Letters: Is this right needed?

I have received various publicity pamphlets and a few copies of the Socialist Standard. I am, after reading them, very impressed with the ideals and motives for your work and for the fresh insight into social problems which you have. I am however dubious as to your views on religion. I agree that the church can be a voice for middle-and upper-class moderation and as such a threat to the cause of Socialism, but I feel that many people, like myself, do not believe everything they are told by the priests. As such I think that it is the Socialist Party which is wrong on this issue, and I feel that the workers should have the right to worship as they wish.


However, be that as it may, I am, except for that point, a confirmed Socialist and will, through discussion and debate spread the Principles and Object among the philosophical groups which I cultivate. And anyone willing to listen. Keep up the good work, the goal is ahead!


M. Shaw




Our correspondent thinks that “it is the Socialist Party which is wrong on this issue” yet he does not offer us a reason why we are wrong. The whole idea of workers worshipping, or even needing “the right to worship”, shows considerable confusion about our position. As materialists (in the philosophical sense) we see the establishment of Socialism being brought about by a majority of men and women who understand and want it, and who realize that no-one else will bring it about for them. In short, they will be prepared to work for this end.


We argue that ideas of God and religion arose basically because men could not explain natural phenomena. They invented a “mirror image” of themselves and endowed it with supernatural powers. The fact is that all gods and religions have reflected the society from which they sprang.


Religious ideas today have become a hangover from the past and are not compatible with science or knowledge. Religion is not an individual thing, but a social phenomenon used by the ruling class in maintaining the status quo, and it should be recognized as such. It is inconceivable that an enlightened Socialist majority will have the slightest need for any kind of religious ideas. Once men understand the material basis of society, then the mysteries of religion start to unravel themselves and the need for a “God” is rendered unnecessary.


One point to note is that Socialists do not “worship” either God or anything else. All our ideas are subject to intense thought and debate which must be based on reality. We do not have “faith” in the sense that Socialism is something we accept without thinking about it, nor do we encourage this approach from members of the working class. Quite the contrary: it is because we think about it and debate that we are Socialists. When the majority of workers also examine the material conditions in the world and how they operate, Socialism will be introduced.


For further reading, see the October 1975 Socialist Standard: “Can Science Benefit Mankind?



Misconduct at the wake

I suppose i should thank your correspondent for his remarks about the ILP in the October Socialist Standard (“Ring the Bell, Verger”). In comparison to the treatment meted out to miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, we come off rather lightly. On the other hand, the ILP is delivered a belated obituary notice I would like, however, to point out that in straining the metaphor about the ILP’s demise, R. B. may well have created confusion in readers’ minds as to what actually has happened to the ILP.


Put briefly, the Independent Labour Party underwent a fundamental transformation at its Easter Conference following upon several years of deliberation It emerged from conference as Independent Labour Publications, and in its new  rôle pledged its support for the Labour Party and for socialism. In July the ILP re-launched the Labour Leader, and we received greetings from a wide section of the labour movement welcoming these developments.


The ILP, unlike the SPGB perhaps, has come to recognize the futility of sectarianism and believes that if we really wish to change society then it is necessary to be with the working class, and not expect them to seek you out in the political wilderness. R. B. is wrong if he considers that the ILP sees that there are short cuts to socialism. But nor do we believe that by standing outside the political mainstream anything can be achieved.


Barry Winter
Secretary, Independent Labour Publications.




Your letter is a cameo of the equivocation and muddle- headedness which have always characterized the ILP. You say it “underwent a fundamental transformation”. Yes: it ceased to be a political party, which is what we were saying.


“Support for the Labour Party and for socialism” is simply incomprehensible and is not elucidated by saying it is necessary to be with the working class in “the political mainstream”. The majority of the working class, including those who vote for the Labour Party, do not understand or want Socialism at present. “The futility of sectarianism” apparently means that you believe in supporting organizations one is opposed to or that are going in the opposite direction; well, everyone to his own idea of futility.


We expect in the near future to publish an article reviewing in detail the lifetime and policies of the ILP. However, there is an embarras de richesses in replying to your rebuttal of our statement that it believed in short cuts to Socialism. Here are three or four to be going on with:


  The Labour Party at the elections of 1922 and 1923 put forward a programme of constructive Social Transformation, which would lay the foundations of the Socialist Commonwealth.
(Six Months of Labour Government, ILP, 1924)


  Let us rather begin by demanding the fairer division of wealth: let us insist, first of all, on the elementary claim to a living wage, and then enforce the wide and economic changes by which alone it can be realised and secured. The fixing, whether by combined Trade Union action, or by a Royal Commission, of any adequate figure, would drive us at once into big political changes. The demand is a battering-ram levelled at the present system.
(H. N. Brailsford, Socialism for Today, ILP, 1925)


  But the failure of capitalism can be made a great opportunity to apply socialist principles, and to begin the transition to socialism. That is the spirit in which the problem should be approached.
(Maxton, 1931; quoted in James Maxton — the Beloved Rebel by John McNair, 1955)


    Immediate Programme:—1. Take the Profit out of War. 2. Introduce Social Equality. 3. Establish Social Ownership. 4. Grant Democracy to the Empire. 5. Make Britain Socialist.


