Tuesday, October 21, 2008

William Morris

A Revolutionary Socialist
by Adam Buick

At the beginning of his socialist activity William Morris was a strong opponent of socialists involving themselves in election and parliamentary
activities. By the end of his life, however, he had become convinced that his earlier attitude was mistaken and that socialists should fight for 'palliatives', or reforms, as well as for political power for socialism. Morris's period of opposition to parliamentary activity corresponds more or less with his membership of the Socialist League from 1884-1890.

Morris's views on the problem of reform and revolution can be gathered from the articles he wrote for the official organ of the Socialist League, Commonweal, from his books and published lectures, from his private
letters, from his lecture notes and occasional articles in other journals. The most reliable statements of his views are to be found in his published articles, especially his reply to a correspondent on 'Socialism and Politics', in an official statement on parliamentary activity he drew up for the League in 1888, in the last article he wrote for the Commonweal 'Where are We Now' in 1890 and in an article he wrote in 1894 for the Labour Prophet 'What is our Present Business as Socialists?' A lecture he gave in]uly 1887 on 'The Policy of Abstention' also gives his views. 1

The early socialists in Britain thought that capitalist rule would have to be overthrown by violent insurrection along the lines of the Paris Commune of 1871. They also tended to think that this clash, or Revolution with a capital R, would come quickly. The Paris Commune, a fully democratic regime in which the working class took part, was mercilessly crushed after two months by the forces at the service of the French government at Versailles. From this socialists drew the conclusion, understandable in the circumstances of the time, that the capitalist class would defend their privileges by all means and that their rule could only be overthrown by violent action.

Morris shared this belief that the overthrow would be violent and was not very far off. He argued that the coming uprising would not be successful unless there were present at the time a strong and determined body of socialists. If, by some chance, capitalist rule were to collapse and socialists were to find themselves in possession of political power before they had had time to make adequate preparations and without the full backing of the workers, then the experience of the Paris Commune would be repeated: the counter-revolution would triumph and capitalist rule would be restored. At all costs this had to be avoided.

A strong and determined body of socialists was a prime necessity for the success of the uprising. What the socialists of Britain must do was to devote all their resources to creating such a body of socialists. This is what Morris meant by 'Education for Revolution' . Socialists must prepare for the imminent uprising by 'making socialists'. This basic outlook was shared by all those who left the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1884 to set up the Socialist League. All of them, however, did not go as far as Morris in opposing parliamentary activity.

But the League never did have a reform programme. Until the anarchists took over, it pursued the policy of simply putting over propaganda for socialism, written and spoken.

This assumption that the rule of the capitalist class would have to be overthrown by violence was the basis of Morris's anti-parliamentary arguments. From it he concluded that parliamentary activity would be futile and a waste of time which could better be spent in making socialists. Parliament was an institution whose purpose was to preserve the domination of the capitalist class. This class would never allow it to
be used to overthrow their rule. Even if socialists should, by some means, obtain a majority in parliament this might give them the power to make laws but it would not give them the power to enforce them or to end capitalist rule. For in this event the capitalist class, if they had let the socialists get this far in the first place, would resist the will of the parliamentary majority with violence. So that in the end would come the violent clash in which the number and determination of the socialists would be decisive. The time and energy spent in electing members to parliament would have been wasted. Worse, in fact, for the parliamentary majority would have been elected by the votes of non-socialists gathered by various vote-catching devices. Support gained by such means would be useless in any violent clash with the capitalist class and its supporters; the counter-revolution would triumph with little difficulty.

Morris also argued that reforms tended to reduce the discontent of the workers and so make them less ready to act against capitalist rule. Indeed the capitalist class would support reforms precisely with this end in view. For socialists to press for reforms in Parliament would be to help the capitalist class prolong their rule by delaying the workers' uprising. Any socialists allowed into Parliament would be used for this purpose. They would allow the capitalist class to assess in what ways the workers were discontented and what should be done to reduce such discontent. Further, they would also be helping to erect a barrier against their own aim since all reforms, including State-capitalism, tended to create a group of better-off workers with a stake in capitalism who would side with the capitalists in any clash with the rest of the workers.

