I was astounded when I read the article in your December (1980) issue, “The Class Struggle in Poland
“. I not only find it nonsensical. but hypocritical. During the 1950s and the 1960s I attended many of your meetings and debates in Manchester and your speakers constantly attacked the trade union movement as part and parcel of the capitalist system. Now I see you support the new so-called Polish independent trade union. Solidarity. If you think that this struggle is a workers’ united movement for socialism, as printed on your front page, you must be a lot of political illiterates. Who are the people backing them? The Catholic Church and Right wing organisations all over the world who are filling their coffers with capitalistic money. To find that the SPGB have found new allies with the Catholic Church and some of the most reactionary capitalist organisations in the world, the pioneers of the SPGB must be turning over in their graves.
It is ironic that I. Brown refers to us as illiterates. when it is his own failure to read the front cover of the December 1980 Socialist Standard which leads him to imagine that the setting up of independent trades unions in Poland is seen by the SPGB as a workers’ united movement for socialism. Nothing of the kind was said. The EC statement which was published in the Socialist Standard pointed out the severe limitations of a purely defensive struggle, while recognising the important uses of trade unions. It has never been the case that SPGB speakers have attacked the existence of trade unions. Far from it, we recognise the use which they can have and have had.
Indeed, there are many Solidarity members who follow the Catholic Church, although for some of them it may be only for tactical reasons. But there is no evidence to show that the Church, as such, is backing the new union and there is some evidence to show that the Church is in league with the Polish government. The following article, which appeared in the West German newspaper, Der Spiegel, in January 1981, provides evidence of the Catholic Church’s real role in the recent developments:
Ever since early September 1980 there have been secret contacts between the Soviet leadership and the Vatican. The aim has been to find a method of damming up the revolt in Poland which has been inconvenient for both sides. One of Moscow’s first emissaries to Rome was one of the directors of the foreign dept., of the CPSU, who in September met the Vatican representative responsible for Eastern policy together with Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of the Curia . . . the secret talks were mainly concerned with the situation in Poland. Cascroli assured the Moscow representative that the Pope and the Vatican would do everything possible “to ward off the misfortune facing Poland”.
The SPGB has not changed its position regarding the uses and limitations of trade unions, although we suspect that I. Brown, after years of listening to SPGB speakers without hearing what they were saying, has at last understood where we stand.
This week I read for the first time The Socialist Standard
and I was struck by the quality of its articles: well thought-out and well written. However, I disagree with the article, “Let’s End Charity
’’ because I don’t think charities pretend to “solve” basic problems, but to solve the problems or at least alleviate the fate of individuals or communities crushed by the world situation or by official machinery. They have not the time to wait until the whole world has turned socialist. I see that my copy bears the number 918, vol. 77 and that vol. 27 appeared 50 years ago. The Socialist Standard
hasn’t changed the world nor solved the basic problem. Meanwhile Oxfam has been digging wells in India and saved hundreds from starvation. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has saved many of them. Dr. Barnardo has housed orphans; Shelter has found shelter for quite a few people without roofs over their heads. All partial benefits, I agree. But benefits all the same and for some of the beneficiaries it made the difference between life and death. And, come to think of it, if I hadn’t taken pity on the chap who was peddling your periodical in front of the tube station I would not have had the pleasure of coming to know it. Made me feel good . . .
