Thursday, August 3, 2023

Left road to . . . nowhere (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The IMG, CP, SWP, the WRP and the rest of the motley odds and ends of the so-called “left” have much in common. None of them has anything to do with Socialism and they all cherish the illusion that, by taking up every transient issue produced by capitalism and submerging themselves in the day-to-day incidents of the system, they are fighting the class struggle. Capitalism obligingly swamps them with an endless deluge of such issues and, armed with their bottomless buckets called “immediate demands”, or reforms, they attempt to empty the oceans.

If they would look at the history of Labour and Social Democratic parties in Britain and Europe, they would see that the path of the “day-to-day struggle” is in fact a blind alley. It is the pathway to despair and apathy, littered with discarded slogans and forgotten causes. Capitalism produced crises and unemployment a century ago, when the Social Democrats first set out on the rotten road of reformism, and to-day still creates world-wide unemployment, social turmoil and commercial conflict. During those hundred years the productive powers of society have not only multiplied and spread over most of the earth, they have undergone continuous technological refinement through the application of scientific knowledge. With the capacity for abundance ever extending, capitalism with its market economy, class ownership and profit motivation, continues as always to generate crises, poverty, starvation and wars. Within the framework of the wage-labour-and-capital relations of production there can be no other outcome.

This is the simple lesson which the IMG, SWP and CP etc. find so hard to learn. They throw themselves mindlessly into the morass, as though reforms had just been invented. They do untold damage to the cause of Socialism by fraudulently calling their latest catch-phrase a “socialist” policy and helping to sustain the myth that nationalization is a Socialist idea. The manifest failure of a century of reforms and nationalization to alter the fundamentally subject position of the working class or to solve a single major social problem, seems never to register on their muddled minds. The exploitation of wage-labour by state or private capital remains the foundation upon which all the outrages and contradictions are built, yet the reformist left resolutely pursue the effects and ignore the cause. Theirs is a thoroughly irrational and unscientific approach. They cling to failed and futile methods, treasuring above all else their slogans and illusions.

For young workers to be ensnared and waste their precious lives chasing the elusive will-o’-the-wisp nostrums of these groups is a great tragedy. To the extent that they syphon off the discontent and unrest which workers naturally feel towards the conditions of capitalism and channel it up the cul-de-sac of “demonstrations anonymous” and “dial-a-slogan”, they help draw the sting of workers’ resentments and thereby to prolong capitalism.

Limited objectives do not lead to an ever-widening circle of more ambitious demands. They lead to more and more limited objectives, to frustration, disillusionment and apathy.

The task of doctoring the daily ills and woes of capitalism is one for those who believe that the worst effects of the system can be mitigated without removing the system. This is the classic assumption of all political parties with limited objectives. Socialists hold the opposite view; that running capitalism is for the capitalists and supporters of capitalism. A Socialist, by definition, is one who seeks as the immediate issue the removal of the system, precisely because only Socialism can end the social problems engendered by it.

Whether the irony of their situation ever strikes the various leftist groups is hard to say; they never get a look-in at running capitalism, they act in a purely advisory capacity. They do much of the donkey work of drumming-up support, sounding out the latest bellyache, keeping the pot boiling and counselling the major parties as to what promises it might be wise to make at the next election. Then, without so much as a “thank you”, those parties incorporate the latest whims into their programmes and the plums of office go to them. This has been the end result of all their frothing and fuming about Women’s Lib, abortion, equal pay and workers’ control. Whether the actual legislation reflects the muddled aspirations of the agitators, and whether the carrying into practice of such legislation meets what was hoped for, are other matters. The workers have been placated and another battle won—for capitalism. Exactly the opposite result of what the agitators claimed was their purpose. So it has been, over the whole spectrum of reforms. The pitfalls, loopholes and snags that were “unforeseen” last time will be good for another ride on the merry-go-round and waste another decade by prolonging capitalism.

It is at least possible that some of the propaganda pundits of the ruling class are aware of the entirely tame and harmless nature of the leftists, but see an advantage in playing them up as wild and dangerous elements. Clearly, if the media openly embraced them as kindred spirits of the ruling class, it might tip the workers off and impel them to examine their own interest more carefully. A villain is a good thing to have around. He is a knock-about fellow that nobody likes and a very useful scapegoat. The skilful use of newspapers, radio and TV can convince a lot of people that strikes are never really warranted; there are no real grievances, it is the lefties making trouble, costing “the country” money and losing the company business. Those sensationalist rags published by the Left with their countless photographs of demo’s and banner-bearing workers, think this is a marvellous and jolly good revolution. Next week or next month another strike and another demo.

