Socialism as a practical solution
Socialism won’t change the human condition – did anyone even say that it would?
I am convinced of the case for socialism, but I am not utopian. I don’t believe in human perfectibility or a state of ideal political-social perfection. What I do think is that socialist economy would free up our human abilities to find solutions to our most pressing concerns. It is this freeing-up of resources, of capacity to concentrate on working for and towards what we want, rather than for a profit system for individuals that makes me know that socialist economic organisation is a better way for all of us on the planet than blindly accepting a capitalist global economy as dominant.
I think that this simple key message of abolishing money, or the need to work to earn money being replaced by working for and thinking about what we want wins the argument; it wins the argument with those who haven’t questioned capitalist organisation of society or of their parts in perpetuating it; it wins the minds of anyone who chooses to go away and think – and that is most human beings; it wins the minds of those who are fed up with the stresses imposed by working conditions geared to piling up money, or simply getting money to pay for things. For all of us concerned with the degradation of our lived-in environments by noise and air pollution and by oppressiveness of global capitalist corporations, there is the argument that removing the link between money and work will, or could leave us free to address these matters. They will not be dealt with half as effectively by any of the social-democratic parties under a capitalist organisation.
It has got to be a continuing part of Socialist Party philosophy that we seek to reach socialist organisation through peaceable, democratic, consensual ways; we must reject violence. We may feel very angry and we may well understand violence coming about as a result of frustration and feelings of powerlessness, but it is important that we do not condone violence; we must distance ourselves and dissociate ourselves with the destructive and negative.
For me, the breaking of the link between money and work would certainly enable the space and time for us to think about and address the roots of violence, ab-use (physical, sexual, emotional) in our selves as human beings.
Far from being utopian, socialism may simply be the next step for the survival of the human species.
PHILIP HUTCHINSON, Huddersfield
Marx and economics
I purchased, and enjoyed, amongst others the pamphlet Marxism Revisited and Some Aspects of Marxian Economics. Now, thankfully, my understanding of economics isn’t all that strong, but I could just about follow what you were saying there. But could I just ask you to explain about socially necessary labour. I understand, that according to Marx, the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour that is contained in it. But I always understood that this concept was no longer academically respectable. How can socialists still believe in this concept today?
In the Marxism Revisited pamphlet you talk of being opposed to all wars. Which is fine to take a principled stand but how could a socialist stand back and not take a stand in the Spanish Civil War or, in, what the Russians rightly call The Great Patriotic War, WWII. Surely socialists should have (did) support the Republic and should have been against fascism in WWII.
I just want to know how you could be opposed to the Republic fighting against Franco? Back then socialists should have urged Britain to join forces with the Spanish government instead of turning their backs and worse, by allowing the Italians and Germans to police the waters around Spain on the pretext to stop supplies to Franco. They damn well helped him!
That all said, I have enjoyed what I read, particularly the Market System Must Go. But there I detected a nostalgia for the Gold Standard, surely not!
STEVEN JOHNSTON, Stockport
Regarding socially necessary labour time (and the labour theory of value of which it is a key component) we do not really care whether it is academically respectable or not. Most concepts and theories which are academically respectable at some point – especially in the arts and social sciences – are not necessarily those which will stand the test of time. Indeed, academic respectability in these fields is largely a transient phenomenon which is far more reflective of ideological developments within capitalist society than it is of anything else.
Few disciplines demonstrate this more transparently than economics. Theories taken for granted thirty or forty years ago (the wholly beneficial effects of the Keynesian multiplier, the use of interest rates as a policy instrument for Balance of Payments control, the Phillips Curve, etc) are now oddities only to be found in textbooks of economic history. Much of monetarist theory (and even more recently, neo-classical theory) has been going the same way.
The ultimate test of any economic theory is whether it is able, over time, to accurately account for what happens in the real world. We contend that Marxian economics has been able to do this in a way none of the other theories have as the fashion for them has waxed and waned.
For over a century now, conventional economic theory has been unable to even remotely explain something as essential to the market economy as the prices at which various commodities sell. Demand and supply tells us why strawberries at local convenience stores are selling at £1.50 a punnet this week as opposed to £1.30 last week but it certainly doesn’t explain why a bicycle persistently costs more to buy than a strawberry, a car persistently costs many times more to buy than a bicycle and an oil tanker several more times again than a car. How could it?
Conventional demand and supply theory as found in modern economics textbooks certainly helps to explain short-term price movements for commodities, but to say that demand and supply determines commodity prices as a whole is like saying that the fluctuations of the waves on the sea determines the depths of the ocean.
The labour theory of value, with its concept of socially necessary labour time, is the only explanation that fits: commodities tend to exchange in certain value relationships because of the amount of labour time it takes to produce them from start to finish. It is around this value that prices tend to fluctuate, as influenced by demand and supply. You will no doubt have read in our pamphlets that because the labour theory of value also points to the fact that workers are exploited in capitalist society, giving unpaid labour (surplus value) to the capitalists when they produce commodities for them, it is a theory that the supporters of capitalism are happy to try and bury.
We might also add that it is through applying the labour theory of value that Marxian socialists have been able to explain the economic phenomenon of inflation which has beset the capitalist world since the Second World War. Our pamphlet The Market System Must Go – Why Reformism Doesn’t Work has more detail on this and other applications of Marxian economics, though we should add that we certainly have no nostalgia for the Gold Standard. While this had both advantages and disadvantages to the capitalists as an international trading system, we as revolutionary socialists are interested in the abolition of all the defining characteristics of the capitalist economy (wages, capital, prices, money, etc) including the paraphernalia of international trade.
Finally, you raise the issue of the Second World War and its precursor in Spain. The socialist position is that that worst thing the working class can do politically is put its class enemies in control of the machinery of government and the armed forces, as sooner or later they will be used against them. Both sides in the Spanish Civil War and both sides in the Second World War were pro-capitalist and anti-working class and socialists would not – and did not – support a capitalist government of either complexion. Socialists would of course prefer to operate under conditions of limited bourgeois political democracy than outright fascism and political dictatorship but history demonstrates that even elementary political democracy in capitalism cannot be defended through wars (for one thing, that is never their purpose – not in Iraq now, nor as in western Europe then).
If illustration of this is needed, how grateful the Spanish working class (including those elements struggling towards taking up socialist positions) must have been when the side of democracy won the war in 1945 . . . and then proceeded to protect and nurture the Franco dictatorship in Spain and the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. They must have been almost as delirious as those freed from the yoke of the Nazi tyranny in Germany were when they were subsequently delivered into the hands of one of the worst police states in history (the mis-named German Democratic Republic) by those friends of the workers and arch-democrats themselves, F. D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin—Editors.