Does socialism make sense in the 21st century? A discussion. Part Two.

Submitted by AWL on 12 January, 2011 - 3:29

Click here for part one.


The subjective case for socialism

B: But why should I want socialism? Capitalism has, despite the terrible events of the 20th century, and not denying them either, learned a great deal.

We have been through a tremendous cycle of capitalist boom and expansion. Things have been getting better, progressively, for a lot of people, for a sizeable portion of humankind, over decades. And why should I want a social levelling-down, to a grey social uniformity and conformity?

Why should I pretend that people as people are equal, when they are not equal in capacity, propensity, and achievement?

The faults of capitalism, which I don’t deny, and in honesty could not deny, are a necessary and therefore worthwhile price to pay for a society that creates wealth, unleashes and encourages personal initiative in all fields. It encourages social mobility, and allows easy entry into its elite ruling class. It promotes a thriving market in ideas, it offers choices, it fosters and rewards a free press. It nurtures rationality and realistic thinking and even, most of the time now, rational, democratic, and peaceful relations between states. At its best it promotes political democracy.

The bird in my hand is worth a lot more than the birds out of my reach in the bush, no matter how pretty their plumage seems, looked at from a distance.

The ideal here is the enemy of the possible and improvable. The imagined perfection is the enemy of incrementally achievable improvement.

And the result of sacrificing that incremental improvement in pursuit of some ideal big-bang replacement that doesn’t exist, that at best is yet to be won, and that may never be won, may be ruin.

That you can think something up, and vividly envisage it in your head, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can achieve it in reality.

A: Your picture of capitalist reality is, to understate it, a little one-sided.

You attribute to “capitalism” and to the bourgeoisie things won by the working class and the plebeians in history against the bourgeoisie — the existing democracy is one example. It was won by plebeian struggle, but, along the way, progressively emptied of much of its old meaning by the entrenched ruling class and their servants and tools.

You assume that the desirable things and traits you list are inseparable from capitalism and cannot exist without the present arrangements of society.

Socialists believe that those things can not only survive capitalism, but develop much more fully once the limits imposed on them by capitalism and bourgeois rule are broken.

Above all, what strikes me is your incredible complacency.

There were people making the same sort of conservative defence of the then status quo back to the old Stone Age! “If we get too reliant on this new-fangled craze for flint tools, may we lose what we have had for tens of thousands of years?” “Iron? Ugly and foul-coloured stuff. Think of the beauties of bronze, and the artistry with which its forgers lift up society!” “Produce with steam power? Dirt, pollution, ruin lies that way — better stick to the handicraft manufactures we have!”

“Democracy? How can the many-headed ignorant mass match the wisdom and learning and concentrated enlightenment passed on from father to son through ages, of a good king enhanced in his personal rule by absolute power?”

The things you praise were in their time opposed by people like you with similar arguments. “Remake society according to reason, champion what is rational and scrap what isn’t? Don’t be ridiculous! Tradition! Age-old tradition, the way our parents and grandparents did things — that is the sure road to safety and to preventing society falling under a dictator like Cromwell”.

No socialist who knows history, and certainly no Marxist, will deny the great achievements of capitalism: the very possibility of socialism is created by capitalism as it develops the social productivity and social intermeshing of labour. But capitalism blocks the further logical development even of the good things it created in history.

Take personal initiative, for instance. Most people are locked into economic and social situations that warp and mutilate them, stifle their development, and snuff our individuality.

The freedom of the press today in fact mostly means freedom to poison the wells of public information and informed debate for people like Rupert Murdoch.

“Choice” is double-talk. Mostly it means choice, and wide choice, for the well-off. It is a thin ideological garment for the freedom of the moneyed behind which hides the cutting-off for most people of choice in most things, including jobs, that is, in how they spend the main part of their entire lives. “For more choice you must have less choice”, as Orwell or any other honest observer might have put it.

