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Say’s Law (or Say’s Law of Markets). Named after the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), this is usually interpreted as saying ‘supply creates its own demand’; or more precisely, that the normal state of an economy is equilibrium in which total demand equals total supply. However, if this were a valid explanation of how the economy works there would never be crises and mass unemployment. As Marx pointed out, ‘no one directly needs to purchase because they have just sold’ (Capital, Volume 1, Penguin edition, pp208-209). Capitalism is based on the competitive accumulation of profits and a competitive disequilibrium between sales and purchases is the normal state of the economy, and with it goes capitalism's inherent potential for crises and mass unemployment. (see also CRISES; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; UNEMPLOYMENT.)


J.B. Say online:


Science. In academia and capitalist production a theory or practice is said to be ‘scientific’ if it has been peer-reviewed and approved by practising scientists. In socialist theory, however, science means something different. According to Marx, ‘all science would be superfluous if the outward appearances and essences of things directly coincided’ (Capital, Vol. 2, Ch. 48); and ‘that in their appearances things often represent themselves in inverted form is pretty well-known in every science except political economy’ (Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 19). Marx argued that his scientific method penetrated the surface of capitalist social relations to reveal their inner workings. His labour theory of value shows the exploitative nature of capitalism, whereas political economy takes capitalism at face value as the free and equal exchange of commodities in the market.

Marx’s method of scientific investigation consists in uncovering the real underlying and often unobservable mechanisms of exploitation. This is to be contrasted with ‘positivist’ accounts of science which demands that science can only deal with empirically observable phenomena. (See also IDEOLOGY; POPPER.)


A.F. Chalmers, What Is This Thing Called Science?, 1999

Science Resource Online:


Sexism. Discrimination because of gender. Reforms have been passed in Britain to counter sexism, the Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) in particular. The victims of sexism are usually to be found only in the working class. Female capitalists are not socially inferior to working class men or women and female capitalists do not usually suffer discrimination.

Socialism will include the liberation of women in its struggle for human emancipation. This will not come about in an automatic or inevitable way. A political organisation whose object is socialism cannot permit sexism (any more than racism) within its ranks on the grounds that nothing can be done now and that the problem will be resolved ‘after the revolution’. For a socialist party to be credible, it must embody the attitudes, values and practices that it seeks to institute in society at large. (See also FEMINISM.)


Natasha Walter, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, 2010


Social democracy. Originally synonymous with Marxian socialism, it now usually stands for reformism, the ‘mixed economy’ and welfare state capitalism.

The change came from divisions within the German Social Democratic Party at its founding Conference at Gotha in 1875, and the subject of Marx's withering Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). Marx attacked the Programme for claiming that the capitalist state and economy could be reformed in working class interests. The social democratic position was more fully set out by Bernstein in the debate over ‘revisionism’, which was an explicit rejection of Marxism in favour of reform. In Britain, the Fabian C.A.R. Crosland further elaborated social democracy (and for much the same reasons as Bernstein) in The Future of Socialism (1956), where he argued that Keynesian economics would lead to greater social equality. (See also KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; REFORMISM; REVISIONISM; SOCIALISM.)


A List of Social Democratic Parties:

Kevin Morgan, Rethinking Social Democracy, 2005


Socialism. The term ‘socialism’ is found for the first time in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine of November 1827, where it stands for a society of common ownership. Marx and Engels used the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ interchangeably to refer to a society of common ownership. Marx and Engels gave few other details about what they thought socialism would be like. However, they both wrote at length about what they thought socialism would not be like via a critique of ‘other socialisms’. The ‘other socialisms’, according to Hal Draper, were:

Utopian Socialism. Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen gave useful criticisms of existing society and interesting possibilities for a future society, but they were politically naïve about how this was to come about.

Sentimental Socialism. Not a school of socialism as such but a tendency to be found in various schools, substituting the power of love, humanity or morality for the class struggle.

Anarchism. Stirner, Proudhon and Bakunin were criticised for failing to see the authoritarianism inherent in the anti-democratic nature of anarchism.

Reactionary Anti-capitalisms. All those who yearn for a pre-capitalist ‘golden age’ of harmony, plenty etc., as found for example in the writings of Thomas Carlyle.

Boulangism. After General Georges Boulanger in France, an arch-opportunist and a forerunner of ‘National Socialism’.

Bismarckian Socialism (or ‘State Socialism’). In late nineteenth century Germany the Bismarck regime introduced nationalisation and social-welfare reforms. To a large extent this was an attempt to undermine and ‘steal the thunder’ of growing support for the reformist German Social Democratic Party.