(ILP Election Special, Bristol Central, January 1943)



Questions on principles
I have been reading some literature that contained the SPGB’s Declaration of Principles; and while I would never condemn socialism out of hand, there are several points which I would like to raise.


The first point you make is “. . . and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced”. The working men must actually produce the goods, but a means of organization is vitally essential. As soon as someone steps out of the  rôle of actually producing, you appear to put them in a different class. Do you deny that the job of organization is essential to the efficient production of goods, and that this job of organization needs a capable person with initiative? Therefore I disagree with the words “by whose labour alone”.


Second, the class struggle “between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess”. Are you trying to tell me that all those who work to produce a car, never own a car? Those who work on making ships that may carry bananas, they eat bananas surely. I don’t deny that there is a class struggle, but I challenge you on “those who produce but do not possess”.


The sixth principle declares that the armed forces of the nation “exist only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers”. In what way do the British armed forces act directly against the workers? A standing army is kept for the defence of the country as a whole, and in times of war the rich are not exempt from military service. It is a great exaggeration to say the armed forces only act against the interests of the working class.


If socialism means equality without discrimination and freedom then I, and many, would wish for it. But while I see what I consider to be inaccurate statements of principles by the Socialist Party I cannot give them my support.


Beverley Browne




1. As you say, the job of organization is essential to the efficient production of goods, and “by whose labour alone” refers to all aspects of production and distribution and their organization.


2. The second clause in our Declaration of Principles proceeds from the first: “possess” refers to the means of living, not personal requirements. Under capitalism the means of production and distribution are class-owned. The great majority, having no share in that ownership, are forced to sell their labour-power to live: they do not possess but have to produce.


However, their ability to acquire motor-cars and bananas — and houses, clothing and hot dinners — is governed by that situation. The products are not theirs; the wealth they produce is owned by the class which owns the means of production. Members of the working class can have only what they can buy, and that is determined not by their ability to manage but by their wages (and whether they are in employment at all). Socialism means that there will be unrestricted free access by all to whatever is produced, because the means of production will be owned by all.


3. It is “the machinery of government, including the armed forces” that “exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers”. The state exists to give sanction to class ownership and protect it: by law, but ultimately by force. Against whom? The answer is, whoever assails or threatens the capitalist class in each country. The threat most commonly assumed is from another country’s capitalists pursuing their interests in the world’s markets and so threatening “ours” — and you may note that if conflict breaks out it is workers (who have no country) who are killed in huge numbers. However, armed force has frequently been used against strikes and civil unrest.


This is the reason why Socialists aim at control of the powers of government. Ideas of confrontation, advocated by many “militants”, cannot win. The need is to take possession of the state’s coercive machine so that it cannot be used to prevent Socialism.


4. Socialism does mean equality and freedom. It is the only condition on which they can be obtained.


“Stupid” Workers

Quite by chance, I obtained a copy of the SS and was impressed by the contents. An article by RAB on ‘Britain’s Political Crisis’ attracted my attention. I agree with the writer that the working class are politically ignorant. However, I can find no evidence to support the writers optimism concerning the prospects for Socialism.


I have travelled extensively for many years and my job has necessitated mixing with literally hundreds of people.


I have argued with friends and acquaintances in pubs, clubs and homes on the theft, by capitalists, on the working class. Needless to say I am regarded as a crank or lunatic. I was once sacked from a good job because I told my employer that what he said about the working class being dependent upon his class was utter bilge and that the reverse was the case.


At the age of 45 I have come to the conclusion that whilst your ideals are uplifting, your remedy is nonsense.


A friend of mine has suggested that the main reason for your failure to propagate your ideas has been one of communication. Whilst I am cognizant of this difficulty I do not see it as of paramount importance.


The ruling class of this and other countries will continue to manipulate the masses for ever. The form of society may change but never the substance. Whether the dominant class is English, Russian or American does not alter the picture.


You will never free the working class of its shackles simply because they are not aware of their chains. Intellectual freedom can always be extended to those without intellect.


The ruling class govern because they make the rules and can alter or adjust these rules as they see fit. That is why you will never capture Parliament for the working class. You may say that as I understand so may everybody. Roger Bannister ran the four minute mile. I can’t.


The sad fact is the working class can never be saved. The uncharitable thought occurs to me that perhaps it doesn’t deserve to be.


R. B. Butler




it is true that many keen runners will not achieve a four minute mile but since Roger Bannister it has become a commonplace in athletics. Workers can safely ignore athletics but they cannot hide from the effects of capitalism. It is capitalism itself which makes the Socialist revolution both necessary and possible.


Human society passed through various stages until about 200 years ago capitalism took over from feudalism as the dominant social system. There is no reason to suppose that human progress must now be at an end. On this point we refer you to an article in the August Socialist StandardIdeas and Understanding— and also to a reply to another correspondent in the November Socialist Standard, headed—Class Consciousness.


