Friday, November 3, 2023

Can the workers understand Socialism? (1930)

From the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is the working class a wash-out?—that is the question. A correspondent, in a very interesting letter, has put it this way. Socialism is a highly intellectual conception, and its acceptance involves a critical examination of the whole of one’s ideas and beliefs. Now most people we meet are not highly intelligent, not critical, not very imaginative, and not even interested. Their conception of a better world is limited to the possibility of another pound a week in the present one. Sport and the daily newspaper give them all the romance they want. And yet, says the questioner, it is just these average, humdrum’ people who must be convinced that Socialism is both practicable and necessary. That is the poser.

If a recent lecturer on psychology is to be believed, the case is even worse. He said that just as physical growth slackens down at about the age of puberty, and shortly after ceases altogether, so does the intelligence slacken down and cease to develop at about the same age. After that, a person can acquire knowledge, but no more intelligence. It may be worth quoting his exact words:
“But with the average child, tests of innate intelligence show little appreciable improvement after the age of fourteen.

“During the war, tests of intelligence were applied to nearly 2,000,000 recruits for the American Army; it was then discovered that the average mental age of adults in the United States was barely fourteen.” (Dr. Cyril Burt.)
This is rather staggering. Are you and I no more intelligent than our boys just leaving school? Are our apprentices, messengers and office boys to put us to shame and confusion by claiming intellectual equality? The eminent professor comes to our rescue, for he says:—
“The paradox, however, may be easily explained away. The puzzle arises from confusing inborn or natural ability with acquired knowledge and attainments. The former ceases to improve; the latter may continue improving to the end of our days.”
We breathe again. We shall not be a mockery for schoolboys. But if the professor is right, there seems to emerge a very important truth. If the intelligence does not grow after the age of 14, just as the body ceases a year or so later, surely we are all on an average level again. We are all mentally 14, mathematicians and knife-grinders, university lecturers and booking-clerks. The great difference lies in “acquired knowledge and attainments.” So that the argument that Socialism is a system of thought that is only comprehensible by the highly intelligent, followed by the statement that the working-class is not more than five per cent. intelligent, is not in accord with facts.

It is not a lack of intelligence that is the stumbling block, it is something else. Consider these facts. This journal you are now perusing has a fairly steady circulation. Its very steadiness argues that the same people read it pretty regularly year after year. We can agree that the contents and character of this journal are such as to appeal to none but intelligent people. And yet the membership of the party is only about a tenth of the circulation. Surely intelligent people should take intelligent action, and if; as our questioner insisted, intelligence is to be the touchstone, the outlook is indeed gloomy. Fortunately, there appears to us to be other avenues of hope. First, there is the information given by Dr. Burt, quoted above: “acquired knowledge . . . may continue improving to the end of our days.” It should be the function of a Socialist movement to see that the working class acquires a knowledge of its position in society, its evolution, its problems and its destiny. This knowledge can only be propagated by the spoken or written word, possibly supplemented by the cinematograph.

The case for Socialism can be put, and has been put, in language easily comprehensible by a normal boy of 14. It is possibly more easily apprehended then, for use and wont have not dulled the mind into the ruts of habit. According to the professor, he is as intelligent then as he will ever be. It is in acquired knowledge that he will progress if at all. It should be the peculiar task of our movement to provide that knowledge, not in the form of a small journal appearing at intervals of a calendar month, but in every form the genius of man can devise. Capitalists who sell wares have discovered that man is a lazy animal, who moves when prodded often enough, who is most responsive to massed attack, and when subjected to a continuous reiteration of the same story. They have found that the mere appearance of one word, like “Bovril,” on every railway station, every hoarding, and in every important periodical in the country, has a powerful psychological effect It becomes by sheer familiarity and persistence, part of the “acquired knowledge” encountered by the questing human mind. When we see every railway station in the country, every hoarding in the towns, every vehicle that carries advertisements, plastered with the word “Socialism”; when every bookstall and every bookshop is sprinkled with Socialist books and pamphlets; when Socialism is mentioned by every newspaper (even in detestation, as we should expect) every day, every week, every month, when the average man has Socialism thrust upon him, rammed at him, rained on him, insistently and persistently, in season and out of season, things will begin to move.

