Letter: Is Socialism inevitable?

Pretoria, South. Africa.
Sir,—In the January issue of the “S.S.” it was stated that the Socialist system of society is both, desirable and inevitable. With the first portion of this statement I am in total agreement, but a grave element of doubt exists as to the second. Whilst earnestly believing that the only means of attaining the desired state are an unswerving adherence to the principles of Socialism, I think there are forces at work which may yet prove sufficient to delay, if not to prevent, the realisation of our Socialist ideal.
Had the writer in question said that State capitalism is inevitable, one could, I think, produce reasons which would not be without foundation in fact. When one realises the colossal forces of reaction at work—the municipalisation of this and that, the delicately flavoured sops doled out, a Labour Bureauship for this faithful servant and an Advisership to another—it seems to me that, although capital is becoming more centralised, and for all that the number of owners
growing less, yet they are making up in cuteness for any shortness in number. They are buying up the more intelligent of the fakers, and are making their lately dispossessed lesser capitalists an effective barrier between themselves and the proletariat. And as municipalisation goes along, we see fat jobs jobbed away to men who have had a university education. Out of this kind of thing may grow a system of society, State capitalism, which, I think, could be maintained indefinitely. For with the centralisation comes the knowledge that unless some compromise is made among themselves they themselves will be outed. I hardly think the few remaining capitalists will be so obliging as to exterminate themselves, but they may adopt an old idea that worked so well for the Peruvians and Incas, where kings, princes, priests, and all who made up the exploiting machine were confined to a class, and the workers could never rise if they tried. And if the Spaniards and other Christian and enlightened gentlemen from Europe had not stepped in, this might, as far as one can see, have continued. But there will be no Spaniard or Portuguese to come in and upset the State of the State capitalists, who from their own ranks could raise the necessary army and police to keep order. The fear of disruption amongst that class reduced to a minimum, and even then policed as they could be, what change, even though they had a fitful gleam of light, would they have ? And armies having become unnecessary since competition would be no more, how could an untrained mob hope to stand against armed and regulated forces ?
Now if the propaganda as carried on by the S.P.G.B. fails soon enough to convince a sufficient number, the reactionists must win the day, and as the human being is the product of heredity and environment, the reactionists becoming more active and cunning, I don’t imagine that the environment will be helpful to the advancement of S.P.G.B. ideas and principles.
And to, whilst I agree that the sum total of the forces at work on human destiny has moved in the direction of Socialism, I think that a very different thing to Socialism being inevitable.


Mr. Gross’s letter has been handed to me, as the writer of the statement called in question, for me to reply to.

In every argument something must be taken as a common starting-point, accepted by both disputants. Mr. Gross himself supplies this common standpoint, which is, that society will continue to develop. This condition is as necessary to the institution of the social system which haunts friend Gross’s imagination, as it is to the realisation of Socialism.

From this common standpoint the writer of the letter proceeds to argue that a system of State capitalism may be developed, presumably because of the present-day tendency toward municipalisation, the concentration of capital, and the growth of “graft.”

But as a matter of fact, State capitalism, in the sense in which the term is used to-day, is quite impossible as a system of society : it can never be anything else than a phase of the capitalist system. The social scheme which Mr. Gross foreshadows is not State capitalism, nor is it any other form of capitalism. The very essence of capitalism is competition, whereas we are told that in this so-called State capitalism “competition would be no more.”

What is to be the basis of such social order ? It certainly cannot be private property, for while on the one hand no amount of “compromise” can prevent such a basis resulting in a competitive system, on the other hand only competition can save from absolute chaos a system based upon private property. Without competition no idea of value can exist. Without competition the word “price” has no meaning. Without competition capitalist exchange becomes impossible. And, finally, what is to take the place of competition as the regulator of production, so long as the means and instruments of production remain private property ?

The basis of such a social scheme must of necessity be class property, with private ownership as perfectly excluded even as under Socialism. This, in itself, implies a revolution quite as far-reaching as that proposed by Socialists, and one the accomplishment of which presents insuperable difficulties.

