More on socialism
It’s been good to see the lively debate over the directions we should take as revolutionaries, in the recent letters on the “S” word question.
Although I am in favour of keeping “Socialism” in our party name, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too hung up about words—any word can become abused and misused; indeed you only need to think how the term “democracy” has been rendered almost meaningless through its use by state and corporate mouthpieces. Descriptions such as socialism, communism, anarchist-communism, Free Access and Common Wealth are all valid, if used meaningfully, for the sort of society we dearly wish to see. There is nothing to stop us using a multitude of words and descriptions for what we stand for in our propaganda (another word that has become distorted!). What’s important is that we get our ideas over as effectively as possible. There is no reason why we should constantly shout “Socialism” from the material we produce and distribute, and anyway, much of the time we don’t.
However, for many many people the words “socialism”, “socialist” hold the sort of vision of an alternative, free society that we stand for. This makes it a strength, and something that will attract people who consider themselves politically aware or socialist to the World Socialism Movement. The title “socialist” connects us to the long tradition of revolutionary ideas and movements of which we are a part in a way that Free Access, for all its merits, probably doesn’t.
The important thing would seem to be that socialists take an open-minded and non-dogmatic approach to the way we present and develop our ideas. Discussions like this should hopefully stimulate us to think how best to spread the message of self-emancipation and common ownership.
BEN MALCOLM, Bath
And unfortunately, socialism must be near the top of the list of words that have been abused—.- Editors
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I agree that it is imperative for the Socialist Party now to hold more firmly than ever to its name. The end of the century has at last seen the demise of the big con, Leninism, and has also seen the self-unmasking of that other confidence trick, Labourite “socialism” (both of which equated socialism with nationalisation ). It would be too easy now, and a mistake, for the Socialist Party to let itself be seduced by the present lack of interest in the word socialism, by abandoning the name to which the Socialist Party alone has a right. As the one party truly representing the working class, we should know better than to give in to the pessimism of the moment. Wasn’t it a Socialist Party speaker recently who said, “The next century belongs to us”? We can’t afford to throw away our name, now that the name-stealers are at last tired of playing with it at our expense.
The Socialist Party is the one party (together with our companion parties of the World Socialist Movement) which stands, and has always stood, for socialism: a stateless, moneyless, classless world community, democratically controlled by the whole of society and with free access to the goods and services people need to live as true human beings. The Socialist Party must be proud of its name and now, more than ever before, must stand by it.
I see nothing wrong, however, with extending the name, logically, to World Socialist Party: full title, World Socialist Party (Britain), a party of the World Socialist Movement.
ANTHONY WALKER, Christchurch, Dorset
Ivan’s article, “Keeping Their Hair On”, in the July Socialist Standard made some interesting points about party colours and the image of politicians. But why are certain organisations or institutions associated with particular colours?
For example, royalty has traditionally been represented by the colour blue and yet there is no certainty as to how or why this originated. I am not even sure if there is a reason for the left being traditionally represented by the colour red.
Whatever the reason for the association of the left with red, why does the Socialist Party still use this colour too—at least for its publicity and stationery? The Socialist Party is not left-wing (or any “wing”, for that matter) as it is advocating an entirely different system. Red, in the context of socialism smacks of Commies, Reds, Lefties, Militant, “Keep the Red Flag Flying” and all that other nonsense we are trying to distance ourselves from. Think of the old Soviet Union or China and what comes to mind? Red flags!
If we are to change people’s stereotypical perception of socialism and socialists—which is difficult enough as it is—then we need to change how people view us rather than reinforcing what they already believe. It is a question of image.
Sadly, capitalism has made image a more important quality than substance but as long as we have to operate within capitalism we will be judged on petty points such as our Party colour, just as much as we can be judged on our ethos. Perhaps we should use the colour blue (or a strain of it) ourselves; that would really give people something to think about!
SIMON MONTFALCON, Romsey, Hampshire
The red flag was first used as a revolutionary emblem in the French Revolution, in 1792 when the monarchy was overthrown. Apparently, up till then it had signified that martial law was in force and of course is still a danger signal (for the ruling class?). In the following century it became the flag of those in France who wanted a social as well as a political revolution.
Thus, in one of his articles on the revolutionary events in France in 1848 (Class Struggles in France 1848-1850) Marx referred to the red flag as being the flag of “the most extreme subversive party”. So too, the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto appeared in an extreme Chartist paper, the Red Republican. The Paris Commune of 1871 adopted the red flag as its official flag, so again Marx wrote about “the Red Flag, symbol of the Republic of Labour, flying over the Hotel de Ville” (Civil War in France).
The words of the song The Red Flag (which used to be sung at pre-WWI Socialist Party meetings such as those to commemorate the Paris Commune, before the song got hijacked by the Labour Party) were written by James Connell in 1889. One line reads “we must not change its colour now”– Editors