They regard the working class as a simple giant that needs taking by the hand and leading into the class struggle. Their concept of the class struggle is whatever miscellaneous issues happen to be floating at any given time. The fact that they apply themselves to this unending profusion of issues, with no apparent result, does not prompt them to re-examine their assumption. They airily dismiss the Socialist case that only the direct propagating of Socialist ideas is relevant to the struggle for Socialism. The crystallizing of class-consciousness in the minds of workers means articulating the need to abolish the wages system and the class society of capitalism itself. Class-consciousness involves organized political action with the single aim of making the means of production and distribution the common property of society, this, necessarily on a world-wide basis.

Political action for Socialism means the complete abandonment of reformism. The two ends. Socialism and reforms, are irreconcilable opposites. It is political action to secure reforms which has led to the discrediting of Parliament as a means of changing society. Logic is not the strong point of leftist opponents of Parliamentary action. They have been guilty of advocating the use of Parliament for a task which is impossible, namely the passing of reforms to solve capitalism’s inherent problems. Then, in their folly, they blame the machine for their lack of knowledge as to its real use for workers. Parliament has never been used by a conscious working class to get rid of capitalism. Only the SPGB, from its inception, has argued the need to use Parliament in this way.

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels elaborate the lesson from history in the principle “that all class struggles are political”. The working class of the world cannot end the political power of the capitalist class without gaining control of the centres of political power themselves. What is at issue is the ownership of all the means of production. This cannot be settled at the factory gate by industrial action and it cannot be settled on the street from behind barricades. These methods leave the coercive state in the hands of the capitalist class and can only lead to anarchy and defeat. It is quite absurd to pretend, as leftists do, that millions of workers will carry on a violent struggle against the state and sacrifice life and limb, but will be unwilling to co-operate in the democratic process of voting. The advocates of “direct action” never expect a majority of workers to understand their position and act rationally. It is only desperate minorities without the backing of Socialist ideas who see revolution in terms of barricades and blood. Socialism is not possible without majority understanding.

Leftist methods are alien to the Socialist objective. The argument that members of the armed forces, police and civil service would side with the capitalists only weakens their already very feeble case. Control over these state agencies is in the hands of the majority party in Parliament. If a violent minority challenge the state, the coercive machine will act under the orders of those voted into power. It will be seen to be doing the will of the majority. Any violent minority would be seen to be acting against a great consensus. They could not win. While a majority of workers support capitalism (as now), their attitudes are reflected, in the armed forces and police. The personnel in these outfits, apart from a few wealthy professionals, are members of the working class. Their families, parents and friends are also members of the working class; they cannot be isolated from the general ideas of society. When millions of workers are opting for Socialism, every section of society will reflect their attitudes and ideas.

As a self-styled vanguard, the left reject the ballot-box because they are contemptuous of those they expect to blindly follow them and whose blood they would shed to gain power themselves. The SPGB has been patiently explaining Socialist principles since 1904; leftists are still groping in the dark. 
Harry Baldwin

Letters: What will it be like ? (1977)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Standard welcomes letters for
 publication, putting questions about the Socialist case 
or commenting on articles.
What will it be like ?

Bred in close capitalist captivity and held there for 45 years, intermittently chafing in my confinement, a curiosity as to other possible ways of being sometimes stirs within me. So I look at the Socialist Standard. I’m impressed, but I don’t quite understand. In fact, I feel lost.

If I tell you my present circumstances, perhaps you will be good enough to tell me how I might fare under SPGB Socialism, so I can assess my chances of survival. As things are, I drive my two older children to comprehensive school on the way to the office, where I attend from 9 to 5. After driving home, I “guard" all three children till I collect my wife from her job at 8.30. Then, we all have toast and tea, chat, look at the newspaper and “box", and go to bed.

