Letters: Would like to know more

I saw your ad in Tribune and I think I would like to know more about the Party and its policies/views.


Firstly how would you help solve the problem of starvation today in the third world, in a capitalist society? Would the people living in the industrialized countries have to cut their standard of living to feed these people? Do you think they would stand for this? Even the unions — the members of which claim to be socialists — might say to the third world “We’re not going to have our standard of living cut!”


Do you think some unions have become too powerful — so powerful as to be able to over-ride the elected parliament and take what they want at the expense of the members of weaker unions?


Is our present police force and our over-all judicial system working satisfactorily and fairly or not? If not, what would you replace it with?


I understand your ideal is to have a world in which there are no barriers between countries (or to have no countries as such). Would there then be a world parliament to govern the people? Please give a rough outline of your system.


Also what are the Party’s views on nationalization, education, religion and the EEC (did you say “Get out”? If so, was your only reason for taking this stand because the system on which the EEC is based is capitalist?). Could a Socialist Europe be obtained through the EEC?


Does your party have any intention of putting candidates in any general or local elections? How many members have you got, and how would I go about joining you if I support your views?


Derek Clarke



1. A great deal of humbug is talked about “starving millions”. The basic fact is that capitalism does not produce food for people to eat: it produces only what can be sold at a profit, regardless of what needs exist. If the starving, or the homeless, found themselves able to pay after all, they would no longer be faced by a shortage. The case against capitalism is not that it distributes wealth inequitably, but that it cannot develop the productive powers. Socialism, by removing the monumental restriction of production for profit, will enable man to produce to meet the needs of the world’s population.


2. Trade unions do not and cannot over-ride Parliament (nor is it correct that all trade unionists even claim to be Socialists). Their function is the limited one of working to keep up the price of labour-power against counter-pressure from the employers. How much they can gain for their members depends chiefly on the state of the economy: in boom times they are relatively successful, but in times of depression and mass unemployment they are obviously in a weak bargaining position. There is no “wages fund” in which one union dips at the expense of others. If, say, the engineers gain a pay rise that does not obstruct agricultural workers from gaining one: in each case it is obtained from their respective employers, and no-one else.


3. Yes, they are working satisfactorily for the ruling class for whom they exist. “Fairness” does not enter into it. Our aim is not to improve on “justice” but to do away with it and have Socialism instead.


4. Socialism will be world-wide, with full access by everyone to everything which is produced, and therefore no money. There will be no parliament “to govern the people”, because government is required only in class-divided societies to maintain the monopoly by the owning class and keep the subject class in restraint.


5. Nationalization is a change in form made to meet capitalist requirements, and is favoured by the Conservatives and Liberals as well as the Labour Party; it has nothing to do with Socialism. The SPGB is opposed to all religion. Education is the process of training the young to take their place in society; in capitalist society, therefore, it is designed for the needs of capitalism and nothing else.


We were wrongly reported in The Guardian as advocating “Get out of Europe”. Being in or out makes no difference to the working class, whose problems can be solved only by establishing Socialism.


6. The SPGB has between six and seven hundred members. We put up candidates for Parliament and in local elections when possible. Membership is conditional on a full understanding of the Socialist case. When you think you are ready for it, apply to your nearest Branch or to Head Office.



Brainy people

Some years ago I saw a film in which the principal topic was that the wealthy were impractical, all right at brain work but not much good at mundane operations. The plot included two men, a girl and a stoker on a yacht. The two men were wealthy Parisians. The yacht was wrecked on a deserted island. The two wealthy men were always giving the stoker, the working man, money to buy something. In the end he saw they were impractical and when the money ran out he took their boots and so on. He himself adapted to the situation and caught fish with pieces of wire. Of course there came a day when an aeroplane saved them all and back to civilization.


My question is this. Has it been surveyed that, say, 60 per cent, of the wealthy cannot do practical things but are good at brain work? What do you say?


