Sunday, June 9, 2019

Letters: A Long Way to Go (1967)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Long Way to Go


There is a great deal to be done both in continuing the pressure and education required to build a real Socialist Britain but also in alleviating the worst results of this free for all society in which it is usually the least fit that are most unable to look after themselves.

Enoch Powell's dictum of survival of the fittest is OK if you are healthy and in a high income group. It is because almost everyone is outside these two categories that an educated working class is so important. And it is here that the different working class organisations are so important.

I realise that there are differences in approach but with so few active, militant, politically aware Socialists I would have thought that finding and cultivating avenues of common cause and agreement were far more important than emphasising the differences.

It is because of this that the Socialist Medical Association was founded in 1936 and as it forms a focus for Socialist medical and lay workers, it allows for the production of plans for a real Socialist health system. We have no bans and prescriptions and this allows a wide variation of ideas and larger numbers of specialists to meet and discuss.

We are able lo advise a wide variety of working class organisations and as our own members come from many different groups we are able to spread our ideas widely.

Agreed that we have a long way to go: but if we all stood aloof (as unfortunately the SPGB does) from ‘main stream” politics then our society would have remained in the Middle Ages, with all the poverty, ill health and dominations by the Barons and Church.

The Socialist Party of Britain is prepared to cooperate with any other group which stands for socialism. This is why we have allied ourselves with our companion parties. M.S.. however, wants us to join in along with the “wide variety of working class organisations” operating in Britain. But where are all these political organisations which are supposed to have the interests of the working class at heart?

The only name our correspondent gives us is that of the ‘Socialist' Medical Association and he himself seems lo be in the unfortunate situation of both accepting our criticisms of the National Health Service and, at the same time, attempting lo support the SMA. This is, of course, an impossible feat because any analysis of the NHS necessarily involves an exposure of the SMA’s position. After all. they wrote themselves in their official journal only a couple of months ago that "everything now embodied in the National Health Service found its clearest expression and soundest advocacy in these pages". As for the complete lack of socialist understanding in the SMA, we need give only one example. One of their members recently wrote a flattering article on the health service in East Germany, praising it because its fundamental principle was that "the capacity to work will be protected by the Stale”’. Can't M.S. see that the State looks after the interests of the ruling class and is only concerned with the health of workers to the extent that it affects their working capacity and impairs their ability lo produce surplus value?

Finally. M.S. makes the point that “if all stood aloof (as unfortunately the SPGB does) from main stream’ politics and buried our heads in the sand then our Society would have remained in the Middle ages . . .” Clearly, as an argument, this is a non-starter. The Socialist Party far from standing aloof, is actively working for socialism. If we all did just that then it would not be a case of our still enduring feudalism, or even capitalism: instead we would have socialism here and now.
Editorial Committee

From a Kibbutznik


I have now been able to go carefully through the Socialist Standard. I have no important counter-criticism. I accept it as just about right. It is such complete Socialism that I would call it more than that really; it stands for my world-federal ideal I learned from H. G. Wells’ Shape of Things to Come long ago and which inspires me throughout life; it seems to be absolute humanism, and to be, in fact, what Marx called the last stage of full communism. I think it is all these things. I never knew you had such a full policy, and I think it utterly worthy in the extreme.

Even so, a great difficulty remains for me. All that is written in your journals is negative criticism, fully justified, with only rare, vague references to the constructive alternative. It is true there is no difference between Labour and Tory in Britain (in fact the position is utterly comical under Wilson today: he is a first rate capitalist!), that Russia and China are simply going in for state capitalism (this may be a bit more responsible than the private version, but it still has nothing lo do with the final stage of communism which Marx wanted, as you rightly suggest), and so on. But what is the programme for achieving full Socialism? The workers taking over everything, as stated in the Declaration of Principles, is far too vague as it stands.

I contend all the time, as a kibbutznik, that parliamentary government is a flop: as you say. parliaments should be abolished. Only direct democracy counts, not the indirect, voted-for representatives stuff, which just plays into the hands of the Establishment. But what is the immediate alternative? Do the workers one day refuse to go to work, march into the rich men's houses, take out the furniture, divide it up in their slum homes, set up workers' councils and run the factories as in Yugoslavia (alas. 1 fear the managerial talent is not at once available: the capitalists are skilled technicians, unfortunately, and few workers are), and hope lo have enough to make everyone fairly well off and happy? Alas, even in quite rich England, let alone poorer Spain and Peru. etc., production and transport would be in a wild muddle at once, and everyone would be in a ghastly, disorganised mess. Besides, the capitalists would start shooting. Are you for civil war? So. accepting the destructive side of your case. I now inquire for the constructive side of it. Where are the plans?

