For a few years I have subscribed to the Socialist Standard and have come to the conclusion that you are either very cynical or a sad deluded group of romantics. It’s all very cosy sitting at your word processor telling us that we should be out there ridding ourselves of the capitalist class and that the world would be a much better place under your brand of politics. (All dictators believe this.)
It is a logical process for those people without resources to vilify people who have wealth. (Just as in Cambodia it became a corrupt thing to have learning.) Hence your tirade against those people who have the imagination and flair to accumulate for themselves some of the Earth’s riches. Capitalism is just a handy label for those who have the get-up-and-go to create wealth. Yes, they are shrewd people – yes, they will exploit others but how else are things to be done?
Get up from your word processors and take a good hard look at the world. You will observe there are varying types in this human planet. The majority is an amorphous mass of Underlings. Their main preoccupation is obtaining food, shelter and pleasure. Their imagination goes no further than these three basic needs. At the top of this heap are the Doers – the leaders – the people with the strength of purpose to get things done. They see this indeterminate mass of Underlings with their three needs so they set out to provide them.
So don’t give us all that nonsense about exploitation. The leaders are doing what is necessary. They don’t sit in offices churning out political daydreams. They get off their backsides and do. They are the Doers. They are necessary for society to function by providing food-halls, living accommodation and pleasure-domes. Do you honestly believe the Underlings would manage to do all this on their own? Listen socialists it’s a real world out there with people hungry for food, shelter and pleasure and capitalism is a means to that end. And so what if the capitalist creams off a bit extra for his efforts! Surely he deserves it!
PHIL MCCORMAC, by email
Reply: You omit one detail: are you a Doer or an Underling? We suspect the latter. In which case there is a book about people like you, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, set in a town called Mugsborough.
Mugs believe that it is capitalists, not workers by hand and by brain, who create wealth and that capitalists are doing us a favour by providing us with jobs. They believe that the world has always been divided into rich and poor, leaders and followers, rulers and ruled and that it always will be. They consider themselves and their fellow workers to be “underlings” incapable of running things ourselves.
Yet who, today, does run things from top to bottom? Who grows the food, who builds the houses, who mines the minerals, who transports them, who processes them, who fashions them into useful things, who does all the paper work for this, orders the supplies, draws up the designs – if not the people you call the “underlings”, we the majority class of wage and salary earners? The shareholding capitalist and the fat-cat company director are completely redundant as far as the actual work of wealth production is concerned – and new wealth can only be created by the application of human labour to materials that originally come from nature, not by speculating on the stock exchange or planning take-over bids. Their social role is purely parasitic: to cream off, as you put it, a part of the wealth created by the rest of us.
But don’t get us wrong. We don’t blame capitalists personally. They are just cogs in the system. If they didn’t exploit us, somebody else would. Either some other capitalist or maybe some state bureaucrat like in Cambodia or the former USSR. We blame the system. It’s based on the exploitation of the majority for profit. That’s why it must go and be replaced by a new and different system, based on common ownership democratic control and production of use, not profit.
What we are proposing is that the people who, today, run production and administration from top to bottom should get together and run things in their own interest, instead of as at present in the interest of a tiny minority. The first step towards this is to stop regarding ourselves as underlings, as eternal followers of those who regard themselves as our betters. Get up off your knees, Phil, don’t be a mug—Editors
Your exchange with Ron Smith (no relation) in the February issue was, as usual, well answered by yourselves but does pose the questions: When did socialism start and how and when do individuals accept the indisputable logic of its truth?
I can only relate my own story but it would be interesting to hear from others of their own experiences and enlightenments.
Born on the even of the 39/45 war into a large but poor family, father an uneducated window cleaner (and after serving abroad for five years with an aptitude for hard work and drink) and mother (a cleaner when financial needs demanded and time allowed) allegedly from a middle class family who, amongst all the poverty, educated all her children into the niceties of life including manners, respect and discipline.
Fortunately, as with my siblings, 11-plus took me on a free place to a local public school and until the age of 16, when family need for money demanded that I leave, I had my mind stretched, titillated and forced into action. At that time I had been an ardent believer in christianity for 10 years and was so until National Service in the Far East and other life experiences had convinced me of the futility of religion. Nevertheless attendance at a “posh” school and exposure to Christian beliefs and history did flood my subconscious with all the inherent inequalities, privilege and hypocrisy of private schooling and formal religion.
By the time I was 30 good business fortune had visited and I was happily married with three children living in a superb house in a select locality, driving the latest large saloon (hers) and dashing sports car (mine).
This lifestyle continued for the next 20 years and I do recall feeling on many occasions; why me, what have I done to be so lucky, what about all my ex-friends who are still grafting at their lathes, down the mines and existing day to day? A few pangs of guilt, feelings of general unfairness in life and then – back to the good life…
It all ended in 1990 when my lawyers, personal friends for many years, would not stand their corner in a large business deal in which they had been employed to protect my legal interests. They betrayed and deserted me which resulted during the 1990s in unemployment , life on income support for three years, self-built home repossession and homelessness.