Above all, the system corrupts humankind and keeps us at the level of predatory animals looking for options to rob each other. The wise scientist Albert Einstein summed it up like this:

“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism... An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated... [we are] trained to worship acquisitive success...

“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals”.

The fundamental argument, however, is that the whole capitalist system is crying out for change — for economic democracy, if you want to put it like that. It is devouring what you say are its great positive achievements. The growth of the multinational corporations massively undermines the very possibility of the democratic elected governments of most individual states controlling and regulating them.

B: All through history there have been people like you — recklessly putting at risk what has been achieved, what is, in pursuit of untried and allegedly better alternatives. That some innovations have worked out well does not prove that all initiatives do! In fact, the experience is that they don’t. Look at Stalinism!

A: Yes, look at Stalinism — and understand it, the whys and wherefores of it! Right now, in your head, it is a shadowy bogeyman.

B: Ah yes, nobody understands it but you. And socialism had nothing to do with it?

A: Marxists base their socialism on certain social achievements of capitalism — development of productive forces and so on. The Stalinist system emerged, proclaiming itself as building socialism in one country, by overthrowing working-class rule and in circumstances in which, according to Marx and according to the leaders of the Russian Revolution, the basic prerequisites of their socialism were not present. So what is wrong about refusing to accept Stalinism as “socialism” in the Marxist sense?

The perversity here is yours — to speak plainly, the post-Stalinist jitters. Get over Stalinism! Look around you at the foulness that immerses us all under capitalism.B: If socialism is inevitable, and processed, so to speak, into the “genes” of capitalist society, then why didn’t it break through the barriers in the 20th century?

A: Because the dynamic works itself out through the class struggle between the exploited, the have-nots, and the owners of the means of production, who dispose of great wealth and the services of many people tied to them by privileges and pay-outs.

The “haves” are tied to the system that gives them wealth and the power of shaping and reshaping society now. They defend it. An individual here and there among them may come over to socialism, but this powerful class stands like a gigantic series of rocks across the highway, across the logical and necessary development of society along the road capitalism itself has already developed.

This ruling class has inflicted defeat, again and again, on those who tried to resolve the contradiction between society and the private ownership of the social means of production, exchange, and communications.

Societies do not only go forward. The class struggle can lead, and in history has led, to stagnation and regression and a lesser society — to what Marx and Engels as long ago as the Communist Manifesto of 1848 called “the mutual ruination of the contending classes”. Much of the history of the 20th century is the history of the partial ruination of the contending classes: the ruination of Germany and other parts of Europe in the 1940s, for instance.

A progressive solution to the inner conflict of capitalism requires the victory over the ruling class of the opposite pole — the non-owners of the means of production.

B: The working class, you mean? The proletariat! Ha! That is the best example of the falseness and foolishness running through your pretended “objectivity” and the allegedly “scientific” character of your Marxist socialism! Your view of the working class is absurd.

I think it was John Maynard Keynes who asked why he should look to the social equivalent of mud, the working class, as saviour against the educated ruling classes. Why should he look to the most ignorant, the least accomplished, the demonstrably least able class in the society — to its human beasts of burden? Why indeed?

You want a solution to what you call the economic and social contradictions of capitalism — and you make it a precondition of that solution that the beasts of burden, the “vocal tools” of that society, should first, within this society, rise above it, above the best educated in the society. It is absurd. It is like proposing to play tennis not with a net between the players, but an insurpassable 20 foot high brick wall.

This is rank sentimentality — or transmuted Christianity, with its cult of the humble — on the part of middle-class socialists, and ridiculous narcissism on the part of working-class socialists!

Why the working class?

A: Yes, the unreadiness of the working class to do in history what it alone can do is part of the contradictions in advanced — not to say senile! — capitalism that have to be overcome if we are to go forward. Other solutions, reactionary, regressive, ruinous solutions, are possible too.

B: Looking to the working class is arbitrary. In a way, that in itself shows up the hopelessness of the socialism you espouse. It is deeply senseless and scarcely believable foolishness. Look at the history of the 20th century, for Christ’s sake!