Morris further drew attention to the dangerous effects which a reform programme could have on a socialist party. Contesting elections and working through Parliament necessarily involved compromising socialist principles. At elections the socialist candidate would water down his socialism and use various 'immediate demands' as bait to catch votes and get elected. In Parliament the bargaining needed to get a bill passed would again involve the party in compromise. A socialist party used to compromise would be unable to act in the necessary uncompromising way when the violent clash came.

However, Morris was not opposed to reforms as such. What he was opposed to was the policy of trying to use Parliament to get reforms. This he thought would weaken the socialist movement through compromising its principles. Any improvements that might be possible within capitalism would come more easily as a result of the capitalists' fear of an uncompromising socialist movement outside Parliament. At times, it is true, Morris did give the impression that he was opposed to improvements, whatever the means used to get them, just because they made the workers less discontented.

A further consideration was always present in Morris's arguments. He often made the simple point that at the time there were so few socialists that they could not be effective even as a parliamentary, reform party until they had built up their strength. As he put it, 'The making of Socialists must be a preliminary to the settling of the question: What are Socialists to do ?'. So even from the parliamentary point of view the situation demanded a policy of 'making socialists'. Morris still insisted on this after he had himselfcome to support a policy of using Parliament to get reforms.

There was also an element of irrational prejudice against 'party politics' in Morris's attitude. He once described Parliament as 'that degraded and degrading twaddle-shop'. He hated the intrigue and dishonesty involved in politics; to him it was a dirty game of which he wanted no part. This comes out clearly in his private letters where he says in effect that parliamentary activity may well be necessary but that he for one will have no part of it.

Since Morris did not believe that it was possible to use Parliament to get control of political power, what form did he expect the change-over to take? It is interesting to note that his idea was very similar to that of the French Syndicalists of a later period and of other anti-parliamentarists: The workers combine together into a nation-wide Workers' Federation which the government tries to suppress. Law and order begin to break down so that the workers are forced to take over many of the administrative functions of the State themselves. To do this they form 'workmen's committees'. A General Strike is called leading to a civil war in which most of the regular army go over to the workers. 2

Morris thought that the workers might be able to use Parliament in some way during the course of the Revolution. Not to get political power, of course, since this was not possible nor to get reforms but at least to pass various laws. This would put the onus of rebellion on the privileged classes and so give the workers the additional prestige that comes from legality. The capitalists rather than the workers would be the 'rebels'. Morris also believed that before 'full Socialism' or Communism would be established society would pass through a transitional stage of State capitalism, introduced partly by the capitalists themselves before and partly by the socialists after the capture of political power. Although he regarded this stage as necessary Morris dreaded it and always opposed identifying it with socialism.

After Morris left the Socialist League in 1890 he did some re-thinking. In particular he reconsidered his earlier assumption that the overthrow of capitalist rule could only be violent. He began to argue that it was possible for the working class to win political power through the ballot-box and overcame his objections to socialists using Parliament to get reforms. The most important factors influencing his change of mind on these questions must have been his experience of the growing workers' movement as well as his own experience as a socialist propagandist.

In 1882 there were only a handful of socialists. Ten years later many of the younger and more active trade unionists professed to have socialist ideas. The unskilled workers were organising in the New Unions. Moves were afoot to set up a workers' party independent of both the Liberals and the Conservatives. In other words, the working class was slowly advancing in organisation and in understanding. Morris also, like Marx and Engels had had to do previously, revised his earlier optimistic views as to when the Revolution would take place.

Taken together these changes brought Morris's position nearer to that of Engels (who had criticised his anti-parliamentarism). Morris, like Engels, came to base his estimate of what socialists should do on what the working class was doing.

