I have just been re-reading the article entitled “Why Jesus was not a socialist” in the June issue of the Socialist Standard. I still don’t really understand it, and I’m left wondering how you define “a socialist”; which presumably is the description which SPGB members apply to themselves, today, as individuals living in capitalist societies. When members declare themselves as “socialist”, is this purely because of their intellectual conviction and knowledge; or is it because they have adopted distinctive attitudes and behaviour within our present societies – in relationships with other people and the environment? Do members confine their socialism to seeking to persuade others verbally to become socialists? To make an extreme case, could someone continue in everyday life to be a capitalist while having convinced the SPGB intellectually that he/she understands and accepts the case for socialism – and thereby be called a socialist?
I have supposed that socialism is basically “From each according to their ability; to each according to their need.” Should we each be trying now to live that way – however impracticable and futile that might seem to be; or may we feel free to join as much as we can in the ways of capitalism, hoping to get our own “snouts in the trough”, until world-wide socialism comes?
ANDREW DURRANT, Garvestone, Norwich
We call ourselves “socialists”because we want to see socialism established, i.e., a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production by the whole community. So, yes, if you put it that way, it is basically because of our “intellectual conviction and knowledge”rather than because we “have adopted distinctive attitudes and behaviour within our present system.”
Obviously, the fact that our members want socialism will to a certain extent reflect itself in how they behave under capitalism, but this doesn‘t include not working for money. Given that we are living under capitalism where what you need has to be bought, it is not possible to live without trying to get money –and getting it. There’s no choice.
All those excluded from owning means of production, including socialists, are forced to work for money, even if we don’t have to accept that the pursuit of money is the most important thing in life. Most people, even if they are not socialists, don’t think this but unless you are prepared to lead a precarious existence on the margins of society you have to obtain money. And it is only above a certain level of income that people can choose to renounce getting as much as they could.
Can someone who is a capitalist be a socialist? Yes. Two examples would be Frederick Engels and William Morris. For them to have given up their wealth to live as workers would not have helped the cause of socialism. As it happened, both of them gave generously to the socialist movement. Editors.
Isn’t the Olympic “Games” a bit of a misnomer?
In the midst of the festival of chauvinism dedicated to UK Capitalism plc, at least the BBC is honest enough to admit what it’s really all about in the article “Olympic success: How much does an Olympic gold medal cost?” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19144983).
So much for Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic Creed “Le plus important aux Jeux olympiques n’est pas de gagner mais de participer, car l’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe mais le combat; l’essentiel, ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.” [“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part, because the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”]
It seems to have been replaced by the tenet “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
Still, capitalism poisons everything, so why should sport be immune.
Martyn Dunmore, Brussels
Thank you for the obituary of Ken Smith in the August Standard. Ken was a very lively presence at Bristol Branch meetings in the 1980s. He was a wonderful example of someone who knew that it wasn’t enough to be against capitalism but also necessary to be in favour of socialism. He and his wife Mavis held a number of memorable socialist discussion weekends at their self-built home in May Hill in Gloucestershire. Ken was fond of saying that their annual income had never been lower and their quality of life had never been higher – brought about by non-market exchanges with likeminded people in the surrounding area. There was always lively discussion, plenty to think about and plenty to eat and drink. Ken was one of the most life-affirming characters I’ve ever met and he was a force for socialism and for good. Those of us whose lives were touched by him were very lucky to have known him.
Keith Graham. Bristol
David Graeber has emailed comments on our review of his book Debt in the August Socialist Standard. We will publish it, together with our reply, in the October issue.