A: You, like the snob Keynes, would look to the ruling class? To those who as a social group are tied to the existing system?

Those who have in the 20th century resorted to Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Chiang Kai Shek, Pinochet, and all their similars, against letting the working class reorganise society?

That strikes me as the ultimate foolishness. It would be the equivalent of the so-named utopian romantic socialists of the early 19th century, like the immensely great Robert Owen in Britain, appealing to the upper classes and the rich to rescue the wage slaves of capitalist society by benignly creating a fair society — that is, by expropriating their class and themselves, collectively cutting their own throats. Or of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists who in “open letters” appealed at various times to Stalinist dictators like Mao and Tito to abolish Stalinist rule, or to “democratise” it, which would mean the same thing.

Against the ruling class as a class — or its majority, or even a sizeable minority of it — wanting an egalitarian reorganisation of society, there is an impassable barrier: deep-rooted self-interest. There is no such barrier to the working class wanting it.

History at least shows that. Not only is there no objective barrier. There is a strong incentive to working-class people wanting socialism. Leaving aside the homeless and other elements of an “underclass”, the working class finds no class in society lower than itself. It can only own the means of production collectively — and, therefore, only democratically, because there is no other adequate way to own and administer collectively.

The barriers to the working class achieving this are many. It must understand the need for it — that is, it must break through the domination in its minds of the ideas of the ruling class and of the habit of seeing capitalist society as normal and the only possible system. It must organise and educate itself, and defeat the ruling class — a ruling class armed as it always is with every sort of weapon, from propaganda and brainwashing to the regular armies of the bourgeois state and its auxiliary irregular shock troops such as fascist bands.

B: A tall order!

A: A tall order indeed! But it is not impossible, as the idea of the capitalist class transforming capitalism into a system without its chronic contradictions is. It can be done. We know that because it has been done, mostly important in Russia in 1917 and after.

The fundamental fact of capitalism is that it exploits the workers. The workers, in the process of working for a wage, create new value greater than the cost of their wage. The so-named “surplus value” becomes the property of the capitalist who controls the enterprise.

In turn, the capitalists are forced to compete with each other to squeeze and grind as much surplus as possible out of the workers. The most successful can grow, re-equip, and make themselves more profitable. Those who fall behind in competition are gobbled up by their competitors.

No matter how good-willed or good-intentioned a given capitalist may be, he or she is locked into this competitive system. The rule is: exploit, accumulate wealth, expand — or die.

The profit drive is therefore the all-controlling mainspring, regulator, and determinant in the system. It will remain so until conscious overall planning replaces profit as the mainspring, and until the workers who are now the exploited class take collective ownership and substitute free cooperation for what Marx called “wage slavery”.

The fundamental relation of capitalist exploitation also, by its very nature, generates the integration of workers into large collective workforces, and constant conflicts between workers and capitalists over working hours, pay, and conditions. It pushes workers towards organising for those conflicts, and educating themselves in the process.

B: “Planning” is your answer? But you can’t “plan” a complex modern economy in every detail. The attempt to do that creates an enormous and inevitably incompetent bureaucracy, not a usable plan.

A: That is a curious case of a myth erected upon a myth. Here too, the bourgeoisie and its apologists batten on the lies of Stalinism.

It is reductio-ad-absurdum misrepresentation. It is also an example of slyly substituting something else for what is supposedly being discussed.

Planning of every detail is impossible? Yes. Therefore? Therefore the exploitation that is central to capitalism as to all class society cannot be done away with? Therefore the market must be treated as a god that can be overruled only at risk of catastrophe?

It is a bit like the idea that socialists are against private property, and would therefore seize your house and your CD collection, when in fact socialists are against private property in the means of production.

You suggest that because it would be impossible to pre-plan all the complex details of a modern economy, therefore planning is entirely impossible. You evade the question: what is to be planned? what needs to be planned? how much needs to be planned if we are to escape the tyranny of the market and the capitalist class exploitation that goes with it?

