Letters: The “Cruelty” of Capitalism

In the February Socialist Standard (see page 94, column 2) our contributor, A. Kohn, pointed out that Socialists do not object to capitalism as a “mistake” or a “monstrosity,” but “recognise its place in social evolution as a pre-condition for the coming of Socialism.” A correspondent, “Humanitas,” writes to protest that a system of society which is based on gross inequality of wealth with the resulting “tragic consequences of life” must be regarded as “a mistake and a social monstrosity.”

“Humanitas” continues as follows: —

Such stark injustice  . . . . condemns any system, whether it leads to Socialism or any other state. In the name of logic and scientifically-grounded philosophy how can social injustice and (implicitly) the cruelty that initiated and continues it be justified or excused on any grounds?
In the first place.

“Humanitas” has misunderstood our contributor’s point. The statement was not a “justification” for capitalism, but a mere statement of fact. It is a fact that capitalism has made Socialism possible, but the Socialist does not “justify” capitalism on that ground. The reason for the existence of capitalism was that if offered the means of bettering the conditions of life of society as a whole. Capitalism is developing in Russia, for instance, because as a literal fact it offers a higher standard of living to the Russian workers and peasants than is, with Russia’s low development of industry, obtainable otherwise. To talk about capitalism being “initiated and continued” by “cruelty” is a mere empty phrase. Capitalism was initiated by persons who—both capitalists and wage-earners—stood to gain thereby. It is continued by capitalists and wage-earners in this country because both, the former correctly and the latter incorrectly, think that they still cannot do better than continue it. The Socialist points out that the functions formerly performed by the capitalist class (functions which made it worth while for society to accept the existence of a property-owning class) are no longer performed by them. The capitalist system can now, with advantage to the majority, be dispensed with.

Ed. Comm.