Thursday, January 03, 2019

Some Socialist Self-Contemplation

Some New Year thoughts 

Lack of success
Why does the Socialist Party regularly achieve such a low poll when it contests elections? Is it our dogmatic "sectarianism", our refusal to join with other groups, (anti-war, ecologist, feminist)? Frankly we doubt this because  despite the enormous efforts of such groups, they have — both separately and jointly — had very little more success than we have.

And, more importantly, although we would not want to deny the goodwill and sincerity of these groups in seeking to improve living conditions and solve social problems, we would not want to merge with them to try and bring about reforms of the capitalist system. 
This is not sectarianism. It is merely a way of keeping our objective clear and not being sidetracked into activity which has nothing to do with the work of building a movement to advocate and achieve a society of common ownership and democratic control. 
In Britain we have had a party, the Independent Labour Party, formed to rescue the socialist movement from the "dogmatic" and sectarian attachment to principles shown by the existing Social Democratic Federation. Later on, the ILP made the same criticisms of us. Keir Hardie, its chairman, pointed to the overall votes SDF candidates got and their consequent failure to be elected and said it was due to the SDF "wooing the electors on what they allege to be a pure socialist ticket.". The only way to get elected, the ILP said, was for socialists to interest themselves more in the workers' day-to- day struggle and take up whatever issues the workers happen to be concerned with from time to time. There was to be no "dogmatic" adherence to a rigid set of principles. Here are Keir Hardie's words: "a broad tolerant catholicity has always been a leading characteristic of the ILP. It has never had a hard and dry creed of membership". The ILP and the SDF have now both vanished from the political scene. We have no intention of meeting the same fate.
We are of course always keen to discuss and debate with other groups and parties, hold forums with them, present their views in the letter column of the Socialist Standard, and indeed learn from them where they have knowledge that we do not have. At the same time, we would point out that literally hundreds  of such organisations have come and gone this century without managing to stem the barbarity and horrors of capitalism. There can be no doubt that had the Socialist Party joined forces with any such organisations, we would have gone the same way,too.  As it is, we have at least had success in keeping the socialist idea alive — no mean feat considering the obstacles we have constantly had to overcome.
Increasing misery
Marx's concept of "increasing misery" is open to interpretation, as is much else Marx wrote. But we don't think that what has happened since Marx's time negates the essence of that idea. Workers are increasingly worse off, if not in absolute terms, then in relative terms of the proportion of wealth they actually consume. 
The transition
We can understand that our use of terms like "voluntary co-operation", “moneyless society" and "free access ' should seem like a "word fetishism" to some people. But all we are trying to do is to describe the kind of society we are aiming at. While we can accept that to many people these terms may seem over-abstract, we'd certainly be selling ourselves and others short if we didn't make it absolutely clear what our objective was. If there are other and better ways of putting across the same idea, we'd be genuinely pleased to know about them. Indeed, that's what we’re constantly looking for and we're aware that the word "socialism" itself often leads to confusion and misunderstanding. The only thing we don't want to do is to conceal, or appear to want to conceal, the true nature of our objective. Nor do we want to claim that we can provide a detailed scenario for the transition from capitalism to socialism or for the organisation of socialism. We can't. It's true that many people, in order to feel that socialism is a tangible objective, want an explanation about how it s going to come about and then be organised. But it's an explanation we can only give in a general not in an exact and detailed way. We cannot, for example — small number that we are now — know exactly how the millions of people involved in socially useless work under capitalism will switch to socially useful work in socialism. We can, and do, speculate on this to a certain extent and this is one of the things we have tried to do in our pamphlet, Socialism as a Practical Alternative. But the kind of thing we can be fairly sure of is that as the socialist movement grows within capitalism, those in the movement will be developing plans as to how work will be organised in socialism and will be ready to put those plans into operation once the political changeover from one system to another takes place. Of course, this new organisation of work will not be an overnight process — nothing important in human affairs ever is — but at least the social basis for it will be there. Nor will "human nature" be in any sense an obstacle since making socialism work will be in the practical interest of each member of the community and will therefore not involve an "altruism" that some may find it over-optimistic to expect from the human species.
Our critics note the slow progress towards working-class acceptance of socialism as defined by us. And usually it transpires that they aren't really sure that our objective is worthwhile anyway.  They raise supposed big difficulties in the operation of socialism and suggests, instead of free access, an alternative  money system which has nothing in common with money as a source of profit but is used as a general unit of accounting. Other supposed difficulties are getting the workers to accept the idea of "voluntary work" (that is, the abolition of the wages system) and the problem of moving over to useful work all the great army of people at present producing armaments or doing other work necessary only to capitalism. Our critics tell us we condemn money in the name of an abstract principle which the average worker will certainly find difficult to grasp.
Taking the last point first, we do not "condemn money" on an abstract principle but on the basis that with the inauguration of production solely for consumption there is no useful function for money to perform. However, critics then proceed to invent a supposed use for money in socialist society. How useless it is can easily be seen. In socialist society it will be necessary to know how many tons of each kind of coal come from each coal mine, how many kilowatts of electricity from each power station, how many yards of each kind of cloth from each textile factory, and so on. This is easy to calculate and done already. And in precisely the form in which the consumer in socialist society will want the information. Critics of the Socialist Party seek to stick a price label on everything so that there will be a combined total of £x, covering prices of all the different kinds of products. For what purpose? It won't be wanted by the consumer and it won t be a source of profit to anyone. So why waste effort doing it? And in 'market socialism'. who will fix all the prices, including wages, the price of labour power? And on what basis? When we are told that the average worker finds it difficult to grasp the idea of abolishing buying and selling, has it been considered the difficulty that workers will have in grasping the idea of  money that is not money and a price system that serves no apparent purpose?
These would indeed be real, in fact, insoluble problems for muddled bureaucrats who envisage operating socialism with a non-socialist working class, either by leadership, exhortation or by imposing it through dictatorship. But the essence of our case is that there can be no thought of achieving power to establish socialism until a majority, politically organised, have come to understand and accept the socialist case with all the responsibilities that socialism will entail.
Another issue sometimes raised is the world's population which are ruled by dictatorships and that, consequently, we are trying to make socialists before the objective circumstances favourable to the establishment of socialism appear. We do not accept the  which is that it is impossible for the world s population ever to have heard of the socialist idea and impossible for them to reason out for themselves where working class interests lie. How did ideas of socialism developed in the first place and were propagated in Britain, at a time when all industrial political organisation and propaganda were illegal and savagely suppressed? 
The future
We  would like to see a mass-circulation working-class media and agree that our own limited attempts can’t hope to make a great impact. But luckily the development of socialist consciousness does not depend solely on the Socialist Party but more generally on the conditions people live under in capitalism and the need to change those conditions. Having said that, we'd like the Socialist Standard and websites to be as effective, wide-ranging and wide-circulating a vehicle of socialist ideas as possible; so the more people who have already arrived at a socialist consciousness become part of the organisation propagating those ideas, the more members and the more resources this will give us to increase our media presence.

1 comment:

SussexSocialist said...

Excellent article, hopefully reproduced in the Standard...