Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Conflict Between Utopia and Practical Socialism

The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the third chapter of his 2006 work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'. 

Chapter 3

The Conflict Between Utopia and Practical Socialism

Socialism has often claimed to be “scientific”. This may be an ideal or an exaggerated view. It is doubtful if any political or economic theory could claim the status of, say, the natural sciences. Even so, at its best, socialist theory does provide an analysis of the capitalist system that explains how wealth comes to be produced and distributed and who gets what from the pool of social production. It is able to place this in an historical context showing the development of its productive relationships from past systems. It is also able to define the economic limitations of political action within the system and reliably predict the results of various political policies. It is this body of knowledge that can reasonably claim to be scientific socialism.

But then again, over the past two hundred years, socialism has also provided a meeting ground for various dissenting ideas. So, as well as the disciplines of socialist criticism the many people who identify themselves as socialists also include tendencies towards sectarianism, anarchism, radical reformism, and a strong element of utopia.

Socialism has attracted more than those who have been convinced by its intellectual rigour and its ability to clarify the workings of society. Its opposition to the existing state of things has been taken up in a sectarian way as a rationale for dissociating from life or for living in negative defiance of the world. Then again, anti authoritarian attitudes, which arise in socialism from equality and democracy can blend easily with the anti authoritarian attitudes of anarchists which come from a very different tradition. Anarchists begin with the autonomous individual whilst socialists begin with the relationships of social individuals. Socialists aim at democratic society whilst anarchists will always view democracy with distrust for it means that the individual may be compromised by having to concede to the decisions of a majority.  The attitudes of sectarian socialism and anarchist socialism tend to congeal as sterile postures and as perverse features of the status quo. Their main function is the therapy of providing a spiritual home for the socially disaffected. They have little interest in presenting a positive or practical alternative to existing society.

A further outlook which can also be in conflict with practical socialism comes from a tradition of utopian ideas. It is important to make a distinction between utopian socialism and practical socialism but this is not necessarily for the purpose of choosing one and entirely disregarding the other. These two outlooks should complement each other and in their different ways widen our social possibilities.

Ideas of utopia, which may be said to be socialist, arose long before Marxian criticism. Out of the inequalities and miseries of even pre-capitalist societies they arose from a desire for an ideal way to live. Utopians construct ideas of a future perfect society in the hope that one day, society will adapt itself to these visions. Thus the utopian imagination has enjoyed the freedom to indulge without limits any proposal that may come to mind, and which could be part of a perfect world. We may well be inspired by such ideas but we should also recognise that society does not move forward in this way. Utopian socialism can become a problem when its futuristic visions are imposed on the ideas of socialism as a rigid dogma. In this way, socialism can seriously lose credibility.

In fact practical socialism is not focused on future society. It is entirely focused on how we could move forward from where we are now. Its proposals arise from the practical ways we could solve our social problems by taking society forward on a socialist basis. This means applying the principles of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use in proposing how people in socialism could be organised as a world community. It means the ascendancy of all the useful things of life in place of the economics of the profit system. It also means that the conditions for that forward movement are entirely given by present circumstances. This determines the framework of both the freedoms and the limitations within which practical socialism may be sensibly proposed and argued. 

The methods of practical socialism must be consistent with the actual ways that society moves forward and history is made. Within the constraints of this method its ideas may not be plucked arbitrarily out of a utopian blue.  Practical socialism certainly proposes a rapid development of all useful aspects of society for the needs of all people but its starting off point must be and can only be the existing world.

The Future in History
The part played by utopia in the past is ambivalent. Seen in one light, utopian ideas have been a reminder of humanity’s best qualities and best possibilities. Its ideas have kept sight of the better things we could do in a better life. Despite the horrors and miseries of every age, utopia has upheld the belief that we could all live in peace, security and happiness. Without utopia there would be less hope. It was well said by Oscar Wilde that “A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at.”

Nor is it surprising that most visions of the ideal life have been based on equality and co-operation. It would be difficult to be inspired by propertied society to write a utopia of class, competition, economic exploitation, or profit. There may be one or two literary nightmares written along these lines, but not utopias.

The recently issued “Faber Book of Utopias” edited by John Carey includes over a hundred references to writers who have imagined in different ways an ideal future and which the editor accepts as being part of the utopian tradition. Though many would say that the inclusion of Adolf Hitler and his dream of a future Aryan paradise is surprising.

The list for socialists is quite short. John Ball, the ‘first socialist’, dreamed of a world without property, based on equality and co-operation at the time of the Peasant’s Revolt in the 1380’s. Thomas More, who invented the word, issued his “Utopia” in 1516. Gerard Winstanley was one of the organisers of the Digger Movement at the time of the English Civil War. The contemporaries, Fourier and Saint Simon published utopian works in the early 19th Century.  These were criticised by Marx and Engels. Perhaps the best read socialist utopia after Thomas More’s “Utopia” is “News From Nowhere” by William Morris, published in 1890. The “nowhere” in “News From Nowhere” continues a play on words begun by Thomas More when he combined the words from classic Greek, ou-topos meaning no-place and eu-topos meaning a good place. From this he constructed the word utopia. Some utopian socialists still accept “News From Nowhere” as their guide to how socialism would be organised. For the most part, all these forward thinkers agreed that the best way to live could only be in communities of free and equal men and women who co-operate to provide for each other’s needs and who organise their affairs democratically.

Though William Morris has come to be known as a utopian it is not the intention here to in any way diminish his importance as a great socialist. William Morris was in fact a very practical socialist who was surely entitled to write a visionary book about future socialist society without being categorised as a Utopian. Just as Marx sometimes speculated about what he called “the higher phase of communism”, William Morris also made a distinction between “the morrow of the revolution” and “the fully developed new society.” This clearly indicates that Morris was aware that socialism would be a developing society, different as a mature society from its beginning. Indeed, the very first paragraph of “News From Nowhere” is as follows, “Up at the (Socialist) League, says a friend, there had been one night a brisk conversational discussion, as to what would happen on the Morrow of the Revolution, finally shading off into a vigorous statement by various friends of their views on the future of the fully developed new society.”.

