From the January 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard
Before the war we frequently referred to the German Social Democratic Party, pointing out that it stood for nothing more than the reform of Capitalism. During its long years of “exile” under the Nazi regime, it has not changed. Reconstituted, it is again pursuing its former policies, advocating n form of State Capitalism.
Recently a German, living in the British Zone, sent us a pamphlet, with a request that we give our criticisms of it. The pamphlet is “Dichtung und Wahrheit über die Sozialisierung ” (“Assertions and Truth about Socialisation”) and was written in 1947 by Arthur Mertins, a member of the German Social Democratic Party.
Throughout the booklet, Mertins repeatedly uses the phrase “we socialists assert,” and there can be no doubt that for him and his party this socialisation they offer is equivalent to Socialism. But, in actual fact, what is advocated is the nationalisation of such things as the mines, transport, power, the heavy industries and the Banks (p.8).
As a piece of socialist literature, likely to give the German worker a clear conception of Socialism, the pamphlet is useless. Nowhere does the author explain what constitutes Capitalism or Socialism. But the pamphlet may do much harm in that it will spread false and dangerous notions among the German workers.
In the introduction (p.3) we see the old reformist tactic being followed—the attempt to win support from the non-socialist. Here Mertins appeals to the patriotic and nationalist sentiments of the German workers. He writes : “Whoever still opposes Socialisation, is an enemy of Germany.” How like the use of the Union Jack, made by Sir Richard Acland in his bye-election campaign in Gravesend !
To build a sound Socialist movement, it is useless to rely on the support of people who do not understand Socialism. Hitler’s rise to power ought to have shown that to the Labour Parties of the world. Patriotism and nationalism are in conflict with the ideas of a Socialist party. Socialism is an international system of society; it cannot exist in a single country, but can be established only by the majority of the world’s workers acting in unison. The Socialist movement, therefore, will grow in proportion ns the workers shed their patriotic illusions and adopt an international attitude. Appeals to patriotism and nationalist sentiments delay the dawning of Socialist understanding among the workers.
The system advocated by Mertins will have all the characteristics of Capitalism and will, in consequence, be but a form of Capitalism. When industries are nationalised, he says (p.4), compensation will be paid to the present owners. But how are they to be compensated? Presumably they will he given State Bonds in exchange for their company shares—State Bonds upon which interest will be paid. Not in this way can privilege be abolished, nor Socialism established. Indeed, this is precisely the way to perpetuate privilege and reinforce Capitalism. The State will run and control industry; the present owners will he assured of their “interest,” the State seeing to the profitable functioning of industry.
After reading the above, readers will not be surprised to learn that the system Mertins advocates has its prices, wages, etc., these to be fixed by the State (p.5).
This brings us to the crux of Socialism. The wages system is Capitalism. As Marx pointed out, wage- labour and capital can only exist together: the one is the complement of the other. If you wish to abolish profit-making—and capital is wealth used to make a profit by the exploitation of wage-labour—it can be done only by the abolition of capital and wage-labour. By this we are not suggesting that Socialism will destroy factories, mines, machines, etc., any more than we are suggesting that Socialism will destroy the workers. What we are saying is that Socialism will strip the means of production of their capitalist function (i.e. the making of profit) and will put an end to the necessity of workers selling their labour-power for m wage. In other words, Socialism will abolish the capitalist class and the working class when it abolishes capitalist production. Under Socialism production will he carried on by all capable members of society solely to satisfy the needs of society.
And to do that there will be no need for banks, money, prices and wages. Capitalism needs those things because it is, par excellence, the system of commodity production. In other words, Capitalism is, above all others, the system which produces for exchange. But exchange presupposes private owners and because of exchange money arose. Socialism brings common ownership of the means of life, production solely for use. Hence there will be no exchange of goods and so no prices. Wages, too—the price of the workers’ commodity labour-power—will disappear. In place of all this, society will produce what is needed, will own what is produced and each member of society will have free access to the means of life.
The pamphlet contains many anti-socialist suggestions (e.g., Mertins would leave untouched peasant private property—is this another vote-catcher?). But enough has been discussed to show that the German Social Democratic Party has learnt nothing during its years of tribulations, judging from this pamphlet, it is as reformist and anti-working-class as it was before the rise of Hitler. It is in fact a worthy companion of the British Labour Party which Mertins hails (p.13) as “our Socialist (!) sister party.”