His intelligence may have ceased to grow at 14, but it will be sufficient We must take care of his acquired knowledge. He will be helped—if it is suitably drummed into him—by the obvious increasing bankruptcy of Capitalism, and the incessant attacks on the workers’ standard of living. To take the course suggested lays a heavy burden upon the pioneers of a movement such as ours. That is the essential problem of the immediate present. How can the handful of enthusiasts who initiate the movement, get together sufficient funds to drench the working-class with its literature, to make its presence not only felt, but inescapable, to so familiarise them with its propaganda that misrepresentation becomes ludicrous? How can they, out of their poverty, engender this avalanche of publicity that is to overcome the workers’ normal and natural inertia, and get them definitely on the move? Let every intelligent man, who has added to his stock of acquired knowledge by reading this article, answer for himself. Every reader a member, and every member a party worker, that is our object. We shall move in proportion to our effort.
W. T. Hopley

Spiritualism. (1930)

From the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the September issue we published a letter from a reader, in which he related his experiences at a spiritist meeting, and the deep impression which they made upon him. Our reply in the same issue, while it has not elicited any further letter from the original inquirer, has led to several other readers writing to express their views. It is impossible, owing to their length, to print these letters in full, but we have tried below to deal with the points raised in them.

First, let us deal again with the experience of the reader whose letter we published. He went to a spiritualist meeting, and believes that he was “a perfect stranger” to those present. He was told certain facts about a dead relative of his, and was also told that he was suffering from a complaint which “is not visible to anyone except when nude.”

We replied that the facts related by our reader do not in any way help to establish the belief in the existence of so-called “spirit forces.” As our reply is unconvincing to some correspondents, and has been misunderstood by others, some amplification may be desirable.

Spiritualists claim firstly that certain phenomena cannot be explained by known natural laws. They claim secondly that the existence of “spirit forces” is the explanation.

It is important to observe that these are two quite distinct propositions ; if the first were proved true, it by no means follows that the second is likewise true. The phenomena, if such phenomena exist, might not be explicable by existing known natural laws, but, nevertheless, explicable by hitherto unknown but still natural laws.

Now let us return to our correspondent’s letter. Does he present us with convincing evidence of inexplicable phenomena? The answer is emphatically no ! He suffers from a disease which is “not visible to anyone except when nude”; but every doctor is taught by one or other of the systems of diagnosis to recognise symptoms of disease in the face, the hands, the eyes, etc. Does a doctor have to see a man’s kidneys before he can suspect the existence of a disease of that organ? Our reader does not mention this, and apparently did not even consider it, yet we are asked on the strength of it to believe in “spiritualism ” !

His second point was that he, “a perfect stranger,” was told certain things about his dead aunt. But how does he know that he was “a perfect stranger”? He may not have recognised any of those whom he saw present, but that is no indication that someone there did not know certain facts about him and his dead relative.

In short, this particular incident does not contain any phenomena which require us to inquire into the adequacy or inadequacy of existing natural laws.

Then there is the second point, that even if this incident did contain unquestionable evidence of phenomena which known laws would not explain, it does not follow that “spiritualism” is the explanation. One hypothesis—suggested but not proved—is that of telepathy. Telepathy, if it were proved, would explain what our correspondent (without sufficient evidence) believes took place, but would not prove the claims of the spiritualists.

So much for that incident. Now for the claims of spiritualists in general, and of our other correspondents.

To all of these we would first point out that even Sir Oliver Lodge, although himself a spiritualist, admits that scientific proof of spiritualism is lacking. In an address delivered at the David Thomas Memorial Church, Bristol, on September 7th of this year, he said :—(Times, 8th September) :—
“. . . they held, in fact, the doctrine of individual survival, and adduced plenty of evidence in support of it. Whether that evidence amounted to proof was still a matter of opinion. Scientific proof was a serious thing, not lightly to be testified to ; but the evidence was certainly very strong. ” (Italics ours.)
The fact that Sir Oliver Lodge believes in it without proof does not show that it deserves belief. It merely shows the fallibility of the scientist in matters where a strong emotion is at work.

