1970s >> 1974 >> no-835-march-1974

Letters: The Basis of Socialism

Dear Sir,


Perhaps I may be permitted to make one or two observations in your letter columns on the Dec. issue of your excellent paper. I am mainly concerned with the wriggling by ALB in his otherwise very fine article on the question of Marx’s reference to payment by labour vouchers in the early stages of socialism. ALB says that Marx was writing at a time last century when the powers of production had not yet reached the pitch at which abundance of wealth could be created and it may well be true that had be been writing now he would not have talked in these terms. It remains a fact, however, that socialism is a society of abundance or nothing. Shared poverty may be viable for a few idealistic settlers on a kibbutz but this is not the meaning of socialism. Surely, therefore, it is clear that the circumstances of Marx’s day were such that socialism was not possible and that Marx was not correct in suggesting that it was. I suggest that Marx’s contribution to socialist thought was sufficiently great that it could stand the observation that he was not infallible and that socialists do not accept the possibility of establishing the new society except in conditions of abundance. The wriggling is really unnecessary. Perhaps I could add that the concept of labour vouchers or whatever is rather ludicrous anyway. How could even Marx have computed the correct number of time vouchers for a coal miner and a Shakespeare?


A couple of small points in connection with “So they say”. The author, RAHB, makes an excellent point when he shows that the Church, as property owner, need not charge 11 per cent mortgage interest and that the professional financial journalist of the Observer could not be expected to see the obvious. On the other hand I suggest he is wrong in his next paragraph to decry protection to the consumer on the grounds that all interest is extortion and only socialism will get rid of it. But some interest is more equal than others and it must be useful to the borrower to know if he is really paying 15 per cent or 50. As to the usefulness of the proposed cooling-off period, it is not true that a second mortgagee would never get the benefit as his creditors are breathing down his neck. He may well be borrowing to buy something new and if he finds the rate is too high it would clearly be important to him that he should be legally enabled to back out.


S. Gamzu, 
London, N.W.11




The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never regarded Marx as infallible; on a number of points, e.g. his taking sides in some nineteenth-century wars, we have frankly stated that he was wrong. However, S. Gamzu is virtually claiming that to have advocated Socialism in the nineteenth century was wrong. This we cannot accept.


The basis of Socialism is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. This was possible in Marx’s day, and indeed would have provided a framework within which the means of production could have been developed much more rapidly than under capitalism to the stage where abundance and full free access was possible. What would not have been possible, perhaps for a generation, would have been the full implementation of the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. This, however, does not mean that there would have had to have been “shared poverty”. Certainly, the former members of the capitalist and landowning classes would have had to suffer a drop in their standard of living, but for the great majority Socialism, even without full free access, would have brought a vast improvement compared with their lot under capitalism.


The labour-time system mentioned by Marx certainly would have had many anomalies, some of which he himself pointed out, but since it never has been advocated by the Socialist Party (see, for instance, the Socialist Standard, October, 1920, republished in “50 Years Ago” in October 1970) we are not called upon to defend it.


Further, as our article pointed out, today, in this age of potential abundance, this is a discussion of academic interest only: full free access could now be very rapidly introduced once Socialism was established. This is the position of the Socialist Party, whatever Marx may have advocated in the last century and irrespective of whether he was then right or wrong.


On the question of protecting borrowers of money, our contributor’s point was that the protection can only be marginal to the real problem. If, as Mr. Gamzu says, a borrower is contemplating a non-urgent purchase he may well have time to change his mind and wait. Few borrowers, we think, are in that luxurious position; to the degree that they need the money quickly, their ability to be choosy about it diminishes.


Editorial Committee.
Incentive to work




In the event of the establishment of Socialism in this country or any country; whereas people would take a job preferential to his ability and aptitude, how would one influence a person to mine coal (taking into account that machinery could not be put to this work) as the work is held in much disfavour, unless incentives were given to do the work?


Yet in a Socialist society, every person would take what he needed to sustain life, including creature comforts. For that matter how would people be encouraged to do any job held in his or her disfavour?


P. W. Ralphs, 




We do not envisage a Socialist society existing solely in any one country. The question of carrying out work which is necessary to society will rest with the members of society. If the supply of coal is considered a necessity, it is logical to conclude that those who have brought Socialism into being will take steps to ensure that the supply of coal is maintained.


Apart from the enormous changes which will become possible to make the physical conditions of labour more pleasant, work will be viewed in the new light of usefulness to society. The incentive to carry out work will therefore lie in the personal knowledge that one’s efforts are meeting a social need. The maintenance of Socialist society where starvation, the threat of warfare, unemployment and poverty with all its implications are things of the past, and where men and women are free to work in harmony for the sole purpose of satisfying their social requirements, will be the over-riding incentive.


The pre-supposition that machinery will not be available to carry out certain work is dubious. Professor Meredith Thring (mechanical engineer at Queen Mary’s Hospital, London) has recently been complaining in the press that his coal-mining machine with caterpillar tracks, television eyes, and diggers, which could be operated from the surface by “a man in an armchair” and could work in currently “unworkable” coal seams, to produce four times the amount of coal now produced, has been rejected by mining engineers [whose] theories, according to Professor Thring, are out of date.

Editorial Committee




I read Socialist Standard No. 832 and although I enjoyed it and learned from it I must say I totally disagree with the “enlightened use of the ballot box” sentence. Unless you mean the MPs etc. are in the public eye hence able to reach the people. Otherwise you must mean that MPs have the ability to change (politically) things which is spurious. Lenin says that the system is such that even if every seat is taken by a socialist-minded person nothing will change. It is fail-safe. However, maybe I misinterpreted the sentence.
Keep up the good work!

Karl Buckie, 



No, we do not propose that “socialist-minded” MPs have the power to change the system. The condition for establishing Socialism is an electorate — i.e. the majority of the working class — that understands and wants it. This is what we mean by “enlightened use of the ballot box”: sending delegates to Parliament with the mandate not to administer capitalism but to abolish it. And this was what Lenin rejected.

Editorial Committee