Sunday, June 16, 2024

Letter: A Double Bind or Two (1976)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Idealism, as defined in the Socialist Standard, is the erroneous belief that ideas have an existence of their own and can be the operative force in changing society. Scientific materialism, on the other hand, relates ideas to class interest. Socialism, therefore, is an expression of working-class interest rather than the pursuit of ideas.

Yet the workers accept “the world of capitalism with its wages system, price structure and private property in the means of production” (SPGB Manifesto). They have, moreover, accepted ideas which bear no relation to their class interests (known, regrettably, only to the SPGB).

What can a reasonable person conclude except that the ideal of Socialism, held presently by the few (the very few within the SPGB) should also be held by the many? The working classes must pay heed to their mentors and pursue ideas which will enable them to question the whole basis of life under capitalism.

Such is the stuff of which idealism is made. How indeed could it be otherwise given the working classes’ refusal to walk the road Marx laid out for them? As capitalism hastened towards its inevitable collapse then, he predicted, there would “grow the revolt of the working classes”. They would only have “to observe what is happening before their eyes, and to make themselves its vehicles of expression”. From this moment “the science produced by the historical movement [i.e. Marxism]. . . would cease to be doctrinaire and become revolutionary” (Poverty of Philosophy). Capitalism collapses. The expropriators are appropriated. Socialism becomes a reality.

But far from collapsing, capitalism reveals an inherent tendency to survive and prosper. The plight of the working classes is less than dire. Their revolts consist of strike actions designed at best to improve their undeniable material prosperity. For them it is colour television before class consciousness.

All that any socialist party can do therefore is to remain doctrinaire in spite of the fact that the productive forces are sufficiently developed to indicate conditions necessary for the emancipation of the proletariat and the constitution of a new society. This the SPGB refuses to admit nor the idealistic utopianism at the heart of so-called scientific materialism.
Tim Caulfield, 

All we find in this sneering letter is an assertion that the SPGB must be wrong because it is small. Obviously your reference to workers for whom “it is colour television before class consciousness” comes from the horse’s mouth.

You say working-class interests are “known, regrettably, only to the SPGB”, and Socialism is conceived only by “the few (the very few within the SPGB”). Does this somehow invalidate working-class interests and Socialism? If so, it is bad for most scientific theory, which has been known only to a few and has often had to struggle against ignorance and opposing interests. But your presumption that the working class is uninterested in Socialism is a mistaken one. Labour and social-democratic parties employ the word “socialist” because for large numbers of workers it is attractive and connotes equality and a better life; while their opponents depict the terrors of Socialism for the same reason. Though the result, is that we have to spend much of our time attacking these misconceptions, clearly workers have not the attitude to Socialism that you ascribe to them.

Marx did not predict the “inevitable collapse” of capitalism. He and Engels thought at times that a crisis or oppressive conditions would make the working class become revolutionary. That is not the same thing at all, and history since Marx’s time has shown it was a mistaken belief. Had he believed the system was going to collapse, there would have been no point in his advocating Socialism.

We suppose “doctrinaire” to mean that the Socialist Party adheres to its object and principles, and its work of propagating Socialism. You say this is “all that any socialist party can do” and then jeer at us for doing it. Perhaps watching colour television has made you confused.
Editorial Committee.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

In the not so distant past I was more inclined to bundle all the letters from one particular issue of the Standard into one post but recently I've moved towards putting the letters as separate posts. My reasoning for this is thus:

1) I'm shamelessly padding out the blog. Showing supposedly higher productivity and more posts on the blog. Need to reach that 20,000 post landmark somehow. It's a fair cop, and I throw myself on the mercy of the court.

2) On a serious note, all six letters in the June 1976 Socialist Standard carry interesting and important questions which go to the root of the SPGB's case. (Even the snarky ones.) By giving each individual letter its own space, it means that there's a greater chance that the letters will get discovered and read.

3) It also means that the letters can be properly labelled. There's a limitation to how many labels one can attach to one post, and if I'd just had one post for all six letters the nuance would have been lost.

4) In fairness to the editorial committee from this period in the Standard's history, they did lay a greater emphasis on encouraging debate, discussion and disagreements in the letters pages of the Standard, so, in respect to that, greater light should be shone individually on those letters.

Okay, enough flowery bollocks from my end.