One reader writes to tell us that “spiritualism is Socialism.” In reply, we cannot do more than emphasise our continued teaching that Socialism is not a visionary’s dream, but a system of society. Its basis will be in material conditions, the common ownership of the means of life. It will be brought about by men and women possessing knowledge of the world we live in, and able at least to glimpse at the boundless possibilites of human development in a world of which the economic structure is rationally ordered. Progress to Socialism will not be promoted by those who give up the substance for the illusory benefits of life on the “other side.” That is why the Socialist is compelled to touch upon questions of religion and spiritualism in order to drive home the lesson which is taught by past developments of man’s powers, the lesson that the only safe rule is to accept no hypothesis as proved until it has been verified in accordance with scientific methods.

Most of the letters we have received on the subject have been to the point. One, from Mr. F. Montague, M.P., Undersecretary for Air in the present Government, was mostly not to the point. In it we are charged with talking “ignorant rubbish,” told not to play with words like “superstitious and supernatural” (we did not mention them), and informed that “to put it all down to cheap and clumsy fraud” puts us out of count as serious critics. If Mr. Montague had not been so angry he would have noticed that these and many other things he says have no bearing on the reply which he writes to criticise.

When he writes that spiritualism “must be proved or disproved of itself,” we agree. But if he means to imply that it has been proved, we disagree. It certainly has not, and it is certainly true that an enormous amount of “cheap and clumsy fraud” has been associated with the activities of the spiritualists.

Mr. Montague says : “I know from my own mediumship of a number of years ago, that explanations of the conjuring and collusion order do not fill the bill.”

Even on this point, notwithstanding Mr. Montague’s personal experiences, we are not prepared to accept his statement, or any other such unsupported testimony as conclusive evidence. What Mr. Montague says he saw or thinks he knows is not proof. It is precisely because of the known credulousness or gullibility of the human mind that science demands proofs from which the possibility of human error is eliminated as far as possible. Such proofs have not been forthcoming from the spiritualists. If we may be permitted to illustrate this gullibility of the human mind by means of a reference to another field of activity, we would point out that Mr. Montague, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, persists in adhering to the view that it is in the interests of the working class to have the Labour Party in office carrying on the capitalist system. Unfortunately, large numbers of workers believe this also.

In conclusion, we would refer interested correspondents to a full discussion on spiritualism which took place in the Socialist Standard of the following months:—October and December, 1926; and March, May, June and August, 1927. These issues are obtainable from this office.
Editorial Committee.

Miners and Airmen. A Contrast in Tragedies. (1930)

From the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The manner in which the R.101 eclipsed the Walsall miners provides an object lesson in the function of the capitalist press. The scandalous waste of miners’ lives in the production of coal-owners profits makes a mine explosion a tit-bit of little value in the way of news. Of course, there is always “the Royal message of sympathy,” and for two or three days “the disaster arouses the feeling of the whole community”—then it is quietly dropped. In this case, the dropping was rendered quick and certain by the occurrence of a first-rate space-filler.

It was not the immense risk they ran nor the horror of their deaths which made them heroes. Nor yet the fact that they were British. In these respects their case did not differ from that of the miners, for whom there was no military funeral, no flags flying half-mast, no ornate pomp and ceremony, to draw tens of thousands to see their coffins.

The R.101 was bound for Egypt and India. Its mission was professedly a peaceful one; but it belonged to an arm of the State which exists to destroy human lives whenever capitalist interests so dictate. Had the voyage proved a success its next trip might not have been so peaceful.

One journalistic defender of capitalism appeared to have an inkling that its working class readers were not altogether blind to these facts. The Daily Express on October 11th, commented on the necessity for remembering the members of “that large industrial army who died in the performance of their duty.”

Is it duty, then, that sends miners down the pit or the engineers and riggers up in the air? Listen to one of the survivors, Mr. Sinks, of Sheffield. “Shall I fly again? Most certainly ! It is my living !” And any miner would say the same. The workers the world over are driven to risk their lives in order to fill their stomachs and provide shelter for their skins. Their inspiration is not patriotism, but want; and this same want is the modern equivalent of the slave-driver’s lash. By its aid are constructed edifices more mighty than the pyramids, more dreadful than Nero in their capacity for destruction.

