Letters to the Editors from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
. . . they don’t need Socialism.
I have read much of your literature and I’ve found it very interesting and I think you’ve got a good point to make. But I also think that most people in this country get along O.K. and they don’t need Socialism. The workers get very reasonable wages as far as I can see, and the unemployed can easily get a job. It’s no longer a situation as Robert Tressell described in his book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
I don’t reckon Socialism satisfies the people because most people don’t want to just live in a peaceful, brotherly way as they would in Socialist society, but people want to do something or be somebody. I argue with my mates at home and school and a lot of them say that “it’s all very good and peaceful but I’m quite happy how I am”. However, I reckon that one time when there is a terrible crisis or something people may rebel for Socialism but then they may easily follow the ideas of Mao, Trotsky, Lenin Che or some pseudo-Socialist, or somebody just wanting a state-capitalist society like China, but I don’t think that would last too long with an Imperialist place like the USA hanging around.
Anyway, could you please send me your ideas on this?
Are people contented today because they have a sufficiency? If they were there would be, as you say, no need for Socialism. But the evidence from everyday life, leaving aside industrial struggles, suggests nothing of the kind. Millions would not hang on the weekly football results and the premium-bond draws if they were so comfortably-off. The figure for nervous and mental illness has been for several years that one person in five undergoes treatment for those complaints at some time. That does not show a universal state of being O.K. and “happy as I am”.
As for workers getting “very reasonable wages” and the unemployed having no problem: where have you been? Of course there are differences in conditions between now and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, but the main reason for that book’s continued popularity among building workers particularly is that there are substantial similarities too.
Agreed that people want, as well as peace and security, to achieve things and be appreciated (“do something or be somebody”). We all do — and capitalism does not allow it to the great majority. The great mass leading humdrum disappointed lives all began, like your friends, with great hopes. The case for Socialism is about the fulfilment of human needs that the capitalist organization of society denies.
On your final point, people who do not understand Socialism may support any party or leader promising them a “different kind” of capitalism. That has happened many times (see the article on fascism in this issue). But you are wrong in assuming that the USA would be bound to come down on a state-capitalist regime which called itself Communist. What has Nixon been doing in Russia and China?
It is seldom that the Socialist Standard gives cause for complaint on factual grounds, and also it seems rather churlish to quibble at anything in the lavish, and extremely interesting, 70th anniversary issue.
But in The First and Only Liberationists I read that “the idea that (women) might need a wider horizon than could be provided by a home and family had scarcely dawned”. And the writer also asks, “Who else (other than the founders of the Socialist Party) in 1904 was interested in the freedom of women?”
The answer is, women. The modern assumption that the women’s movement only started up recently is false. The evidence is that there have been women demanding “emancipation” or “equal rights”, as a sex, since the Eighteenth century. In America the First Woman’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls in 1848 and resolved “that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities”.
Other national conventions were held annually in America right through the nineteenth century and the Washington Convention in 1900 was dominated by the question of working class women and women’s position as wage-earners—“without political expression woman’s economic value is at the bottom of the scale . . . She must do better work than men for equal pay or equal work for less pay”. (Voices from Women’s Liberation) That such a situation still prevails today is proof of our Party’s contention that it is nothing to have a vote if you don’t use it properly.
If I can add something personal on this question, it is that as a women I am proud to be a member of this Party which has never treated me as a (mere) women, has never pigeon-holed me into some specifically “woman’s” work, but has always treated all members, white or black, male or female, as comrades in a common struggle.
Thanks for the compliments, which are among very many received, on the Anniversary Issue.
In the context of that article it was not possible to enlarge on the point but “scarcely dawned” was not meant to imply that no one had questioned the rôle of women in society. Rather that this questioning was not widespread. It is of course true that some women, and a few men, had been actively involved in campaigns for women’s rights over many years. For example the first leaflet on female suffrage had been issued in 1847. The vote was originally seen as a way of obtaining “social justice”. To the sometime scorn of the modern women’s movement its attainment became an end in itself.
The question “who else” was, at that time, interested in women was about political parties. Here the position taken by the SPGB at its formation, in 1904, was unique.
Truth & Politics
Just to conclude the matter of the labour-time vouchers, I don’t see that Horatio’s remark in the May issue gets us any further. We are still stuck at the point that you can’t time a Shakespeare as you can a miner and you can’t get a Schubert to clock on when he jots down an inspired tune in the middle of the night. We must just leave it that now the Socialist position holds good — to each according to his need. Without measuring.
May I express a little surprise that in his otherwise most percipient article on Logic, Truth and Politics, R. Barltrop lapses into naivety when he says there are such things as honest politicians and he immediately proves the opposite by reference to some “thoroughly decent” C.P. leader — who nevertheless “told . . . whopping . . . lies”. But the example of another “honest liar”, Stafford Cripps, is even more odd. The suggestion that he really believed in ’49 that the pound would not be devalued when he swore this right until the day it happened is untenable. To say that the “government” did the devaluing is meaningless. As Chancellor, in this matter, for practical purposes he was the government and he lied because he had to (otherwise speculators would have reduced the pound to waste paper).
I am afraid your writer has rather misunderstood Churchill’s reference to Cripps (“There but for the grace of God goes God”). He did not mean that he thought Cripps was honest — merely a puritanical humbug. The proof is almost contained in the article which refers to the lies about the regime in Russia when Stalin became our glorious ally. Churchill needed as an ambassador someone who would be able to go there and see the atrocities which Stalin was committing against the Russian workers — and send enormous lies home which would be swallowed by the British workers. So the old cynic sent the most plausible leftist liar he could find. Cripps. I agree with Barltrop that the psalmist’s “All men are liars” is wrong. The correct position was stated by the late Crossman (who knew!) when he once wrote in The Guardian “all politicians tell lies” (my emphasis). Lying is one of the evils of capitalism which Socialism will render unnecessary along with greed, envy, etc.
Other letters and replies held over to next month through pressure on space.