Editorial: Not The Millennium
Those who contributed to the first issue of the Socialist Standard 83 years ago shared an excitement and optimism difficult to conceive 1,000 uninterrupted issues on. As their high hopes dissolved in face of gruesome reality, they did what socialists have done ever since: propagated the case for a free society at every opportunity and by any means, usually with scant success. The journal’s vigour and survival through numerous testing times is testimony both to the soundness of our principles and analysis of capitalism’s operation, as well as a tribute to the dedication of individuals. That said, self congratulation would be both inappropriate and deluding, given that the subject for which we exist appears as remote as ever.
The Standard has been the product of voluntary effort by hundreds of socialists with widely differing opinions about the best way to present the Party’s case. This has helped to mitigate a constant difficulty: we have had to be both a topical commentary on current affairs (a task made difficult by monthly publication) as well as a vehicle for at times abstract and demanding theory. There has always been a band of contributors who wanted us to seek popular appeal with a style of presentation modelled on the tabloid press, but this has lacked support and been impractical because of our numerical weakness. Those who wanted more solid expositions of Marxist theory have likewise had to content themselves with a hybrid which seeks to satisfy both demands.
Although the form of communicating our ideas has varied over the years, political fashion has had no effect on the kernel of our proposition: that capitalism is inherently incapable of reform in the interest of the majority, who must consciously opt for a new society before it can be realised. Our strength has lain in the uniqueness of our case, not in the extent to which we have been able to find common cause with the trends of the day; an accommodating socialism would have had but a short time to live. We have always tried, not always successfully, to contain an arrogance born of a consistent correctness about the century’s major issues and events, a weakness for which we make no apology. For it is not we who packed our bags and departed, or are crawling around on all fours in the desperate search for a new road to El Dorado.
Our sometimes harsh treatment of opponents’ views has inevitably drawn strong criticism, even from people claiming to be in broad sympathy with our object. Why, they say, after calling a spade a spade, do you find it necessary to finish the job with repeated kicks to the shins in hobnail boots? What’s wrong with carpet slippers now and again? Even if we accept that the critic is basically unhappy with the content of our argument, or that abuse for its own sake may lose support for our ideas, there remains a contradiction difficult to resolve: a tolerant society rich in sensibility and feeling can only be realised through the concerted actions of a self-disciplined, combative and ostensibly “hard” body of socialists. The “soft” utopian ingredient of the socialist movement, best represented in the writings of William Morris, adds an important imaginative element to our materialist approach but can never itself be the engine of change. The assumption of the sensitive reader is that a wholly rational and explanatory socialism is required, whereas we know only too well that
Even hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh . . .
Unless our articles can draw into the socialist movement those motivated by a deep and bitter revulsion against a system of organised poverty and waste, as well as a appeal to others who consider socialism a good idea, we will rightfully be restricted to the political backwater. Were our true opinions concealed behind euphemism, then how could we continue to criticise the defenders of capitalism for their hypocrisy and double standards? If we contend, for example, the animal rights lobby has obscenely warped and disturbing priorities, or that the aims of black liberation movements are inimical to socialists, then we must unfailingly say so.
We have sought to disabuse workers of a belief that society would be tolerable if only we could reduce or ban armaments, build more houses, feed the hungry, create more jobs, make our priorities green, foster the growth of co-operatives, control crime and hang criminals, or be generally much nicer to each other. While repeated coverage of these issues has given our arguments a firm base in experience, the core of resistance to fundamental change is a widespread belief that society is as it is because of “the nature of things”. This inability to accept a distinction between human constants and the products of a class society is the last and most difficult barrier we have to break down. Fortunately, in our efforts to turn the world upside down we have a constant ally in capitalism, which offers its largely passive collaborators a succession of unfulfilled dreams; if consumer choice does not yet extend to the rejection of everything on offer, at least we know that there is always deep dissatisfaction and a constant groping for solutions.
The credibility of the Socialist Standard has never hinged on the size of our readership or the support for our position at elections, but on whether our connection of cause and effect can be seen with hindsight to have been sound. We know that socialism is presently rejected by all but a handful, usually on spurious grounds but rejected nevertheless. In such circumstances we can only persist in the publication of a sane alternative, always bearing in mind that the self-righteous are unlikely to inherit the earth.