The coming of socialism
After the Socialist has demolished in argument the case for capitalism his opponent falls back on one stock defence. He asks for a description of Socialistic society, and when he is informed that all that can be said about it with certainty is that it will be a society in which the means of production and distribution will be communally owned, and democratically controlled, in which production will be for use and not for profit, he cries, “There you are. You’ve got nothing constructive to offer. Your policy is wholly destructive, and your remedies vague and nebulous.” And that allegation comforts him and provides him with a justification for supporting capitalism which in argument he has had to admit cannot itself be justified. It is an old cry, but because it is being raised continuously it is worth while dealing with it.
The latest person to give prominence to it is Mr. Ramsay Muir. As Editor of the “Weekly Westminster” he has published a supplement entitled “The Socialist Case Examined,” in which he finishes up by flattening out the Socialist with ten questions, of which the first is, “How will the Socialist State be organised?” The other nine questions are equally terrifying, and show Mr. Muir’s journalistic skill in dodging the point at issue. Really Mr. Muir is not our pigeon; he does not attack responsible Socialism but the pink Liberalism of the MacDonalds, the Guild Socialism of G. D. H. Cole and the I.L.P. We will, however, remove those ten feathers from his tail (ten feathers of which he must be very proud, for he flourishes them twice, although that may be merely a trick of the journalist) because we can thereby deal with two birds with one stone. In passing it might be mentioned that Mr. Muir shows a greater knowledge of Socialism than the I.L.P’ers, etc., whom he attacks, and than he cares to admit. He points out, as we have never ceased to point out, that Socialism “does not mean a belief in using the power of the community for the purpose of protecting the weak, improving the condition of the poor and laying public burdens upon those who can best bear them,” and that it is foolish to think that legislation such as the Insurance Acts are Socialistic. He lays his finger on another weak point in the I.L.P. creed, when he points out that equal distribution of wealth, which the I.L.P., etc., seeks to bring about by inheritance taxes and capital levies, etc., would be useless at the present time, and is of only secondary importance. The main charge made by Socialists against Capitalism is that it fails to deliver the goods. The contradictions inherent in the system which is based on individual ownership and social productions prevent goods being produced in the quantities they might be. The system acts as a “fetter on production,” and it is because of that that we condemn it.
The question of distribution is only of secondary importance as compared with that of removing those fetters on production. Capitalism maintains an army of unemployed at both ends of society, under it many workers are employed unproductively, it presents the spectacle of equipment standing idle while those who could use it starve, it reveals man putting checks on the bounty of nature and restricting the production of rubber, tea, etc. It should be apparent then, even to a Radical Liberal, that anything that removes these evils will increase the wealth of the community. As they are inherent in capitalism they can only be ended by abolishing the system. To tinker about with the spanner of Manchester will do nothing, some of the “knocking” may be silenced but the car will still refuse to go. It is a new car that is wanted, and it won’t be found in the green Liberalism of the Wee Frees, or the delicate shell pink “Socialism” of the I.L.P. It can only be the product of the class conscious desire of the workers themselves.
It is not worth while dealing with the few weak defences Mr. Muir puts up for Capitalism, they are old and outworn, and should have been pensioned off long ago. But before proceeding to spoil his lovely tail we would like to pause to tender him our sympathy. He obviously found it very difficult to discover what the I.L.P. really stood for, to find some meaning in the contradictory statements of their various spokesmen. We appreciate his difficulty. We also have sought to discover what the I.L.P. stands for and have failed to do so. Of course we have always known what it did not stand for—Socialism. And now to reveal the Parson’s Nose.
The first and most important question is the first, “How will the Socialist State (!) be organised?” Strange as it may appear at first sight, no fuller answer can be given to this question than that indicated at the beginning of this article. Incidentally no fuller answer is necessary. If a defender of Capitalism were asked to say how the Capitalist system is organised all he could say if he were honest would be that the means of production and distribution are privately owned and that production is carried on by a propertyless class in exchange for wages under permission from the owning class who control production and draw profits from industry. That is the base on which the present superstructure is raised, but the buildings are many and various. Municipal tramways, monopolies like Coats, private family concerns like Hugo Stinnes & Co., vertical combinations like Harland and Wolff, horizontal combinations as in the German and French potash industries, public undertakings like the Post Office all differ from one another in detail, and yet are all capitalistic in that they are based on one thing—the existence of a propertyless wage earning class. If, therefore, it is impossible to say how industry is organised under Capitalism without writing a book, it is not surprising that more details cannot be given of industrial and social organisation under Socialism. Any attempt at prophesying is foolish, for the co-operative commonwealth would obviously be a very different thing if it came in 1925 from what it would be if it came in 2025. Its form will depend upon the stage reached in industrial development and technique whea the revolution takes place. Moreover Socialism is not a matter of crystal gazing, Socialists are not prophets of the future but interpreters of past history. Socialism is a theory which claims to explain past history as a series of class struggles, and more than that it does not seek to do. And as Socialism will be brought about by the united efforts of the workers, it is impossible for any one Socialist, or any body of Socialists now existing, to interpret what exactly all the workers of the future will want, and it is not only the Socialist who admits his inability to foretell the details of the future. Mr. Stanley Baldwin recently dealt in the House of Commons with the evolution of industry within the present system, and even in those much narrower limits he confessed that he could not prophesy.
“I have just tried to put . . . my conviction that we are moving forward rapidly from an old state of industry into a newer, and the question is : What is that newer going to be ? No man, of course, can say what form evolution is taking.” (“Hansard,” 6th March.)
Socialism will be prepared by the development of Capitalism and the form of its society will therefore be evolved in the womb of Capitalism. It is only “middle class” thinkers like the Webbs who are so impressed with their own intellects that they think that they can super-impose some organisation from without, and that the child of their imagination will be cheerfully adopted by the whole working class.
The third question raised is, “Can Socialism increase our national income?” and to that an answer has already been given. Then comes the gem of the collection. Mr. Muir wants to know if Socialism would cure unemployment. If he had considered what unemployment is, and if he had not found it advisable to change his ground in the course of the argument (so that although he starts off by accepting expropriation as an essential of Socialism, he finishes up by assuming that compensation would be paid to property owners) he would have refrained from this foolishness. Unemployment is inability to sell one’s labour power, and therefore only exists as a concomitant of wage slavery. Socialism, by ending wage slavery, will therefore cure unemployment, and what is more important it is only Socialism that will cure it. In this is also contained a reply to the seventh question, “How would Socialism deal with Labour disputes?”
The question “How would Socialism affect our Foreign Trade?” is a queer one in the mouth of a Liberal. Mr. Muir fears for our safety if we have a revolution, as we depend for our foodstuffs on importation from abroad. Tariff Reformers have been pointing out this danger which exists under Capitalism, and clamouring for Imperial Preferences, etc , for two decades, and Mr. Muir has scoffed at them and waxed eloquent in and out of Parliament about “sinister self interest.” Has Manchester’s armoury so few weapons in it that it has to borrow Birmingham’s blunderbuss?
The last four questions can be left, they do not touch the case for Socialism, but are directed against the policies of the Labour Party and the I.L.P. The second question is equally beside the point. “How would Socialism raise the necessary capital?” asks Mr. Muir. If cards like these are the trumps in the Liberal hand then one is almost sorry for those who have to play the hand out. Capital—an instrument of exploitation, will cease with Capitalism. Under Socialism provision will only have to be made for the supplying of the necessary equipment to carry on production, the providing of that equipment will be a charge on industry.
But all these are old cries, and it is amusing to find them in the mouth of a leader of “rejuvenated Liberalism.” The surprising thing is that they continue to deceive the workers.
W. J. R.
(Socialist Standard, August 1925)