I would like to take issue with the Pathfinders article “Radioactive Days” (August Socialist Standard). The anonymous author – shouldn’t articles that do not express a consensus of socialist opinion be signed? – argues that continued reliance on nuclear fission as a major source of energy may be unavoidable, even after the establishment of socialism. However, no account is taken of the widely recognized fact that the supply not only of oil, but also of uranium and plutonium for fission reactors, is likely to run out in the course of the present century.
Conceivably, development of a closed fuel cycle might solve this problem, as well as that of radioactive wastes. It is also conceivablethat nuclear fusion will become a viable alternative sooner than some people expect. Or perhaps a way will be found to store solar energy, enabling us to rely on the main fusion reactor in our vicinity–the sun.
Nevertheless, it is quite possible that none of these solutions will materialize in time to avert a real energy crisis. If this proves to be the case, it will not necessarily be because the technological obstacles are insuperable. The most likely cause will be the short time horizons used in capitalist profit calculations.
Given all these uncertainties, we need to think about a wide range of scenarios for energy policy in socialism. A guaranteed abundance of safe and non-polluting fusion or solar energy is one scenario. But humanity may have no choice but to adapt to a low energy way of life.
STEPHEN SHENFIELD, Providence, USA
Actually, the Pathfinders column does not necessarily express a consensus of socialist opinion on every issue, as many of the scientific issues discussed are very much open for debate and development by socialists and others. – Editors.
Asked and answered
I’ve spent some time over the past few months reading a lot about political and social structures, for no purpose other than my own interest. I, like many, am discontented with the situation as it stands. The solution proposed by your organisation resonates with me, as few others have. As a result, I have read Marxist works, and much about varied forms of left-wing politics like Leninism and Maoism, etc.
I do, however, keep coming back to your site. I have read all of the available information but still have a few questions I was hoping you could answer. I sincerely hope you can find the time to assist.
1. In a practical sense, how would labour be distributed in a socialist society?
I’m not suggesting some jobs are any less important than others, but how would personal
ambition (not ambition for material reward, but ambition of a personal nature, to achieve and feel accomplishment in a particular field) be matched with the needs of society?
Could I, for example, say ‘I want to be an electrician’ and get trained? And what if, for example, nobody wanted to be a cleaner? Would people be assigned jobs on a take it or take it basis or is there an element of negotiation? If so, how much?
2. What would happen to people who refused to work/contribute?
3. What is your position on the punishment of serious criminals?
4. How are the creative arts perceived?
As a necessary part of a healthy society, or as unnecessary? Could someone be, for example, a full-time writer, in a socialist society as you describe? Even if they were no good at it?
Name and address withheld by request (by email).
1. The general principle of socialist society of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” clearly recognises the obvious fact that different people have different abilities. How will these individual abilities be matched with the social need for particular jobs to be done? We can’t give a blueprint (and don’t want to, since this would be to try to dictate to the future when the details can only be decided democratically at the time), but we can imagine something like the “job centres” of today,only completely freed from any trace of coercion, monetary considerations and stigma.In other words, places where jobs to be done could be advertised and where people could go to volunteer to do them. Or maybe the whole thing could be done via the internet. If there is a shortage of people taking up a particular job,then a special effort would have to be made to encourage people to train for and take up these jobs. We are confident that socialist society will be able to find a practical solution to a practical problem such as this.
2. We don’t think that, in the context of socialist society where a real community and community spirit will exist, there will be many people, if any, who would refuse to contribute. After all, there is nothing more boring than lying around all day trying to do nothing. Humans are social animals who need to be active as well as appreciated by others.
3. Since over 90 percent of crimes today are crimes against property and since property and poverty will disappear in socialist society where everybody will automatically be able to satisfy their material needs, the main “crimes” that would remain would be such things as breaking traffic regulations or hosepipe bans. But by “serious criminals” we assume you mean people who kill or harm other people. Any such behaviour is likely to be highly exceptional but, should it occur, the person responsible would have to be stopped and, if need be, detained. We are not sure that “punishment” is the right word since most such instances are likely to be medical cases.
4. Yes, of course the “creative arts” are a necessary part of any society, but in socialism won’t be confined to such things as opera and poetry. We go along with William Morris in saying that the everyday work of producing something useful can also be creative and art. And we would imagine that most people will want to take advantage of the possibility socialist society will offer them of being able to do a variety of jobs (even in the same week) rather than being tied to the same job, day after day, year after year – Editors.