1960s >> 1964 >> no-721-september-1964

Negative and positive

Capitalist idolises the hero, but a better world would be one fit for cowards to live in.

We reject Capitalism. We reject its inhumanities, its inadequacies, its values. We know that human beings are capable of something better than a society in which millions of people suffer varying degrees of poverty and outright destitution, a society which periodically divides itself into armed camps which proceed to smash the life out of each other.

Socialism is a reaction against capitalism and because of this it is often described in what may seem negative terms. It is often described as a world of withouts—without money, without national barriers, without social classes, and so on. Yet each of these negatives is in fact a positive, active element of the future Socialist world.

Let us illustrate this point with two examples.

Socialism will be a world without money. This is so because money is essential to Capitalism; in what we are pleased to call advanced society, it is a convenient method of exchanging wealth. Nobody escapes this. Everyone who works for a living exchanges his labour power for the things he needs to live, and this exchange is carried out by money, in the form of wages.

Money is essential to Capitalism because all wealth, in one way or another, is produced for exchange, or sale. This is an inevitable development from the basis of Capitalism, which is the class ownership of the materials and apparatus which are needed to produce wealth.

But money is one of Capitalism’s symbols of restriction. Most of us never seem to get enough of it; even if we earn a bit more—if, say, we get a rise in wages—we usually find that this is wholly or partly wiped out by a price rise. Money is convenient for Capitalism but for most people it is anything but a good idea.

The end of money, then, also means an end to the restrictions which money entails.

This will not leave an economic vacuum, with no method of circulating goods. Socialism will replace money with a system of free distribution. This will spring from the basis of Socialism just as money does from the basis of Capitalism.

Socialism will be based upon the universal ownership of all the things which go to produce and distribute wealth. One of the consequences of this will be production for use and free access which all human beings will have to whatever is produced.

No more massive effort will probably be needed for this than is needed to turn out Capitalism’s wealth today. The administration of it will be largely a statistical exercise of finding out where each sort of wealth can best be produced and where it is needed, and arranging production and transport.

There will probably be points of distribution, specially designed to hold and to pass out particular types of goods; bread, for example, will need different facilities from clothing. From these distribution centres people will simply help themselves.

Nobody will go along with a pocketful of metal discs or paper notes. Nobody will have to sign any cheques or surrender any coupons. Because human beings need certain things, they will make them and distribute them. Society will devote its knowledge and energy to the task of satisfying its own needs.

The restrictions and poverty of capitalism, negatived by Socialism’s basis, will be replaced by the positives of free availability of goods.

It is evidently impossible to go into this in minute detail, because these details will be largely determined by the conditions which prevail when Socialism is established. We do not know what these conditions will be, any more than the founders of the Socialist Party of Great Britain knew in 1904 that, when we celebrated our sixtieth anniversary, we would discuss production and distribution in terms of nuclear energy and jet aircraft.

But man, as they said in you-know-where, does not live by bread alone. He has senses other than the purely physical which, if he is to be a whole man, need to be satisfied. We take the point. How are these senses satisfied today?

Have you ever seen what they do to a landscape when they set down a line of pylons across it? Or what happens to a green valley and its river when it becomes industrialised? Or how a wild coastline is changed by the shapes of a nuclear power station?

More and more, the peace and the aesthetic refuges of life are being destroyed. Fast roads slash open green hills. Monotonous towns sprawl out farther and farther, poking their uninspired designs into what once were tranquil woodlands. Noise gets louder, fumes get denser, the pace of what we call living gets faster.

And why does this happen?

The reason for putting power lines on pylons instead of under the ground is that the cost of buying them is at present anything up to seventeen times as high as slinging them across the air. The Central Electricity Generating Board say that they regret the destruction of a landscape—they have issued many advertisements assuring us that they do as little visual damage as possible. But they make no bones about the reason for the pylons..

The Board are interested in making a profit from the supply of electricity and they are in a pretty tough market. They cannot be expected voluntarily to take on the enormous increase in costs which would result from burying power lines.

They are not the only body which, faced with the choice of incurring extra production costs or destroying something beautiful will choose, with a sigh and a regretful mutter about the economics of the thing, to destroy. The profit motive of Capitalism, with its drive for cheaper production, is responsible for the ugliness which touches everything with its stifling hand.

Professor Buchanan has suggested how, even within the limitations imposed upon him, some of our living amenities could be saved from complete extinction by the motor car. If Buchanan’s schemes cost a few thousand pounds they might stand a chance. But they are likely to cost hundreds of millions. Capitalism can spend that sum of money on nuclear weapons or on guided missiles, but schemes for human comfort are a different matter. . . .

Socialism will not only stop the march of ugliness. It will preserve and beautify. Ancient, mellow beauty, in landscape or building, will be preserved. Centres of living will not be the ugly, industrialised sores that they are at present.

Architects and townplanners will be free from the economic restrictions which hogtie them today. With only one standard —human comfort and welfare—to conform to, their knowledge and talents will find their highest expression. The possibilities are exciting, and limitless.

An idea of what this will mean in detail can be gained by imagining the sort of house we would live in, if we had a free hand in its design and setting. Then we can expand this image into a town, a country, the world. We shall be near to imagining what Socialism will be like.

Socialism will be man’s culmination to his search for control over his environment. It will negative each aspect of Capitalism with its own positive. It will replace poverty with abundance, fear with security, repression with freedom, strife with brotherhood.

Capitalism is abundant in the hypocrisy of its platitudes. Socialism, by turning society upside down, will destroy the hypocrisy and turn the platitudes into reality. Perhaps that might be called a world built by heroes for cowards to live in. By any standards, it will be a wonderful place for human beings.