Socialism does not need or presuppose a Stalinist-like “planning” or attempted planning of everything. It doesn’t need the nationalisation of everything, either.

What need to be planned and harmoniously integrated into coherence are the great basic decisions of production and distribution. There is no reason why in such planning there cannot also be free choice of what individuals consume, and production that is responsive to what people like or want.

The Stalinists nationalised everything down to the proverbial corner shop because the bureaucratic class demanded for itself every possible scrap of wealth, and viewed small enterprises as class competition from “the petty bourgeoisie”. Trotsky and his comrades such as Christian Rakovsky severely criticised the socially cauterising “nationalisation” of everything in the USSR, as they also criticised the blindly-bureaucratic, over-detailed, handed-down-from-above Stalinist attempts at planning. Such measures were never part of a Marxist programme.

You know what most expresses the spurious nature of the objection that you can’t plan a modern economy? The great international and national conglomerates already plan now, for their own multifarious industries and networks. Except that they plan for maximising markets and profits in competition with each other.

Integrating and adapting the existing plans into human — as distinct from capitalist — coherence would not be all that difficult. The power, range, and sophistication of computers is constantly improving, and can be expected to make easy things difficult now.

The subjective case for socialism

B: But why should I want socialism? Capitalism has, despite the terrible events of the 20th century, and not denying them either, learned a great deal.

We have been through a tremendous cycle of capitalist boom and expansion. Things have been getting better, progressively, for a lot of people, for a sizeable portion of humankind, over decades. And why should I want a social levelling-down, to a grey social uniformity and conformity?

Why should I pretend that people as people are equal, when they are not equal in capacity, propensity, and achievement?

The faults of capitalism, which I don’t deny, and in honesty could not deny, are a necessary and therefore worthwhile price to pay for a society that creates wealth, unleashes and encourages personal initiative in all fields. It encourages social mobility, and allows easy entry into its elite ruling class. It promotes a thriving market in ideas, it offers choices, it fosters and rewards a free press. It nurtures rationality and realistic thinking and even, most of the time now, rational, democratic, and peaceful relations between states. At its best it promotes political democracy.

The bird in my hand is worth a lot more than the birds out of my reach in the bush, no matter how pretty their plumage seems, looked at from a distance.

The ideal here is the enemy of the possible and improvable. The imagined perfection is the enemy of incrementally achievable improvement.

And the result of sacrificing that incremental improvement in pursuit of some ideal big-bang replacement that doesn’t exist, that at best is yet to be won, and that may never be won, may be ruin.

That you can think something up, and vividly envisage it in your head, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can achieve it in reality.

A: Your picture of capitalist reality is, to understate it, a little one-sided.

You attribute to “capitalism” and to the bourgeoisie things won by the working class and the plebeians in history against the bourgeoisie — the existing democracy is one example. It was won by plebeian struggle, but, along the way, progressively emptied of much of its old meaning by the entrenched ruling class and their servants and tools.

You assume that the desirable things and traits you list are inseparable from capitalism and cannot exist without the present arrangements of society.

Socialists believe that those things can not only survive capitalism, but develop much more fully once the limits imposed on them by capitalism and bourgeois rule are broken.

Above all, what strikes me is your incredible complacency.

There were people making the same sort of conservative defence of the then status quo back to the old Stone Age! “If we get too reliant on this new-fangled craze for flint tools, may we lose what we have had for tens of thousands of years?” “Iron? Ugly and foul-coloured stuff. Think of the beauties of bronze, and the artistry with which its forgers lift up society!” “Produce with steam power? Dirt, pollution, ruin lies that way — better stick to the handicraft manufactures we have!”

“Democracy? How can the many-headed ignorant mass match the wisdom and learning and concentrated enlightenment passed on from father to son through ages, of a good king enhanced in his personal rule by absolute power?”

