1930s >> 1931 >> no-324-august-1931

Letter: A New Reader Asks Some Questions


  A correspondent who is evidently not acquainted with the Socialist Party asks a number of questions on a variety of subjects. The answers may be of use to other new readers who have yet to learn where we stand.

Legion of Unemployed,
54, Poole Road,

Editor,  “Socialist Standard.”                            
July 16th, 1931.

Dear Sir,

1. What is your policy with regard to finance?
2. Assuming the S.P.G.B. got a majority in the House, how would they proceed to nationalise the means of production?
3. Do you think that the centre of control of economic power is vested in Parliament, or with the Bank of England?
4. Assuming a Socialist Government nationalised the means of production, how will they guarantee it will function, and how do you intend to distribute amongst the people, claims on the proceeds of production in the form of consumable goods and services, besides wages for labour?
5. As a policy, don’t you think issuing claims on production by the Government to the people, is better technique in achieving Socialism than that of owning means of production?


 Yours faithfully,
George Hickling.


(1) Questions of finance are questions of capitalism. Under capitalism the means of production and the products are the private property of the capitalist class. Money serves the purpose (among others) of enabling workers and capitalists to realise in a convenient form their respective shares of the products which the workers produce and the capitalists own; the workers’ share being their wages based on their cost of living. A money system is neither necessary nor possible under socialism. The means of production and the products will no longer be privately owned. The workers will not be in the position of selling their labour-power to a propertied class, and goods will not be the object of buying and selling transactions because buying and selling are only conceivable between private owners. Money will have lost its purpose and there will be no financial questions.

We are not concerned with the financial problems that arise under capitalism between the different sections of the capitalist class, although these questions greatly exercise the so-called “Labour” organisations. They conceive it to be their duty or their interest to try to teach the capitalists how best to run capitalism, whereas we are concerned with pointing out to the workers how to get socialism.

(2) Our correspondent is completely in error when he accuses us of wanting to ‘‘nationalise the means of production.” We, want to do nothing of the kind. Nationalisation or state capitalism is an arrangement by which the capitalists exploit the working class through the Government instead of through private companies. Under nationalisation the capitalists receive their property-incomes as before and remain the owners of the means of production. The difference consists in the holding of Government securities instead of company shares. It often means the replacement of a varying ratio of interest by a fixed rate. The change is in the interests of some of the capitalists. It is not in the interest of the working class. The Socialist Party has always opposed nationalisation.

What socialism consists of is the removal of the capitalist class from their privileged positions as owners and controllers of the means of production and distribution. The change is a simple one. When a majority of the workers are socialist and are organised in the Socialist Party, they will gain control of the machinery of Government. By so doing they will have taken away from the capitalist class their only means of retaining their hold over the means of production, &c. Their political power taken from them, the capitalists will then just cease to be a propertied class.

(3) Our correspondent asks us if we think that “economic power” is vested in Parliament or the Bank of England. It is a pity he did not try to explain what “economic power” is. If our correspondent means the power of the capitalist to own and control his factories, land, workshops, &c., and only to permit these things to be used by the workers when and on such conditions as he thinks fit, then that power is based on the laws of property and the armed forces which enforce those laws. That power is centred in Parliament and the rest of the political machinery, because it is Parliament which makes those laws and Parliament which maintains and controls the other political machinery and those armed forces. The Bank of England, like other private business concerns, exists and operates only by virtue of Acts of Parliament. It has no “power” and indeed no existence except that which Parliament permits. This fact is obscured by the circumstance that usually the capitalists in control of Parliament and the capitalists in control of the Bank of England either belong to the same group or see eye to eye because they have identical interests.

(4) This question starts off with a mistaken assumption about nationalisation which is dealt with in (2) above.

The question contains several other serious misconceptions. First of all it is a wrong conception that socialism is going to be introduced by a Socialist Government acting as an entity separate and apart from the people and managing their affairs for them. There will be no socialism until a majority understand socialism and organise to get it. They will decide what they want done and how they want it done. Once political power has been obtained, they, the majority, will decide how the proceeds of production are to be distributed among the members of society. Apart from the early period when there may be an insufficiency of certain kinds of goods (a heritage from capitalism) goods will be freely accessible to the members of society.

There will be no private ownership of the means of life, hence no relationship of employers and employed and no buying and selling of labour-power. In other words, there will be no wages because there will be no system of wage-labour.

(5) Our correspondent here asks us to abandon common ownership of the means of production and to adopt another means of “achieving socialism.” But socialism is a system of society based upon common ownership. Therefore our correspondent’s scheme of social organisation is not socialism, whatever else it may be.

As he rejects common ownership the only alternative is private ownership, and this indeed is evidently what he has in mind, since he writes of—”the Government” issuing claims to the products of’ industry “to the people.” It would not be socialism but state capitalism, under which the owning class would own and control the means of production and issue “claims on production” to the working class. State capitalism, as seen in the Post Office and in the Russian state industries, may be a good thing for the capitalists, but it solves no important working-class problem.

Editorial Committee

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Replies to the following correspondents have been crowded out of this issue, and will appear in the next issue. Mr. Dowdell (Oxford), Mr. Manning (Wealdstone), and Mr. Berman.