

Q : What incentive would there be for the ordinary hard-working chap to produce things which a few anti-social types could monopolise. Wouldn't he refuse to do so mid so wreck the whole system ?

A: Your views on what Socialism will be like are coloured by your accepting capitalist standards, which prevents your understanding what the world will be like when they are replaced by socialist ones. There will be no anti-social behaviour such as you suggest because there will be no incentive to it. Nobody wants to monopolise what is freely available—capitalist markets are only “cornered” to make a profit, not out of greed for the commodities themselves. We've never met one of these anti-social types (it’s always “the other chap”) who wants to stockpile free goods. Even if there are a few human magpies when Socialism is in its infancy, the novelty of hoarding will soon wear off.

Q : Knowing people as they are today, with all their faults, do you really think they will in fact work for the good of society even though they agree to have Socialism?

A: Your question assumes that in a socialist world people will have the same anti-social habits and tendencies that are bred in a capitalist one. To question that they will do the work required to meet all reasonable needs is to question their understanding of Socialism. But why doubt the willingness of your fellow-men to shoulder burdens which will be far lighter than those they shoulder under any form of Capitalism? What really stands in the way of the growth of socialist understanding is not this question of incentives, but the fact that most people accept Capitalism as the only possible system. The incentive socialists have is that they are helping to build a world which will at last be for the greatest good of the greatest number.
Stan Parker

1. The Lesser of Two Evils (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the July 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: You in the S.P.G.B. always seem to disregard the fact that Socialism cannot possibly come for a long while yet. Surely the practical thing to do in the meantime is to try to make the present system work better?
A: If Capitalism could be made to work differently we should have seen some worthwhile results from all the efforts of those who have tried to improve it. The “meantime” you refer to must be a capitalist meantime and is no responsibility of those who seek to replace it with a better system. The establishment of Socialism depends on you, and enough others like you, withdrawing your support of Capitalism. It becomes practicable only to the extent that socialist ideas are accepted, and it will become a reality when action in line with those ideas is taken. What you call being practical amounts to trying to patch up Capitalism, the existence of which is the cause of the problems we all want to solve.

Q: Don't you think you should support the Labour Party at elections, since its policy is nearer to Socialism than that of the Conservative Party?
A: The Labour Party, in common with all other parties in this country, except the S.P.G.B., seeks support from the electorate on a programme of reforms. In spite of the “Socialist” label which others have attached to it and which its leaders have been reluctant to disown, its policy has nothing to do with Socialism. It is really absurd to believe that one party’s administration of Capitalism helps to bring us nearer to Socialism than any other’s would. If you support any of the parties that offer anything but Socialism as a practical policy you are in effect agreeing to the continuation of Capitalism. In doing so you are helping to postpone Socialism, not bring it nearer.

Q: Why do you stand aloof from the political struggle by advocating something you know is not practical politics'! Why not support the Trade Unions in the day-to-day struggle for better conditions?
A: We do not stand aloof from the political struggle. We support Trade Union activity that is genuinely in the interest of the working class. But we recognise that such action can only be defensive. It is only organisation on the political field that will enable the class system to be abolished. Capitalism defies all the efforts of reformers who seek to rid it of war, insecurity, poverty and other social ills, and these problems will remain unsolved until the property basis of society is abolished. Socialists are organised in the S.P.G.B. not to haggle with their employers over the way in which Capitalism is run but solely to replace it with Socialism.

Q: The Labour Party's policy is more for the workers than the representatives of big business in the Tory Party are. So the first thing to do is to get the Tories out, isn't it?
A: All you would do by that would be to choose the rival firm to run Capitalism. You ask us to help defeat the Tories because you think doing that will bring you a step nearer the sort of world you want. But you’ll find, as six years of Labour Government should have shown you, that it won’t. When you understand that the enemy to be overcome is the present system of society itself then you aim directly at establishing Socialism. The growth of socialist understanding will succeed more than anything else in making all its opponents sink their minor differences and in forcing them to make concessions in a vain attempt to divert people from taking action to end Capitalism.

Q. Surely a strong socialist movement is much more likely to grow under a Labour Government than under a Tory one? Isn't it better to have a party in power which has been built up by working-class support rather than one which represents their traditional enemies?
A: Your arguments are based on the assumption that the Labour administration of Capitalism is preferable to the Tory one. But if most people had found this so then the present Government would never have been chosen to replace the allegedly better Labour one. In other words, what was imagined to be the lesser evil had in the eyes of the electors become the greater. The truth is that Capitalism can be run in only one way—in the interest of the capitalist class against that of the working class. It doesn’t matter whether members of the Government are “ of the people,” so-called middle class or millionaires; they compete at elections with others offering to do the same job. If you don’t want Socialism you choose one set of them. When disappointed you may change your registration, but you still get the same meagre rations because you’ve done nothing to end the system that rations you.

Q: We must do something positive now about the problems that face us. Why wait for a majority of people to understand all about Socialism before taking some constructive action?
A: Behind your question is the false belief that you stand to lose by not choosing what is often claimed to be the lesser of two evils. When you understand Socialism the question of waiting for others doesn’t arise—your “action” is to make them socialists also. Just look at the position you are in. You want to enjoy better conditions of living and a world without war. You realise the Tory Party can do nothing to bring these things, yet you still cling to the hope that the Labour Party can do a little better. You should stop trying to take a short cut that isn’t there—you’re wasting your time when you could be making solid progress towards your goal. Don’t be sidetracked by the specious plea that you have to choose between two evils when you can reject both by choosing Socialism.
Stan Parker