Tonight, say, capitalism miraculously ends and Socialism comes to stay. Please outline how the British family Bula will now spend its future—especially me, as I’m meant to be “running the show” (as things are at present), and I’ve taken the trouble to write this letter. Kindly give some detail, as I keep getting a suspicion I’d be comparable to many South Vietnamese today— still just growing rice, but under different management.

Incidentally, your rejection of “religious thought as an obstacle to understanding” (June SS) seems complacent and sweeping. What kind of religious thought? And understanding of what? The frontier with the not-understood has been so vastly extended since Marx’s time that we’ve hardly an inkling of things we now definitely don’t know.
Alan Bula

What must be grasped about Socialism is that it means not a “different management” but a totally different kind of society; classless, moneyless, giving free access to everything produced and freedom of choice by people as to how they want to live. It will not happen "miraculously” but by the action of the majority of people understanding and wanting it.

The captivity you describe is the situation of the working class. Why do you and your wife work all day every day? Not for pleasure or the common good, but to get wages because that is the condition of living for the great majority. Why not vary hours so that you can all do other things? ’Tisn’t allowed. What are you doing anyway? Possibly adding up capitalists’ figures, or some other occupation which would have no place in a sane society.

On the establishment of Socialism a very large number of jobs would cease to exist at once. Everything connected with money—banking, insurance, accountancy, ticket-collecting, salesmanship, wage-clerking, standing behind shop counters and countless other things. Working hours generally would fall dramatically. We say "fall”, not "be reduced”. You have to visualize being able to make your own choice, either individually or in agreement with the people working with you: no need for all of us to be here, or I think I’ll go fishing. Marx envisaged people changing their occupations all the time. On the other hand, many people long to have an occupation in which they could absorb themselves.

Nobody would be stuck in one place any more than in one job. Why not move when you want or need to? But there is also the question of what you do when not working. Money circumscribes it at present. Without that painful restriction, and able to make your own time anyway, it is possible to live. We are not necessarily invoking things like round-the-world cruises; the satisfactions now denied to lots of people can be creative pursuits, or spending time with the children, or a good read without being too tired to concentrate. Obviously the productive work of society has got to be done, but production will be arranged round people’s needs (instead of the opposite, as at present). Possibly some will want a simple life of plain living and high thinking; that is for them to decide in Socialism.

On your question about religion and understanding, see the reply to G. J. Rajakarier. Why not get in touch with the group of SPGB members in your area? They will be pleased to go into these matters fully with you.

Being sure

I think you say that Socialism is scientific, and I appreciate an argument which is presented factually and as a result of convincing research. Your arguments on, say. population and food and raw material resources are compelling but clash with other arguments presented by reputable scientists. On what solid fact or research do you come to your conclusions, and where are your references for checking? It is true that a lot can be deduced from common sense and first principles, but on questions such as “how much fossil fuel is left?” only scientific facts will do. I know that an organization of your size and limited financial resources and research facilities can’t hope to tackle this problem, but references to second-hand figures from other journals leave at least one of your readers wondering: how do they really know?

I think your arguments are at their best when they are couched in cool and temperate language. While agreeing with many of your criticisms, are all monarchs and their hangers-on, politicians and capitalists etc. wicked, malicious, deceitful villains? Or is it not possible that the Queen, say, is an honest, straightforward, well-meaning anachronism and in that sense as, much a victim of the system as you or I? Do you really think that every single member (or leader) of, say, the Labour Party is a cynical careerist or is it possible that most are genuinely misguided sincere men who believe by reformism that they are doing good work? Again, the capitalists themselves: what are they to do in the present system—should one sell all his goods and leave his family as destitute as the rest of the working class just for the sake of it? Such a person may, through his environment, education and upbringing, be a victim of the system. Are there not wicked workers? I’m saying you are right, but can the working class be won over only if there are “baddies and goodies”? Or should we be looking at the system and its effects, treating human nature as an “effect” of the system?

Please reflect on this and see whether there isn’t a bit of truth in it. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea for one or two of you to be bloody wrong for once, because as well as being a bit peevish I think you are a bit smug as well. Try to take a joke.
Greater Manchester (name and address supplied)

We say that the two condtions for establishing Socialism are (a) when social production can produce a sufficiency of goods and (b) when the majority of the working class understand Socialism and are convinced of the necessity for it. We claim that the first of these conditions exists. Our support for this comes from all sorts of sources. A major one is United Nations statistics (e.g. the Study of the Problem of Raw Materials and Development, UN Gen. Assembly A 9544); and it is unlikely that they are biased in our favour. Others include scientific journals such as the Scientific American and The Ecologist, to which reputable scientists contribute.

