Have Socialists a Constructive Policy?
Socialists are accustomed to have the charge levelled at them that their criticism of present-day society is purely destructive.
“What is your constructive programme?” we are plaintively asked when our opponents have tired of carrying on the hopeless defence of their own.
We might answer them very fittingly by the single word, Socialism, and refer them to our definition of the term, which heads our declaration of principles; but this seldom satisfies their insatiable curiosity. They want more details. Strange to say, it rarely occurs to them to press for details when dealing with the champions of the various parties which secure their support.
A few rhetorical flourishes and numerous judicious appeals to sentiments associated with “this glorious Empire,” or “the people of this country,” as the case may be, are quite sufficient to “bring the house down” at the average Tory, Liberal or “Labour” meeting. It is only the Socialist, apparently, who produces among his audience that state of discomfort which usually accompanies the process of thought; and he frequently piles on the agony by asserting that, apart from Socialism, no programme is worth the support of the working class.
At this point the patience of many workers breaks down altogether and it matters little whether they call themselves Conservatives or Communists, they cannot refrain from contrasting their own “practical” outlook, as they term it, with the “theoretical” vision of the Socialist.
The Socialist, however, does not rely upon his imagination for the evidence against the existing social order. Never in the world’s history has any system been so effectively damned by the public utterances of its supporters as has capitalism.
Take, for instance, the following extract from the speech of Mr. Percy Lee, Master Cutler of Sheffield, on the occasion of the opening of the recent Exhibition :—
You all know that during that period (the War), we became. I suppose, the greatest arsenal in the world. . . . This meant a large increase in our various plants and . . . it has left us in a much more efficient state so far as manufacture is concerned than we were before. Our only difficulty is to make full use of this increase in plant and obtain fuller employment for the number of men who still remain with us.
I may say we are at the present time turning out more goods from Sheffield than we ever did before the war . . . during which we lost many of our overseas markets and at the same time we have found since many new competitors who were forced to manufacture for themselves
(“Sheffield Telegraph,” 7/7/28).
Here we have it definitely admitted that the world’s capacity for production of iron and steel has increased enormously; yet, instead of the producers reaping any benefit thereby, something approaching thirty thousand men are walking the streets of Sheffield looking for a job.
The workers pile up wealth in heaps and then stand and starve while it rots. What do our practical and brainy masters suggest as a solution? Simply that things should remain the same, only more so.
For nearly a generation the Conservative Press has toyed with the notion of Protection under various guises, but has never yet offered any explanation for the mammoth totals of unemployment periodically reported from the U.S.A. The Progressive parties, from the laburnum-hued Liberals to the crimson Communists, pin their faith to some degree of publicly-enforced efficiency; but in whichever direction we turn for evidence that their plans solve their problems it fails to materialise. In Germany, in Australia, in .Russia (despite Liberal, Labour or Communist administrations) the workers are faced with an exactly similar situation so far as wealth production is concerned.
Let the extreme case serve as an example. “In spite of the rapid growth of industry, unemployment has steadily grown,” says the Central Council of Trades Unions in Soviet Russia in the pamphlets on the subject published by their Commission for Foreign Relations. The figures given are: January, 1922, 160,000; January, 1924, 1,240,000; January, 1927, 1,310,000.
In that country of “nationalisation without compensation and with workers’ control” the worker cannot even control his job and lines up for his “dole” of 16 roubles or 10 roubles a month, according to his category. (Vide above pamphlets.)
The reason is simple. No matter what party administers capitalism the basis of the system remains the same. That basis is the class-ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution. The small class which owns pays to the large class which does not own wages for their services in industry, etc. The large class produces far more than its wages will buy; more, in fact, than even their masters, with all their extravagance, can consume.
This ever-growing surplus chokes the markets, causes plants to lie idle and puts thousands upon the industrial scrap-heap. All kinds of excuses are given to the workers for this state of affairs.
The iron and steel manufacturers tell their employees that the price of coal will not enable them to face foreign competition. It is too high. The coal-owners tell their wage-slaves that they cannot pay a “living wage “; the price of coal is too low! Prior to the strike in 1926 they were told that wages had to come down owing to the bad state of trade. Ever since then they have been told that the bad state of trade is due to the strike. The workers are first overwhelmed by means of the wealth they have produced; then they are told that their plight is due to the fact that they don’t like it.
The fact of the matter is that no section of the master-class and no political party which administers or aspires to administer the present system has any solution or can have any solution to the class conflict. The workers suffer poverty because they do not own the means of wealth production.
The only logical remedy for such a state of affairs is that they shall become the owners; but that involves the destruction of existing property rights, the taking away from the master-class of their economic privileges. The Socialist Party is the only party which bases its policy on this objective, which arises by necessity from the class struggle.
We plead guilty, therefore, to being destructive—of capitalism.
As for constructive programmes, society is not an artificial structure like a house or any other building, the details of which have to be planned beforehand. The details of its structure are adjusted in the course of its development.
It is not our task to anticipate the decisions of the men and women of the future upon problems which we can only imagine and cannot definitely foresee. The forerunners of the present capitalist class overthrew feudalism, but they did not and could not map out the development of capitalism in advance. They could only remove the political and economic obstacles to that development. Our position is somewhat similar.
The productive forces of society are held back by an outworn form of property. The human element is divorced from the mechanical element by the fact of the capitalist ownership and control of the latter. Our task is to bring the workers and their tools together again, not merely industrially but legally; not merely for production, but for the enjoyment of their products.
This will provide a new incentive to production, not the profit of the few, but the provision of the means of life for all. That, fellow-workers, is our constructive programme.