During his recent visit to the United States as fraternal delegate of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the annual WSP conference in Boston, Comrade May, together with two other SPGB comrades, addressed a successful propaganda meeting conducted by New York Local. While in New York he was interviewed by Arlene Francis (well-known star of motion pictures and TV) on her radio program, on WOR-AM, September 29, 1970.Inasmuch as the discussion ran about 40 minutes, we had to condense it because of space requirements of The Western Socialist. We take pleasure in presenting Comrade Cyril May’s effective presentation of the socialist case in this interview. Miss Francis asked meaningful and pertinent questions.
Arlene Francis: I would like to introduce Mr. Cyril May, party organizer of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who is visiting this country to give some lectures. And I'm happy that one of your lectures. Mr. May. is to be addressed to me because what I do not know about your subject is embarrassing to me. Among my few meager bits of knowledge is the fact that the socialist state that you envision does not presently exist nor has It ever existed. Am I right?
Cyril May: That is quite correct. In fact, the statement of a "socialist state” is not one that we would particularly like to go along with because the very word "state” itself has certain political connotations with which you and I would perhaps disagree at this juncture. But it is true that socialism is something that does not exist in any country throughout the world.
Arlene: And has it ever?
Cyril: And it hasn’t ever. No.
Arlene: Then you have come up with a brand new idea today. And . . . sowhat we are talking about — is what? Ia it another movement toward features such as public control of all utilities? I don't know so I have to ask.
Cyril: OK. Well I’ll try to fill you in with the essentials on it. Socialism to the Socialist Party of Great Britain and to its companion parties in other parts of the world, including the World Socialist Party in the United States, is a system of society, or a way of living if we can put it that way, where the means of wealth production and distribution, the land, the mills, the mines, the minerals, the factories and workshops, the means of transportation will be owned by the whole of society, regardless of sex or race. In short, common ownership is the essential economic fundamental of a socialist society.
Arlene: How do you even begin that?
Cyril: Well, to begin that. It really involves a revolution In the idea process of people. They’ve got to change their ideas and concepts and the scales of social values, that they have today. In short, the establishment of a socialist society, from our point of view, rests upon a majority of people. It can’t be established by some dictatorship or some elitist group. It rests upon a majority of people understanding it and arising from that understanding taking the necessary political action to establish It. So first of all it’s a revolution in ideas.
Arlene: So that it’s a case for the psychotherapist really, before anything else.
Cyril: Well. I changed my ideas and I didn’t have a psychotherapist.
Arlene: What were your ideas?
Cyril: Well, my ideas when I was 14 or 15 were rather typical of most working class boys, I guess. I went to a Methodist Church. I thought at times, I guess, that it was a change of heart that was needed by people. And I looked at the hearts of a lot of people who had apparently changed, belonged to churches, and I found that they had no solution to what I considered to be the major problems then. This was In the middle of the 1930s when the Second World War was looming on the horizon. and after listening to a variety of different political speeches and reading books on it, I came to the conclusion that the ideas of the Socialist Party were the correct ones. But no psychotherapist entered into this. And If we’ve got to wait for psychotherapists to deal with this, then I don’t think It will ever come. It’s long enough to wait for it dealing with it in the normal way. But I think if we let the psychotherapists loose on it we really are in trouble.
Arlene: Yes, but still you’ve said yourself that we have to recondition our own thinking. That takes quite a lot of work to leave in the hands of the individual.
Cyril: No. It doesn't leave work on the part of the individual. But at least they are capable of doing it. The trouble as I see it and the Party sees it, they're not prepared to devote the amount of time to the world in which they live that they devote to football, perhaps. in England and in America to baseball and basketball.
Arlene: Then you don’t recognize natural greed?
Cyril: No, I don’t recognize natural greed, as such. I recognize people are greedy, including myself. But I don’t think that is any natural aspect of man. I rather think that’s more a feature of human behavior that’s determined by social conditions under which he finds himself. (Voice from background: Desperation?)
Arlene: Jeanie just said "desperation.”
Cyril: Well, not so much desperation, perhaps, apart from the way in which this world is organized—rather stupidly in my opinion. There are those who become desperate because on the one hand, the world can turn out sufficient food to feed the millions of the world, while on the other hand millions of people starve. That is a desperate situation, and one which will exist as long as this type of world operates where food isn’t grown primarily for people to eat. I mean, that is of secondary importance. In fact, a lot of food that is produced isn’t fit for humans to eat very often. But the prime reason it is produced, I would say, is for sale on the market with view to profit. No profit, no production, and the people can die of starvation. That’s desperate and I think we’ve got to do something about it.
Arlene: Why does, or does the Socialist Party of Great Britain feel that a gradual reform is impossible?