The things you praise were in their time opposed by people like you with similar arguments. “Remake society according to reason, champion what is rational and scrap what isn’t? Don’t be ridiculous! Tradition! Age-old tradition, the way our parents and grandparents did things — that is the sure road to safety and to preventing society falling under a dictator like Cromwell”.

No socialist who knows history, and certainly no Marxist, will deny the great achievements of capitalism: the very possibility of socialism is created by capitalism as it develops the social productivity and social intermeshing of labour. But capitalism blocks the further logical development even of the good things it created in history.

Take personal initiative, for instance. Most people are locked into economic and social situations that warp and mutilate them, stifle their development, and snuff our individuality.

The freedom of the press today in fact mostly means freedom to poison the wells of public information and informed debate for people like Rupert Murdoch.

“Choice” is double-talk. Mostly it means choice, and wide choice, for the well-off. It is a thin ideological garment for the freedom of the moneyed behind which hides the cutting-off for most people of choice in most things, including jobs, that is, in how they spend the main part of their entire lives. “For more choice you must have less choice”, as Orwell or any other honest observer might have put it.

Above all, the system corrupts humankind and keeps us at the level of predatory animals looking for options to rob each other. The wise scientist Albert Einstein summed it up like this:

“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism... An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated... [we are] trained to worship acquisitive success...

“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals”.

The fundamental argument, however, is that the whole capitalist system is crying out for change — for economic democracy, if you want to put it like that. It is devouring what you say are its great positive achievements. The growth of the multinational corporations massively undermines the very possibility of the democratic elected governments of most individual states controlling and regulating them.

B: All through history there have been people like you — recklessly putting at risk what has been achieved, what is, in pursuit of untried and allegedly better alternatives. That some innovations have worked out well does not prove that all initiatives do! In fact, the experience is that they don’t. Look at Stalinism!

A: Yes, look at Stalinism — and understand it, the whys and wherefores of it! Right now, in your head, it is a shadowy bogeyman.

B: Ah yes, nobody understands it but you. And socialism had nothing to do with it?

A: Marxists base their socialism on certain social achievements of capitalism — development of productive forces and so on. The Stalinist system emerged, proclaiming itself as building socialism in one country, by overthrowing working-class rule and in circumstances in which, according to Marx and according to the leaders of the Russian Revolution, the basic prerequisites of their socialism were not present. So what is wrong about refusing to accept Stalinism as “socialism” in the Marxist sense?

The perversity here is yours — to speak plainly, the post-Stalinist jitters. Get over Stalinism! Look around you at the foulness that immerses us all under capitalism.

The personal case for being a socialist

B: In any case, supposing I were to agree with you so far, what’s in it for me? Why should I bother? Why spend even a small part of my life, waste even an instant of my too-short sentience, on advocating socialism?

If it is as socially and historically necessary as you say it is, it will inevitably come through without my help. And if it needs my help, then by implication I have no guarantee that we will succeed, so I’d most likely be wasting my life on something hopeless.

That is the lesson of the 20th century here — that socialism is hopeless, that your Marxist brand of socialism is doubly hopeless because of its absurd attachment to the daft idea that the working class and only the working class can bring it about.

A: If I offered you guarantees, I would be a charlatan! There are no guarantees. And socialism may not come about “anyway”.

For decades it seemed that world war, and then nuclear war, would wreck civilisation and open a new regressive dark age. At his death Trotsky was oppressed by the idea that because of the defeats and betrayals of the working-class movement’s attempts to replace capitalism in the previous quarter-century, humankind faced a series of world wars that would be “the grave of civilisation”. Today the prospect of ecological ruination and social regression as a consequence faces us with stark urgency.

There may be limited time in which to mount a socialist society on the best achievements of capitalism. It may be an option that is foreclosing on us. We cannot afford to be smug. The reorganisation of the labour movement on a socialist basis is very urgent, because the task of confronting capitalism with a viable socialist alternative is very urgent, and getting more urgent.