It would be easier for us to reply properly if you had been a little more specific: which scientists disagree with us over what? One report which superficially contradicts one of our claims is the MIT Limits to Growth study, 1972, which argues that of the 19 mineral and energy resources vital to industrial society, 10 had such low known reserves that at current consumption rates they would run out in forty years. But this makes assumptions such as (1) that population is increasing exponentially, (2) that current consumption rates will continue, and (3) that it is not possible to develop alternative energy sources. In fact it is no longer true that population is increasing at the 1972 rate.

Maybe there are “wicked, malicious, deceitful villains” around; we don’t allege that the Queen is among them, and we certainly don’t blame individuals for the positions they occupy in society. Capitalism and its effects would still be here if every capitalist and every politician were scrupulously honest. No capitalist is responsible for the present order of things; capitalism was brought about not by individual decision but by the pressures of class interests leading to a change in the mode of production.

We don’t tell capitalists to act the part of philanthropists, but we advise any individual to start propagating Socialism. And we don’t think it is human nature to cheat, be competitive etc.; this is only socially-conditioned human behaviour. If you do know any capitalist who wants to give some away, the SPGB is short of money at the moment. (Most of us do have a sense of humour.)

Catching votes 

In answering my criticism that the SPGB fails to get across the socialist alternative two reasons were given: lack of funds and the BBC’s refusal to allow the SPGB onto the Open Door programme.

It is deplorable that, through the BBC and its commercial pals, the Government continues to monopolize the broadcasting media in this country and I would say that the BBC’s grounds for turning down the SPGB is highly questionable and ought to be looked into.

But, these problems aside, there is clearly something wrong with the SPGB’s approach to the public. In the May GLC elections the three SPGB candidates managed to net 0.59 per cent of the total number of votes cast in the constituencies of Marylebone, Lambeth and Camden.

This doesn’t leave much evidence of non-party support. So either the Party is failing to make its platform attractive enough to the electorate or the latter cannot, or will not, understand it. Now if the political coherency of the average tabloid daily, popular among the British working classes, is anything to go by the political awareness of our electorate is . . . undeveloped.

So, as straightforward as your present image is (a rare thing in politics) it’s not catching votes. Perhaps the socialist programme is too overwhelming for the average person who has inherited centuries of conscious grovelling to capitalist leadership and wage-slavery. As much as this is inexcusable the SPGB is not going to change it as long as it remain aloof in the higher reaches of Marxist weltanschauung. Start by looking at the wording in your Declaration of Principles: precise it may be but the language resounds with nineteenth century tub-thumping.

Of course you will remind me of the inherent antagonism in the class struggle and the need to attack all the aspects of the capitalist habit. But if the SPGB wants to achieve political legitimacy it’s going to have to adopt fresh ways of approaching us simpletons who haven’t managed to get through every volume of Capital. I hope for everyone’s sake it does.
Jon Lieberman 

We invited you to expand on how the SPGB could, vide your previous letter, “exploit the media and all the other available channels”, and we find your response extremely lame. You say the BBC’s turning us down “ought to be looked into”. By whom? There have been various committees of enquiry into broadcasting; the SPGB has submitted evidence to all of them, and they have often stated that minorities such as ourselves should have opportunities to speak. The BBC has gone on rejecting us. What do you suggest?

You now abandon the other projects you proposed, and draw attention to our poll in the GLC elections as proof that “there is clearly something wrong with the SPGB’s approach”. However, in your first letter you said it was “a fact” that Trotskyists and other left-wing groups “had greater sway” and “leave the SPGB behind”. An article elsewhere in this issue gives election figures for all these groups. In the 1974 General Election they averaged an estimated .065 of the votes cast, and in the GLC elections they did not do conspicuously better than we. Would you now modify your previous opinion?

We hardly need telling that the political awareness of the majority of the electorate is “undeveloped”. Whether or not our language is “aloof” is a matter of opinion; the Socialist Standard frequently receives letters from readers who find it direct and comprehensible compared with other political journals. But whatever language is used, we still have to get it into the hands of working people. If you know “fresh ways” of doing this, or otherwise promoting the Socialist case, we should be more than interested to hear about them. Hope isn’t enough; as we asked previously, what are you doing to help get Socialism?