It should also be noted that “News From Nowhere” is partly a manifesto on behalf of the aesthetic movement, The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. For example, Collier’s Encyclopaedia says, “His prose tale News From Nowhere (1891) shows a post revolutionary Utopian England in which his political convictions, his craftsman’s tastes, and his Pre-Raphaelite ideas are miraculously reconciled.” Hence, for example, the costumes of the characters. “His dress was not like any modern work-a-day clothes I had seen, but would have served very well as a costume for a picture of fourteenth century life: it was of dark blue cloth, simple enough, but of fine web, and without a stain on it. He had a brown leather belt round his waist, and I noticed that its clasp was of damascened steel beautifully wrought.” So far as I am aware, our modern utopians have not yet suggested that people in socialism will be mostly wearing medieval dress.

It is doubtful if Morris would have approved of the way the details of “News From Nowhere” are now sometimes expressed as a dogma about daily life in socialism.  It is simply a work of futuristic fiction which should not be dogmatised as a bible of the future. His is surely a case of the reputation of William Morris having to be saved from the follies of some of his admirers

The utopian tradition is ambivalent because whilst it urges us to remember the best ways we could live it has also had its dark side. The idea of a future, perfect world has been used by various regimes to justify their acts of repression and cruelty. Millions of people were killed or sent into forced labour in the name of advance towards “pure communism”, the regimes of Stalin and Pol Pot being infamous examples. The mention of Adolf Hitler is a reminder that the psychopathic Nazi regime exterminated more millions in the name of an idyllic, romantically inspired paradise to be lived by an Aryan “Volk”. The Inquisition justified its tortures in terms of a perfect eternal life. This reminds us that the father of English utopians, Thomas More, was a catholic Chancellor of England, an agent of the Pope, who had heretics burnt at the stake. There was not much utopia for those folks, not in this life anyway. Experience shows that whenever a leader or a political vanguard has stood for the promised land, the record of success has not been good.

But the distortion of language and the use of fine ideals as a cover for repression and exploitation has long been part of politics. This does not detract from the values of equality and co-operation that have been upheld for centuries as part of the utopian tradition.

Marx and Utopia
Karl Marx was both admiring and critical of the utopian writers who were the main representatives of socialism in the early 19th Century. These included Fourier and Saint Simon. Fourier’s vision of social co-operation influenced anarchists, syndicalists and the co-operative movement. Saint Simon published “The Industrial System” in 1820 which set out a program for a technocratic society with a planned economy based on co-operation. Also important at this time were the ideas of Robert Owen.

In recognising the value of these ideas in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels said,  “Such fantastic pictures of future society, painted at a time when the proletariat is still in a very undeveloped state and has but a fantastic conception of its own position, correspond with the first instinctive yearnings of that class for a general reconstruction of society. But these socialist and communist publications contain also a critical element. They attack every principle of existing society. Hence they are full of the most valuable materials for the enlightenment of the working class.”

But then, in criticising these writers, Marx and Engels set out a clear distinction between utopian socialism and practical socialism. They recognised that such writers as Fourier and Saint Simon relied too much on putting forward ideas for great social change without proper consideration of whether they were realistic in relation to the development of society. The ideas of the utopians could not provide the principles of action for a practical, revolutionary socialist movement, mainly because, at the time they were writing, the conditions did not yet exist for such a movement.

Nor could history be made by a group of well meaning individuals thinking up ideas for an ideal society and then causing society to change in line with their scenarios. The utopians were idealist in the sense that they assumed the primacy of the idea in causing social change. The materialist approach required that proposals for change advocated by practical socialists must be constructed in line with the actual social conditions that make them possible. 

This was put by Engels in “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, “The historical situation dominated the founders of socialism. To the crude conditions of capitalist production and the crude class conditions, corresponded crude theories. The solution of the social problems, which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic conditions, the utopians attempted to evolve out of the human brain. Society presented nothing but wrongs; to remove these was the task of reason. It was necessary then to discover a new and more perfect system of social order and to impose this upon society from without by propaganda, and whenever it was possible by the example of model experiments. These new social systems were foredoomed as utopian, the more completely they were worked out in detail, the more they could not avoid drifting off into pure fantasies.”

Engels insisted that credible proposals for a new society had to correspond with social conditions that make them possible. “Since the historical appearance of the capitalist mode of production, the appropriation by society of all the means of production has often been dreamed of, more or less vaguely, by individuals, as well as sects, as the ideal of the future. But it could become possible, could become a historical necessity, only when the actual conditions for its realisation were there.”

This materialist approach was also emphasised by Marx in “The German Ideology", “Communism is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
In their critique of the utopians, Marx and Engels argued that the conditions for the establishment of socialism had not been present at the beginning of the 19th Century but later in the century Engels noted great changes that in his view made a difference to the question. He said,  “The possibility for securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties- this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.” (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.)

Engels argued  that in the 1820’s the way to construct a new society lay hidden in the undeveloped conditions of the capitalist system, but that later the way forward for practical socialism had emerged mainly as a result of  what he called the enormous expansion of  “the modern means of production.”  In line with this there had been the development of class divisions.  Engels concluded that the conditions for the establishment of common ownership had matured and that for the first time in history, socialism was possible.

He expressed this view in 1877 and in retrospect we are surely bound to say that he was too optimistic. The limitations of undeveloped conditions that applied to the earlier utopians applied as much to Marx and Engels, certainly in 1848 .Whatever the case, we are now more than a hundred years further on and there can be no doubt that with the massive developments, not only in the means of production throughout the world, but also in transport, communications and useful institutions, our more scientific outlook and technical culture, socialism is not only materially possible but long overdue. This also means that the work of proposing how the present structure of useful production and administration could be adapted and developed for needs on a socialist basis is also long overdue.  It may be due in part to the many distortions and diversions suffered by socialist ideas during the 20th Century but the state of the world and its recent history shows that the vital work of practical socialism has suffered catastrophic neglect.

Modern Utopians
Utopian socialism is defined as the practice of asserting an ideal vision of future society in the hope that the world will one day adapt itself to this vision.  In its modern version how is this expressed? The question is not easy to answer because mostly, utopia asserts itself as the absence of things rather that the existence of things. There will of course be the relations of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs. But from this there flows a long list of negatives. 

In Britain, Parliament will be abolished together with county, district and parish councils.  Apparently, all these features of the state must go.  Democratic practice will not be representative but direct, which means that every person will be able to vote on all matters. The entire machinery of government will be abolished. There will be no civil servants or ministries of any kind. No Health, Housing, Transport or Planning ministries. No planning law. No Ministry of Agriculture or Department of the Environment. No Energy Authority. 

