1940s >> 1943 >> no-463-march-1943

Socialism, What It Is Not—What It Is

We believe that Socialism is the only way of living which will clear away the economic worries of the world. So, believing thus, we strive at all times to bring to the notice of the workers of the world our ideas and our thoughts on the subject.

But the good which our endeavours do is too often dissipated because of the confusing influence of what we call “pseudo-Socialists.”

The workers are many and we are few. Because our time and money is, like theirs, limited, we cannot reach them all with our ideas as frequently as we would wish.

So it often happens that we speak to a worker and convince him, if not that our arguments are watertight, that there is “something in them.” Then he has gone away and heard, or maybe read in a newspaper, that “National Planning is Socialism.” He becomes confused mentally, and he attaches to national planning all the worthiness he formerly had credited to our ideas. And the next time we meet we have to start all over again to clear up his new misconceptions.

The frequency with which this happens not only angers us—that, after all, is an emotion which can easily be shrugged off—but it makes our work as Socialists harder, and that fact is not so easily disposed of. These misleading reports give people who have heard of the S.P.G.B. only vaguely a distorted picture of the effects which Common Ownership will have on human life. It is part of our job to correct those wrong ideas, so here are a few of the things which are not Socialism.

Socialism is not National Planning. It is not nationalisation of the banks, railways, transport, coal mines and heavy industries. It does not mean the bureaucratic dictatorship which rules the workers in Russia, nor the terrestrial manifestations of pie-in-the-sky which clog the minds of the Christian Socialists. It is entirely apart from both the Archbishop of Canterbury’s picture of after-the-war England and from the Beveridge Plan. The last fills two hundred small printed pages, but, despite that, Socialism makes it look like “small-time stuff.” None of these are common ownership. These are some of the things which are not Socialism. We will now show what it is.

Socialism will have been reached when all the following belong in their totality to the world’s population: the raw materials contained in the earth, and all the industrial processes and tools which men use to make those raw materials into useful articles; the railways, steamships, aeroplanes, and all other methods of transportation which carry those articles —and, of course, human beings—about the earth; all the radio stations, postal and telegraph facilities and other means of communication between countries. All those instruments of production and distribution will be commonly owned, and in that day there will be no nations, but only a community of’ people, the earth; therefore the absurdity of the word “nationalisation” is apparent.

Another cause of confusion in the minds of even some who sympathise with us is the notion that the earth will then be “State-controlled.” This confusing notion arises from two sources. They are a misunderstanding of the term State and of the phrase “Democratic Control,” which is part of our Object. Now democratic control means majority control, and that is directly opposite to State control, which is government for a minority, even though elected by the majority.

At the present time the ruling class in each of the various nations of the world makes its power over that country’s workers legal by Government Acts. These acts are translated into the law of the land, and so the masters do their ruling through their respective Governments. It is that Government, and all the paraphernalia and trappings which go with it, that is called the “State.” The judges and magistrates tax collectors and prison governors are officials of the State. The Army, Navy, and Air Force exist to preserve it and to protect the property of the masters. Hitler’s Gestapo and the Russian O.G.P.U. are part of it. The workers of every country are dimly conscious that the capitalists exploit them. So the State machinery uses propaganda to check their consciousness so long as it is quiescent, and force to put them down if it becomes, as in the case of the General Strike, a widespread act of revolt. The educational machine is used by the State to instil into the minds of children the idea that each nation, and the people living in it, is an almost divine unit that is held together by ties of blood, language, love of country, religion, and way of life. That is the job of the State, to bully and persuade the workers over whom it has power into a perpetual belief that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Those workers who succumb to its influence just rub along, willing wage-slaves. Of those who do not, some become Socialists.

Now while we to-day cannot attempt to dictate a plan for Socialist administration—the workers who establish Socialism will have their own ideas about that!—we can most emphatically say that the machinery we have just outlined will have no place in that administration. Because, as we have seen, State machinery exists to preserve and protect not only the substance but the idea of private property. And Common Ownership means the disappearance of private property. As Frederick Engels wrote in “Socialism : Utopian and Scientific,” “The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and, by the conduct of the process of production.”

So “State Control” is another demonstrated absurdity. Incidentally, we hope that in trying to destroy some misunderstandings of Common Ownership, we have interested our readers sufficiently to make them try, whenever they bear the term misused, to explain to those workers around them the correct interpretation of Socialism.

R. T. Bowley.