W. Popplewell




Though we have not heard of a survey, we are quite prepared to believe that most of the rich are not proficient at practical work. There is nothing inborn about it. The reason is simple — they don’t have to do it, but get their livings provided for them. The working class, on the other hand, have to be proficient in endless ways.


However, you say the rich may be “all right at brain work”. They want you to think so. That is an excuse dating back to Plato for the class division in society (“we have explained the reason why the good are useless”; “the multitude cannot be philosophical”). “Brain work” is not a separate realm from practical work: the wealthy have the working class do that for them equally.


Underlying the myth that the ruling class have all the intellectual powers is the long tradition of “culture”, i.e. the arts and philosophy pursued by leisured sections of society. We do not reject them: on the contrary, we acknowledge the contribution every social system and ruling class has made to human development until it outlived its usefulness. Subject classes have participated relatively little in this culture, except to work as required.


But modern capitalism would fare badly if it stuck to the ruling class for “brains” to run it. Hence the continual extensions and reorganizations of public education in the last hundred years, picking over the mass of working-class material for the abilities the system needs. We need Socialism — don’t we? — to allow everyone’s abilities to be realized, and to get rid of the silly superiority-distinction between “brain work” and “practical work”.



Anarchists and Violence

I don’t think you can dismiss Peter Newell’s comment as not being serious enough. These “stupid anarchists” as you call them under your article “50 Years Ago — Revolution and Violence” said right from the start that the Bolsheviks with their authoritarian socialism and centralized powers would lead to state capitalism.


Your two main criticisms of anarchists seem to be (a) they use violence and (b) they are opposed to parliamentary democracy. By definition, an anarchist is someone who holds a certain attitude and resists oppression. Not all anarchists promote violence, but the violence adopted by the state is used to keep capitalism going. To resist and fight this force is a step towards liberty, even if violence has to be employed. Obviously the use of force is inconsistent with freedom and Socialism, but how else is one to organize against capitalism which is inherently kept going by violence?


When anarchists say they are against democracy it means they are against parliamentary democracy which is the path for a party or person to take government. Anarchists see governments as representing the fetters upon society and maintaining the state’s class divisions. We fight for true democracy without political parties competing for power. Workers’ control is economic freedom and we’ll fight for it.


As an advocator for Socialism you are utterly unrevolutionary as you see it only through parliamentary methods and take up a policy of advocating and giving “Socialist understanding” to the workers.


G. Goss




Your letter provides the reason why it is impossible to take these contentions seriously. You say anarchists said right from the start that the Bolsheviks “with their authoritarian socialism” would produce state capitalism. This is a proposition quite contrary to the one made by P. Newell, whom you think you are supporting. We should be interested to hear how Socialism could lead to capitalism.


It is not disputed that anarchists in Russia opposed the revolution and suffered for doing so. That may give rise to personal sympathy, but why should we assume that “this resistance was in good cause for Socialism”? Many individuals and organizations refuse to accept the state’s authority — for example, numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses went to prison in the last war as objectors to military service — but to suggest we therefore accept them as revolutionaries is ludicrous. The ending of your letter makes clear that you as an anarchist reject Socialism.


We note that you accept our statement that anarchists accept violence, and admit that it is “inconsistent with freedom and Socialism”. In the light of that, you must not blame anyone for the surmises they make as to the meanings of the “true democracy” and “workers’ control” you promise to fight for. Similarly, you object to our policy of “Socialist understanding”, and we have to take this as meaning an intention to minority action unsupported by understanding.


We are aware of the long-established anarchist attitude to the state, and know nothing in favour of it. The state controls legal and military machinery, and you assert that “to resist and fight this force is a step towards liberty”. We would have thought anarchist experience would indicate it is a step towards prison and early graves. Our case is the different, realistic one of aiming at possession of the state machine so that it cannot be used against the Socialist revolution.