With no property relationships there will be no crime or anti social behaviour. This means there will be no law, police, courts, judiciary or public powers of restraint of any kind. Marriage and the family will be abolished. There will be no schools; no examinations or professional qualifications. There will be no legal right of occupation of any house and with no property there will be no locks or keys. Production will be less technological and more handcraft. Big cities will no longer exist. Communities will be smaller with local production for local consumption. There will be free access to any goods or services that any person might wish for and this will be determined solely by the individual. 

It might be said that this list mainly of negatives is an exaggeration or a caricature of utopian socialism; it is not. These have, however, all appeared in utopian literature at one time or another.  Although this list of things that will not exist may appear to be about future society this is illusory.  It is not about the future at all. It is merely a negation of the present, projected as a vision of the future.  Even utopia must think within the present even if only in terms of its absence.  But this has nothing to do with practical ways for moving society forward on a socialist basis.

It is certainly reasonable to assume that in time, socialist society will develop to a point where any great social problems will have been solved. The result will be that pressures of necessity will be lifted and people in socialist communities will enjoy wide options about how to live. But that cannot be on our agenda. The work of practical socialism is aimed at removing the economic constraints of the capitalist system so we may apply all our useful resources to our problems. It follows that our proposals for how socialism could be organised cannot be selected arbitrarily as a matter of free choice. Necessity requires that they must be shaped in answer to the question, “What will people in socialism have to do to solve the world’s problems?” Unfortunately, this practical question seems never to have arisen in the minds of our modern utopians.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (UNO), over 800 million people are seriously undernourished. This has doubled since 1974 when the number was 435 million. 40,000 children below the age of five die every day from hunger or hunger related disease.

This annual number of child deaths remained more or less constant throughout the last quarter of the 20th Century giving a horrifying figure of 365 million preventable child deaths. In socialism this problem would require world food production to be greatly expanded.

Also, countless millions of people live in shanty towns, slums or sub standard housing. This would require an enormous world building programme together with services such as sanitation, piped clean water, supply of electricity and the consumer goods that are now accepted as basic to our standard of life. Such a building programme would have to be preceded by an equally massive expansion of means of production.

Over the past century, the depredations of the profit system have cause relentless damage to our world environment. People in socialism would need to take emergency action to stop this damage. It is widely agreed that we must avoid the risks now being taken with the natural systems on which all our lives depend. This would mean the construction of a safe world energy system together with and many other policies aimed at saving our environment.

Capitalist states have massively increased their powers of government.  These have grown into elaborate and wasteful bureaucracies that rule over the lives of citizens. To replace these pervasive structures, people in socialism would need to put in place a minimal but efficient system of democratic administration.

These are just some of the great projects that communities in socialism would need to undertake to put right the destructive chaos of capitalist society. There are many more urgent things to do and together they add up to action on a world scale.  This will necessitate decision making, planning, co-ordination, and allocation of resources in an order of priorities. These projects would have to be organised in ways compatible with democratic practice. These are the compelling pressures of necessity that would determine the organisation and actions of socialism as it sets out to solve problems. 

This is the challenge of practical socialism.  No doubt utopia can provide a signpost to a better future but it serves us best if it inspires us carry out the practical work of proposing how problems can be solved on a new social basis.  As this work develops by applying a sound method it will surely begin to close the gap between the ideas of socialists and other persons who may be concerned about the state of things but who may not have yet considered the practical socialist alternative.
Pieter Lawrence

The Myth of Nationalisation

The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the second chapter of his 2006 work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'. 

Chapter 2

The Myth of Nationalisation

The association of socialism with nationalisation has been an unfortunate political diversion.  It has wasted the energies of countless millions of working people and even worse, has led to great misery and disillusion. The history through which this false idea developed has been long, but as we have seen from the definition of socialism given in the previous chapter none of its basic features, common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs are compatible with the operation of nationalised industries. The idea that socialism means nationalisation has resulted partly from an uncritical reading of an important but early socialist text.

Some years ago, during a television interview, the film maker, Orson Welles was asked about his adaptation from Shakespeare in the making of his film “Chimes at Midnight”. On hearing the interviewer describe it as a “masterpiece,” Welles took a long, pensive draw on his cigar and looked embarrassed. Eventually he murmured – “Unfortunately, a rather flawed masterpiece.”

If we could imagine Karl Marx being similarly interviewed his admirer might well refer to “The Communist Manifesto” as a “masterpiece,” in which case, it is likely that a latter day Marx might also react with a similar pained response. He might also take a long thoughtful draw on one of his cheroots and in retrospect think of his early masterpiece as somewhat flawed.

Nothing in the wisdom of hindsight can alter the main achievements of the historic pamphlet by Marx and Engels. Its early date marked it as a great breakthrough in revolutionary thought. But its issue in the l840’s, before they had refined their economic and political theories was a handicap. It explained with clarity the problems being suffered by the oppressed majority. But the so called revolutionary programme set out in the Communist Manifesto which was based mainly on state ownership or nationalisation was fatally flawed.

The problem was compounded when the pamphlet became required reading for many who aimed to change society. In this way it became a great influence on working class movements, especially in the 20th Century. Any failures of these movements should not of course be laid at the door of the Manifesto. Nevertheless, accepted by many, uncritically and literally as a guide to policy and action, or perhaps used in other cases with cynical bad faith, the Manifesto put a stamp of socialist authority on policies that led in many cases to great suffering and misery.  The bitter truth being that this was amongst the very people that the Manifesto had set out to liberate. 

Nor can we can attach any blame to Marx for the atrocities carried out by tyrannical regimes who came to run nationalised state capitalist industries in his name. This would be both unjust and absurd, perhaps like blaming Jesus Christ for the cruelties of the inquisition. Even within his own lifetime Marx had already begun to dissociate himself from some of his followers, saying on one occasion – “I am not a Marxist!” 

We should now recognise that the revolutionary programme set out in the Manifesto was a recipe for state capitalism. Not that Marx was unaware of this but he saw it as the beginning of a process of change to that would lead to a new society. It said,  “ …. the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy"   “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, ie, of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

There then follows a list of ten main actions that such a working class government could take, including,  “ … application of all (land) rents to public purposes,”  “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax,”  “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly,”   “Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; …” etc. All these actions, which we would now call reforms, had to assume a continuation of property, income tax, a banking system, State owned means of production. The irresistible logic of these measures had to mean that production of commodities would continue for sale on markets with a view to profit. 

