Letters to the Editors: A Sympathiser Writes . . .
I have been a regular reader of the Socialist Standard now for about two years. I have also read your books and pamphlets on various subjects. I had always held the view that reforms by radical governments would eventually change this unfair society; I now realise that this is not possible. I agree 100 per cent with the argument put forward by the SPGB. Why. then, am I not a member? After a lot of thought I have come to a reluctant conclusion. It is this. I have attended meetings and debates, listened and sometimes argued with a multitude of different political opinions. I have argued with workmates, friends in the pub. even members of my family; in fact anyone who appears to be listening. The best response I have had however is. “yes, I sympathise with your beliefs but I will never be convinced that the society you want will ever work”. This is the depressing opinion put forward by class-conscious people who have, at least, bothered to think up to a point. They have, however, been unable to break out of false attitudes about “human nature” which are nurtured all too readily by defenders of capitalism. From an early age people are conditioned by propaganda from all sides. Educated and taught various skills and sciences. Taught about religion with the intention of producing what is known as “a useful member of society”. We all know what that is. The power and therefore the results of this indoctrination are not to be underestimated and I am beginning to despair that even the pure logic and rationality of the socialist case will be able to break it down. 1 have no wish to lead a life of self-imposed frustration trying to convince fellow working-class men and women that socialism is the only answer to their problems. Most of them refuse to listen anyway, preferring to watch the telly or follow other pastimes that eat up what little leisure- time most people have. Let them drool over their favourite political leader’s promises of pie in the sky: or follow religious leaders’ preachings of life after death and that the meek will inherit the earth. Let them fight and die in wars between capitalists and their counterparts in other countries. They are, after all, in the majority.
You may consider this to be a defeatist attitude, and so it is, but how else can constant failure to make headway result in anything other?
I have nothing but admiration for anyone who decides to become a member of the SPGB. They obviously possess a sense of hope and enthusiasm that I would in no way wish to dampen.
Socialism will be the result of social forces within capitalism driving workers to the conclusion that the present system does not operate in their interests and that only a society of common ownership of the means of production. democratically organised by themselves, can. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is one among many of these forces. We do not think that our efforts alone will bring socialism, but that the whole range of workers’ experiences (including contact with the SPGB) will prepare them for it. If to some people this preparation seems a tedious process and our progress seems slow, we must say that we too would like to see the socialist idea spreading more quickly. However, important ideas in human history have always taken quite some time to become popular and have only seemed credible to the majority after once being accepted by a sizeable minority. Then they have spread very quickly. Historically speaking the socialist idea has only been around a brief moment. Capitalism has not been around long either. We hope it won’t be with us much longer, but we may have to live under it for some time yet. This we must be realistic about and accept.
We don’t consider that being patient and carrying on our work in the meantime to be “self-imposed frustration”. There can on occasions, we agree, be a frustrating side to working for socialism, but this is far outweighed by the satisfaction we get out of knowing that what we’re pursuing is the only worthwhile social goal and not one of those will-o’-the- wisps chased by those who are concerned to reform capitalism. We also get satisfaction from seeing that people like yourself are capable of responding to and being convinced by our arguments.
But if you agree with us, it’s not your admiration we want. That won’t bring socialism any nearer. We want your active support. Join us and help add weight of numbers to ‘logic and rationality’. The bigger we are, the less likely it is that the people you argue with will say they’ll never be convinced that the society we want will ever work.
Questions about Socialism
I have recently received several excellent, informative issues of the Socialist Standard, and as a result I have several questions to ask.
1. In such a socialist society, how does the socialist policy to conflict manifest itself? You have opposed war as a tool of capitalism — do socialists agree that such a state would resist conflict by remaining impartially neutral, regardless of the consequences?
2. What is (or would be) socialist policy towards Northern Ireland?
3. What (if any) are the rewards of becoming well qualified in such a society? Are they substantial enough to create incentive?
4. You mention in your principles that as a working class emancipation party, you must be hostile to every other party. In what sense are you hostile and to what extent?
5. Surely, socialism in Britain would merely be a reversal of roles for master class and working class and therefore the antagonism of interests would still exist? Being primarily a working class party, do you hope to convince the middle class of the merits of socialism.
P.S. I hold all socialism’s beliefs because they are contrary to the monetarist system we now have.
You raise a number of interesting points. We will try to answer them in order.
1. Your question on how in a socialist society the state would react to war seems to be based on a misunderstanding of our views. There could not be a “socialist state”. The state, even in those countries that call themselves socialist, exists to protect the property of the small minority class who own or control the majority of the wealth. Socialism, in our sense of a fully democratic society of common ownership of the means of production and free access to all goods and services, can only be established on a world scale. It will be a frontierless, moneyless society with none of the economic and territorial rivalries between ruling classes that generate war as at present.
2. The Irish problem has its origins in the struggle between rival groups of capitalists in Ireland early this century which workers were encouraged to take part in by being fed large doses of patriotic and religious mythology. The conflict between capitalists died down with partition, but the mythology lived on in workers’ minds and has now come to the surface again under the influence of poverty and feelings of injustice experienced by them. The Socialist Party deplores the killing, hatred and bigotry it has brought, but we are in business to help establish socialism not to help capitalist governments solve the problems they themselves have created. In any ease, the surest way to stop workers from murdering, maiming and terrorising one another is to undermine the false, misguided ideas that get them to do these things. In Ireland, as elsewhere, the real solution is the spread of socialist understanding.
3. Since socialism will be a society in which all people’s material needs will be satisfied and there will be no money or wages, “incentive” will not come from financial or material rewards but from knowing that whatever work one does will be personally satisfying, socially useful and appreciated by other members of the community. What better incentive could there be? Even in capitalism money isn’t the only motivation that will get people to do things. Think of the large amount of work people do for themselves or others on a voluntary basis and of their obvious need (recognised and often used for their own ends by governments) to feel part of a co-operative social effort.
4. The meaning to be given to the word “hostile” in Clause 7 of our Declaration of Principles is that we are in complete political opposition to other parties. We oppose them by rational argument and debate, in fact by all the non-violent means at our disposal. Our opposition is not based on pigheadedness, but on the fact that their aims are not the same as ours. Even if other parties call themselves “socialist”, their aim is to run capitalism in one way or another. It would be futile for us therefore not to oppose them or to support or form alliances with them.
5. The so-called “middle class” (office workers, teachers, dentists, doctors and the like) are in reality members of the working class because, like miners, dockers and roadsweepers, they have to sell their energies to an employer in order to live. The working class therefore comprises about 90 per cent of the population. The other class in society, the “master” or capitalist class, is the remaining 10 per cent—those who own enough not to have to work for a wage or salary, who live off the energies of the 90 per cent, and in whose interest the system is run. It is the majority, the workers, who will establish socialism because they will see it to be in their interest to do so. But socialism, once established, will be a classless society. It will mean complete economic and social equality. Every one will stand in an equal relationship to the means of production, owning none of it as individuals but owning all of it by their membership of the community.
It is true, as your postscript suggests, that socialists are opposed to “monetarism”. But we are equally opposed to non-monetarist and other ways governments may find of trying to run capitalism. The point is that capitalism, no matter what methods governments use, cannot be run in the interests of the working-class majority. Hence the widespread dissatisfaction perpetually felt among workers whichever government is in power. For more detail on this and other issues, can we recommend to you our pamphlet Questions of the Day? It will give you a good overall idea of our views.