Cyril: Well, we’ve come up against this political question of reformism in Great Britain since around the turn of the century. Organizations like the Labour Party were formed on the old Social Democratic Federation lines and put out the view that they wanted a different type of society and envisaged that this society could be obtained by a series of political reforms. Well, in England — and obviously I talk out of a great deal of political experience after seventy years of political reforms since the first of the century, some of which have been quite fundamental in character — as for example the introduction of the National Health Service, the fact that certain industries were nationalized, all reforms advocated by the Labour Party, fundamentally these reforms haven’t patched any of the basic problems that confront mankind. And we think that all reforms, some of which may be good, some of which have a left-handed kick, as it were, if added up, do not even touch the ownership of society, which — to us — is the basis of the ills that confront mankind today. So this process of reformism doesn’t in any way bring us that much nearer to the fundamental change which we consider is necessary.
Arlene: Could your ideals be expressed in the ballot?
Cyril: Yes, that is the idea of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Companion Parties, that the capture of political control, political power, to introduce a new way of life can only be done through peaceful means. We do not envisage a revolution on the streets behind barricades, lynching people, that does not give rise to a sane order of society. So It has got to be done through the ballot box.
Arlene: Were the socialist ideals of George Bernard Shaw any closer to your way of thinking?
Cyril: I like George Bernard Shaw as a dramatist. As a political commentator he was not particularly on the beam. He was a member of the Fabian Society which is an offshoot of the Labour Party. He was interested firstly in what the Labour Party stood for, namely, to try and reform, shall we say, rub the raw edges off the capitalist system but really to keep it in being with its ownership basis.
Arlene: Doesn’t it strike you that your goals are so enormous that they are virtually impossible?
Cyril: Uuhm . . .
Arlene: Of course you wouldn't be working for anything that you thought was impossible . . .
Cyril: Yes. If I thought it was impossible I wouldn't be devoting my time. We do realize it is an enormous task. But we have a number of features which are working for us, in many ways. If the introduction of the new system rested upon the mere handful of socialists, relatively speaking, in this and other parts of the country then you could say, why worry? But the way the system operates and organizes itself throws up such a series of problems which man has got to grapple with one way or another, otherwise he's a dead one, that this in itself, acts very much on happy hearts, and people begin to start thinking of things along lines of dealing with them from a worldwide basis without necessarily being socialists. There are a number of agencies, today, which are certainly not socialist — in fact, very much capitalist — in character but they are beginning to appreciate, and realize that the problems today are no longer confined to one geographical unit, but are world-wide in character.
Arlene: Can you mention what some are?
Cyril: Yes. I should think the Food and Agricultural Organization attached to the United Nations Organization has done an enormous amount of research work and printed a considerable amount of literature which is not socialist, but which in many ways has pin-pointed the problem as being one of a social nature and one of a world-wide character. They stop short there, of course, and here, I think, is their fundamental failing. They are dealing with these evils through the eyeglass of capitalism and as long as they wear that eyeglass they will not go any further than that.
Arlene: What about the abolition of money, which was suggested on this microphone some months back by Alan Watts. It is an interesting idea and it still haunts me — all the ramifications of it. Will you please develop that a little for us?
Cyril: Yes. This is one of the points that the socialist mentions — that they envisage a society without money, that at this juncture most people do think that we are cracked (laughter from the hostess). They've got so used to money that they can't envisage anything except money with which to obtain articles. But if you look back over history money wasn't always in existence, certainly not in primitive times and it only came into existence with the development of private property and became the complex money system that we know today as capitalism has become more and more complex . . . In London, recently, due to the fact that our transport system, much like yours in New York, is run down and doesn't pay its way the suggestion’s been made that it is not worthwhile collecting all of these silly coins and silly pieces of paper; let's ride for free. Well, this isn’t socialism, of course, but it shows the way in which people’s minds are working. To us, money is only a means of exchange in order that if I was in a bar instead of your radio studio and wanted a cup of coffee, I’d have to give fifteen cents for it because somebody owns that cup of coffee and if I want it I've got to pay them for it. But this presupposes ownership all away along the line. But if you have a world based on common ownership, where the coffee, the cocoa and all the thousand and one different things that men need in order to live are owned by the whole of society, then what would we have money for? It's no use paying ourselves money in order to obtain these things. And we envisage this socialist society as being one in which people will give according to their abilities and take according to their need. And we will not need money in order to do that.
Arlene: Isn’t that also Communist theory?
Cyril: Strictly speaking the words “socialism” and "communism” are synonomous terms. Marx, a hundred years ago wrote this in many of the political books and pamphlets he was writing at the time and it’s largely in the 20th century, particularly from the dating of the Russian Revolution of 1917, that the words "communism” and "socialism” seem to have taken on a different meaning. In short, some people look upon "socialism” as being parlor pink and "communism” as the deepest of red. But to us they are, indeed, identical terms.