It is this latter Bismarckian, statist conception of socialism which has become world famous. But the policies pursued by such ‘socialist’ regimes in practice - nationalisation, social welfare provision, free compulsory education, etc. - have also been pursued by openly pro-capitalist governments. There is nothing inherently anti-capitalist about these reforms, or any of the measures pursued by any Labour/Social Democratic/’Socialist’ government worldwide; and, indeed, as a whole they were merely a form of state capitalism. We in the World Socialist Movement stick to our principles and the original meaning of socialism: common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. We do so not because we are dogmatic but because our socialist theory consistently provides an insightful analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, because of the repeated failure of the alternatives put in to practice, and because the prospect of socialism as the meeting of our real needs provides the motivation. (See also ANARCHISM; COMMUNISM; MARXISM; OWEN; SOCIALIST PARTY; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY; UTOPIAN SOCIALISM.)


J. Crump & M. Rubel, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Critique of Other Socialisms, 1990


Socialist Labour Party. On 4th November 1995 Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, presented a discussion paper to a meeting of trade union activists and other campaigners in London. In this paper Scargill called for the establishment of a Socialist Labour Party, ‘on the basis of class understanding, class commitment and Socialist policies’ (Future Strategy for the Left, November 1995). On 4th May 1996 the Socialist Labour Party was launched. What led Scargill to resign from the Labour Party and set up a new party was Labour’s decision in 1995 to amend its constitution by replacing Clause 4 with a new aim which committed it to support ‘the enterprise of the market’, ‘the rigour of competition’ and ‘a thriving private sector’. He is right to say that New Labour cannot be supported by those who call themselves socialist.

Clause 4, however, was never a definition of socialism. What it was - and was meant to be by the Labour leaders of the time who drew it up - was a commitment to nationalisation, or state capitalism, to be achieved ‘for the workers’ by the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It was a rejection not of capitalism as such, but only of one institutional form of capitalism (private enterprise) in favour of another (state enterprise). Production was to continue to be for the market and workers were to continue to work for wages, only this was to take place under the direction of the state. The Fabian, Sidney Webb, who was mainly responsible for writing the constitution and its Clause 4, would have been horrified to learn that this was regarded as a ‘class commitment’.

Ideologically, the new SLP is more obsolete than the old De Leonist SLP in Britain, founded in 1903 on an industrial unionist policy until its effective demise in 1921 when most of the members joined the newly formed Communist Party. At least the old SLP had a better grasp of the way the capitalist economy functions, and would never have deluded themselves, as Scargill does, by claiming that a ‘British government’ could abolish unemployment ‘even within a capitalist society’ (Guardian, 15/01/96). The new SLP represents the same old statist reformism of the past. We’ve seen it and it doesn’t work. (See also DE LEON; LABOUR PARTY.)


Raymond Challinor, The Origins of British Bolshevism, 1977

SLP online:


Socialist Party. The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed on 12th June 1904 by a hundred or so members and former members of the Social Democratic Federation who were dissatisfied with the policy and structure of that party.

The SDF had been formed in 1884, under H.M. Hyndman’s leadership, and spent much of its time campaigning for reforms. The opportunism and arrogance of Hyndman led to a break-away later in 1884 when a number of members, including William Morris and Eleanor Marx, set up the Socialist League which soon unfortunately ceased to be of use when it was dominated the anarchists. A second revolt led to the formation in 1903 of the Socialist Labour Party, following the industrial unionist policy of Daniel DeLeon and the American Socialist Labour Party.

Another revolt against Hyndman’s dominance of the SDF was organised by a group of women and men dismissively called ‘impossibilists’. After they failed to reform the SDF, some were expelled and branches dissolved. After the April 1904 SDF Conference in Burnley a meeting took place in London to establish a new organisation. The Socialist Party was founded with a policy and structure so that what happened in the SDF would be impossible. The Socialist Party is thoroughly democratic, including its internal affairs with all meetings being open to members and non-members. In fact, the party’s existence has been a practical refutation of those who argue that all organisations must degenerate into bureaucratic rule.

An Object and Declaration of Principles, drawn from the Manifesto of the Socialist League drafted by William Morris, was adopted at its foundation and has remained unaltered ever since. This is a testament to the validity of the Object and Principles, but its original language has been retained because it is also an important historical document. In September 1904 the Socialist Standard was issued and has been published every month since. Together with our companion parties overseas we use the umbrella name, World Socialist Movement.

The Socialist Party has made a number of distinctive contributions to political debate. Here are our most significant contributions:

  • We have solved the reform or revolution dilemma, by declaring that a socialist party should not advocate reforms of capitalism and by recognising that political democracy can be used for revolutionary ends.

  • We said in 1918 that the Bolsheviks could not set up socialism in Russia and it was we who in this country pioneered the view that Russia was developing state capitalism.

  • We predicted the inevitable failure of electing Labour and Social-Democratic governments as a way to introduce socialism.

  • From the start we have realised that nationalisation was no solution to the workers’ problems. Nationalisation is state capitalism; merely the wages system under new management.

