Why Not Socialism?
A Question to Mr. Bevin
Although he is not leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour and National Service, has attracted much attention by his statements on the kind of country this is going to be after the war if the Labour Party has its way. Because of his position in the trade union world, and because of the reasoned nature of his statements, it is safe to assume that what he says reflects clearly enough the mind of those who control the Labour Party. What he says now will when the war is over be translated into the programme of his Party.
People who have listened to his speeches, and large numbers of workers who judge by brief newspaper reports and radio broadcasts, claim to be impressed. “Here,” they say, “is a man who means business. We can trust him to do what is needed to put the world to rights after the war.” What, then, is the Socialist view? Invariably sceptical about the promises of politicians, are we really entitled to be sceptical about Mr. Bevin? To answer the question let us look closely at what Mr. Bevin has in mind. He started well. In a speech at Bristol on October 26th he spoke as follows : —
. . . We have a right to claim that the society which is established at the end shall be based upon the broadest possible basis, and privilege that we have known hitherto entirely disappears into the common pool. ( Manchester Guardian, October 28th.)
Taken literally that statement could only mean that the post-war society is to be Socialism; especially as Mr. Bevin went on to recognise that “ the problem is not limited to the boundaries of one nation.”
In a later speech at the Rotary Club of London on November 20th (Manchester Guardian, November 21st) he dealt again with this question.
I think the time has come when we should not be led into the mistakes we made in the last war of merely indulging in high-flown platitudes about “homes for heroes” and things of that kind simply to stimulate the people. Now is the time when thoughtful people ought to be considering the real social implications of the war.
He went on to say that “security cannot be attained by arms. It can only be attained by the enthronement of power with the people,” and he suggested “that at the end of this war, and indeed during the war, we accept social security as the main motive of all our national life.” He denied the possibility of having social security “on the basis of the present economic order,” and said that “if profit can be the only motive then the natural corollary is economic disorder, and that will bring you back to the same position as you are in now, ever recurring.”
Then, after having done so well, Mr. Bevin proceeded to repudiate the logic of his own case, by adding one short but all-important statement: —
That does not mean that all profits or surpluses would be wiped out . . .
So where are we? Back, of course, with all the long line of well-meaning people who have hoped to cure the evils of capitalism without abolishing it.
It cannot be done. And Socialists who predicted with absolute certainty that the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929 would of necessity fail, predict equally certainly that if Mr. Bevin’s party now tries to do this they will fail again.
As Socialists we are entitled to put a question to Mr. Bevin and those who share his views. Knowing the evils of Capitalism, and the source from which they flow—the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and the production of goods for sale and profit instead of solely for use—will Mr. Bevin tell us why he wants (or thinks it necessary) to stand for the retention, even in restricted form, of the capitalist system? Something else in his speech indicates what his answer would be, for he went on to say that he is horrified at the prospect of “a blind revolution of starving men” (he added that he doesn’t mind revolutions “if they are well directed ”). Socialists want Socialism, and that will be a “well-directed” revolution. It will be directed by a Socialist working class. It is and will remain impossible until such time as there are Socialists in sufficient number, politically organised for their task. So, like Mr. Bevin, we recognise that Socialism is at the moment impossible, for those conditions are not fulfilled.
But whereas we recognise the fact and urge the workers everywhere to recognise the fact, Mr. Bevin thinks to walk round it by allowing the profit system to remain, but appealing to the humanity or fear of the propertied class to exact substantial concessions from them in the direction of greater “social security.” Mr. Bevin is living in a fool’s paradise. As soon as their crisis has passed the capitalist class will forget their fears and will want to get on with the business of Capitalism. They will not have the desire to limit Capitalism, much less rob it of its power by providing real “social security” for the workers. The workers have to carry out the task themselves, and the need of the day is to win over the workers to Socialism. Well-meant endeavours to find short and easy roads, or to provide half-way solutions cannot succeed and do not help the Socialist movement.