I was interested in your long article (Socialist Standard, November) dealing with Lenin’s pamphlet of 1902 entitled What Is To Be Done?
I can well understand your criticisms of Lenin’s pamphlet and also your criticism of Karl Kautsky’s views about the theory of socialism growing out of the philosophical, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals.
Lenin, no doubt, agreed with Kautsky on that matter, and also the inability of the masses to produce a revolutionary consciousness for socialism on their own.
Your writer claims Kautsky got his history wrong. Marx, according to the writer added to socialist theory and made a major contribution to its elaboration, but he did not invent it and then bring it to the workers being rather the other way round. He learned his socialist ideas from the communist workers he met when he lived in Paris in 1843 and 1844. He was, therefore, taught communism by them. He was, therefore, only their pupil, not their teacher of socialist theory.
That being so where did workers such as Weitling, Proudhon and Fourier get their socialist theories from seeing none of them were intellectuals belonging to the bourgeois intelligentsia? They must have been more politically intelligent than their fellow workers to be able to contribute to socialist theory independent of any bourgeois university training.
The writer tells us socialist ideas arose when some workers began to reflect on the general position of the working class within capitalist society. Therefore, they have to be communicated to other workers, but not (and this was Lenin and Kautsky’s crucial mistake) from outside the working class as a whole.
I can agree with the writer on that, but that being so can he tell us if this view has contributed to the spreading of socialist ideas amongst the workers far more so than the views of Lenin and Kautsky?
Also, I wonder if the writer believes if Leninist ideas on socialism were completely discarded tomorrow this would help to prepare the workers’ minds for the establishment of socialism. Your party always claimed that the USSR stood in the way of bringing about socialism, but now that the USSR has been relegated to the dustbin of history the situation of socialism has remained much the same as it was since your party was established in 1904.
You can claim trade unionism stands in the way, but trade unionism sprang direct from the working class, not from the bourgeois intelligentsia.
You can also claim religion and capitalist reforms stand in the way, but you cannot say what is in your favour for the world working class to become class consciousness and work to replace capitalism with socialism.
The fact of the matter is after over 200 years of capitalism a fully developed class consciousness of the proletariat has never emerged. What has emerged is a massive pro-capitalist-minded working class in all bourgeois democracies for the continuation of the capitalist system.
The workers are in favour of bourgeois democracy and use it to vote for the political parties they favour for operating capitalism. We have capitalism by consent and also war by consent under bourgeois democracy, but we have no alternative movement for the overthrow of capitalist society.
RON SMITH, Dundee
Actually, we do not claim that trade unionism or even “capitalist reforms” stand in the way of achieving socialism. If we did we’d logically have to oppose them; which we don’t. We encourage workers to fight back against employers and, although we don’t propose or advocate reforms, we don’t oppose them if they genuinely do improve workers’ lives under capitalism. What we say is not that they are obstacles to socialism but merely that they are irrelevant to socialism and that a socialist party should not advocate reforms.
The real obstacle to socialism is the one you mention at the end of your letter: the fact that most wage and salary workers don’t see any alternative to capitalism and so put up with it while trying to make the best of things.
Someone looking back over the past 100 or so years might be tempted to say that Lenin was right that workers are only capable of evolving a trade union consciousness on the ground that this is the most they have achieved. Obviously we don’t agree that this is the most people that are capable of. We would see socialist consciousness as emerging from a combination of two things: people’s experience of capitalism and the problems it inevitably creates and the activity of socialists in making hearing the case for socialism a part of that experience.
(Obviously) this has not yet led to a majority socialist consciousness but one thing is certain: as long as capitalism lasts there will be both discontent and people who are socialists, i.e. both people looking for a solution to problems and people pointing out what, at humanity’s present historical juncture, is, as a matter of objective fact (not mere opinion) the only way out – the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production as the basis of society.
If you’re a socialist this is what you point out when political, economic or social matters come up in discussion. In fact you can’t help doing this whether or not you’re organised with other socialists (though obviously this can be done more effectively if you join together with other socialists to do it).
What are you trying to suggest socialists should do? Surely not give up and concentrate on cultivating our private gardens? – Editorial Committee.
Many people will agree that socialism would end the major problems being caused by the contradictions of capitalism. However, certain questions often arise that require some explanation. For socialism to be successful and lasting, enormous degree of altruism and co-operation will be necessary to the whole of society. The quality of modern and sophisticated lifestyles, presently experienced by millions of people, would have to be retained at least to current standards. With “Free Access” available to everyone, what encouragement would exist to receive service of a high order in restaurants or, at a deeper level, to receive urgent services required during difficult or stressful hours? Understanding and wanting socialism is one thing, but is there not a problem in being able to resolve the difficulties and expectations of the 21st century?
