Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Letter: Responding to Lynn (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the April Socialist Standard, under the heading Left Is Not Right, we published a letter from Lynn Stabler, with our reply. Another reader has sent us some comments on Lynn's letter; while we agree with Trevor Swistchew on many points — for example his view of society in Russia as state capitalist — on others we have reservations which are set out at the end of his letter.
Dear Editors,

In my view, one of the main reasons we suffer (and there are many forms of suffering) is because we live our lives selfishly. Capitalism epitomises selfishness in today's world. We are brainwashed to compete with each other, to subscribe to goals defined by figures in authority and to obey laws with little or no protest.

Suffering in terms of hunger or lack of medicine or poor conditions can definitely be linked with the doctrine of capitalism, which denies millions of human beings access to the necessary goods, services or opportunity to make life a more equitable proposition. I personally do not believe that violence can liberate the poor from poverty, yet can understand ongoing poverty and its debilitating effects on people and how this leads to desperation in some cases, and thoughts of revenge in others. It appears to be a mixture of exasperation, frustration and fear. Many people die from unnecessary causes like hunger (in a world where grain is destroyed or stockpiled to keep market prices high) illnesses, which medical science has cured in the Western world. The problem is lack of access to a fair share of all the goods, services and wealth created by labour, managed (and abused) in many cases by capitalists. It is not a matter of hate however, it is really a matter of how to ensure that people can get access to enough of the resources which their labour helps to produce, so that they too can survive. That is what true socialists aspire to. and not to bombing others, or advocating violence. I accept that some people who claim to be socialists do condone violence, in the same way that some Christians too are hypocrites who spout Jesus but live debased lives.

Lynn must not grab hold of bits of socialist theory that suit her arguments and use them to attack other views. Socialist theory and practice takes years to achieve — it actually is worthwhile, and is definitely the superior doctrine to capitalism because socialism, when properly understood, and lived, opens one's eyes to the deliberate injustices committed in the holy name of politics. May I conclude by saying loudly and clearly that Soviet Russia is not a socialist country What they actually practise in the USSR is state capitalism (i.e. the state is the Number One capitalist) as opposed to the land owning gentry in capitalist Britain, Not all who say they are socialists are socialists.
Yours in the hurly-burly,
Trevor Swistchew

The ethos of every social system — its morals, laws and so on — is based on its mode of wealth production and exerts its pressure on the people to accept and conform. Capitalism's ethos springs from its nature as a society based on the class ownership of the means of life, the production of wealth as commodities and the drive to accumulate capital. The ideas of the working class — who are the productive. exploited class under capitalism — and the goals which they aspire to. are fashioned under this pressure. It is not possible for the workers as a class to operate selfishly, for their role under capitalism is to perform the enormously generous act of producing all society's wealth but allowing their exploiters to appropriate it while they themselves receive only enough to reproduce their working abilities. On the personal level, despite the pressures of capitalism, there are countless examples of workers behaving co-operatively, even self-sacrificially. A most recent case of this was the tragic bravery of the workers who struggled to control the fire in the reactor at Chernobyl.

The problem of preventable, unnecessary illness afflicts the entire capitalist world. Illness in the "backward" countries may take a different form from that in the "advanced" Western world, where disease is very often associated with the stress of survival under industrial capitalism, but that does not indicate that it is any more of a problem.

Socialists are not aiming at a society of "fair" shares of wealth (which is in any case a dubious concept) but one where everyone has the same rights of access towards society's wealth that is. free access to satisfy self-determined needs. This is not in operation anywhere in the world: thus it is not possible to "live" socialism at present.

Capitalism is managed by members of the working class, who perform all the work, be it mental, manual or managerial, needed to keep the system going.

Socialism cannot be achieved through violence. It must be the act of a majority of workers throughout the world who understand socialism and who take the conscious, democratic step to abolish capitalism and replace it with the society of common ownership. The work of socialists is to change workers' ideas, through debate and persuasion: it cannot be done through violence and repression. The fact that some who advocate violence call themselves socialists illustrates the importance of judging people by what they stand for, not by the label they attach to themselves.

The issue of capitalism or socialism is not a moral one. It is not useful to think in terms of "deliberate injustices" ("justice" itself is a nebulous, variable concept) because even if capitalism were immaculately "just" it would still be a social system which cannot meet the needs of the majority of people. Whatever offences it commits against human interests are in response to its needs as a class divided society.

Capitalism has been a necessary stage in social evolution and now it has outlived its usefulness, making it a hamper on human progress. Its "doctrine" was once revolutionary and progressive but now it is reactionary and decadent. The idea of socialism promises to abolish the problems caused by capitalism but that does not make it "superior" in the strict sense of the term. It is truer to say that it is in line with modern conditions and needs and scientifically expresses the nature of the next stage in human society. Understanding socialism is not a difficult, protracted business: the members of the companion parties of the World Socialist Movement have come to understand socialism not through any special abilities or endurance but because capitalism has convinced them that there is no other way