Notwithstanding this, the clear intention of Marx and Engels was that over time, these state institutions would be drained of their capitalist functions and the State itself would become redundant. “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power (State) will lose its political character.”  “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

But the Manifesto made no attempt to set out how, through this controlled process of political and economic management, capitalist production would be converted into socialist production. The best indication we have from the text is, “Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production, by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.”  This may seem very promising, but, to be frank, this passage is not just vague, it is cryptic to the point of being unintelligible. It expresses more optimism than analysis or clear description. The programme was perhaps an indication that in the 1840’s Marx and Engels had simply not thought through the question of how society could be changed from capitalism to socialism through nationalisation.

The result was that the problem of how capitalist production could be abolished and replaced with socialist relationships of common ownership, democratic control and production for needs was glossed over in the Manifesto with a few fine sounding revolutionary phrases. But the subsequent irony was that the reasons why its programme could never achieve more than a state capitalist system were implicit in Marxian theory as developed in his more mature years.

The gradualist route to the establishment of socialism, mainly through nationalisation, is at the present time, a discredited idea but it may not remain so. Despite all the past failures of this doctrine, in the constant search for ways out of unsolved social problems, where memories are short, hope springs eternal and there is a chronic reluctance to learn from experience, it is possible that the idea may regain some popularity. The idea of nationalisation emerged with the Communist Manifesto in the mid l9th. Century, became the main currency of radical thought and went on to dominate working class politics for much of the 20th. Century.  It became a common theme of Labour, Social Democratic and Communist parties as well as nationalist movements throughout the world. The idea of achieving a basic change in society through state ownership and state direction of the economy has been one of the most potent political ideas of modern times.

But in every case where the policy has been applied, by governments as different as the Bolsheviks in Russia, the so called “communist” regimes of Eastern Europe and China, the Labour Government in Britain after 1945, Yugoslavia, Cuba and other places, we find that there has been no progress towards socialist society. These have been political experiments involving over half the world’s population since the end of the 2nd. World War yet all these people and their descendants have never escaped from living in capitalist systems. 

This has been the result not only  of  the work of political gangsters such as Stalin, Ceaucescu, Milosovik or Mugabwe who used the language of socialism  to gain control and then run state systems for their own power and personal enrichment. We may also assume honest and sincere men and women, dedicated to working for the interests of the great majority and who saw state control as a way of introducing a new society based on equality and cooperation.

For example, during the early years of the Labour Party in Britain, the way forward seemed straightforward. Once having formed a government, the “commanding heights” of the economy would be nationalised. These would include the biggest of the industrial and manufacturing companies such as the steel producers, the railways, coal mines, gas and the Bank of England, etc. This would be a first step towards the end of capitalist ownership and the beginning of “socialist” or public ownership. Swingeing death duties and inheritance tax would further reduce an unequal division of wealth. State funds would become available for housing and education and a National Health Service. On the industrial front strong trade unions supported by Government would be in a position to win wage increases and the profits of the remaining capitalist companies would be further attacked by high taxes. Over time, the rich would be “taxed out of existence.” Unemployment would be ended. On the basis of rising living standards, a healthy, more prosperous and educated working class would continue to support “their” government whilst society was further transformed. This was the “socialist” dream of early members of the Labour Party.

Carried to office by an electorate that expected a basic change in society after years of war and the slump conditions  of the 1930’s, the Labour Party in 1945 formed its first majority  government. On the face of it, with its huge parliamentary majority there seemed to be nothing to prevent it carrying out its programme of change. Though it is doubtful if its leader, Clement Attlee, was ever a diligent reader of Marx and Engels, the language of the Labour Party at that time echoed much that was in the programme set out in the Communist Manifesto 100 years before. This was a large scale programme for nationalisation which was indeed carried out.  It covered the coal mines, the railways and most road transport; the gas and electricity industries; the bank of England, cables and wireless, and iron and steel.

 Many hopes were raised but what followed were years of hardship which were no less austere than during World War II. . There was no sign of socialism nor even a path leading towards it.  Instead of partnership with the Trade Unions there was renewed industrial conflict.

Working people soon discovered that nationalisation or state capitalism does not differ from private capitalism as far as the exploitation of workers is concerned.   For example, following the nationalisation of the railways, the journal of the National Union of Railwaymen said, “After three and a half years it seems to the man on the job that no favourable changes have taken place.   Improvements in wages, working conditions and a relative responsibility in the running of the industry have just not materialised.  On some counts there is a feeling that there has been a deterioration in standards instead of an improvement.

Nationalised transport is being operated on capitalist patterns, with capitalist forms of accountancy, with capitalist conceptions of industrial organisation.  Any changes which have been introduced could well have been made by the private owners of transport undertakings. In fact, it is true to say, whether we like it or not, that a number of private enterprise firms provide better wages and conditions than those obtaining generally in nationalised transport.”  (“Railway Review,” 27th July 1951.)

We shall never know if the editor of the “Railway Review” had at one time thought that nationalisation was a means of revolutionising society but certainly by 195l he had come to a more realistic view.

It is significant that some parties with absolutely no revolutionary aspirations but are more often associated with political reaction, have not only been in favour of nationalisation they have carried it out.  For example, in the past Liberal and Conservative governments nationalised the postal, telegraph and telephone services.  The first enabling act authorising the nationalisation of the railways (The Railways Regulation Act) was passed in 1844 under Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative Government, which was, ironically, four years before the issue of the Communist Manifesto. Though it was not carried out it was held over the heads of the railway companies to force them to reduce charges.  In this it succeeded.  Again in 1918, as a member of the Lloyd George Coalition Government it was Sir Winston Churchill who threatened the nationalisation of the railways.  He announced, “the Government policy was the nationalisation of the railways.  That great step it had been at last decided to take.”  (“The Times,” 5th December 1918).

This partly provides an answer to the actual function of nationalisation.  As well as being used for military purposes and for the control of powerful private monopolies it is also a means of maintaining a service which may be vital to the economy as a whole but which may have little prospect of making profit under private ownership.  