  • Realisation of the worldwide (rather than international) character of socialism. Socialism can only be a united world community without frontiers and not the federation of countries suggested by the word ‘inter-national’.

  • Modern wars are fought against the interests of workers and in the interests of the ruling class or aspiring ruling class; specifically being disputes over spheres of influence, trade routes, sources of raw materials and markets. Socialists oppose all capitalist wars, refusing to take sides.

  • For the same reason, rejection of so-called ‘progressive wars’ or struggles for national liberation. Workers have no country.

  • Recognition that there is no need for a ‘transition period’ between capitalism and socialism. Social productivity has long reached a point where free access can be established when a majority of workers want socialism.

  • Exposures of leadership as a capitalist political principle, a feature of the revolutions that brought them to power. The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.

  • Advocating and practising that a socialist party should be organised as an open democratic party, with no leaders and no secret meetings, so foreshadowing the society it seeks to establish.

  • We have always argued that Keynesian economics would not prevent crises and rises in unemployment, and that Keynesian policies as administered by governments - left and right - would be merely inflationary.

  • That the state, including the ‘welfare state’, is ultimately financed by taxation on profits. The capitalist class will therefore have an interest in keeping their tax burden as low as possible in order to compete in an increasingly competitive world economy.

  • We recognise that capitalism will not collapse of its own accord, but will continue from crisis to crisis until the working class consciously organises to establish socialism.

  • Socialism cannot be based on central planning which would be, by definition, antithetical to local decision-making and would be unresponsive to changing needs. Socialism will be a system of production for use in direct response to needs, these needs arising in local communities. The operational basis for this system would be calculation in kind (e.g. tonnes, kilos, litres) instead of monetary calculation, combined with a responsive system of stock control.


David A. Perrin, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 2000

M. Rubel & J. Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Socialist Party online:


Socially necessary labour. The labour-time required to produce a commodity in a particular branch of industry under average conditions. Not to be confused with ‘necessary labour’ - the labour-time required to reproduce the value of labour power. (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)


Stalin, Josef Vissarionovich (1879-1953). Born in Georgia under the family name Dzhugashvilli, the son of a cobbler. After training to be a priest, he joined the Bolsheviks in 1904 and was co-opted to the Bolshevik Central Committee in 1912. In 1913 his Marxism and the Nationalities Question was published, in which he defended Bolshevik organisation for all the nationalities in the Russian Empire. He became editor of Pravda in 1917 and helped the Bolsheviks win power in Petrograd during the October 1917 revolution. In 1922 he was appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party, and after the death of Lenin in 1924 defeated the successive oppositions of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin. By 1929 Trotsky had been exiled, Stalin was leader of the party and state, and the first of the five year plans had begun. In the 1930s he ruthlessly pursued state capitalist industrialisation and collectivisation, at the cost of millions of lives, and in 1936 announced that Russia was ‘socialist’. He was denounced in Khruschev’s ‘secret speech’ in 1956, and in 1961 his body was removed from the Kremlin to a plain grave. (See also STALINISM.)


Isaac Deutscher, Stalin, 1990

The Stalin Society:


Stalinism. Originally a reference to the dictatorship which existed in Russia under Stalin from the late 1920s to his death in 1953. In particular, it is used by Trotskyists to refer to their opponents in the Communist Parties loyal to Stalin and his successors in the USSR. Now it is an epithet applied to any dictatorial regime.

Stalin was able to rise to power because Lenin had already laid the groundwork. He had effectively silenced all opposition and centralised power in the hands of the Communist Party. Whoever controlled the party controlled the state. And when in the 1930s Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ he was able to draw upon an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings. But Stalin himself had written an article in 1906 in which he said the following:

Future society will be socialist society. This also means that with the abolition of exploitation, commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished and, therefore, there will be no room for buyers and sellers of labour power, for employers and employed - there will be only free workers…Where there are no classes, where there are neither rich nor poor, there is no need for a state, there is no need also for political power, which oppresses the poor and protects the rich. Consequently, in socialist society there will be no need for the existence of political power’ (Anarchism or Socialism?).

In comparing what Stalin wrote in 1906 with what he later claimed was ‘socialism’ it can be seen to what extent he and the so-called Communist Parties everywhere have distorted the original meaning of the word and dragged it through the mud. (See also STALIN.)


A. Buick & J. Crump, State Capitalism, 1986

Stalinism online:


State. The state is essentially a coercive machine (police, judiciary, armed forces, schools, etc.) for conserving the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers in a geographical area. This puts us at odds with the views of the ‘pluralists’ who argue that power is (or should be) diffused throughout a plurality of institutions in society (trade unions, pressure groups, etc.) and that the state is neutral in relation to the class struggle. However, history shows how the state evolved:

The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is an instrument for exploiting wage labour by capital’ (Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884).