Ever-interesting topics

I read with interest your publication this month, and I find that you seem to contradict yourself or the aspect of religion. One of the main themes of your publication is that one should not equate Socialism with the Labour Movement. I ask, then, why is it not possible not to equate Christianity with the Church of today?

Secondly, in reply to N. Fox’s letter in this month’s edition, you state that many people are deserting their religious beliefs “which palpably stand against their material well-being”, and yet in the preceding paragraph you condemn religious institutions “for their role in upholding property and exploitation”. Isn’t there a contradiction in terms here?

Finally, I wish to point out that ever since Adam, man has been interested in three things: politics, religion and sex. Whatever your efforts, you are not going to change that. Far from religion being “an obstacle to understanding” for man, it is the explanation of his being.
G. J. Rajakarier

To re-state your first point as we understand it, you are saying that Christianity need not be identified with the established churches, and you attempt an analogy with Socialism for Christianity and the Labour Party as the Church. It does not answer our case that Socialism is both valid and desirable, and Christianity (in or out of churches) is neither. We see religious beliefs as an obstacle to understanding that man makes his own history out of material conditions.

An example of people abandoning religious beliefs which conflict with their interests is the Catholic Church’s teaching on birth control. It is founded on the doctrine that the soul is infused by God at the moment of conception : therefore, birth control thwarts the divine intention. Despite that awesome thought, fewer and fewer Catholics adhere to this teaching and the numbers of the Catholic Church are falling. Why? Because, for the working class today, outsize families mean an unacceptable degree of poverty and discomfort.

You apparently have in mind that the capitalist class, who obtain their well-being from property and exploitation, would approve of religion’s upholding rôle. As individuals a good many of them do, of course. But for the capitalist system as a whole, materialism is the necessary basis for scientific and technical development to keep large-scale production profitable in the modern world.

Your final paragraph is mistaken, even overlooking “ever since Adam ’. Politics means participation in the powers of government, and until recently in history it concerned small sections of society. Only since the appearance of capitalism have increasing numbers of the population been widely interested in politics, being required to approve rulers of their nation-states—“dragged into the political arena”, as Marx and Engels put it. The forms taken by man’s interest in sex are closely bound up with changes in society; it has become a subject by itself to the extent that it has become separated from reproduction. As for religion being "the explanation for man’s being”, what religion we are talking about? Voodooism, sun-worship, the Aztec blood-sacrifice?

We were promised jetpacks (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Yes, a good percentage of the working class are certainly living better today than they did in the twenties. But this isn’t really the way to look at it. We always seem to be looking back when we should be looking at what we could have. We could compare that with what we’ve got now, instead of looking at what it was like years ago and thinking how lucky we are. By looking at it this way, we will advance much more quickly.

From Coronation Cup and Jam Jars by Ron Barnes. Centerprise. 1976.

Extracts from ‘‘Packaging News”, May 1977 (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard


“Another record year for profits was recorded in 1976 by Rockware Group Ltd. . . .  On a turnover increased by about one-third, operating profit was up from £46,000 to £302,000.

And engineering also produced good results with operating profits rising from £72,000 to £146,000.

“An interim board forecast that 1976-77 would be the best year in the history of Jefferson Smurfit Group has now been confirmed by results.

The second half year finished with pre-tax profits of £6 million against £4.6 million for the first half. Taking the year as a whole, group profits before tax are £10.6 million, 77 per cent ahead of last year.

“Advances of 43 per cent in sales and 63 per cent in pre-tax profits compared with 1975 enabled results at TPT Ltd. last year to surpass the previous best.

“A ‘remarkable’ growth of almost 30 per cent from £8,500,000 to £10,947,000 in home sales last year has been reported by Beatson Clark & co. Ltd.

Profit before tax was £1,776,000 compared with £1,072,000 in 1975.

★ ★ ★

Mentioned in small type on the same page under “Finance in Brief”, the following: “An increase in profits from £5.5 million in 1975 to £9 million was recorded for its packaging business last year by Bowater Corporation Ltd.”