Notwithstanding its alleged radical intentions, burdened by debt and outdated, run down industries, the actual role of the Labour Government’s state interventions after 1945 was to steer the British capitalist economy through its post war crisis. Nationalisation enabled the Government to carry out an investment programme in the vital sectors such as mines, roads, railways, steel and electricity etc. This set the foundations for expansion during the boom years of the capitalist economy in the l950’s and 60’s. Since then the Labour Party has become unashamedly committed to running the capitalist system. 

Even recently, the desperate state of the railways has required a Government to ensure that this vital means of transport is able to continue with the support of Government funds. Far from nationalisation being a means of changing society, its real function has been to prop up the capitalist system. It has done this particularly in circumstances where profit expectations in the basic sectors of the capitalist economy are low and where private investors are unwilling to provide the required finance unless given guarantees of Government support. 

 A nationalised industry can be run at a loss for long periods but only whilst it is subsidised through taxation from other profitable parts of the national economy.  Governments can play the game of robbing Peter to pay Paul but only whilst Peter can afford to be taxed from his own profits. Ultimately, nationalised industries cannot escape the over-arching constraints imposed by the profit motive on the general economy. 

Few words are needed to dismiss the idea that following the Bolshevik take over in 1917 society in Russia was on course towards socialism.  The grim history of Russia during the 20th Century tells its own story of gangster regimes holding power through intimidation, terror and murder with an enslaved population serving the ambitions of its rulers.  The fact that the so called USSR justified itself through a pseudo socialist ideology tells us nothing about the truth of what was happening.  All exploitative societies idealise their true nature and it matters little whether its rulers project a false image cynically or in self belief, the truth lies behind the propaganda in the real events of the time.

What cannot be denied is that the myth that society in Russia was progressing towards socialism was widely believed, a fact that not only diverted but distorted the working class movement for many years.  It has been tragic indeed that countless millions of working people and others from all walks of life gave their support to the Russian system and the so called world wide “communist” movement. What the Bolsheviks actually achieved was a more rapid development of the capitalist system.  They abolished the remnants of feudal society more or less overnight but the system of industrial development which they set up was a continuation of the state control by a state bureaucracy that was traditional in Russia with, eventually, Stalin as the new “Czar”.

The economic features of the system under the Bolsheviks remained capitalist in their operation.  Labour continued in the form of wage labour, the means of production operated as invested capital, production commenced with an exchange of labour time for wages, the resulting goods took the form of commodities that were sold on the markets for profit.  The function of labour was to create surplus value (value over and above its own value); this remained the source of accumulated capital. The fact that it was organised as a state system did not in any way alter its operation as a capitalist system.  This merely meant that it was a state capitalist system.  Ironically, its classification as a capitalist system applies the logic of a Marxian method of analysis.

The fact that the capitalist system developed mainly in Western Europe as a system of private capitalism in no way excludes its development in different forms in other places inline with different traditions of organisation and administration.  Similar to the way that a state bureaucracy has been dominant in Russia history it has also been traditional in China which may partly explain the development of Capitalism in a state form in that country.

We have mentioned that the mechanics of how a state capitalist system could be converted through political control in stages into socialism was glossed over by Marx and Engels not just in the Communist Manifesto but subsequently.  In the absence of a systematic treatment of this question they gave us a few fine revolutionary phrases. Despite their excitement at the rapid pace of development in their day, in retrospect, we are bound to say now that it had not yet established a realistic basis for world socialism and this was a disadvantage for Marx and Engels.  But in any case, the task of setting out such a transitional programme of change is impossible.  This is because the two systems are mutually exclusive.
Profit and capital accumulation are more than objects of capitalist production they are conditions of production.  They act as economic imperatives which can perhaps be set aside for a time but continued losses inevitably lead to breakdown. These are the economic forces that shape our society. The idea that any government, however well meaning or inspired by revolutionary sentiment, can replace profit and the accumulation of capital with the needs of the community as the objects of capitalist production is a misguided doctrine that has led to failure, broken promises and boundless political confusion. It has put back the clock of social progress and made the sound work of building the socialist movement more difficult.

Throughout the capitalist system, unless subsidised from other sectors, every enterprise is compelled to be profitable or at least viable. The productive history of even a simple commodity is complex and can extend throughout the entire structure of world production. Capital circulates throughout the structure from the mining of raw materials, to industrial processing, manufacture of component parts to final assembly and distribution. As a part of this sequence, if a production unit fails to maintain profitability it will disappear from the structure and may be replaced by another, more viable unit. These are the pressures of economic selection which no government or corporation can control and which maintain the structure of production as an exclusively capitalist structure.

It has been suggested that a business can be run in a “socialistic” way, as for example with workers co-operatives. Certainly, a unit may be organised along more egalitarian lines but this cannot escape the economic pressures that determine whether or not it can survive.   It could be a Kibbutz or a worker’s co-operative taking decisions collectively; it could be a monastery producing pottery, honey or herbs; in whatever way they are structured, authoritarian or democratic, and in whichever scale they may operate, as a part of social production they are a link in the economic circuits of capitalism and can only continue to operate within the pattern of buying, selling and profitability. 

The irresistible mechanisms which only allow production units to operate on a capitalist basis rule out any possibility of combining the productive relations of capitalism and socialism. It is impossible to combine the class ownership of the means of production with common ownership by the whole community: it is impossible to combine a world wide division of wage labour with the work of free men and women co-operating without wages in their mutual interests: it is impossible to combine the production of goods for sale on the markets with the free distribution of goods solely for needs. It is impossible to combine profit and the accumulation of capital as the motive of production with the democratic choices of communities about how to deploy their resources. All these things which clearly distinguish capitalism and socialism are mutually exclusive.

The commodity, the article for sale, is invested with all the anti social features of the class society that has created it. We can only gain access to it by paying money; it serves our need only on condition that it first serves the profits of those who market it; it has been produced by wage workers whose economic function has been to generate more wealth for the company which exploits them. 

Contrast this with a simple object of use which could be produced by free people in democratically run communities. Such an article of use would express all the life enhancing qualities of work carried out voluntarily by people co-operating in each other’s interests. It would not carry a price tag, it would not be sold, it would be freely available for consumption. By co-operation we do not mean relationships in which people sacrifice their self interest for the good of others. Co-operation is in the interests of both the individual and the community and is the natural expression of our social being. It is through co-operation that we best express and develop our individuality.  Across the entire world, the vast majority of people have a great need to live by the creative values of social co-operation, to share in the work of running their communities and providing for each other.