In this connection, I wonder what your attitude is to Anarchism? It seems to me that in their local self-government, without buying and selling internally, the kibbutzim have strong anarchist as well as localised-socialist elements in them. Their federations are like syndicates, nationally arranged, as suggested once in Spain, I believe, and begun to be carried out there till Franco killed them. Would you be inclined to take this as a pattern — local direct democracy leading to national workers’ organisation? If so, the kibbutzim would be giving you an excellent lead indeed.

It seems to me you have to build up somehow. A ready made over-night global Wellsian total socialism is just not practicable.
A. C. Ben-Yosef 
Door No Meron, Hagalil, Israel

Our correspondent rightly understands (though we wouldn’t put it the way he has) that the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain holds that Socialism can only be world-wide; that there is no essential difference between Labour and Tory in Britain; and that Russia and China are state capitalism. He goes on to ask the quite legitimate question; How will Socialism he established?

First of all we don’t of course suggest anything so ridiculous as dividing up the wealth of the rich. Nor do we think that Socialism will appear ready-made overnight.

Socialism will be the outcome of a process of social evolution that is going on now. The culmination of this process will be the capture of political power for Socialism by the working class and the consequent social revolution from capitalism to Socialism. It is capitalism that paves the way for Socialism. Capitalism has already brought into being a world-wide productive system that could provide a plenty for all and the people to run this system. What it has yet to bring into being is the desire for Socialism on the part of those who work for wages throughout the world. This is the only real barrier to Socialism today. If what our correspondent implies at one point is correct — if workers can’t run society without the capitalist class — then the time is not ripe for Socialism. Our answer to this is clear and the evidence for it can be easily seen by looking at the world in which we live: the working class do now, as industrial, agricultural, clerical and, yes, managerial workers, run society from top to bottom even if not in their own interest. The capitalist class play no role in production; they are superfluous. On the personal-level few are even '‘skilled technicians”. Let’s get this straight: it is the working class who run the world today without the help-of the capitalist class.

We are merely arguing that means of wealth production that are at present socially operated should also be socially owned and controlled, and that the people who run society today can and should — run it in their own interests.

But where are our plans? We have no detailed plans for Socialism. This is because Socialism can only be established by the working class once they have become socialist. It is up to those people around at the time to work out the exact forms of running social affairs in a Socialist society. It would be presumptuous and foolish of us today to predict the future. All we can do now is say where we think the general trends we see operating today are leading.

When a majority of workers have become Socialists they will organise for political power; then use this power to end private property in the means of wealth production, thus ending also their position as wage-slaves. This done, society can set about reorganising itself on a socialist basis, with production for use and free access for all to what has been produced. In such a society the government of people (and all that goes with it like armed forces, police, judges and jailers) will be unnecessary. Parliament as the means for controlling the machinery of government too will be unnecessary. But this does not mean that there will be no means for exercising democratic control over social affairs. The exact form of such democratic social control once again we can’t predict and don’t try to.

We must say, however, that in rejecting any form of election and delegation you are obviously going too far. Such a complex productive apparatus as exists today can only be controlled democratically by society through such means. If you find difficulty in envisaging world wide organisation and control of production consider that many organisations today are already world wide: General Motors, Royal Dutch Shell, World Health Organisation, International Postal Union, to mention a few. Socialist society will allow a great variety of forms of social control from the local to the world-wide. Beyond this we can’t go today.

We are opposed to Anarchism in all its many forms. At best its schemes are irrelevant for advanced industrial countries; at worst they are dangerous nonsense. Hie idea of a federation of co-operative communities, which has a long history, just isn’t practicable as a means of running the productive system of today. Everything points not to this but to social ownership and democratic social control.

Finally, and briefly, we are not for civil war. We don’t think that violence will be a part of the social revolution from capitalism to Socialism.
Editorial Committee

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