The idea that capitalists would voluntarily surrender their private property to the class is as absurd as the idea that they would voluntarily surrender it to the community—and such surrender is the only form the “compromise amongst themselves” could take. Upon what basis of compensation, for instance, could the surrender be made ? Would the man giving up £100,000 loom as large in the management of affairs and the appropriation of plunder as he who had the gift of £100,000,000 ? How, even, could the wealth be apportioned ? There is no conceivable way in which vast and complicated wealth can be divided into definite and known relative amounts except by reducing it all to units of value. One can cut a loaf of bread in halves and balance one half against the other, and so arrive at equality. One can halve a portion of tea and say that each half is the value counterpart of the other. But in order to express the relative value of tea and bread, the value of tea and bread must be known.

But there are only two conceivable ways in which the value of articles can become known : it may declare itself through competition (as in fact it does under the present system), or it might, given sufficient human knowledge, be found by calculating the exact labour-time necessary to produce the different articles.

Obviously, in a social system based upon class ownership (as distinct from individual ownership within a class) the first source of knowledge of values would be closed, for competition would be as dead as the deadest thing there is—a labour “leader’s” conscience. The second means, on the other hand, in a complex system of production, is entirely beyond the range of possibility.

Given the death of competition, then, we have the end of ascertainable comparative values, and money itself loses its significance—a point that should be worth the attention not only of the man obsessed with the fear of “State capitalism,” but also of the “labour-cheque” “Socialist.”

The only possible form of society which could shape itself out of any “compromise amongst themselves” (that is the capitalists) must be—if I may play tricks with common terms for a moment—a sort of Socialism or Communism among the ruling class, with the property owned by the class, the labour products appropriated by the class, and equality within the class.

Anything more fantastic could never be imagined than an attempt to arrange such a compromise. What a pandemonium would be created by the very effort to find a line of demarcation between those capitalists who were to expropriate and those capitalists who were to be expropriated and thrown down into the ranks of the slaves !

And even if such a revolution could be accomplished, what means would exist for its maintenance ? It would have within it the elements of its own downfall. All other schemes of domination which have endured for any length of time have set up some tangible barrier between the classes. Usually it has been the personal possession of property. Ownership of property is itself an excellent means of class identification. Under capitalism it is the only one. In the particular instance given by Mr. Gross this barrier seems to have consisted in part of the supposed divine nature of the ruling family, which was the powerful bond of Peruvian society.

But given the non-individual, class ownership of wealth, with a means of production too far advanced, and a control over natural forces too complete, to allow superstition to ascribe god¬like attributes to human beings, there is no possible bond of sympathy among the ruling class, and no visible mark of distinction between the classes. Black may be separated from white ; the propertied from the propertyless and, through the smallness of number and restricted area, assisted by the, completeness of the customs of gentile society, members of the gens may be kept distinct from the “strangers.” A “divine” family, also, may be the foundation upon which a nobility and priesthood may become hardened into a clearly defined and solid and comparatively enduring exploiting class. But there are no means by which, in this system of class chattel-slavery which Mr. Gross so tremblingly foreshadows, the identity of slave and freeman could be placed beyond dispute—a fatal weakness in a society each member of whose ruling class was interested in precipitating as many as possible of his own class into the class below.

Then, in such a society, an enormous armed force would be necessary to drive the slaves to work. Under our present competitive system it is the very complexity of things which enables the master class to maintain its position. The whole nature of production is hidden from the workers’ view, and consequently their class position is sealed to them. Hence competition one against the other undermines them, and as they have not the knowledge, or unity, or organisation to seize the means of production, hunger takes the place of the whip in forcing them to toil.

But under the system which Mr. Gross threatens us with, the coercive force of competition does not exist. It cannot, for, goods being no longer produced for sale, rations must take the place of wages—a non competitive dole, that is to say, must be substituted for the competitive wage. All that is left then to keep down the slaves (now made clear-eyed and class-conscious enough in their utter separation from every human aspiration) is bare physical force.

And who is to supply it ? Mr. Gross thinks the “few remaining capitalists”; but the idea is ridiculous. They would have to depend then, as now, upon an army raised among the ranks of their slaves—which army, realising its power, would very quickly effect the extinction of their masters.

This is sufficient to show the impossibility of that system of slavery which Mr. Gross anticipates, being instituted, or of its being maintained if it were instituted. The claim that Socialism is inevitable is based on the theory that, given the continued development of society (which is about as certain a thing as we can imagine) some change in the social form must take place, and the only conceivable form which will survive intelligent criticism is a social system based upon common ownership of the means and instruments of production—that is Socialism. As further arguments for this view were advanced in the October and November issues of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, it is hardly necessary to repeat them at this juncture.


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