To the British master-class the loss of the R.101 was more than mere material, for expensive experts shared the fate of their cheap subordinates. But as the present scribe is no expert, he does not intend to pronounce upon the hotly-debated question of lighter versus heavier-than-air-machines. Suffice it to point out that it is difficult to imagine the natives of tropical dependencies sharing their grief. Whether they are to be bombed from ‘planes or gasbags will, no doubt, appear in their eyes to be a matter of purely academic interest ; and in the eyes of Socialists also. What is of the greatest importance is that the workers of the world should understand that it is not in their interests that these giant war-weapons are being developed. Empires and trade routes do not provide them with fortunes, and (apart from the relatives of the immediate victims) it is not they who have suffered a loss in this “national calamity” ; but it is in the interests of the master-class that they should be led to think so. Hence the whole machinery for the manipulation of the “mass-mind” has been set in motion with a thoroughness reminiscent of 1914.
Eric Boden

Who Owns “Our” Country? (1930)

From the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Runciman answered.
Periodically, Mr. Walter Runciman and the Economic League compile impressive-looking figures of the total amount saved by workers and other small investors and deposited in the Post Office Savings Banks, Building Societies, Registered Provident Societies, etc. On the basis of this, the Economic League coined a slogan, “Every man a capitalist.” The total amount looks considerable until it is remembered how many people there are among whom the ownership of it is divided. The true position has now been analysed and explained by Mr. Hargreaves Parkinson, of The Economist, in his book, “The Small Investor” (Blackie & Son, Ltd., 4s.). He points out in Chapter XIII that the total amount of savings in all kinds of institutions, and including an estimate of the amount of small investments in Stock Exchange securities, represents only from 10 per cent. to 14 per cent. of the total wealth of Great Britain.

This means that over 75 per cent. of the population own between them only from one-tenth to one-seventh of the total wealth. The remaining 86 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the national wealth is the private property of less than one-quarter of the population (see pages 108-110).

It may also be remarked that Mr. Parkinson’s estimate of the amount of small investors’ savings errs decidedly on the liberal side. He assumes, for example, that the £290 millions in the Post Office Savings Banks and the £130 millions in the Trustee Saving’s Banks belong wholly to small depositors, whereas investigation has shown that to a very large extent these totals are the property of a few relatively large depositors.

However, his conclusions are sufficient to show that Mr. Runciman’s figures prove the exact opposite of what he contends. They illustrate not that there is a high degree of equality, but that there is a staggering inequality as between the 25 per cent. of wealthy persons and their families, and the 75 per cent. who make up the rest of the population.
Edgar Hardcastle

List of Donations to Party Funds. (1930)

 Party News from the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

SPGB Meetings. (1930)

 Party News from the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Answers to Correspondents: Why we obey the L.C.C. (1930)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why we obey the L.C.C.

A correspondent writes to criticise us for “accepting the ruling of the L.C.C.” which forbids us to take collections or sell literature in London commons and parks. He suggests that we ought to hold meetings of protest and get the audiences to show by means of a vote their disapproval of the L.C.C.’s action. The results of the votes should be forwarded to the L.C.C., and then he adds : “If the bye-law is not repealed, the L.C.C. is acting unconstitutionally and you can take a collection, sell literature, and tell the police.”

Our correspondent’s argument contains one fatal defect : his assumption that a bye-law ceases to be effective because a number of public meetings protest against it. Even if we assume (a very big assumption) that the Tory, Liberal, and Labour supporters who form the vast majority of the audiences who gather in public places, would support such a protest, the fact remains that a big majority of the members elected to sit on the London County Council are in favour of the ban, and their supporters, if not actively in favour, are at least not prepared to demand its withdrawal. It is not within the limited means of the S.P.G.B. to reach the whole of the electorate in London, and the few we can reach at our meetings arc too few to change the composition or to influence the actions of the L.C.C. So long as the L.C.C. is composed of people who want the ban, so long will that bye-law remain in force. And so long as it remains in force, the L.C.C. have the power to see that it is carried out.

If our speakers ignored it, they would be faced, as several individuals (not our members) have already been faced, with fines or the alternative of imprisonment. Being a working-class organisation, we cannot light-heartedly accept the burden of paying a number of fines and of losing our jobs (those who have them) by going to prison. To do so in the case in question would, in any event, be without effect upon the L.C.C., since the imposition of such fines would please them without causing the slightest trouble or embarrassment. It would probably not even lose them votes. 