Thank you for the compliments and we hope that you will become a regular reader. You are correct when you say that the SPGB has been working for a long time and yet socialism has not been established. But at least we can say that the work we have done has helped to build up a principled socialist movement and that we are now nearer to establishing socialism than we were when we started. Oxfam and the other charities have been going for a long time too. They have had larger funds than the SPGB, many more supporters and much greater official approval. And yet they are further from eradicating poverty now than when they started. More people are starving throughout the world today than when Oxfam was formed. More communities are being destroyed. More poverty exists worldwide, in both absolute and relative terms, than it did fifty years ago. Indeed, the NSPCC, which you mention, has recently had to appeal for funds in The Guardian not so as to stop parents beating children (and why do parents beat children?), but so as to pay the salaries of their full-time officials and keep the administrative machine going. Charities have done a great deal of hard work and achieved many specific beneficial results. But the general problems of the working class are more important than specific examples of amelioration. The point is that the profit system as a whole is bigger and more ferocious than the goodwill of charities. Capitalism cannot be humanised by the rich giving to the poor. What is needed is for the class which is poor to dispossess the class which is rich so that we may have a society in which we will all live in a condition of security and equality. If every worker who donated time, energy and money to charitable causes would have been working for socialism we would now be much nearer to such a condition. So, our message to R. Leys is that he should stop feeling sorry for others and start looking after his own material interest. When he does that he will realise that there are millions of workers throughout the world who are impoverished due to their own acquiescence in a system which robs them of the fruits of their labour.
Because there are several different kinds of socialism available to the casual reader, I am somewhat confused as to the real meaning of socialism. I do not really understand why there are several different kinds of truth (socialism) instead of just one. People want a better life. That is a single, simple truth. If people could work together, co-operatively, towards a common goal, they could possible achieve a better life. Is there a difference between socialism and the co-operative movement, or sharing together in a group for the common good? I feel that capitalism will no longer be an effective method for improving society, but neither is argument between socialist groups.
The Soviets believe that they are socialist, which means total government control. I think local control is a better method, but competition between groups could result in one group taking control of another, which would not be local control. A larger food co-op can buy products cheaper than a small co-op, but how big is too big?
I am not theoretical and do not care to read theoretical articles which result in more useless verbiage. People talk and write as they will, but the poor are today in great need. The point should be to stop talking and move towards a common goal, such as a workers’ co-operative in an agricultural setting, where the people are as self-sufficient as possible, and even export food and clothing for sale to the outside. That would be socialism in action, which would be an example for all the world to examine.
I should think that co-operative socialism would, in fact, be revolutionary, because it would give hope to the members Books and magazines are important, but socialist groups have been talking for years and I can’t see any real, visible progress towards socialism. If some sort of progress isn’t made within a few years it will be too late. Reagan and Haig seem to be determined to destroy the world in their own way, and I believe that to form a workers’ cooperative movement is the only way out of this capitalistic retrogression.
I enclose a contribution, not for your magazine, but for your general fund, because I can buy your magazine at a nearby store and I don’t wish to read articles that can’t be put to immediate practical use. Time is short, as mentioned. We don’t have time to read and argue. There is only time to do. Socialism must be promoted by whatever means possible, even on the BBC and I TV.
We do not accept that there are different kinds of socialism. There is either capitalism (production for profit) which exists throughout the world today, including the misnamed communist countries, or socialism (production solely for human need) which the SPGB is the only party in this country standing for. Socialism will be a worldwide co-operative community and will replace the worldwide system of production and distribution which capitalism has created. Some aspects of socialist living will be localised for the sake of convenience, but the primary concern of socialist society will be to provide for the complete needs and desires of the people of the world.
Your ideal of an island of socialism within the sea of capitalism will not be achieved so long as the resources of the earth, and the means of producing and distributing wealth, are the private property of a minority class. You refer to workers’ co-operatives selling food and clothing to the outside world. But production for sale is a feature of capitalism. Where would the co-operative get the capital to invest in production? How much would it sell its commodities for? Would it have trade unions to protect the wages and conditions of those working on the co-operative? What would the co-operative do if a rival firm produced goods at a cheaper rate? In short, how could a community within capitalism detach itself from the inherent features of that society? It could not.
What is needed is a worldwide movement of the people who produce all of the wealth of society (the working class) to take political action to gain control of the productive and distributive machinery of society. Then we can have world socialism. Practical action is useless without theory and Tom Todd is advised to visit the Birmingham branch of the SPGB and help to turn the vision of socialism into an immediate, practical reality.