Socialist Party of Gt. Britain’s statement to the Annan Committee (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Having submitted evidence to the Annan Committee on the Future of Broadcasting the Socialist Party of Great Britain were invited, along with other contributors, to comment on the subsequent Report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting published in March. We reproduce our statement below.

1. The reason for the media's general persistence in refusing the Socialist Party of Great Britain the opportunity to state its views through the media is explained in para. 3.14 which states that minorities have no “rights” of access to the media. The report states that the media is “not a dialogue” but a “form of publishing”. In other words it is a one way process which gives the owners/controllers of the media a monopoly over the minds of those affected by ‘the process’. As a revolutionary party the SPGB is not so naive as to expect “rights” to be granted to us by a Royal Commission of reform, but see it as our responsibility to destroy the capitalist class monopoly over people’s minds through political organization for a classless, democratic world society. The report states that “our broadcasting system with a limited number of channels [cannot] perform such a service when the uniformity and cost of broadcasting makes it generally unsuitable as a means of communication between small numbers.” In other words, in capitalist society principles like democracy come second to those of “uniformity” and “cost”.

2. In para. 3.18 the report states that the media “tends to reinforce the cliches, say, about sport or money of our times”. Indeed, that is one of the principal reasons why the media is so heavily subsidized by the state in whose interests such cliches are preserved. The SPGB has the duty, not the right, to challenge the “cliches of our times”.

Rôle of the State
3. In paras. 3.20-3.23 the report deals with the  rôle of the state in relation to the media it is suggested that broadcasters ought not to be allowed to decide what is “good for society” as this might lead to their taking control of the media for their own personal ends. Therefore, according to the report, the state should have ultimate control of the media. This implies that the state is in some ways a democratic representative of the people’s interests. This analysis is deceptive: the state is in existence to represent the interest of the ruling class. State control of the media therefore means class control of the media.

Broadcating Complaints Board
4. The report makes the specific proposal that a broadcasting complaints board be set up. The significant issue to us is the method which such a body would employ to determine the validity of a complaint. Would such a body be purely concerned with factual errors which are commonly accepted as being erroneous, or would it allow an organization putting a complaint to substantiate its case against inaccurate information? As one example of many we may cite the numerous organizations, governments and armies which the media refers to as being “Marxist”, thus discrediting genuine Marxists, even though many of these organizations do not even claim to be Marxist and many of those that do are not.

Access programmes 
5. Para. 18.9 deals with the criteria for selection of organizations for access programmes. One criterion not mentioned is that political parties are not allowed access to broadcasting unless they are advocating reforms. Thus, the National Front were recently given an access programme to put forward their views about immigration. The SPGB, because we are a revolutionary party standing for a single object and not for reforms, is therefore excluded.

6. In para. 17.15 there is a misrepresentation of the contribution of the SPGB to the Annan report. We did not say that there is a bias by the media against the Left wing and we strongly object to being coupled with the Communist Party of Great Britain in having made this alleged remark. Any bias by the media is not, in our opinion, based on a conscious effort to exclude or discredit Socialist ideas, but on a total unawareness of what Socialism means. In this the workers in the media are not alone and so the Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue to propagate our ideas in every way available to us.

Manufacturing consent (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
In his capture of the mind by our industrial autocracy as the means to economic and social subjugation, the most powerful instrument of all is the modern industrialized Press. Through it our economic Prussianism can control the nation’s mind, form its opinions, direct its passions, determine its judgements.
Sir Allen Lane, The Press and The Organization of Society, (1933)

Industrial and commercial interests influence broadcasting and television. With the intensive study of psychology, propaganda and advertising, it may become increasingly possible for a few who can afford to spend heavily on controlling the means of communication to condition the minds of the rest.
Michael Stewart (Later British Foreign Secretary), Modern Forms of Government, (1959)

"Cheap labour" (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
"It's not only China that seems to be adopting Western practices. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, a senior American businessman has just been to Hanoi, the first US businessman to visit the city for more than 20 years. He made this visit at the same time as the American House of Representatives was voting against lifting the trade embargo with Vietnam.

The authorities in Hanoi spoke a different language from their anti-capitalist philosophies of a few years ago. They assured the businessman that one of the main attractions of their country was cheap labour."
Guardian, 3rd June 77.

