Letters to the Editors from the July 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
What can I do?
The April edition of Socialist Standard really spoke to me. It left me feeling poor, paranoid and powerless. Living in a capitalist society is frustrating. I work as an unskilled wage labourer and feel the pressures of job insecurity. This is something I must share with those who sell their labour as a commodity throughout the world. Capitalism will always put profit before people. If I read socialist publications it is with the money I earn from working in a capitalist system. The small commodities that I can afford are to be viewed as luxuries that this society offers to those with disposable incomes, things I could sadly not afford when unemployed. It is disturbing isn’t it, that people descend to shopping arcades whenever they have a moment to spare and money in their pockets? This is a capitalist placebo to prevent people from thinking about things that really matter.
I feel sad to report that I feel Socialist sympathisers are a minority and with the war in Iraq and the War on Terror that intolerance, hate and racism are gathering momentum. I recently encountered an ex-soldier who served in Japan in the close of the Second World War whose experience of atrocities led him to declare that the nation from where the Madrid bombers came from should be “nuked” with the guilty parties extradited there. On another occasion a young man who should be better informed said that “the West should drop the nuclear bomb on the Middle-East”, and also that most people called Patel were terrorists. We live in troubled times but such neo-fascist hysteria is disturbing. Looks can be deceptive.
Peace not violence is the answer and this will best be achieved through Socialism. However I am not a martyr I have to live in this society and try as I might it is frustrating when the daily struggle seems like Orwell’s 1984 or Heller’s Catch 22. I would like to see the Socialist Standard share more instruction on how to practice Socialism today within the sphere of your principles.
Yours for peace and socialism,
It is not possible to “practice Socialism” in the literal sense today since socialism is a system of society which can only replace capitalism as a whole; you can’t have bits of socialism within capitalism. What socialists can do under capitalism, however, is spread socialist ideas – for instance, that those who are forced to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary, whichever country they live in, share a common interest and that nationalism, racism and xenophobia are mistaken attitudes which should be opposed; or that they have no interest in wars that are always fought for capitalist interests, which is why socialists never support them and take what steps they can to avoid being forced to fight in them. As you have discovered, in view of prevailing attitudes, this is often frustrating but, as has been said, if you are socialists this is something you can’t help doing. All the same, it is done more effectively and perhaps less frustratingly if done collectively. Have you thought of joining the Socialist Party rather than battling on as an isolated individual?
I look forward to reading your magazine every month. I find it informative and entertaining. I’m a bit of a newcomer to politics and am finding that the deeper one digs the trickier the exploration of issues becomes.
One thing has been niggling me for some time is this idea from your ideology that when true socialism emerges in the world then everyone will work and strive for the benefit of each and all. Now from my observation of human behaviour this seems rather a rose-tinted view of the real world. There is no need for me to point out to you the levels of selfish behaviour in the form of greed. crime, war, etc that blights this planet.
In your efforts to counter this charge of gross behaviour you say that this side of human behaviour of humans is conditioned by their environment and not by natural selfishness and aggression (the nature/nurture debate ). What evidence do you have for stating this as a fact? As far as I know this nature-nurture thing has never been resolved satisfactorily.
It seems to me that the success or failure of your new socialist world hinges on this very emotive issue. You are banking on the majority of humans being nice to each other and exhibiting a caring, sharing nature. This is either a very naive or a ‘let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope it all resolves itself’ outlook.
Perhaps you can reassure me that you know what sort of world you are trying to lead us into.
First, we are not trying to lead anyone anywhere. Socialism can only be established by people who know what they want, not by following leaders and expecting them to deliver it for them. We are not seeking to be leaders, only pioneers pointing the way.
Actually, socialism doesn’t require people to behave all that differently from how most of us do most of the time at the moment, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours we exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, cooperation) at the expense of others which capitalism encourages. Capitalism has an all-pervading culture of violence, competitiveness and acquisitiveness, and people are under pressure to adapt their behaviour to this. What will happen in socialism it that this culture will disappear and so people’s behaviour will no longer be shaped by it. We would not have to stop being “selfish” in the sense of giving priority to our own individual welfare; it is just that, in the changed circumstances, this will better be served by cooperating with, not competing against, others.
Aggression is another matter. There is no evidence that this is an in-built, gene-governed part of the biological natures of humans. Humans are of course capable of aggressive behaviour, as we are of a great variety of different behaviours (that being our biological nature), but whether such behaviour is actually engaged in depends on the circumstances. Of course, even in socialism, people will sometimes get frustrated and annoyed and this will occasionally find expression in acts of aggression, but these would be isolated acts of individuals. Social acts of aggression such as war, training for war, terrorism, violent crime, vandalism and the like will have no reason to occur, as the social conditions that generate and sustain them will have disappeared.
You ask for the evidence that aggression is not “natural”. Have you read the book Are We Prisoners of Our Genes? which we have just published? If not, read it (available from us by post for £4.75) and then come back if you want.