Dear Letters Editors,
Congratulations on your August issue "One Green World”, which addressed some of the multifarious issues of the environment.
I have been a fairly regular reader of the Socialist Standard in the past and have been consistently disappointed at your failure to look at "green" issues. All too often I have come to the view, after reading your journal, that the SPGB languishes in the past, placing an overriding faith in the ideas and doctrines of Marxism and attempting to apply them unquestioningly to the modern world. That is not to say that Marx's fundamental theories do not hold good — indeed they do — but it is necessary, in my view, to appreciate how capitalism has surpassed Marx's expectation of how ingeniously it would strive to keep itself going.
For example. Marx could not have forseen the invention and proliferation of the atomic bomb, the ultimate symbol of capitalism's self-destructive tenacity, nor could he have envisaged the sheer scale of waste and ruthless exploitation of the world's finite resources which we are now witnessing.
I believe that the future — if there is to be one — must be a "green" one. It is my hope that it will be a socialist "green” future if we are to avoid a return to a form of feudal societal structure.
It is all very well to sit in an ivory tower of pure, untainted Marxist socialism, pronouncing an "I told you so" view of modern society and waiting for a "mass understanding" which will bring about true socialism. I too believe that genuine socialism can only come about through the collective will, but in the meantime there is a world out there and if we don't act to protect it through means pragmatic as well as pure, then we may well lose it. Yes, capitalism with its absurd self-contradictions is a dying order — the very real danger is that it now has the power to take us all with it (and thus all hope of genuine socialism).
Having made these points, I wish to come back to your August issue: 1 was dismayed to see that in all your considerations of green issues you didn't mention SERA — the Socialist Environment and Resources Association. SERA is a growing body (currently over 1.000 members) of "green" socialists actively campaigning for a green and socialist future.
May I, through your letters page, urge you to return to the theme in future issues and look at the work of SERA? Perhaps the SPGB might consider trying to organise a public debate with SERA? Further, if I may be so bold — members of the SPGB might consider also becoming members of SERA — membership of the one organisation is not. in my view, incompatible with membership of the other.
We welcome the invitation to debate with SERA. However we cannot agree that membership of The Socialist Party is compatible with SERA. Although we recognise the urgency of the ecological problems facing the world, reformist activity perpetuates capitalism and so postpones their solution.
I have only been reading the Socialist Standard for a short while but to me it seems that the principal fault in your presentation is that you are too academic.
You theorise so much that you ignore what happens in society in practice. If a certain society is not theoretically correct in terms of your rigid Marxist analysis then you dismiss it totally. You are completely hostile to anyone that does not completely support your case.
In terms of strict socialist analysis, based upon Marxist principles, perhaps Russia is not socialist. But the vast majority of people are not concerned with such theoretical analysis that the SPGB keeps coming up with. They are concerned with practical matters such as jobs and homes. The fact of the matter is that in practice Russia does provide jobs and homes for its people. In theoretical terms the SPGB may deny that this could take place but in the real world the SPGB's theory has little relevance. While the SPGB remains trapped within the language of theory and abstract analysis then it will remain an irrelevance to ordinary people.
The aim of the Socialist Standard is to put across socialist ideas. We try to do this by publishing articles which offer a socialist interpretation of current affairs and political ideas and by including articles written in a variety of styles and taking different approaches in the hope that they will appeal to as many readers as possible. However the common element in all the articles we print is the case that capitalism cannot meet the needs of the working class and that socialist revolution is necessary if that objective is to be met.
Although we agree that in putting across our ideas we should not ignore reality, it is true that how people see reality may very well be affected by the ideas that they hold — the two are not totally independent of each other. Indeed one of the most important functions of the Socialist Standard is to challenge the conventional view that capitalism, despite its problems, is the best of all possible worlds by highlighting the extent to which the political rhetoric of capitalism does not conform to people's everyday experiences.
That kind of thinking also informs our approach to countries like Russia. In this case the rhetoric used is that of "socialism" and because our sole objective is the establishment of a socialist world we are bound to be interested in any country that claims to have already established socialism. But an examination of the social and economical system in Russia demonstrates that, once again, the reality does not live up to the rhetoric. What The Socialist Party understands by socialism is a system based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, a society where everyone has access to the things they need, a society where there is no buying and selling, no wage slavery, no production for profit and a society where everyone can participate in the making of decisions affecting their lives. That kind of society is not to be found in Russia. It may be that workers have jobs and houses in Russia but this does not affect the things they do not have — free access to all the things they need, freedom from the tyranny of wage slavery and state coercion.
The Socialist Party is concerned with practical issues like people's standard of living — housing, health care and so on — and it is because we are so concerned that we ask questions about why it is that millions of workers throughout the world are deprived of such basic necessities. The only answer that makes sense is that it is because of the way society is ordered. And the only permanent solution that makes any sense is to abolish the present social system and instead establish a socialist society.
There are three stages in the development of political ideas. Firstly, an analysis of what's wrong with society as it is and most people from their own experience of life in capitalism could come up with a list of persistent problems that they would like to see solved. Secondly, if we are serious about trying to find permanent solutions to those problems then we need to try to explain why such problems arise. Theory may very well be useful here, enabling people to put their own personal experiences into a broader context. Having come up with an explanation that fits what we know about the world we can then think about ways to solve the problems identified in the most effective way. At this stage we need not only political theory but just as importantly, political action and organisation.
The Socialist Standard provides a forum for a discussion of ideas about life in capitalist society and why it is the way it is and of socialist ideas. These issues are not abstractions but are of vital relevance to all workers. But The Socialist Party is not just concerned with ideas. Why not visit your local branch of The Socialist Party and find out about socialist action in your area?