When we have to consider taking such costly action, it must be for a purpose much more worth while than fighting this particular bye-law, which, troublesome as it is, does not prevent us from carrying on propaganda. It has indeed decreased our income, and so far we have not been able to make good the loss in other directions. We hope, however, that our efforts to do so will prove successful in the near future.
Editorial Committee.

Answers to Correspondents: The Pay of Civil Servants. (1930)

Letters to the Editors from the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pay of Civil Servants.

If the correspondent who wrote about the pay of teachers and civil servants will give his name and address (not necessarily for publication) we will reply to his criticism.
Editorial Committee.

* * *

C. W. Morrow.—We do not know what your views may be in the future. It is sufficient that you have not found it possible to combine Socialism with religion. To say that a Socialist has the “free-will” to be a Christian if he wants to be, is like saying that he has the “free-will” to be an anti-Socialist, which is absurd. No, Mr. MacDonald is not a Socialist. The fact that some scientific men retain, outside the province of their scientific activities, beliefs which cannot be substantiated, does not prove these beliefs to be valid.

* * *

E. Tinkler.—We suggest that you read our pamphlet, ”Socialism and Religion,” and then write to us again.
Editorial Committee.

Answers to Correspondents: Boudin and Marx. (1930)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent draws our attention to the first paragraph on page 17 of Boudin’s “Theoretical System of Karl Marx,” which lays it down that the class which owns the new means of production is always victorious in its conflict with the older ruling class. Our correspondent points out that if this is true then the working class— not being property owners—will never achieve their emancipation. He also assumes that the passage in question is a quotation from Marx.

In the first place, the paragraph referred to is not a quotation from Marx and is not offered by Boudin as a quotation. The paragraph before this one and the paragraph after it are presented as quotations, and are taken from Marx’s preface to his “Critique of Political Economy,” but the quotation marks end with the paragraph before the one dealt with by our correspondent, and only begin again with the paragraph following.

The view put forward is certainly not that of Marx. It is also extremely improbable that it represents Boudin’s considered view. The probable explanation is that Boudin here intended only to state as a fact in relation to past class struggles that the victory was with the class which owned the new means of production. That it should read as if it were intended to refer to all class struggles and to be an essential feature of class struggles can only have been a slip on the part of Boudin.
Editorial Committee

Voice From The Back: The madness of capitalism (2010)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

The madness of capitalism

Capitalism is an insane society. Millions die with easily prevented or curable diseases whilst millions of dollars, pounds, euros and yens are spent on new ways to destroy human beings with ingenious methods of military mayhem, but surely capitalism has reached the epitome of madness when some children are trying to exist on less than £1 a day and we can read of the following insanity. “It’s simple, but no less appealing for that. Celine’s classic box bag may cost a pretty penny but its sleek lines make it among the most wanted bags of the season. Price: £2,150″ (The Independent, 20 September). Yes, the equivalent of years of nourishment for a child spent by some parasite as a gift of a handbag to his latest girlfriend. Mad, mad, mad.

Pay cheque to pay cheque

The media constantly reminds us how lucky we are to live in an advanced capitalist economy. We should be grateful to our masters that we don’t live in a backward third-world economy. The United Kingdom, the USA and Canada must surely be free from the poverty of those third-world nations according to the media – but what is the reality? “The recession may be officially over, but six in 10 Canadians are still surviving from paycheque to paycheque, a national survey showed Monday. Fifty-nine per cent of Canadian workers say they would be in financial trouble if their paycheque was delayed by just a week – the same proportion as last year when the economy was still mired in a downturn, according to a poll of 2,766 people by the Canadian Payroll Association. The survey comes as the OECD today warned that record high debt levels have left many Canadians vulnerable to any future adverse shocks” (Globe and Mail, 13 September). Like our fellow workers in Canada and the USA we in the UK live from pay day to pay day. That is how capitalism operates.