The idea of using state control and nationalisation as a means of establishing socialism was always impossible. Capitalism and socialism are fundamentally different systems that cannot operate together. A society to be run democratically in the interests of all its members can only be established by conscious, democratic methods. For modern socialists the key to the question of the change from capitalism to socialism lies in the work of building the socialist movement to the point where there exists a majority of socialists. With this level of understanding and commitment there would be no difficulty in enacting the common ownership of all land and means of production and distribution. On this basis communities would them commence the work of co-operating to organise the new society. This policy is the only practical way to establish socialism and it makes redundant the whole question of how a so called “working class government” could convert capitalism into socialism over time through a programme of nationalisation.
Pieter Lawrence

What socialism means

The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the first chapter of his 2006 work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'. 

Chapter 1

What socialism means

In our every day lives we know that language should make a distinction between things. Without this, it would be difficult to make sense of anything. Communication and enquiry would be impossible and this is no less true of politics. Just as a word should relate clearly to an every day object so should a political term relate to an idea with some consistency.  Unfortunately, although for the past two hundred years the word socialism has been commonly used, its meaning has become so blurred that for many, it even fails to distinguish socialism from its opposite, capitalism. There are many reasons for this but to pursue them in detail would be too diverting and well beyond the remit of this book.   Nevertheless, in these confused circumstances, a book that has set out to clarify the principles and methods of practical socialism should begin with a clear meaning of the word that is consistent with both its origins and its background of political and economic theory. 

Although the word socialism is itself more or less modern, its meaning can be said to go back to early religious sects of the ancient world and was perhaps taken up by the Anabaptist school of mediaeval times. Words attributed to John Ball during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 capture its meaning very well. “My friends, things cannot go well in England, nor ever, until everything shall be held in common, when there shall be neither vassal nor lord and all distinctions levelled, when lords shall be no more masters than ourselves.”

But it was not until the 19th Century that the concept of socialism (or communism) was developed by utopian socialists and then more systematically by Marx and Engels. In those early times  socialism meant an alternative,  classless society which can be set out under three main headings as follows:-

1 Common Ownership.

2 Democratic Control.

3 Production solely for use.

These features of socialist society would be dependent on each other and could only operate together as basic parts of an integrated social system.  In combination, these define a way of organising society that in every important aspect of production, distribution, decision making and social administration, is clearly distinguished from the operation of Capitalist society.

1      Common ownership means that the entire structure of production and all natural resources be held in common by all people.  Every person would stand in equal relationship with every other person about the  means of producing the things we need to live.  This means, mines, industrial plants, manufacturing units, all land and farms, and all means of transport and distribution.  This also means the common ownership of all natural resources such as oil.   Perhaps “common ownership” is partly a misnomer because what is meant is that means of production and resources would not be owned by anyone.  In place of the property relationships of owners and non-owners, means of production will simply be available to the whole community to be used and developed solely for the needs of all people. 

2      Democratic control means that social policy would be decided directly by communities. This would replace rule by governments. One great advantage of democratic practice in socialism would be not only the organisation of decision making but also the freedom to carry out those decisions.  This freedom of action would arise from direct control of community affairs following the enactment of common ownership and removal of the economic constraints of the capitalist system.  Without powers of action decision making is meaningless.    (Proposals for democratic practice  are set out in Chapter 5 – “Democratic Organisation.”)

3      Production solely for use means just what it says.   People in socialism would be free to co-operate with each other in producing goods directly for the needs of the community. This would be useful labour co-operating to produce useful goods solely for consumption.  Production solely for use would replace production for sale at a profit.   Things produced for sale under the capitalist system are of course intended to supply a need of one kind or another but as commodities they are produced primarily with a view to money gain and the increase of money capital. As a general rule the market system is a system of no profit no production. In socialism this profit motive would be entirely removed.   In a moneyless socialist economy the factors of production would operate only in a useful form and not as economic categories with a price.    Labour would not be wage labour serving the interests of an employer but would be free labour.   People at work would be creating only useful things and not economic values from which profit is derived.   (Proposals for production solely for use are set out in Chapter 7, “Organisation of Production.”)

There should be no doubt that these basic features that define socialism clearly distinguished it from the capitalist system. Common ownership of means of production would be in direct opposition to private, corporate or state ownership; democratic control would be fundamentally different to rule by governments or corporations.  Production for needs would be in direct opposition to production for sale at a profit. These defining features of the two systems cannot be operated together.  They are mutually exclusive. The mistaken idea that they can be operated together has been a major cause of political confusion about what socialism means. 

Production Solely for Needs
What is meant by needs should not be understood as mere personal consumption. It should not suggest a rampant consumerist culture.  Production for needs would include a wide range of considerations such as the need to protect and conserve the environment.  The question of socialism and needs will be developed in a later chapter but in defining socialism we should emphasise that it will provide for one vital need in a way that is impossible under the capitalist system.   This is the need of peoples throughout the world to bring the organisation of their community affairs under their own democratic control and to develop them in the interests of the whole community.

It was with the emergence of the capitalist system that society lost  direct control of  production. In previous societies, such as feudalism, accepting that they were ruled by privileged classes, it was usual that production was at maximum capacity and this determined what could be distributed. In times of good harvests the whole community could benefit.   But with the development of the capitalist system this was reversed. What is produced depends on what can be sold.  This means that distribution through sales in the markets determines production and this is always less than what could be produced. 

Market capacity is inherently unpredictable.   If too many goods are produced for a market and they remain unsold, crisis and recession may occur with reduced production, increased unemployment, bankruptcies, and large scale writing off of capital values.  Despite the many attempts that have been made, no theory of economic management has ever been able to predict or control the anarchic conditions of the market system.  This is rule by market forces which serve minority interests and which generate the insecurities, crises and conflicts that shape the way we live.   The fact that we have great powers of production that cannot be rationally organised and fully used for the benefit of all people has devastating consequences.  This is at the root of most social problems.

In this way, the capitalist system places the production of goods and services, on which the quality of all our lives depend, outside the direct control of society.  Opposite to this, a socialist system would bring the entire organisation of production and distribution under democratic social control.

Social Class 
A further basic distinction between the two systems is that whereas the capitalist system is inherently class ridden, in socialism, social relationships of common ownership and equality will end class divisions.   Much discussion of class centres on various sociological differences between groups which may be useful for some purposes.   However, sociological differences can tell us little when seeking to explain how production is organised.