Why me again? – but this time with the boot on the other foot! Why after all these years of being a “true blue” and avid supporter of the system (capitalism) have all my friends (sic) and acquaintances deserted me and left me for dead? It didn’t make sense but I now had the time to reflect and think long and hard about life, people, politics, systems and capitalism and out of this came the realisation that millions of people were being subjected to the harsh realities of capitalism every year in the UK alone. It wasn’t right, not fair, why so much hypocrisy and ruthlessness and why so many lies all the time? Where was the justice in our legal system and, if I was disenfranchised with all my accumulated knowledge of the workings of capitalism, what about all those people who had not enjoyed my good fortune, wealth and privileges?
Up to now Marx, Lenin, Morris, Communists, Socialists etc. were all unacceptable lefties who had no place in the world and whose ideas must be stamped out at all costs. Can you believe such arrogance, stupidity, lack of real consideration for others and shallowness in a supposed intelligent 50-plus-years-old man?
Looking for answers I started to buy the Big Issue and came across your advertisement in the small ads. Duly applied to be a reader and the first few issues were an absolute revelation to me! After years of mental turmoil and survival, all the thoughts I had had about a better world for all were springing out at me from the pages of the Socialist Standard. As the years have gone by and I have continued to enjoy your magazine and continued to research into how life could be! The mists of time have drifted apart and memories of an earlier learning period in my life have surfaced.
It strikes me that the similarity between much of the truth, logic and reason of socialism is akin to many of the teachings of christianity – less the mumbo jumbo of course (this mumbo jumbo is surely man’s add-on for personal greed and self-aggrandisement).
I put it to you – just a thought – could Jesus Christ, an ordinary man or a fictional character, be the first and best socialist? Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself – think about it! Surely to get socialism all we need to do is to live truly by that sentiment!
Finally, the capitalist sun is shining again for me but I am exploiting them now and much of my accumulation is voluntarily passed on to fellow workers in my current business venture – as you say, we all have to make a living under capitalism until socialism happens – just a pity that more of our resources are not directed to “marketing the brand”.
On the campaigning issue for a fairer and better life for all humanity (socialism), I talk and debate with anyone who will listen and lobby anyone – politicians, the corporate world, religious worthies et al – under the guise of Campaign for Morality, Fairness and Truth (with financial self-sufficiency this would be a full time job).
When will socialism happen, when will the majority understand logic and reason, is it a natural progression, are European integration, globalisation, the US current muscle-flexing activities all indicators that the world is becoming one and will this give socialism a better chance of happening in our lifetime or are we all pissing in the wind?
Recently I had a letter in the anarchist magazine Freedom suggesting that more co-operation between them, the SPGB and all other far left tendency organisations (Christians included) is the only way to avoid Armageddon – can I put that to you, too?
TREVOR L. SMITH, Bury, Lancs
Reply: We hope our previous correspondent is still there to read your tale of woe. It might teach him something about how the present system works.
Actually, the so-called golden rule – of “do as you would be done” (“Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself”seems a bit extreme and unpractical) – has nothing to do with the mythical (or possibly factual) character called Jesus. It’s a feature of all human codes of behaviour, whether incorporated into some religion or not (and, as you say, all religions are mumbo-jumbo), reflecting the fact that humans are social animals who depend on co-operating with each other to survive. No society in which everybody competes against each other and in which “anything goes” could survive. This is indeed capitalism’s ideal but, fortunately, it can’t achieve it as humans just aren’t like that. Even under capitalism humans’ basic social nature comes through and most of the time most people behave to each other in a decent way.
But this in itself is not socialism. It merely shows that, if anything, it is capitalism not socialism that is “against human nature”. Socialism is not a code of behaviour. It is a system of society, one based on the common ownership and democratic control by the whole community of the means for producing the things we need to live and to enjoy life. It is, as you hint, the next stage in social evolution and for which developments within capitalism – such as the building up of a world-wide productive system capable of turning out plenty for all – have paved the way. In fact, today, everything is in place for the establishment of socialism except one vital ingredient – the desire and political will to establish it.
This is where we in the Socialist Party come in. Our members have got together for the single purpose of helping the emergence of an understanding of and a desire for socialism. When this does emerge – fortunately it does not depend on our own meagre efforts but more on people’s experience of capitalism and its failure and inability to solve the problems they face – it is our opinion that will express itself, among other ways, through the ballot box. Those who want socialism will use their votes to send delegates to elected bodies with a mandate to use political control to end class ownership and usher in the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and to dismantle the apparatus of class rule.
We certainly think that all those who want socialism and are agreed that this is the right way to proceed to get it as quickly and as peacefully as possible should get together in a single organisation, a single socialist political party. But Freedom , the anarchist publication, does not stand for socialism; it seeks to cater for all those who want to abolish the state for whatever reason, including those who are resolute opponents of socialism. And even the minority among them who do stand for socialism (in the same sense as us) don’t think it can be achieved by democratic political action and advocate the suicidal policy of trying to take on head-to-head the fully armed capitalist state.
As to other “far left tendency organisations”, by which we take you to mean the SWP, Militant and the others, our experience is that they don’t stand for socialism but for state capitalism (nationalisation misnamed socialism) and the rule of a vanguard party (preferably themselves).
Besides, both Freedom and them have other priorities in that they consider campaigning for this or that reform – or, more often these days, against this or that measure proposed by the government – more important. If they were prepared to drop campaigning for reforms and to accept campaigning for socialism as the immediate priority then of course we should all get together and have a bigger and better socialist organisation, so helping to speed the demise of capitalism and avoid the miseries it has in store for us if allowed to continue—Editors