But let me focus on your question, “what’s in it for me?” Here we need to go beyond mere political considerations into such questions as what life is all about — what should a life be about?

Are we nothing higher than a modern commercial rendition of animals, including primitive humankind, spending a lifetime browsing and grubbing for food? That is the “shop until you drop” ethos which this society offers up. Leavened maybe with a bit of religious uplift, a half-tongue-in-cheek consultation with a horoscope to see what “the stars” are going to do to you? A bacchanalia of a pop festival once a year or so?

If you are a student, what are you going to do when leave college? If you are a one-time left-wing student, now working, what do you do?

Will you teach? In a “good” school, or an average school, or a school, for example, in working-class East London? You’ll see the heart-breaking reality of kids going through school and emerging semi-literate.

Will you become a university teacher, retailing second and third hand opinion and received capitalist wisdom, with a bit of academic Marxist criticism, perhaps, for leaven and for the sake of your conscience? If you get an academic job with more scope, will you be a left-wing academic consumer of “revolutionary” anti-capitalist theory, but not do something about it in practice by spreading understanding to workers and the the people at large, and helping them organise to fight for it?

Will you be a nurse? A doctor? You’ll see the heartbreak of a National Health Service in chaos, with desperately needed medical care “rationed” by way of waiting times and increasingly by markets, and enormous amounts of money paid out to the pharmaceutical companies.

Will you become a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company? You might help invent a great medical step forward — and see it used as an expensive commodity, available only to those who can pay, in order to make profit for the bosses and shareholders of the company.

Will you go to a poorer country and make life a little better for people who, in a rich and supposedly civilised world, are dying for lack of money to buy comparatively cheap medicine?

Will you be a social worker? You will be providing inadequate help to the victims of poverty, poor education, unemployment, and migration far from home. At best you help them organise their lives a bit better with inadequate means.

Will you be an immigration official? Help regiment migrant workers and their families; sort out the “legals” from the “illegals”; be part of a system which hunts down, imprisons, and deports the “illegals”?

Be a journalist? You won’t be a privileged columnist, with some right to express a personal opinion (within the limits regulated by the choice of the newspaper and TV owners of who can be granted that privilege). There are very few such jobs.

As a run-of-the-mill newspaper or TV journalist, you can’t help but contribute in some degree to the selection, slanting, and “balancing” of the millionaire-owned opinion-forming machine in which you will be a cog. You can’t help but participate in a selection of what is “newsworthy” which suppresses discussion of the socialist alternatives that the crisis of capitalism has given a relevance which they seemed not to have in the days of the long capitalist boom.

Will you become a professional politician? Go from school, perhaps through office in a student union, on to be a “researcher” and maybe then a parliamentary candidate?

That is, work to mould and shape yourself to fit into the political machinery that runs the system?

The modern mainstream politician is a rancid mix of actor, reciting given-to-you lines in the bourgeois “immorality play” discourse; and lawyer, arguing a brief from whichever side of the issue is indicated, without real conviction or real concern for what is true or best for society.

Will you become a trade-union official? You will be in the labour movement, but “professionally” barred from being able to tell workers openly what you think about the union leadership and its policies. Will you limit yourself to helping workers get a little more workers in the labour market — some of the time! — but also helping the union machinery and the top leaders regiment and limit working-class responses?

Will you become a civil servant and keep your head down? Become some other sort of official, functioning as a cog in a bureaucratic machine? Or aspire to be, although the crisis and the cuts drive may frustrate you, and condemn you to a period of unemployment?

Of course, you have to live, and live in this society, not the sort of society you might choose. But to put your best energies into any of those jobs, or similar ones — all those choices are self-serving in the narrow financial and consumerist sense.

They are self-submerging and self-destroying in the sense of destroying your critical overview of what is right and wrong. They are, I put it to you, deeply irresponsible.

Most students — most rebellious students too — go on as they get older to work an excising operation on themselves so that they can fit in to a career like those I’ve just surveyed.