LIONEL RICH, London NW6
Socialism does not require us all to become altruists, putting the interests of others above our own. In fact socialism doesn’t require people to be any more altruistic than they are today. We will still be concerned primarily with ourselves, with satisfying our needs, our need to be well considered by others as well as our material and sexual needs. No doubt too, we will want to “possess” our toothbrush, our clothes and other things of personal use, and to feel secure in our physical occupation of the house or flat we live in, but this will be just that – our home and not a financial asset.
Such “selfish” behaviour will still exist in socialism but the acquisitiveness encouraged by capitalism will no longer exist. Under capitalism we have to seek to accumulate money since the more money you have the better you can satisfy your material needs, and as an insurance against something going wrong (like losing your job) or as something to hand on to your children or grandchildren. People are therefore obliged by their material circumstances to seek to acquire money, by fair means or foul and if need be at the expense of others. This is why capitalism has earned the name of “the acquisitive society”.
Nor are humans “naturally lazy”. Quite the opposite. We need to exercise our physical and mental energies but, quite naturally, want to do this in a creative, pleasurable or at least meaningful way. What people object to is work that is boring, over-tiring or meaningless, but this is the only kind that capitalism has to offer most people in return for selling their mental and physical energies to an employer for a wage or salary. It is such work for an employer that people seek to avoid and which gives rise to the “humans are naturally lazy” argument. Yet even under capitalism, if people think work is creative or useful they will undertake it, even without requiring payment as witness the time and energy that many people put into voluntary work and into their hobbies and pastimes. In a socialist society, freed from exploitation and working for wages, work will of course still have to be performed to produce the goods and services to which people will have free access, but this will be a question of organisation, of fitting together the work that needs to be done and the people willing to do it in the quite different working conditions that will then prevail.
The coming of socialism will not require great changes in the way we behave, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, co-operation) at the expense of others which capitalism encourages—Editorial Committee.
Where people are burdened by their own everyday problems, it is difficult to have a big concern for foreign events or even current events at home. Even so the massacres of people by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda in October 2002, and even worse atrocities that have been committed by this rebel armed force and the government soldiers (in the name of wiping out rebellion in this region of Uganda) since this civil war begun 16 years ago, deserve comment.
The innocent civilians who have nothing to do with the cause of this war are the ones taking part in the dying. Also the soldiers who are taking part in these killings, destroyings and being killed too are mainly from the poorest families. They are the ones who are being hired by the government and the rebels and in most cases forced or conditioned to take part in the war.
This war which has led to some babies sucking at their killed dead mothers, left others physically and mentally handicapped, and some dying out of starvation because they cannot get or even grow their own food as in the parts of the country where there is no such insurgency. So instead of the inhabitants of this region being busy attending to their crops and animals and reaping the benefit from them, instead they reap the fruits of this market system – killing and being killed. People in this region have been compelled to live in so-called protected camps, which at times are not secure as the rebels also invade them, overpowering the government soldiers.
As a scientific socialist I wonder how many people put to themselves the question whether a sane society needs soldiers and the Government. The soldiers are there for the good of those who rule us and serve to protect them and their interests not our interest. It is the rich and the rulers who have a country. The common person, the poor don’t have a country otherwise they would not be suffering in “their” country.
As in any other wars, the war and the propaganda of war in this region of Uganda have made many in this region and even other parts of this country lose that which is at the centre of our humanity; our ability to think critically and intelligently, to co-operate and be social. This civil war is caused, like any other wars that have ever been fought, by power and class struggle, competition for profits, trade routes and other related causes that are associated with the capitalistic system the world over.
The present society (capitalism) is an insane society but to do nothing about it also looks to be insane. The horrors caused by this war and all other wars are not enough in themselves to rouse sufficient opposition to all wars. It is hard to accept that people who otherwise are kind and caring can under certain circumstances, support (and even take part in) deliberately causing death and destruction including to strangers they have never met.
Sufficient opposition to wars can only be aroused by mental realization of the need to change the society we are presently living in; which depends on competition, class struggle and conflicts, to a social order that will depend on common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of producing and distributing for the sole purpose of satisfying human needs. Where everyone will contribute to the well-being of society according to everyone’s ability and take from society according to one’s self-determined needs. This is socialism. The need for socialism is always urgent and now more so than before. Presently there is enough suffering even without wars and because capitalism with its wars has become impossible to live under with its mass destruction of human life, that is why we want to establish socialism.
I request you, if you have not joined the campaign against capitalism and for the establishment of socialism, to join us and give your physical, mental and or material support so that we build a sane society that dignifies the human race.
WEIJAGYE JUSTUS, KABALE, UGANDA