SPGB Meetings (1977)

Party News from the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life and Times: Romance and Reality (2023)

The Life and Times column from the August 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

I have a friend who rarely misses the opportunity to tell those around him that he would like to bring his children up in ‘a socialist country’. He makes it clear that the country he has in mind is Cuba. And he’s not alone in regarding Cuba as ‘socialist’. We see this in some of the people who apply online to join the Socialist Party and fill in our short questionnaire. The idea of the questionnaire isn’t to catch people out but rather to make sure they understand and are in agreement with what the Party stands for. So to the question ‘Has socialism been established in any part of the world?’, most applicants answer ‘no’. These already know enough about the organisation to understand that we see socialism as a world society without money and wages, without buying and selling and based on economic equality and free access for all to all goods and services. But a few answer in the affirmative and then give examples – perhaps Norway or Sweden (the Scandinavian so-called ‘social-democratic’ countries), or Venezuela (especially under Chavez), or one-party states like China, Vietnam and, most often, Cuba, the country that my aforementioned friend holds in the highest possible esteem and, more generally, seems to be an endless source of fascination for what might be called the ‘left-wing mind’. Why should this be?

When Fidel Castro led an armed uprising in 1958 against the repressive US-backed dictatorial regime of Fulgensio Batista and then gained the support and backing of the Soviet Union, it was hailed by many in the West as a successful ‘socialist’ revolution. But it soon became clear that, rhetoric aside, what had happened was that one dictator had been replaced by another, the only difference being that the new one was supported and sustained by the Soviet Union rather than the US. Not that this prevented the romance that attached itself to Cuba throughout the left-wing world from continuing. That romance has, it’s true, become somewhat tarnished since the death of Castro and the accession to power initially of his brother Raul, but for many the country still somehow remains a living example of socialism in action.

In reality, of course, the widespread poverty for the majority alongside massive privilege for a tiny ruling clique that existed both before Castro and under him still exists, as does a one-party state, suppression of independent thought and harsh punishment for dissent, including the death sentence. As recently as 2021 Human Rights Watch ranked Cuba as 19th out of all nations by the number of imprisoned journalists and the 2020 World Press Freedom Index placed it 171st out of 180.

Elections without choice
As for elections, despite being an authoritarian one-party state, Cuba does hold them, the most recent one being in March this year. But these are elections only in a manner of speaking, more of a ritual than a genuine vehicle for the democratic choosing of representatives. Though the regime tries to present itself as a superior form of democracy, with people summoned to vote to appoint members of the ‘National Assembly of People’s Power’, those people do not choose who those members shall be but are simply asked to ratify those selected to stand by the single legally authorised party, the Communist Party. So the country and its people are in effect simply going through empty motions, a process referred to by one commentator as ‘elections without choices’.

State capitalism
Despite this, Cuba continues to call itself a ‘socialist’ country, But what it means by this is adherence to a largely state-controlled economy with most of the means of production owned and run by the government and most of the workforce employed by the state. This is not of course socialism in our terms but just another form of capitalism – state capitalism – even if it is, unfortunately as I see it, what many people, including both my friend who would like to live in Cuba and some of those who fill in our joining questionnaire, mean when they talk about ‘socialism’. And what’s certain is that, whatever they choose to call it, it’s a million miles away from the cooperative stateless society of free access and democratic organisation that we call socialism.

So, given what’s known about Cuba and the way people live there, why does my friend like the idea that it would be good for his children to be brought up there? And why do some applicants for membership of the Socialist Party see Cuba as some form of socialism in action? The only answer I can think of is that myths die hard. Long after irrefutable evidence shows a political system not to be what it purports to be or what people thought it was, some of those people still find it too hard to look that evidence in the face. Instead they just carry on believing what they’ve always believed. In the case of Cuba, as in other cases, romance trumps reality.
Howard Moss

Pathfinders: Bread and butter issues (2023)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The proposal to upgrade capitalism to socialism, a global system of common ownership where everything is free at the point of use, is based on materialist arguments, not moral judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, fair and unfair, motivating though such considerations can also be. And this proposal stands or falls on a key question: can a world socialist society actually deliver what it promises?

