Many new readers of the Socialist Standard are puzzled when they find that the Socialist Party claims to be opposed to the Labour Party and I.L.P., not merely in matters of method, but also in respect of the object to be worked for. This puzzled state of mind is easy to understand. It arises from the use, by ourselves and by those other parties, of terms and phrases which appear to have a similar meaning. When a member of the Labour Party speaks of “Nationalisation, ” the newspapers will assume that he means Socialism, and the Labour Party leaders often have no interest in removing the false impression. It is the practice of many of the widely-read newspapers always to describe Labour M.P.s as Socialist M.P.s. Confusion has been increased in recent years by the use in the Labour Party’s official programme of a form of words which resembles a passage in our Object. Where we say, “The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community”; the Labour Party’s object, as set out in “Labour and the Nation,” is “to secure for the producers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
The phrasing of the Labour Party’s object tends to be vague, and is in one particular plainly inaccurate. It speaks of securing for the producers the “full fruits of their industry”; but if this were to be carried out the non-producers—among them the young, the infirm, and the old—would get nothing. The Labour Party here refer to common ownership, and it is very important to us that the apparent similarity with our aim should be challenged. We would rather be opposed for what we are and for what we aim at, than be supported, under a misapprehension, for what we are not. Let it, then, be clearly understood that the aims of the two parties are essentially different. The Labour Party stands for nationalisation, which is a form of capitalism embodying all of the chief features of the system of society which the Socialist Party works to abolish. When the Labour Party writes “common ownership” they have in mind such institutions as the Post Office and Mr. Morrison’s proposed London Traffic Corporation; but these are not “commonly owned.” The owners of the Post Office are the capitalist investors in Government Telegraph and Telephone loans and other Government stocks, and the capitalist class as a whole. Their tax burden is reduced by the Post Office profits.
Ownership to the capitalist no longer ordinarily involves the actual personal possession and control of plant, land, factories, etc. It is good enough for him that his stock or share certificates entitle him to a portion of the unearned property-income, which flows from ownership by the exploitation of the workers. The railway shareholder does not own any particular part of the railway system, nor does he wish to do so. If the Labour Party gives him shares in Government loans instead of his company shares he will not be a penny the worse. He will, on the contrary, have gained through the increased security of his holding.
The capitalist will not be a penny the worse and the workers will not be a penny the better for the change. The workers will still be wage-earners producing wealth for others and receiving back as wages and salary enough to enable them and their families to live. That is not Socialism or common ownership. The Socialist Party opposes it without qualification.
If there are Labour Party supporters who doubt the accuracy of the outline given above, we would refer them to the words of Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Snowden on the subject.
Mr. MacDonald, in his book, “Socialism: Critical and Constructive,” first published in 1921, deals (Chapter VII) with the part which the capitalist will play in society moulded on Labour Party lines. On pages 302 and 303 (Cassell’s pocket edition), he says that property becomes defensible “when Labour uses capital and pays it its market value.” (“Urges” in the Cassell edition is a misprint for “uses.”) Mr. MacDonald’s wording is odd, but his meaning is not in doubt. He envisages a retention of capitalism with the capitalist shorn of some of his present privilege.
Mr. Philip Snowden, writing in the “Manchester Guardian Commercial Reconstruction Supplement,” on 26th October, 1922, put the case in a nutshell:—
The nationalisation of . . . public services does not carry the Labour Party further than many Radicals, who would vigorously disclaim being socialistic, are prepared to go. The nationalisation of mines has been recommended by a Royal Commission, not preponderantly Labour or Socialist. The Land Nationalisation Society has among its vice-presidents a large number of M.P.s who do not belong to the Labour Party.
Mr. Snowden wrote in the same issue:—
The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle; it does not accept the teachings of Marx. . . . The Socialism of the Labour Party is just a matter of fact, practical aim for the extension of the already widely accepted principle of the democratic ownership and control of the essential public services.
And that aim, as we have explained, is not Socialism at all. It is Slate capitalism. It is not “democratic ownership and control,” but State control for the private owners.
It may be mentioned that Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Snowden were at that time active and influential members of the I.L.P., whose object is indistinguishable from that of the Labour Party, to which it is affiliated.
The Labour Party, in “Labour and the Nation,” promises to “introduce the maximum possible publicity as to costs and profits.” Our aim is quite different. We propose not to give publicity to profits but to abolish profits and all forms of living by owning property, a way of life which can continue only through the exploitation of the workers.
Under Socialism there will not be a class of property owners, and a class of non-owners compelled to sell their labour power to an employer in order to live. The wages system will have disappeared for ever. Men and women will produce the articles all need, not for sale and for profit-making, but for the use of all. If this appears to be a staggering proposal, just stop and ask what other remedy there can be for the colossal and permanent over-production and unemployment from which the workers suffer in a capitalist society. If it seems strange to suggest that people will easily fall into the habit of working without being driven by the threat of unemployment, remember that even under capitalism probably three-fifths of the population, men, women and children, get their living in some other way than by selling their labour power to an employer. We see the capitalist class living without any compulsion to work. We see children, invalids and the aged, more or less well cared for by relatives and friends. We see wives working for husbands and families, and rarely doing so on the job-and-cash basis which the economists like to pretend is so essential to civilisation. We even see millions of workers who have a greater or less degree of security against unemployment, working in much the same way as workers differently placed. Finally, we see a vast network of voluntary organisations carrying on every kind of activity outside, and without the stimulus of, the wages system. And who will venture to assert that the work of the genuine amateur is less conscientious, less thorough, and less fruitful than that of the paid employee?
There remains another question which interests many who have grasped the outlines of the case for Socialism. “What,” we are asked by a reader, “will be done under Socialism to secure the distribution of luxuries like diamonds, pearl necklaces, fur coats, motor cars, etc. Would we all have these things if we desired them; only a few of us; or nobody at all?”
There are really two quite different questions raised here. There are people who want and will want jewellery, fur coats and motor cars, because they like these things; because they want to be adorned, want to be warm, and want to travel comfortably. Under Socialism society will have to weigh up the merits and demerits of producing a supply of such article’s adequate for those who want them. Society will have to decide whether it is worth while trying to produce fur coats as well as, or in place of, cloth coats, if to do so will involve a considerable inroad into the powers of producing other things. Before the community as a whole will consent to give up all-round comfort in order to secure luxury in some one direction, it will have to be persuaded that the choice is a wise one. The advocates of diamonds and fur coats will have to get down to the task of converting their less luxuriously- minded fellow citizens.
The other aspect of our reader’s question is easily disposed of. At present diamonds are worn by the few only because they are beyond the reach of the many. The diamond companies get the Governments to intervene by force of arms to prevent outsiders from tapping new diamond areas, and thus flooding the market. Should Socialist society decide to provide diamonds for all, probably 99 out of a 100 of those who now have or who now hunger for diamonds would want diamonds no more.
Socialist society will not be able to provide the fantastic needs of every dreamer who craves for the moon, but it will plainly have to produce many articles not required at all by some of its members and required in unequal quantities by others.