Letter: Common-Ownership?

I thank you for the interesting reply you give to my letter. It is the more welcome because it does meet the principle points of difference between us. even if I am right in my submission that it promptly runs away from them again. For example.,”common-ownership” is accepted by both of us, but in whom is it to be vested, and how? The term covers a multitude of possibilities unless closely defined. President Nkrumah of Ghana lists four “sectors” of his country’s proposed economy, “state-owned, joint state-private enterprise, co-operatives, and purely private.” You would, of course, reject two of these, but what of the other alternatives, or have you one of your own? Again, you postulate “assessment of needs and the means to fulfil them,” but who is to assess? I am not arguing, mark, that assessments cannot be made. They obviously can be made about many things. But I want to know about it and I feel that a means-test of any variety should be repugnant to both of us. Of course, you do not mention anything of the kind, but what do you mean?

These are not trivial points for they involve the tremendous issue of administrative tyranny against communal freedom, state-ism against decentralisation; indeed, syndicalism versus the commune. Where do you stand? Are you for high-powered mass-production run by trades-unions on Fascist lines with Coventry and castor-oil complete for “deviationists,” a vast factory system with “scientific” direction of labour in a monstrous mechanism under an ultimately totalitarian though differently labelled state, or for the comely life of production for use in free cooperative groups for the most part, and under only the most resilient form possible of overhead government? Arc you for mass-production of everything despite the fact that, as every good farmer knows, mass farming it bad farming, and the other fact that quality craftsmanship beats factory products in length of life four or five times over. Mass-production is for the masses; who but they would touch it? In food products and manufactures alike it is recognised (by the advertising world) that it costs six limes as much to sell an article at it does to make it. The difference is in transport costs, insurances, marketing charges, multifarious agency profits, wholesale and retail percentages—all arising from remote and competitive marketing, and all to be avoided, as Socialism would avoid them (or largely so), by leaving production and consumption to loosely articulated small units wherever possible.

There are hundred upon hundreds of successful co-operative groups in Britain today producing for use. sharing small machinery socially and employing expert advice. The point I wish to make here is that there is nothing to stop such development except the fact that the workers are in the main indifferent. There are the orthodox co-operative societies, of course, numbering in membership ten millions, a quarter of the population, owning the meant and instruments of production and distribution. They are run as capitalist concerns and the excuse of socially conscious members is that they have to meet capitalist competition! “We have to beat the band!”. What rubbish! The business of any genuine co-operative group is not to beat anything or anybody, but to co-operate. Of course, big business can “beat” the workers on its own ground, but how shall it beat the co-operative will? Above all, how beat production for use?

As it stands, however, the co-operative societies, after a-century-and-a-half’s dedicated (so it is alleged) membership rise to the giddy height of “save up for summer holidays” but fall lamentably short of any co-operative commonwealth whatever. Why? Not because there is anything at all in the way unless the competitive rat-race is still held sacred. It is because the workers neither understand Socialism nor want it.

The choice before us between freedom and slavery. The one is possible only where control of the means of production is direct and immediate, just as democracy is possible only where the people are in direct and effective touch with public affairs. The other cannot be more than an impersonal power process to be rendered quite ghastly by modern automation and atomic energy.

We who claim to be Socialists used to acclaim freedom. With the present drift towards a totalitarian economy, and in trades-union politics the one-party state, your own utopian belief in a miraculous “dawn ” upon the morrow of an equally miraculous release of pent-up proletarian virtue is as abstract and full of holes as a Henry Moore sculpture.
Belsize Park. N.W.3.

Lord Amwell wants to know in whom common ownership is vested, and how?

The definition we gave was that everything that is in and on the earth would be the common possession of all mankind. In our property and privilege ridden society it is not easy to give a helpful illustration of what we mean, but we will try.

Air is the common possession of all mankind. you can breathe as much of it as you like without anyone raising an objection. Similarly you can drink as much water as you like at a public fountain. In both instances each person determines what he or she needs. The same process will operate in the future with food, clothing, shelter and everything else. The people with the intelligence to build up the new society will also have the intelligence not to expect the impossible.

In the Socialist Party of Great Britain different members, and groups of members, are appointed to perform the necessary work in the organisation and propaganda of the Party. For example, the Literature Committee finds out from branches what literature they require—the local branches do the assessing. They make an estimate from experience of what further supplies are required. They then obtain from the printer the total amount they have arrived at and proceed to fulfil the needs of branches and individuals. There is no administrative tyranny in this, it is purely a technical problem. While it is true that the Socialist Party is small, and therefore the problem is not a great one, yet in the future a similar procedure will be adopted in harmony with the size and complexity of society’s needs.

Production in each area will be based on what individuals in that area need—they will make their own assessment of what they need. Experience will enable the production assessors to have available sufficient in quantity and variety to fulfil these needs. The articles will be available in suitable places in the area and all that people will have to do is to go there and take what they want. We used the example of a self-service store in the limited sense that people can go there and take what they want of what is available. In that instance, of course, they nave to pay for what they take—in the future they will just take.

While the new society is getting on its feet there may be people who, still affected with the possessive inclinations of the past, may want to load themselves up with more than they need. Well, whal of it? They will soon get tired of their stupid and unnecessary efforts.

In our view each community will Ik as self-supporting as possible Some things, however, will need extra community arrangements: like raw material, travel, correspondence, and so forth. These arrangements are just technical questions which can be dealt with by groups of people at given centres who are interested in this kind of work. In the future society there will be no isolated communities, split off from the rest of the world. They will all be part of a world Socialist system, decentralised but each working in harmony with the rest, without statism or tyranny, to enable everyone to live a useful, interesting and satisfactory life. If there are occupations that are necessary but uninteresting then some method of sharing will be devised.

This brings us to the question of mass production. Whether or how far there will be mass production we cannot say now. A great deal that is mass produced nowadays will be unnecessary in the future—armament production is one example. The mass produced article is as a rule the cheap, the short-lived and the lacking in variety. Whether mass production saves a really appreciable amount of labour in the long run is questionable. But what is not questionable is that it is soul-destroying work. Obviously the aim will be to limit that kind of work as much as possible. The accent will be on craftsmanship. and if mass production still operates it will only be in operation in instances where it is essential for the benefit of tho community. More than this we cannot say.

We agree with Lord Amwell’s description of orthodox co-operative societies as just capitalist concerns in which petty investors have neither control nor influence, though they can make a lot of noise at times.

Finally, we do not believe in any miraculous dawn. We believe in the development of understanding, which will be transferred into action by the mass of the population who suffer the present system. Socialism can only be established when the majority of society understand it, want it, and take action to bring it about. There is no other way, but there are plenty of roads into the morass of confusion and disillusion.


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