People sometimes ask this in relation to the politics of socialism, for example querying whether, despite socialism’s egalitarian ethos, informal hierarchies might nevertheless emerge. Or they might claim ‘unintended consequences’, such as the idea that science could be retarded by the absence of the capitalist lash of competition. Or that certain antisocial tendencies and attitudes are to some extent genetically built in and will therefore persist. We argue not, in all these cases, but it’s not possible to give definitive answers to everything, and in any event we don’t claim that socialism is a ‘perfect’ society, whatever that means, only one that is considerably better and more efficient than capitalism.

One issue however cannot be up for debate, and that is food, the most basic human need. Capitalism depends for its existence on scarcity, whereas socialism presupposes a society where there’s enough for everybody. If people don’t have enough to eat, the assumption is that the fabric of socialist society might break down in civil strife, spawning some retrograde form of private property society, with all its attendant features including war, oppressive hierarchies, rampant inequality and the like.

There is some reason to think this doomsday view is itself a product of the capitalist mindset, and that historically, and prehistorically, people’s response to crisis was often one of cooperation, not mutual fighting. It is well known that people help each other after major disasters ( in what has been termed ‘catastrophe compassion’ ( In studies, one-year-old human children display empathy towards other children in distress ( Prehistoric human societies were largely cooperative and egalitarian (, but even the Neolithic farming revolution, itself very likely a response to climate catastrophe, depended on large-scale cooperation. Socialism could well be a far more robust and durable society than even socialists imagine.

Nevertheless, food security is not negotiable, and we have often described socialism as a ‘world of abundance’. But the word ‘abundance’ might conjure up fantastical notions, like the medieval tales of the Land of Cockaigne, where the rivers flowed with wine, the skies rained cheese and ready-to-eat roast chickens flew through the air. A better term might be ‘sustainable sufficiency’, which suggests the idea of enough without implying an infeasible cornucopia, though this consideration clearly did not worry the people behind the notion of Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

The matter of food would be fairly straightforward were it not for two factors. One is the widely held ‘common sense’ view that there are too many people, a subject often refuted in this magazine (eg, Baby Bust, December 2022). The other is the confusing statements coming out of various UN food-related bodies. Last year, as reported by the Food and Agricultural Organization, the chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) declared that ‘we have enough food to feed 10 billion people’ ( But the FAO has previously stated (2009) that ‘feeding a world population of 9.1 billion in 2050 would require raising overall food production by some 70 percent’ ( So which is it? Is there enough or isn’t there?

The crucial factor in such projections is the model used, whether business-as-usual (FAO) or paradigm shift (CFS). If humans want to carry on as they are, with all the wasteful characteristics of capitalism, a huge increase in food output may very well be necessary. But there is growing awareness that the current state of things is unsustainable, and basically self-destructive. 30 percent of all food is wasted, much of it before it even reaches the end consumer, because of lack of refrigerant facilities in developing countries to preserve crops which tend to harvest all at once, creating gluts. Plastic packaging also reduces food waste by up to 75 percent, but companies use cheap plastics which maximise their profits but are not biodegradable, causing massive pollution through the food chain and inspiring a self-defeating popular backlash against the use of any and all plastics. Meanwhile, food grown is not necessarily food directly intended for humans to eat. 60 percent of European wheat is fed to animals, as is 80 percent of the world’s soya crops. 40 percent of US maize goes into cars, while 23 percent of global palm oil is used for diesel ( All this on a minority of the world’s agricultural land, while the other 60 percent is used for livestock grazing to supply the rich world’s meat diets ( And that’s to say nothing of the heavy fertiliser use, involving nitrogen run-offs that pollute rivers, cause algal blooms, and exacerbate climate change.

A recent Paris study found that sustainable nitrogen-free organic farming could feed between 3 and 14 billion, depending on the degree to which meat and dairy farming were reduced. Conversely, it concluded that if everyone insisted on a Western diet, consisting of around 55 percent animal protein, feeding 9 billion people would be impossible even with increased nitrogen use and the conversion to agriculture of an extra swathe of grassland the size of Russia (

So is there enough food for socialist sufficiency? The answer is yes, but not necessarily without some hard trade-offs. Socialism is a materialist proposition, not a magical fairyland. But if today’s exploited and oppressed workers get the opportunity to choose between wage slavery or a truly free life in socialism, we think they’re more than capable of weighing up the pros and cons and deciding where their best interests lie.
Paddy Shannon