Don’t you think that we socialist militants have a better idea? You have to live in society as it is, but you don’t have to fool yourself and, as you get older, mutilate and repudiate your better, younger self. You don’t have to prostitute yourself. You can be better than that.

You can be an enemy of capitalism and of its political machine and its opinion industries. You can study the Marxist critique of capitalism and act to prepare the working class to make a better society, one free from the evils that make capitalism an abomination.

Individual life should not be clad in narrowly personal and familial asbestos-skinned egotism — “I’m all right, Jack — fuck the others” — leavened perhaps with a donation here and there to charitable institutions such as War on Want.

Anyway, “society” may not leave you alone. An awful lot of people hypnotised by the values of commercialism are waking up from that sleep to the fact that they have been camping on an ice floe in a warming sea.

I put it to you that a better philosophy of life that the prevailing one is to face the fact that we are, each of us, part of a broader social entity, and that we should concern ourselves with its well-being. We should concern ourselves with the moral climate around us, if only in the interests of our children and their children, and do something to counter the mind-rotting morality inculcated and reinforced by capitalism.

We should not fatalistically settle into accepting that a large part of humanity live in hunger and needless disease. We should not live without doing something about the slaughter of millions of Third World children on the altar of capitalist necessity. We should not be passive consumers only, but also try to create something better, or contribute to its creation.


What to learn from Stalinism

In an article in 1963, the anti-Stalinist revolutionary socialist Hal Draper summed it up succinctly in five points:
(1) There is a reactionary social alternative to the system of capitalism in the world today.
(2) Nationalisation of industry is not equivalent to socialism.
(3) Democracy is an economic essential for socialism, not merely a desirable “moral value”.
(4) Under Stalinism, the fight for democracy is the fight for socialism.
(5) Democracy means a social programme or it means nothing.


How the other half lives

For decades from the 1950s to the 70s, the strength of the labour movement counteracted capital’s drive for inequality, and even pushed it back a bit.
Now inequality is spiralling. In the USA, the wealthiest one per cent accounts for 20% of all consumer spending, and the wealthiest 10% for half of all consumer spending. India has more and more millionaires: but half of all children in that huge country are under-nourished.
Alongside growing poverty has come the rise of a huge world “luxury goods industry”.
Since 1994 the Financial Times has published a regular thick and glossy supplement, entitled “How To Spend It”, devoted to that industry. A recent issue featured a wristwatch — a commercially-produced thing, not some unique antique — costing £1.4 million, and, to complement it, watch-winding machines at prices varying from £150,000 to £2,000.
That’s where the billions go.


Albert Einstein explains why he is a socialist

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labour... not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules...
The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilisation of capital which leads to a huge waste of labour, and to the crippling of the social consciousness of individuals...
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.
In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilised in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman and child...
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. (1949)


Oscar Wilde: “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”

I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour. There is nothing necessary dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such.
To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine.
And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery... This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment... The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have... Were that machine the property of all, every one would benefit by it. It would be an immense advantage to the community...
At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man.


James P Cannon: “What a Socialist America Will Look Like” (1953)

The emancipation of women will begin in the very first days of the workers’ government, and very probably will be fully completed before the socialist society emerges from the transition period. The first condition for the real emancipation of women is their economic emancipation. That must presuppose the scientific organisation of housework, like all other work, so that women can have time and leisure for cultural activity and the free choice of occupation. That will imperatively require the establishment of communal kitchens, housekeeping services, nurseries and kindergartens...
One thing I’m absolutely sure is going to happen early in the period of the workers’ government... There will be a tremendous popular movement of women to bust up this medieval institution of 40 million separate kitchens and 40 million different housewives cooking, cleaning, scrubbing, and fighting dust...
The enlightened socialist women will knock the hell out of this inefficient, unjust and antiquated system. The mass emergence of the socialist women from the confining walls of their individual kitchens will be the greatest jail break in history and the most beneficent. Women, liberated from the prison of the kitchen, will become the free companions of free men.


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