Dollars and democracy

One of the illusions that supporters of capitalism like to boast of is the notion that whatever the failings of the profit system at least it is thoroughly democratic. This is a complete fabrication as by the expenditure of million of dollars, euros and yen the owning class completely distort any pretence to democracy that capitalism may possess. A recent example of this manipulation by the power of money has emerged in the USA. “It likes to present itself as a grassroots insurgency made up of hundreds of local groups intent on toppling the Washington elite. But the Tea Party movement, which is threatening to cause an upset in next month’s midterm elections, would not be where it is today without the backing of that most traditional of US political supporters – Big Oil. The billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, a private company with 70,000 employees and annual revenues of $100bn (£62bn), used to joke that they controlled the biggest company nobody had ever heard of. Not any more. After decades during which their fortune grew exponentially and they channelled millions of dollars to rightwing causes, Charles and David Koch are finally getting noticed for their part in the extraordinary growth of the Tea Party movement. The two, 74-year-old Charles and David, 70, have invested widely in the outcome of the 2 November elections. One Koch subsidiary has pumped $1m into the campaign to repeal California’s global warming law, according to state records” (Guardian, 14 October). Like Bob Dylan once wrote “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

Behind the rhetoric

Politicians’ stock in trade is pretending to represent the whole of society when in fact only representing the owning class. Thus we have Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats claiming that he is concerned about the poor and exploited at election time, but in power forced to declare his real aims. “Poor must accept benefit cuts: Clegg on collision course with own party by backing welfare axe. Nick Clegg has waded into the row over welfare reform by warning that benefits should not be there ‘to compensate the poor for their predicament’. On the eve of the Liberal Democrat conference, the Deputy Prime Minister backed the Coalition’s programme of welfare cuts and dramatically shifted his party’s policy on the subject” (Daily Mail, 16 September). If you represent the owning class, despite your glamour TV image, you sometimes have to tell the truth. You are poor? So what, we are not here to “compensate” you, declares this politician once in power.

Against religion (2010)

From the November 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
One of the first things the pope did as soon as he got off the plane was to launch into a bitter attack on “aggressive secularists” and “extremist atheists”. Here’s our reply.
The only reasonable position to adopt towards any religion is one of atheism: unbelief. There is a presumption in favour of not believing fantastic claims. It is up to the believer to present proof for the existence of God or life after death. After all, few are agnostic about Father Christmas, fairies or unicorns; we know they don’t exist. The same scepticism should also apply to the extraordinary beliefs of religion. With religious believers, however, there is a willingness to believe despite the lack of evidence. And it is this gullibility which socialists find to be dangerous and objectionable.

Of course religious believers do claim to have evidence, and they cite their holy texts as proof of the infallible word of God. But these writings contain so many contradictions and absurdities that no reasonable person can take them seriously. Traditional interpretations of the Bible, for instance, are highly selective and leave out the inconsistencies. In the Old Testament there are two different creation stories (Genesis 1-2, 4;2, 4-24) and two different versions of the Flood (Genesis 6,5-9,17). Needless to say, geological evidence does not confirm the Biblical accounts of the Earth’s age or the Earth being flooded to a depth of five miles all over its surface.

Nor do the prophecies fare any better. No unicorns or dragons have been found, as foretold (Isaiah 13,22;34,7). God promised the Jewish people that they will never lose their land (Psalms 89,3-4), that no uncircumcised man will ever enter Jerusalem (Isaiah 52,1) and that Jerusalem will always be a quiet place, undamaged by war (Isaiah 33,20).

In the New Testament Jesus is often reported as saying that the world is about to end, and that the end will come in the lifetime of his listeners (Matthew 4,17;10,23,-16,28;24,34). This is why he advocated giving away personal possessions, and forms the basis of the myth that Jesus was an early socialist. There is nothing socialist about making yourself deliberately poor in any case. Jesus is usually portrayed as peace-loving, but he also said: “Think not that I come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10,34). Carl Lofmark, from whom many of these examples are taken, comments in his book What is the Bible?:
“This passage has been useful to army chaplains and church leaders who have had to persuade people that they should go to war in spite of all that Jesus said about peace and forgiveness.”
But if the Bible and other religious texts are not literally true, as many theologians now accept, are they true symbolically? As with the above examples, do they have a “deeper” meaning? The trouble with this line of argument is that it is even more selective in choosing what to believe. It means turning a blind eye to the contradictions and obscenities and choosing to believe something you know is not true.

Once you have rejected the special authority of the Bible (or whatever text) as the infallible word of God, how do you know that you have interpreted the symbolism in the way the writers intended? Fundamentalists have a point when they say that this changes religion into a form of art appreciation.

