Letters to the Editors from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
The two articles on William Morris in your October 1990 issue are most welcome. Although it is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of News From Nowhere, the left has been almost silent about Morris. This, despite the fact that Radio Four made it a “Book At Bedtime". Sadly others, particularly Greens and modern-day Utopians have not been so slow to pick up on claiming Morris for their own philosophies.
Against this your two articles do a good job in situating Morris firmly within a socialist and Marxist tradition. C. Skelton gives a fair summary of Morris's political ideas, although I think I prefer Morris's original views to Skelton’s gloss on why they didn't work. Central to this, of course, is Morris's connection with extra-parliamentary anarchism. Now that Stalinism has collapsed perhaps it will be possible to examine this afresh. Certainly while I would agree that parliamentary activity cannot be ignored, one can understand how Morris, faced with Hyndman's SDF, came to take the stand that he did.
I am not so sure about DAP's review of the book William Morris and News From Nowhere: A Vision of Our Time. There is no doubt that, as DAP notes, it is an "interesting and important" book. It explores some of the themes in News From Nowhere and tries to show their relevance for the 1990s. So far so good. But the ultimate aim of the book is, of course, not to reinforce our understanding of Morris's position as perhaps the outstanding early British Marxist. Rather it is to suggest that Morris's heritage is confused and that he could be claimed equally by Greens or by radical liberals. Indeed, the Communist Party of Great Britain, which is just about to rename itself as the "radical party" is using Morris in just this way. DAP's review of the book is fine as far as it goes.
But if Morris is not to be taken from the Marxist tradition we will need to be much more critical of those who would isolate certain elements of this thought while denying his socialism and Marxism.
We agree that an attempt is being made to claim Morris as some sort of harmless Green reformist, whereas in actual fact to his death he called himself a "revolutionary, international socialist".
Instead of campaigning to abolish the poll tax. the working class should organise politically to end the capitalist system itself. Without the capitalist system there would be no poll tax, no rent, gas bills, house repossessions, wage slavery, no money or private ownership of the means of producing wealth.
Why object to paying poll tax when one has to pay to eat. to drink, to keep warm, in fact to exist!
Seaham, Co. Durham
Labour Party and Entryism
Please can you say what is the SPGB's attitude re Labour Party members? Recently I have met some London Labour members in Bradford—they were here to help the local Labour Party MP's. councillors etc.
I had a chat with them on the precinct as they were "signing up" passers-by at a bench. I asked these people what they thought about the SPGB. One or two did know of the existence of the SPGB, but did not know much about what it stands for—they had not been conversant with the Socialist Standard. After a discussion about all manner of aspects of current affairs but noticeably nothing re Socialism itself (I thought that very strange) they seemed to disregard the possibility of the SPGB growing into a mass party of the proletariat and they said that the Labour Party was the only one today to challenge modern Toryism, Thatcherism and present-day State Capitalism in the UK.
Please could you assess these postures of the Labour Party? I would appreciate if you are able to forward the SPGB's view of the Labour Party's claim. Basically it is this: The Labour Party sees the contemporary state capitalism as the full development of previous capitalism reaching an advanced (albeit decadent) level even with all the terrible exploitation which is caused by it.
My impression of Labour Party members is one of a strange lack of clarity and lucidity re Socialism. Your evaluation of the eastern states, USSR and others in the past has been proved perfectly correct, as recent changes have shown. Having assiduously studied the proofs and tenets of the SPGB, my findings are that the SPGB is totally validated re Socialism.
You have obviously come across a group of Trotskyist infiltrators into the Labour Party. Which would not be surprising since the MP for Bradford whose death provoked the recent by-election was associated with the so-called “Militant Tendency". Talk of capitalism involving exploitation and being decadent would make Neil Kinnock livid if he heard it, as what he and his fellow leaders of the Labour Party want is a chance to try and show that they can manage capitalism better than the Tories.
It is true that the Labour Party can win elections whereas we in the Socialist Party are without much influence. Since, however, Labour support is built up as support for managing capitalism, when in office they can do absolutely nothing to further the cause of socialism. Socialism will only become a real issue when more and more people want it and organise into a separate political party opposed to Labour. It is to this end that all our efforts are directed.
Although I think the October issue of the Socialist Standard is the most forthright condemnation of capitalism you have published during the last ten years that I have been reading it, there is one topic which I would like to question. "Does Religion Matter"?
Would it not have been better if socialists had ignored religion until real socialism had been established? We know that religion has always been used as a weapon of oppression against the working class. However, if we had not publicly denied the existence of our mythical Jesus Christ, who, according to the equally mythical bible, preached a socialist way of life, we might have had a few million Christians fighting for socialism!
After a few decades of world socialism, the Christians who had helped to bring it about would have departed this life, taking their religion with them. Hypocritical views maybe, but better than the evils of capitalism.
Peter H. Reynolds
We don't think that our relative lack of progress is due to our opposition to religion. After all, if there were millions of Christians who would otherwise want socialism, why haven't they formed their own movement which would advocate the same as us except on religion? Nor can we see how it can be said that the mythical JC “preached a socialist way of life". The early Christians were a sect very similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today who cared little about changing society as they expected their Messiah to return in the near future and inaugurate a theocracy in which God would rule over humans with an iron hand. Hardly socialism!
Profits before trees
What happened in our village today is a mini-example of how the Green Party and all other reformist poitical parties will be unable to save the world from environmental destruction. Four very healthy mature trees stood immediately outside our back fence. They were a home for the birds, played their part in cleaning up the polluted air we breathe and were a pleasure to look at. Unfortunately they stood in the way of our local land baron and his plans for the future development of his land for either houses, car parks, access or factory units. He was not concerned that the North Herts District Council had asked for all existing trees to be retained, his object is the acquisition of money and all must bow down before this aim. So the trees were cut down and he is no doubt thinking hard for a good excuse when the NHDC asks questions. Those trees were no threat to our house but were immediately behind it. The lesson for the Green Party and all other reformist political parties is that, in our capitalistic society where money is supreme most acts are performed if profitable, and exploiting the earth is profitable. Vote out capitalism for a better society.
John E. Windebank
Little Wymondley, Herts