Moreover, the state and its machinery of government will have no place in a socialist society:

The society that organises production anew on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machine where it will then belong: in the museum of antiquities side by side with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe’ (Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1878). (See also GOVERNMENT.)


Paul Thomas, Alien Politics: Marxist State Theory Retrieved, 1994.


State capitalism. The wages system under new management. State ownership or nationalisation is not socialism, nor is it a step towards socialism. Capitalism is not just a particular form of property holding, but is essentially an impersonal economic mechanism; impersonal in the sense that it is a mechanism that operates independently of the will of people and imposes itself on them as an external force.

State capitalism and private capitalism have never existed as pure forms of society; every country has its own historically developed mix. But the main features of a model of state capitalism, drawn from historical examples, are as follows:

* State ownership of the principal means of production

* Generalised wage labour

* Generalised use of money and money calculation

* A relatively free market for consumer goods in the form of agricultural products and light industrial products

* A market for means of production which is closely monitored by the state

* Wide-scale planning activity, allocating supplies and directing products within the sphere of heavy industry, setting production targets, fixing prices and directing the flows of capital

* A sizeable black-market.


A. Buick & J. Crump, State Capitalism, 1986.


Stirner, Max (pseudonym of Johann Casper Schmidt, 1806-1856). A German schoolteacher, writer and individualist anarchist. He opposed all authority on egotistical grounds. But Stirner took this line of argument to its logical conclusion. In his claims for absolute egoism he rejects not only the state but society itself. This nihilistic attitude was clearly expressed in his main work, The Ego and His Own, (1844):

I, the egoist, have not at heart the welfare of this “human society”. I sacrifice nothing to it. I only utilise it: but to be able to utilise it completely I must transform it rather into my property and my creature - i.e., I must annihilate it and form in its place the Union of Egoists.’

Most of The German Ideology (1845), by Marx and Engels, is a reply to Stirner’s ideas. They argued for socialism in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all; and it was not an attempt to subjugate the individual to some monstrous collectivity, as Marxism is so often portrayed in anarchist caricatures. As for Stirner, his ideas would be impossible to put into practice. The required ‘Union’ contradicts his egoist viewpoint: the co-operative nature of the modern productive process is inescapable. But this doesn’t stop so-called ‘Libertarians’ today making private property a virtue in the manner of Stirner, though they would rather not spell out his nihilistic conclusions. (See also ANARCHISM.)


Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists, 1985

Stirner online:


Strikes. In their use of strikes, workers need to recognise certain basic facts about capitalism: that (except on rare occasions when the government chooses to turn a blind eye) the law will be enforced against strikers; that the unions’ ability to halt production is of little use during a depression when employers are themselves restricting or halting it; and that the financial resources of the employers are much greater than those of the unions. When the employers consider the issue of sufficient importance to warrant all-out resistance, the unions cannot hope to win by an indefinite strike. This was shown in the hopeless months-long strike of the firemen (1977-78) when the Labour government used troops as strike-breakers, and the miners’ strike (1984-85) when the Tory government used the police force to break the strike.

Democratic practice requires that no strike should be started without a ballot and no settlement should be accepted without one. In no circumstances should union members leave the decision to leaders, but should keep it in their own hands. (See also CLASS STRUGGLE; GENERAL STRIKE; TRADE UNIONS.)


Strike news:


Surplus Value. Ground rent, interest and profit form the surplus value produced by wage labour. Workers are constrained to selling their labour power for a wage or a salary, but during their time in employment they can produce a value greater than their wages and salaries. Because the capitalist class owns the means of life and their products, they appropriate this unpaid surplus when the commodities are sold on the market. The rate of exploitation (rate of surplus value) is the ratio of surplus labour (surplus value) to necessary labour (variable capital), (s/v). (See also CAPITAL; EXPLOITATION; LABOUR POWER; VALUE.)


A. Filho & B. Fine, Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010


Syndicalism. The English rendering of the French word for trade unionism. More specifically, a movement to secure ownership of the means of production by the workers through ‘direct action’ - that is, strikes in general and the general strike in particular.

Its chief architect was Fernand Pelloutier (1867-1901), secretary of the Federation des Bourses du Travail. Its most influential theorist was Georges Sorel (1847-1923) in his Reflections on Violence (1908). Syndicalism was powerful in France in the years leading up to the First World War, to a lesser extent in Britain during the same period and in the USA with the ‘Wobblies’ (Industrial Workers of the World), established in 1905 as ‘one great industrial union … founded on the class struggle’. Syndicalism was influential in Spain during the Civil War, but is only active now anywhere as anarcho-syndicalism. (See also GENERAL STRIKE; STRIKE; TRADE UNIONS.)


Bob Holton, British Syndicalism 1900-1914: Myths and Realities, 1976

Anarcho-syndicalism online: