So this is Socialism !
No ! gentle reader ! This is not the latest revue or cinema film; but merely the exclamation wrung from the writer by the perusal of a six-page leaflet by C. Roden Buxton (published by the I.L.P.) which professes to answer the question, “What is Socialism?”
Even in the space of six pages, one would anticipate a clear and definite answer to this question; but any reader of this pamphlet could be pardoned for rising with a sense of confusion on the points at issue.
After referring to various evils (chief of which he appears to regard as the power of trusts to keep up prices) the author says, “Why do these evils exist?” and answers “Because the means of production are owned and controlled by a few people—a minority of the nation.” He then explains that the majority are at the mercy of this minority and forfeit the greater portion of the fruits of their labour to them as a consequence. “With modern machinery and organisation, labour can produce far more than it receives for its own maintenance.” So far so good ! Apart from a slight looseness in the use of the term “labour,” nothing could be clearer. But then we are told what “Socialism” is !
“Ownership and control ought to be in the hands of all. It could be exercised in different ways, sometimes by the Central Government, sometimes by the town or other councils, sometimes by some independent body acting on behalf of the public. The workers would always have a voice in running their industry ….The consumers would also be represented on the controlling bodies.”
So that the intelligent reader, endeavouring to get a clear idea of Socialism, gathers the impression that, although all will own and control, they will still be divided into workers (i.e., producers) and consumers !
Just how the consumer will escape the necessity of working we are not told directly though, by reading on between the lines, we may gain an inkling.
“Everybody,” we are next informed, “thinks that some things should be owned and controlled by the public. Socialists think that a great many more things should be so taken over—that is all ! ”
So that the only difference between the I.L.P. and its opponents is evidently one of degree, not of principle. There is, in other words, no fundamental issue at stake between them.
“Are certain industries ripe for transfer to the ‘public’ or are they not?” That is all it amounts to !
Who or what is this mysterious public which cannot be identified either with the workers or the present owners of the means of production? We are not told; yet again reading between the lines, we may hazard a guess, with a fair chance of accuracy. But perpend !
“Does this mean the abolition of private property?” No ! answers the author. “Furniture, clothes, books, etc., will still remain in private hands.”
How the workers will breathe again with relief to think that they will not have the bailiffs coming in to distrain for the rent; that no policeman is likely to apprehend them for public indecency owing to lack of wearing apparel, and that they will be saved the journey to the public library when they want the latest by Ethel Dell.
“So far from abolishing private property, Socialism will make private property possible for the first time for the great mass of the people.”
Truly, the author is smart ! As though anyone would care how much anyone else had so long as he or she could enjoy all they required. What is the exact sense of the application of the term “private” to articles the use of which is not likely to be challenged? Obviously, none !
The term private property can obviously only apply to a state of things where some own and others do not! But this is typical I.L.P, mutton-headedness.
“Moreover,” we are told, “small owners must and will be given compensation. Since n sudden or violent change in our social order is not contemplated, the general principle of compensation is recognised by the leaders of Labour. A fair equivalent will be given to those whose property is taken over.”
Here we have the gist of the matter. Now we understand the future distinction between producers and consumers. We now know who the public are !
It is clear that the workers possess no means wherewith to compensate anyone. Only the capitalists themselves have the power to give each other fair equivalents for property taken over. “Socialism,” therefore, according to the author and the I.L.P., of which he is the spokesman, is nothing more than a book-keeping transaction, like the Capital Levy !
Receiving interest on Government bonds instead of on company shares, the capitalist “public” will be able to go on consuming in comfort the wealth so obligingly produced by those lower orders, the workers.
There will be no sudden or violent change ; oh ! dear no ! What is more, the interests of that important and respectable body of citizens, the backbone of the nation (I mean, of course, the small owners) will be adequately safeguarded.
That, we are told, is “necessary in order to satisfy the sense of justice of the average man.” Left to the normal course of capitalist evolution, the small owner is doomed to extinction.
The “Socialism” of the I.L.P. has been specially designed to preserve his existence. No wonder the I.L.P. is religious. “Rescue the perishing !” is a fitting war-cry for such an organisation.
After this, the reader will not be surprised to learn that British “Socialism,” which, above all, is not revolutionary, has obtained strong support from leading Christian Ministers. The abolition of competition among the capitalist class—in other words, capitalist solidarity—what could be more touching, more consistent with the mawkish sentiment which characterises the Liberal, Evangelical, “middle-class” followers of the Nazarene.
Significantly enough, the author concludes with a word to “our Liberal friends.”
“Here,” he says, “is a quotation which, in my opinion, deserves their most careful consideration. ‘Last century it was the Liberals who advocated the adoption by the community of very important services which did not fare well in private hands — postal service, educational service, water service, road-way service, and the like. The new ‘Socialists’ wish to make further application of the principle’.” (Mr. W. S. Anderton, a Liberal, writing in the “Manchester Guardian.”)
Need we say more to justify our attitude of opposition to the I.L.P? Can it fairly and reasonably be described as anything else but a gang of political job-hunters out to catch votes by truckling to traditional prejudice, outworn superstitions, and, above all, petty capitalist interests?
Fellow-workers, we charge you twice as much as the I.L.P. for our answer to the question dealt with ; but we give you forty-eight pages of information concerning the position of your class. We are not concerned with the economic salvation of the shopkeeper and other minor parasites. It is the emancipation of the body of the host, i.e., the working-class, which solicits our attention. We invite you also to give it yours’.
(Socialist Standard, November 1926)