World Communication
After buying my first Socialist Standard at a dance in Bolton and having gone home and read it from back to front and being somewhat shocked at finding a party that thought along the same lines as myself and had never heard of it, I decided to find out more about it. This I did, and now subscribe to the SS although not yet having joined the party.


To get to the point, I would like to give my opinion and some of the many people with whom I have had discussions. This being the fact that whilst agreeing totally with the SPGB principles of a world socialist system, we thought the chances of the whole world voting simultaneously would be impossible. So we came to the opinion hat it needs starting off in one country. Taking our own as an example the only problems we could foresee in doing this is that people would not be able to have free movement in and out of the country for holidays etc. until other countries followed suit and joined in the Socialist revolution. Our reasons for thinking like this are that this country needs to import and see no reason reason why this could not continue as long as we controlled what we bought against what we sold instead as at present leaving it all to chance. We felt this could work as long as the difficulties were explained to the electorate and if they then still voted a Socialist Party into power it would mean they were willing to sacrifice some things for the advantages a Socialist system would bring.


Have you ever thought what we would do if the majority of British people wanted to vote Socialist at the present? Would we have to say you cannot have it because the rest of the world don’t want it?


R. A. Roscow




Capitalism covers the globe and must therefore be replaced on a worldwide basis. Socialism is by definition a worldwide social system. It would not be possible to replace the market economy, with production solely for use and free access to goods and services, in one country.


Ideas do not develop in isolation. The conditions which give rise to the need for Socialism are experienced by workers in every country. It is extremely unlikely that Socialist understanding will reach maturity in only one country. (Think also of modern communications).


An immense majority of the worldwide working class ready to implement Socialism will constitute an irresistible social force. A small time lapse between the final voting for it in different areas would be of no consequence.



Fighting Talk

“Government of the people, BY the people, FOR the people” is often quoted — rightly so — as the basic principle of democracy. This form of government does NOT yet exist in Great Britain or anywhere else. Certainly there is government OF the people. We are faced at very important decisions of our lives with legal and political restrictions, enforced by an hierarchy of judges, courts, police, taxmen, local councils etc.


This governing is done BY only some of the people, namely 635 of them and several thousand civil servants. Some of these — the MPs — are, in an occasional way, responsible to the electorate, but there are more faceless men with the real power than we ever had nightmares about. With so many sanctions placed upon us the government can hardly be said to be FOR the people.


Democracy does not exist at the polling booth, and I cannot believe it ever will. Why should I be expected to choose someone to tell me what to do, instead of choosing what to do myself. True democracy lies in the brotherhood of the streets. Take up your weapons and fight, brothers!


Alan James Edward Hardy 




We are at a loss to know what fighting in the streets has to do with democracy. It can only be the policy of minorities who seek to impose their will by force.


The present form of government has the support of the vast majority of people. The electorate — at least 85% of whom are members of the working class — demonstrates this support through the ballot box. To this extent it is democratic. The working class votes for political parties which are pledged to continue capitalism (in whatever form) but this is no reason to abandon the polling booth.


Our object is Socialism. A social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means for production requires the active participation of all of its members. It cannot therefore be achieved until the vast majority of the working class are organized consciously and politically for that sole purpose.


When the working class wants Socialism it will use the vote, a powerful weapon, to gain control of the machinery of government. Socialist delegates will go to Parliament with the clear mandate to dispossess the capitalist class, so that the means and instruments for production can become the common property of all. We will then have democracy in the fullest sense.





It has occurred to me that the Standard might help to clarify a question that has been popping up constantly of late.


“What will people do with their leisure time, when the hours of labour are reduced, as they are bound to be when we have finally introduced true Socialism?” “At the moment, many people are being thrown out of work or made redundant and are not very happy with all this leisure time on their hands.” This cannot be said to be due entirely to monetary problems because most of them are “doing very nicely on unemployment or redundancy pay” (their opinion, not mine).


