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Letters

Pseudo-scientific?

Dear Editors

[Re Pathfinders, September] It is of interest, but sadly only to see how many and deep the misunderstandings are that plague the pseudo-scientific literature. That is unfortunate because articles like these contribute to divisiveness and hostility rather than promoting a search for a caring, supportive world that protects people from being exposed to violence.

The notion that socialism and democracy are somehow dependent on proving that chimpanzees are as peaceful as bonobos (a fantastical concept to anyone who knows both species) is completely absurd. Freedom and democracy depend on reality, not on some lovely fantasy of how we wish apes or humans would behave

I cannot imagine where you would get the idea that if there are some biological tendencies towards aggression, no one should be found guilty of war crimes. Frankly to spread such ideas seems to me deeply irresponsible.

Can I recommend that you read my book with Dale Peterson, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence? It would dispel many of the ideas that you report in your article.

Richard Wrangham

Reply:

Professor Wrangham doesn’t seem to have read the article very closely, since it doesn’t say any of the things he thinks it says. It doesn’t say or imply that socialism depends on proving that chimpanzees are as peaceful as bonobos. Instead it disputes the claim that chimpanzee violence is innate, on the grounds that the evidence is both weak and hotly disputed by other scientists. If it is ‘pseudo-scientific’ to quote scientists who disagree with this view then we plead guilty.

The article does not indulge in wishful thinking about how humans ought to behave. Instead it questions the assumptions of those who seem to be guilty of ‘demonic’ wishful thinking, that is the defenders of innate aggression. Professor Wrangham may profess himself shocked that alleged biological tendencies could ever be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for war criminals, but such alibis are the inevitable subtext of the debate and to wish away that unpleasant fact seems to us more irresponsible than highlighting it. Capitalism’s rulers are always keen to justify their system and its warlike ways, and will seize hungrily on the pronouncements of Professors Wrangham, Pinker and others to that end, whatever the evidence really says. Socialists meanwhile cannot be accused of the opposite ‘sin’, because we don’t claim that humans are innately peaceful, merely that we are innately adaptive. –Editors

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Don’t agree

Dear Editors

The editorial in the November issue of Socialist Standard mentions Le Guin's Dispossessed in a positive light. I am always astounded that otherwise intelligent people with impeccable views on everything else can be so brainless on this subject. It is a vile book, constituting, regardless of whatever the intentions of the author might have been, the very zenith of anti-socialist propaganda. It describes a society not unlike what Marx called 'barracks communism' , with ideologised (through, for example, Odo's: 'excess is excrement') repressive egalitarianism. A ('free-market') Libertarian wanting to show that 'any attempt at socialism/communism can inevitably only result in' poverty and eradication of the individual could hardly do better than this for a masterpiece.

And there are logical problems. For example, if the syndics of Production and Distribution Coordination are chosen at fixed periods by lot, how is it possible that they constitute (as Le Guin through her characters say) a 'bureaucracy'? Or, another: how did Sabul's position come about? Was he elected by his fellows, or was he 'down-posted' from Production and Distribution Coordination? (Thus a sort of democratic centralism, or is it lottery-centralism?) And to those who think it's a great story, we might also ask: what kind of model is this in which the new society is one materially so limited as to eternally demand never ending sacrifice in consumption and work, like on some from-scratch 'intentional community', which even Kropotkin knew to oppose.

Opposite to this, a truly excellent socialist story is Voyage from Yesteryear by James P Hogan, which takes place in a stateless free-access world, a story in which anarcho-communism (never called such) is victorious over the forces of Market and State. Unfortunately there are people who think with their knee reflex instead of their brains: they look up the author's name in Wikipedia, see that later in life he adopted non-popular positions in relation to the topics covered by the buzzwords 'Global Warming', 'HIV', 'Holocaust', assume that he was simply a rightwing crank, that anything written by him is untouchable, and will not go near this fine book.

Name and email address provided

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Questions

Dear Editors

Here are one or two questions that come to mind that I would like answered.

1: What is the SPGB view on workers cooperatives?

2: What is the socialist response to the concept that this world is not just for we humans, but that we share it with other species. Is it their world too? Or are they there just to be used by humans?

3: I have some insurance policies and a bank account that pays me interest. Does that make me a capitalist?

4: There are many countries that call themselves "socialist". Is there a nation that truly is socialist … or close to it?

Some of these questions may seem light hearted, but they are serious questions that came to me while reading your books and magazines.

Ian McRae, Dundee.

Reply:

Socialists have no problem with workers forming cooperatives if that’s the best way they can survive under capitalism. However we disagree with the sometimes-made claim that they can be a route to socialism because, aside from any political consideration, unless they are in a small market niche with no competition, they tend to be outcompeted by the brutal cost and wage-cutting tactics of conventional companies (for more on this, see our review of The Co-operative Alternative to Capitalism, page X).

We are not unsympathetic to the plight of other animal species and we imagine that socialism would take a more responsible view of their welfare than does capitalism, however we don’t have a sentimental view of nature and think that our first concern needs to be the human population, many of whom suffer worse than animals.

Your bank account would only make you a capitalist if you were able to live on it without working. Even then, this wouldn’t mean that you were a ‘bad person’. The distinction between worker and capitalist is economic, not moral.

There are no countries even close to socialism, since all have market systems, money, hierarchical state regimes and nationalist politics. –Editors.