On the question of communication, the spread of Socialist knowledge has been hindered by the widespread mis-use of the term Socialism. When it is used to describe everything from state-capitalism to Labour Government it is hardly surprising that workers have only attempted to solve their problems through reforms. For with the exception of a small minority they are unaware that there is an alternative to capitalism. We have every confidence in the ability of the working class to understand the simple and sound proposition that is Socialism. It is after all the working class which runs capitalism.


Our impatience is with those fellow workers who profess sympathy with our case but will not join us because they think others are not capable of doing the same. The point is do YOU understand the meaning of Socialism and are YOU prepared to work with us in The SPGB in order to accelerate the spread of this understanding.



The Socialist Future
Do you categorically abhor violence in any form in the accomplishment of Socialism? It seems to me that violent revolution has achieved nothing but misery for working people whenever it has occurred. If people want Socialism we have the machinery through the ballot. The absence of candidates is more than a slight problem but only indicates that enough people do not want Socialism yet.


Maybe one reason why people don’t want Socialism yet is that they don’t know what would happen. Your excellent article “The Social Revolution” in the September issue might have been written as a biography of me. But it stops at “only the details are missing”. I stop there too. I imagine the General Election at which Socialism is “returned”. Overnight the exploitation and inequalities of centuries stop. How? by what organization? System? by which people? Surely this is a fair question. What about the day after the Socialist election?


Greater Manchester




You have probably by now seen the November Fifty Years Ago extract on “Revolution and Violence”. The position stated there has been and is still the one held by us: “those who seek to replace capitalism by Socialism do not play the capitalist game of advocating violence”.


We are often asked why we do not supply details of economic and social organization in Socialism. From time to time articles have indicated lines on which affairs might be conducted. We can say there will be no money; everyone will have free access to everything produced; the problems of capitalism — crises, wars, inequality and poverty and their consequences — will be entirely absent. There are two important reasons why we cannot go further. The first is that we do not know. There are a few hundred of us now, and we are working for a society which will be wholly democratic; how then can we anticipate the ideas and preferences of millions in the future? Many of us have our own speculations, but (and this is the second reason) to try making a policy of them would do no-one any good. Haven’t you heard the old joke: “Come the Revolution, you’ll have strawberries and cream whether you like it or not”?



Various Questions

In a previous issue of the Socialist Standard you stated that people with religious belief are not admitted to membership of the Socialist Party. What is your attitude towards agnostics? I take the view that to deny the existence of God and metaphysical reality is as untenable as blind acceptance of God’s existence. Surely the only rational viewpoint is to realize that one cannot know the unknowable.


It appears that apart from Austria (and perhaps Sweden) your movement is confined to English-speaking areas of the world. Could you give an explanation of this, and also why a predominantly rural, Catholic country such as Austria has a Socialist party while highly industrialized urban countries such as Japan and West Germany do not?


If Socialism involves abolishing the law courts and the police force, how would Socialist society deal with crimes against the individual — murder, rape, g.b.h., etc.? What is your attitude towards drug addiction?


Has the Socialist Standard ever reviewed the following books: Karl Marx by E. H. Carr, 1934; The Marxists, by C. Wright Mills, 1963; The Next Step by Richard Acland, 1974?


Finally, how would you refute E. H. Carr’s allegation that modern economics (circa 1930) had disproved Marx’s theories, especially the labour theory of value?


R. Richardson



1. You say that there is a kind of reality which is “unknowable”, and to recognize this is “the only rational viewpoint”. It isn’t: it is a religious viewpoint under another name. The difference between ourselves and agnostics as well as religionists is that between materialism and idealism. Idealism is the belief that ideas have an existence independent of natural and social courses. Materialism holds that they arise from the interplay of those causes. The choice between these positions is not “unknowable”.


2. Socialists are a minority in all countries at present. If our companion party in Austria were a large one, we should be concerned about there being none in the other countries you mention. As it is, all we can say is that the small number of Socialists there are organized, and there are individual Socialists in other non-English-speaking countries; the counting of heads is not significant.


3. See the article “Is Crime Hereditary?” in this issue. Drugs generally are administered or taken to numb pain or misery, and when the latter is social the effective answer is to change society. Insofar as some drugs are used for reputedly “expanding consciousness”, our concern is to wake up normal consciousness to its proper application.


4. A lengthy review of E. H. Carr’s Karl Marx: A Study in Fanaticism appeared in the Socialist Standard for July 1934. It pointed out numerous errors, misquotations and mistranslations, without reply from Carr. The other books you mention have not been reviewed by us.


5. Carr claimed that Marx’s theories had been disproved by E. Bohm-Bawerk in Karl Marx and the Close of his System, published in 1896 — without, apparently, being aware of the reply to Bohm-Bawerk by Rudolf Hilferding. There have been various publications of Hilferding’s reply; it was published with Bohm-Bawerk’s essay in a single volume by A. M. Kelley (New York), 1949. Theories allegedly superior to Marx’s have been applied, including that of Keynes, who called Capital “scientifically erroneous”; and look at the results.



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A. Buick (Brussels): See page 225, in this issue. D. G. Featherston, D. Clark and others: We hope to publish replies to you in the next issue.