Some evidence may suggest, superficially, that we live in a society of greater equality. For example, we can accept that not so long ago “toffs” were people who played golf and went on motoring holidays, touring the Continent.   Now, many people from all walks of life do these things. This tells us that these pursuits have become relatively cheaper and that some working people are now able to enjoy them, but this in now way alters the economic relationships of production. It does not alter the economic, class relationship between capital and labour which dominates the way we live. At the point of production, the workers and their employers who may be sharing a golf course in their leisure time remain in a relationship of conflicting economic interests which, whilst it continues, must always condemn our society to the class divisions of strife and to the many ugly comparisons that we see of poverty amidst luxury. Class is a social relationship that invades and has a corrupting influence on every part of our lives.

An economic definition of class based on the categories of capital and labour in a system of commodity production is basic to our explanation of how we produce and distribute wealth and the economic motives that are involved.  Social class defined as economic relationships is a key to how the operation of the market puts profit before needs and places constraints on all our activities. Our lives and the quality of our society depend upon our relationships of production and on the services we can provide.  An analysis using  economic/class categories tells us who gets what from the pool of wealth that is  made available and how a privileged class has accumulated great wealth and property;  it therefore  explains the great social differences that we see about us.

It should not be thought that class divisions only operate in the countries of privately owned capitalism. It has been an unfortunate part of modern political history that many millions of well meaning people have been loyal to the various regimes of state capitalism.   Regardless of the various political forms they may take, whether they be based on private ownership, or the state regimes that recently reigned in Russia and Eastern Europe, and now rule the populations of China and places like Cuba, the class system is a ubiquitous world system.   Every country operates a market system that because of its economic priorities puts profit before needs. 

Current statistics on the distribution of property are many but just a few will tell us a great deal. If we look up the web site on “Who Owns Britain” we find that in “England and Wales” almost 26 million acres of land is owned by just over 150,000 families or individuals.   This is 0.28%  (a quarter of one per cent) of the population, who own 64% of the land.” According to the web site, if we look at the  land owned by the  Dukes of  Buccleuch, Westminster and Northumberland we have just three individuals who jointly own 531,500 acres valued at just over 14 ½  billion pounds. These are just three persons who own a very big part of the British Isles.

Similarly, we find that increasingly, giant global corporations own and control the world production of goods and services together with the natural resources of the planet.   The sole object is to amass greater concentrations of capital and to increase their economic and political powers.

At the bottom end of the scale, according to the Economist for 23rd February 2002, for the years 1999/2000, the number of children living in poverty in this country was 4.1 million. (Poverty being defined as children living in families receiving less than 60% of the average wage.)   What this means is sub-standard housing, poor conditions of life, poor diets and cultural deprivation. A study published by the Rowntree Foundation has said that 8.3 million of our population live in these circumstances and this is not improving with time. This 8.3 million living in poverty was 100,000 more than in 1996/97.

What these statistics tell us is that we live in a society of deep class divisions with a conflict of economic interests between those who work the productive system and those who own it.  This economic conflict can only be reconciled by the relationships of equality and cooperation that would integrate the community in socialism.

Whilst it is right to feel outrage at the great class divisions that exist socialists do not come to this question in a negative spirit of class hostility.  The aim is to end it. Class conflict has gone on for too long.  There has been too much strife and we have to heal the wounds of history through entirely democratic means.

Class society is both morally and materially indefensible. It need not linger on and on as part of an outdated system.   An ethical society would be one in which all people would live their lives, free from the disadvantages of under privilege and class injustice. To live in a classless society would be in the interests of all its members.  Freedom for every person to develop his or her skills and talents on equal terms could benefit everyone. Equality has the potential to enrich all our lives and would be a basis for a true community of shared interests.

Socialism – a Human Centred Way of Life
Having set out what socialism means, and having set out features that distinguish it clearly from capitalism, these can be summarised as one all important difference.   Whereas the capitalist system works for sectional economic ends that are alien to the interests of the whole community, a socialist system would be wholly dedicated to the interests of all people.  There would also be a difference of complexity and simplicity.  Whereas, working within the complex economic limitations of the market system, our endeavours are frustrated and often blocked by the barriers of costs, in a socialist society, communities would be free to set up their goals and then organise their resources of labour, materials and technology to achieve them in a straightforward way.  People in socialism would need only to work with the material factors of production and not any economic factors.
Given the control of human affairs that a socialist system would bring, people in socialism would be able to take charge of their destiny. What is undeniable is that we are a species with great talents.   In science, technology, in art, crafts and design we can call upon a wide range of skills.  The point now is to release these for the benefit of humanity.
Pieter Lawrence

Introduction to Practical Socialism: Its Principles and Methods

The following is Pieter Lawrence's introduction to his book, 'Practical Socialism: Its Principles and Methods' . The book was originally published online in 2006.

In its ideal self image, politics sees itself as building a better world for all. But even granted the sincerity of any such intention, in practise, it is mostly about the pursuit of conflicting interests. The political process is about the winning of power to secure those interests. With this achieved politics is then about the exercise and retention of power. 

Inevitably, this carries with it an inherent tendency to corrupt.  This may not mean corruption in its crudest form where public office is used for personal gain. This certainly happens but together with this, there is the corruption of ideas in which principles are abandoned and movements are betrayed.  This spreads to the corruption of language which allows the actions of career politicians to be masked by fine rhetoric and a contrived public image. This is the corruption of truth in an age of ‘spin’ that conceals reality behind false appearance. Of all corruption, this is the most insidious and dangerous. We suffer it in plague proportions.

Politicians are said to be ‘all the same,’ and what is ‘all the same’ is held in low esteem. Promises are made and broken whilst hopes remain unfulfilled. Optimism gives way to failure and disillusion. At the beginning of the 21st Century with fewer people voting there has been a withdrawal from the political process. This may be a passing phase but what seems continuous is a mood of creeping cynicism which has spread from politics to a culture of pessimism in which books, drama and film depict moral decline, violence, social breakdown and the rule of brutal  regimes.

This outlook is in great contrast with the optimism that marked the beginning of the 20th Century.  Then, there was strong belief in progress. Science and technology seemed to promise abundant wealth and an end to poverty. As knowledge of the world expanded, education promised to end ignorance. In its place enlightenment and tolerance would replace the divisions of racism, religion and nationalism. People in the developed countries looked forward to a world of co-operation, democracy, peace and prosperity.

