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Letters

Dear Editors
Regarding the recent dialogue (August Socialist Standard) between the journalist Will Hutton and "RD", Hutton is clearly wrong to say that socialism has "palpable Christian roots". Instead socialism and religious thought share (at a psychological level) similar roots – they are both responses to social conditions. Marx's famous phrase, "the sigh of the oppressed creature" comes to mind.

However we should recognise that the desire for socialism arises not only from the immediate experience of living inside contemporary capitalism. Humans have over the centuries developed abstract ideas or models of justice, fairness and equality from their material experiences. These have been modified through different forms of society and culturally maintained through the years.

Sure, there is much more to socialism than vague ethical notions: socialists have a relatively specific view of society, social change and the alternative to capitalism. But does it really help our cause to go out of our way (as I feel SPGB members sometimes do) to try and deny any continuity – at any level – between our ideas and those of other traditions. We are the Socialist Party (and as such we are right to not permit membership to those with religious views), but we are not The Anti-Religion Party. We've got better things to do.

Attacking religion may not necessarily be a waste of time for socialists, but I am more concerned with the general mindset behind this. Of course it is easier to stay secure in a small, ideological (possibly psychological?) bunker. I think it would be healthier however if members more openly recognised that our ideas are sophisticated enough to still allow us to criticise religion at a political level, while at the same time not feel we need to continually begrudge common roots (even with traditions which are nowadays essentially conservative, like religion), without feeling we are somehow compromising our principles.
Brian Gardner, Edinburgh Branch

Dear Editors
I write with regard to the suggestion in your August edition that Oxfam wants to pour milk down the sink, further to the publication in the Herald of a letter from myself.

The point I was trying to make was not that the EU should destroy excess agricultural produce, but that it should stop subsidising its farmers for overproduction? and therefore not produce excess agricultural produce in the first place! Through the Common Agricultural Policy the EU (and hence EU taxpayers) pay large subsidies (mainly to the richest farmers) for milk production. This results in overproduction and an excess of milk (amongst other produce) which would not arise if farmers were receiving the going market rate for their produce.

The resulting glut of milk results in very cheap exports from the EU to developing countries, undercutting the produce of local farmers and pushing them further into poverty. Three-quarters of those surviving on less than $1 a day live and work as small farmers. These farmers have to compete with the $1billion each day that rich countries spend protecting their own agriculture.

Oxfam don't want milk poured down the sink, we want a system where the world's poorest people are given the opportunity to help pull themselves out of poverty. Readers of the Socialist Standard can find out more about Oxfam's campaigns for fair trade at www.maketradefair.com
Angela O'Hagan, Campaigns and Communications Manager, Oxfam in Scotland, Glasgow.

Reply:
It is not so much the reformist policies of politico-charities such as Oxfam that we criticise as the whole market system, under which people can only get access to the things they need if they have money and where most people can only get money by selling either their ability to work or the product of their work (the rest, a tiny minority, get it by owning property that yields them a non-work income in the form rent, interest or profit). Oxfam accepts this system and its logic which rules out giving away market surpluses to the needy as this only makes things worse, by undermining the market for the products in question even further. Hence their proposal, which we commented on in our January issue, to destroy “surplus” coffee. The obvious solution is to institute a system where production is geared to meeting people's needs, not for sale on a market; that way, people's needs would be met as a matter of right without needing to pay for them – and without organisations like Oxfam having to devise ways of trying to ensure a adequate monetary income for poor farmers in “developing countries” - Editors.