Then there is morality. Many who would not describe themselves as religious will, nevertheless, have their children given religious indoctrination at school on the grounds that it will give them a moral education. In this country the law requires that Religious Education be “broadly Christian” in content. But would you want your child to be stoned to death for being disobedient, as God commands (Deuteronomy 21,18-21)? This is the morality they keep quiet about. If a husband finds that his bride is not a virgin on her wedding day, then she shall be stoned to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22,21). God instructed Moses:
“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourself” (Numbers 31,17-18).
Not only does God give this approval of the murder and rape of children, but slavery also (Exodus 21,1-11). Jesus says that to be a true believer you must hate your mother and father and “yea, and his own life also” (Luke 14,26). For the unbeliever, “thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of they daughters” (Deuteronomy 28,53). Jesus says that anyone who does not believe him will burn forever in hell (Mark 16,16). It has frequently been said that it is a very sick morality which can punish by sending people to hell. Even Hitler and Stalin only had their victims tortured and killed and then their suffering ended, but God wants the suffering to continue – literally –- for an eternity.

Faith is the last refuge of a believer. Religious faith, however, would only make sense if what was believed in were plausible. Neither the existence of a God nor life after death are plausible, though faith in them undoubtedly offers solace to many. It can make the unbearable seem bearable. But why should an all-loving God allow so much suffering, so much pain in this world – including the so-called “Acts of God” – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and the rest? If God really did exist, we have no reason for supposing that he cares for us.

For some in recent years religion has combined with New Age beliefs, largely at the expense of the traditional religions whose emphasis on personal guilt, sexual repression and the inferiority of women have become unacceptable. This pick and mix approach can combine elements from the New Testament, Buddhism, psychoanalysis, paganism, astrology and various other bits of the occult. So why, the, the persistence of religious belief?

The socialist analysis of religion derives from our basic materialism (not in the acquisitive sense, but how we view the production of wealth in society and the sort of ideas it gives rise to). Historical materialism traces how religions have evolved, from their beginnings in ancestor worship and private property in primitive societies, to established social institutions. Marx hit a number of nails on the head when he described the social psychology of religion:
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people . . . The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusion. The criticism of religion in therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion.”
For the materialist, in other words, society is not really under human control and humans really are at the mercy of blind, impersonal forces – in ancient times the forces of nature, in the modern world the economic forces of capitalism. Under capitalism people feel, rightly, that they are governed by forces they can’t control but attribute this, wrongly, to forces operating from outside the world of experience. Churches of all types are then at hand for the sustaining of fear and superstition. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production.

It is on this basis that we can say, rather than being abolished, religion can be expected to (as Engels put it in another context) “wither away”. And it can be seen that the socialist case against religion differs from the usual humanist position: there are rationalist superstitions as well as religious. For humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual “triumph of reason”. But they ignore the material circumstances which give rise to superstition:
“Consequently, in his worship of the ‘Idea’ the bourgeois freethinker is, like the Christian, attributing miraculous powers to the figments of men’s brains” (Socialism and Religion, Socialist Party pamphlet, 1911).
Capitalism has many opiates to offer the unwary. Reject the pedlars, reject the product, but above all, reject a society which can create such an unhealthy psychological dependency. On the new basis of material security and social co-operation individuals can gain a sense of meaning in their lives, and hope for a future free from the dead hand of religious belief and tradition.
 Lew Higgins

Housing in capitalism and socialism (2010)

From the November 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Today the very rich own multiple mansions while the very poor sleep on the streets.
Like everything else in capitalism the provision of somewhere to live is determined by money considerations and market forces. The extremes of property prices are astronomical. A penthouse flat in Mayfair was recently sold for £140 million – more than a thousand times the market value of a three-bedroom house in a poor part of the country.

 For the working class the question is usually to find somewhere to rent or to buy on mortgage. In both cases money in the form of rent or interest goes to the owners of capital.

 Those who own enough capital to live comfortably without having to seek employment (a tiny minority of the total population) can afford to rent or buy the biggest and best accommodation. They can live in only one place at a time, but they can buy ‘security’ for the others.

 Supporters of capitalism like to describe Britain as a property-owning democracy. In recent years they have encouraged ‘buy-to-let’ – for some a bonanza but for others definitely not. Holding the false belief/hope that property prices can only go up, never down, they have had their financial fingers burned. They have suffered ‘negative equity’ – the market value of the property has become less than what they owe on it. When the owners cannot keep up the payments, the property has been re-possessed by the bank or building society.

 Today there are over a million vacant homes in the UK. These are mostly actual homes (houses or flats) and some homes that could be provided in disused commercial property. Some owners cannot afford, or do not wish to afford, to repair them up to a standard for occupation. Sometimes it may be more profitable to leave a property vacant to increase in market value rather than to have it occupied, particularly if the tenant would be difficult or costly to remove.

Money and housing
 A number of occupations and organisations exist wholly or partly to deal with the money side of housing. These include:
#     Accountants
#     Auctioneers
#     Bankers
#     Bailiffs
#     Building societies
#     Cashiers
#     Conveyancers
#     Credit card agencies
#     Debt collectors
#     Estate agents
#     Financial advisers
#     Income tax officers
#     Insurance
#     Loan companies
#     Market analysts
#     Money lenders
#     Mortgage brokers
#     Rates officers
#     Receivers
#     Rent collectors
#     Security firms
#     Solicitors
#     Treasurers
#     Valuers
The above and similar others will either not exist in socialism or will change drastically in conditions of production solely for use, common ownership and free access.

Housing in socialism
 In what kinds of accommodation, and under what circumstances, will socialists house themselves in the future? The general answer will be in accordance with the meeting of all our other needs for goods and services, based on common ownership (the same as no ownership), democratic control and reasonable free access.

 Of course we cannot foresee in any detail what conditions and opportunities there will be for housing people in a socialist world. We can’t know (but we can speculate about) what changes will be made in capitalism as we move from a few hundred socialists to a few million.

 Traditionally socialists haven’t had much to say about housing in the new society. Marx and Morris thought that country life was better than city life, although they wanted to narrow the gap between the two. Ron Cook (in Yes, Utopia!) and Rod Shaw (Socialist Standard, September 2009) both foresaw a growth in communal hotel-like accommodation,. And that’s about it.

 With unsurprising lack of imagination but admirable democratic intent, socialists often say “the people at the time will decide”.

 With the ending of ownership, the meaning of ‘tenancy’ will surely become much wider than in capitalism. It will denote the democratically agreed right to occupy a place for a certain length of time, probably with some attached responsibilities. A tenancy will be granted to one person who wishes to live wholly or usually alone, to a couple, a family or a group of friends. A ‘place’ may be expected to vary according to size and the number and needs of the tenants.

 In the early stages of socialism (if not later) the places available for tenancy will include solid structures that have existed for some time. The larger ones will, no doubt, be split for tenancy purposes. Places like the White House or Buckingham Palace could combine living accommodation with public services like conservation or tour guiding.

 The length of tenancies will probably vary considerably. A beach hut in Bognor (if they were still wanted) could be available by the day. A cabin in a round-the-world cruise liner would be for one trip or segment.

 The ending of inequality-producing, money-based ownership will open the way for other forms of allocating occupancy. Waiting lists of available places – kept as short as possible by increasing supply to match demand – would mean first come, first registered, first offered tenancy. It could be agreed that some groups, the disabled for example, should be given priority. In cases of very great demand for limited supply, there could be allocation by ballot. Different combinations of these and other possible methods of allocation could apply by democratic decision in different parts of the world.

 Much more could be said about the possibilities of housing when it is removed from capitalist control and arranged according to socialist principles put into practice. There is space here to briefly mention only a few points:
# Avoiding or at least minimising environmental hazards. Places to live would not be built in areas subject to earthquakes, floods, tsunamis etc.

# More non-monetary planning/administration. Although there will be no time and effort spent on buying and selling, it seems likely that the democratic provision and allocation of housing for all will involve a lot of human activity, aided by the appropriate technology.

# People will vary – but not as widely as now – in the amount and type of possessions and stuff they keep in their homes.
The case for socialism
Men and women who don’t find it too hard to get their head around the idea of common ownership and free access regarding such things as water and public transport should go the extra yard to apply it to the whole of society, including how they are housed. They will help to change history by moving from “It’s a nice idea, but…” to “Yes, we can!”
Stan Parker