This belief in progress was reinforced by the new powers of political action that came with the extension of the vote. For the first time the majority of people were able to form political parties and elect representatives to the centres of power. Throughout the 19th Century, trade unionists, agitators and radical theorists had refined their ideas on how to build a new way of life. Common to these ideas was the principle that to provide for human needs should be the main object of society. These ideas elevated the values of democracy, co-operation and care for all people in place of class divisions, privilege, greed and exploitation. This combination of ideas, organisation and legal rights grew in strength and together with other progressive movements fuelled the optimism with which many people looked forward to a new world order.

But a century later we have to accept that none of these hopes have been realised. The past 100 years heaped tragedy on tragedy. Poverty was not abolished.  Instead, technology refined the world’s death machines and this enabled the killing of more people than in any previous century. Countless millions died from hunger and disease.  The new millennium arrived with more than 800 million people seriously undernourished. 40,000 children suffer preventable death every day. The ravages of war, poverty, and economic breakdown have continued unabated. In their turn these problems have continued to feed conflict and the worst excesses of religious, racist and nationalist intolerance.

As part of its most hopeful outlook the 19th Century had developed the ideas of socialism. A long debate eventually set out the object and principles through which communities in a socialist world could share a life of equality and common interests. It was a life enhancing vision that saw co-operation as the way to serve the mutual needs of all people. Socialism arose partly from the great movement of ideas that we now think of as scientific humanism. The same century that saw all life as the product of evolution also came to recognise that human relationships were not fixed in time but were a product of history. It was recognised that through an understanding of relationships and the causes of problems it was possible to change the way we live and to bring our social arrangements into line with our needs.  Socialism set out a great future for mankind but it was more than a vision, it was based on a refined system of criticism that embraced politics, economics and history and which led to principles of sound action. 

But during the 20th Century the idea of socialism also became a victim of the corrupting powers and the relentless world wide spread of the capitalist system.  All that is best in humanity, our energy, skills and talents, our science and technology and our progressive ideas were made subject to the aims of a ubiquitous profit system. Developed in its proper meaning as an alternative society, the name of socialism was given to the running of parts of capitalism by the State. Eventually, the meaning of socialism was turned into its opposite. In its worst image socialism came to be associated with the power of state bureaucracies to oppress. Beyond reason it came to be identified with tyrants like Stalin and his absolute rule over the so called Socialist Republics. Even Nazis sought credibility by calling their movement National Socialist!

Despite such distortions which began with the good intentions of Labour Parties and social democrats and ended with the cynical use of socialism by every brand of modern tyrant, socialism does have a clear meaning which distinguishes it from capitalism.  Socialist theory has set out the economic limitations of political action under the capitalist system and predicted its failures. It has clarified the fallacies on which many of the century’s false expectations were based. This comes as close as any body of political ideas can to being scientific and its lessons have been ignored at great human cost.

Though socialism may be argued from a comprehensive body of political and economic theory it can also be argued simply as a practical way to liberate all the creative forces of life from their present economic constraints. Socialism would be organised solely for the interests of all people  and would operate with a combination of vital freedoms; the freedom to apply all useful resources to providing for needs; the freedom to make democratic decisions about the priorities of community action and the freedom to carry out those decisions in the most efficient way.

The first task of socialism will be to solve the great social problems of capitalist society. This will be co-operation to produce more food, to provide housing, sanitation and clean water for the hundreds of millions who endure sub-standard conditions or who live in squalor; to provide health services; to construct a safe world energy system, to stop the despoliation of the planet and the pollution of its atmosphere, seas, forests and lands; to provide for education, enjoyment and world contact. These are the great projects for which world socialism would release the immense resources of useful labour that are now exploited, misused or wasted by the insanities of the profit system.

Socialism will operate with one simple and ordinary human ability which is universal; the ability of every individual to co-operate with others in a world wide community of interests. For this, co-operative labour must have free access to all the means of production, distribution and the earth’s resources which are our common inheritance. As well as its abundant natural wealth everything in this inheritance has only one source which is useful work in all its variety. This has been the work of arts and crafts; science and technology; mining and industry; tool making and manufacturing; building, farming, transport; services such as health and education. All these skills represent the accumulated power of useful labour. Wherever we look throughout the world we see the best things it can do once it can flourish in freedom for the needs of all people.

Useful labour is a power that is shared in common between all humanity, rising above the differences of race, culture and language and the various routes through which communities have emerged from history. From this diversity and in co-operation, useful labour can enrich all human experience. In every world problem, in every common hope that remains unrealised, and in every common experience of failure and disillusion, is the voice of useful labour demanding its free expression. Properly defined and set out as a clear objective world socialism provides its political direction.

Beyond the madness of the capitalist system there lies a great prospect. In place of a world driven by competition and conflict there is the prospect of a united humanity.  Instead of being driven by the economic laws of an exploitative system there lies the prospect of a society that would work democratically in the interests of all people. This is the prospect of a new society based on common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs.

Whilst there may be very little to cheer in modern world development the story need not be one of unmitigated doom and gloom. It is one of the ironies of history that often the motives that drive our short term actions can in the longer term produce more hopeful possibilities that were never intended. Even though, at the present time,  the prospects for humanity may seem bleak the means of solving our great problems have never been so close to hand. It is accepted that the spread of the capitalist system has resulted in the powers of production, the useful institutions, the communications and a framework for potentially democratic organisation that given the political will, could be swiftly adapted for our needs in a world wide community of interests.    

It is the aim of this book to set out, in an up to date context, the principles and methods of practical socialism. I also intend to liberate the idea of socialism from the immense accumulation of ideological baggage that has become its burden. By stripping this away we could reveal the core simplicity and practicality of socialism. I make the argument that by applying these principles and methods the world community could solve its deep and seemingly intractable problems. I believe that given the human centred relationships of socialism with all their immense potential for creative work, the task will be great but not impossible. Once the genius of our species is allowed to flower for the benefit of all people, the work of solving our problems will be not just materially rewarding but will also provide the utmost enjoyment. In carrying out this great project it is certain that the present era will in time be regarded with scarce comprehension of how misguided and self destructive our species can be whilst a better world might so easily have been created.  It is the earnest hope of this book that we shall come to this realisation very soon.
Pieter Lawrence

Link to Chapter 1