What would be the difference? Can you elaborate on what you think it would be like under Socialism; how can you be sure that people would be able to fill their days satisfactorily as a community? It is generally considered that a high proportion of child delinquency and vandalism is due to boredom.


Doris G. Featherston 




Along with considering those to whom leisure is a problem, it is useful to think of those for whom it is none at all. People lucky enough to have interesting and creative work often scarcely know there is such a thing: the division, and the problem, do not exist. There are others, including most Socialists, who have keen interests and regret having to give up their time to go to work. We think these will be the characteristic situations in Socialism.


The problem of leisure arises from the division and circumstances of labour. Working people are obliged to spend eight hours a day at more or less unattractive occupations, with scheduled breaks and a now-you-can-go-home at half-past five, for fifty years on end. They are conditioned to this from early childhood — the school day is a rehearsal of the working day. Having gone home, they are not free at all Many are tired, not in the sense of dire exhaustion but in that they are inclined only to passive amusements which are felt to be unsatisfying. Lack of money plays a part: numbers would say that if they could afford it they would do this and that. Insofar as they have any money to spare, the grasping hand of commerce furnishes leisure-time “attractions” which fail to re-create as recreation should.


Delinquency and vandalism no doubt do result largely from boredom, but not necessarily with leisure The more likely source of them is work or school, and resentment at empty and humiliating days. It is usually said “they could find something to do”: what? It is a condemnation of capitalism that it provides such a sterile life for great numbers of people, denying them satisfactions and then reprehending them for not making better use of their time.




Transition Stage

The material you sent me seems to pose two problems: (a) If there is no intermediate stage between capitalism and Socialism (communism) there seems to be the implication that capitalism must raise the level of production to that necessary for communism. I cannot see that happening. In fact, if it did, there would be the paradox: why bother about Socialism if capitalism raises production to such a level as to allow free distribution? (b) What happens to Socialist propaganda under fascism?


J. A. Wilson 




There can be no intermediate stage between capitalism and Socialism. We either have class-owned means of production and capitalism, or common-ownership, which is Socialism. There is nothing between the two, which is neither one or the other.


Why you find the implication that “capitalism must raise the level of production to that necessary for communism” unacceptable, is a little puzzling since this is precisely what capitalism does. We refer you to The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels where they trace the history of change from one social system to another and point to the dynamic role of the class-struggle, which centres upon the question of the ownership of the means of production.


Engels explains what he calls the “fundamental proposition” of the Manifesto in his 1888 preface and concludes


  now-a-days, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class — the proletariat — cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class — the bourgeoisie — without, at the same time, and once and for all emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.
(page 56 SPGB edition.)


Marx was over-optimistic in thinking that Socialism would be established in his lifetime. This led to the view he expressed in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, that during a transition period the means of the wealth production would have to be rapidly developed. But all this was more than a century ago. Today advanced technology spans the earth. The potential for abundance exists.


This leads to what you imagine is a paradox, “why bother about Socialism if capitalism raises production to such a level as to allow free distribution?” It is the continuation of class-ownership with its restrictive profit-motive and antagonistic market-economy, which bars the way to free distribution. Only from the basis of world-wide common-ownership, can modern science and industry be geared to free-access and production solely for use. The property relations of capitalism are obsolete and form a barrier to social progress. When working-class thinking catches up with the implications inherent in these facts, they will remove the barrier.


This has a bearing on your final point about Socialist propaganda under fascism. Fascism is only a dictatorial, police-state, means of administering capitalism. Fascism cannot hold back the spread of ideas or the developments which lead to changing society. Fascism, like other forms of capitalism, exists because of working-class acceptance, acquiescence and support, in a word, because of their political ignorance. But this is not a fixed and static situation. The social problems and contradictions of capitalism continue to provide the raw material for working-class thinking. This is how Socialist propaganda was born. Socialist ideas alone hold the solution to the problems, nothing can prevent their growth and ultimate triumph.