To Morris it seemed that the working class was choosing the peaceful way to socialism through the ballot-box. He remained opposed to any policy of compromise but no longer believed that for socialists to go into Parliament necessarily involved compromise. Parliament could be used to get political power peaceably. The uncompromising struggle for socialism could go on inside Parliament as well as outside. Reforms could still not be got by compromise, by assuming a community of interest between masters and men, but by a struggle based on the recognition that the workers could only improve their position at the expense of the capitalists. Morris argued that socialists should support such struggles· for objectives less than socialism, not merely because they brought improvements but also because they rrained the workers in joint action for a common end and so prepared them to act for socialism.

To make the socialists of Britain more effective, Morris suggested a united socialist party to be formed by a federation of existing 'socialist' bodies like the Fabian Society and the SDF. The test for membership of this party should be professed agreement with the aim of socialism. This party would have a parliamentary reform programme and would support the struggles of the workers. But its main task would be to 'make socialists', to carry on a persistent propaganda for socialism. This scheme never got off the ground except for the issuing in 1893 of the Manifesto of English Socialists.

At the end of his life, then, Morris had reached a position on the problem of reform and revolution-and indeed on socialist tactics generally-very similar to that later elaborated by European Social Democracy 3 ; that the struggle for reforms prepared the working class for the struggle for political power; th'lt the way to get reforms was by means of the class struggle; that a socialist party should have a reform programme.


Morris himself of course was not the originator of all the arguments he employed. Most of them were basically of anarchist origin. The anarchists of the time had as their immediate aim an insurrection against the State. Their attitude to reforms and Parliament followed from this. They opposed electoral and trade union activity because it diverted the workers' attention from the need for an immediate uprising. They opposed reforms because they lessened discontent and so made the workers less prepared to revolt. And, finally, they opposed Parliament as a part of the State they were aiming to destroy.

Morris was not an anarchist; he did not advocate an immediate uprising although, at that time, he could see no way to end capitalist rule except by violence. Where Morris differed from the anarchists was in arguing that no insurrection against capitalist rule could succeed unless workers themselves were prepared to act for socialism. So for Morris the most important task facing socialists was to rouse such a readiness amongst the workers, to make them genuine revolutionary socialists. This was why he opposed the anarchists in the Socialist League who called for an immediate insurrection or at least for immediate acts of defiance of the State. It was precisely this insistence on the necessity of a socialist working class-and for socialists to work to create it-that distinguishes Morris's arguments on reforms and Parliament from those of the anarchists and gives them a peculiar significance of their own. For Morris was opposed to socialists taking part in Parliament and yet was not an anarchist.

If Morris's arguments were similar to those of the anarchists this was because he shared their belief that capitalist rule would have to be overthrown by an insurrection. When Morris came to abandon this belief in the inevitability of insurrection then with it went the larger part of his case against a socialist party having a reform programme. Morris then came to believe that the growing socialist movement (as he thought) would be able to use the ballot box and Parliament to win political power. Naturally a socialist party, in the course of its uncompromising struggle for socialism, should also press for reforms inside Parliament. Morris still recognised that there were dangers in election and Parliamentary activity but expected that the mass of socialist workers outside Parliament would be able to control their delegates inside. For although Morris changed his views on insurrection he never changed those on the necessity of making socialists: socialism could not be set up until the workers wanted it and knew how to run it.

Morris was the first to point out the dangers to a socialist party of trying to get elected to Parliament on a reform programme. People would vote for the reforms rather than for socialism so that the socialist members would have no mandate for socialism and would be forced to compromise. Fighting on a reform programme would lead to 'the error of moving earth and sea to fill the ballot boxes with Socialist votes which will not represent Socialist men'. As socialism is impossible without 'Socialist men', socialists elected to Parliament by such means would be of no use as a force for socialism. They would not be in Parliament as delegates of a socialist working class outside and would be restricted in what they could do by the non-socialist views of those who had voted for them. What was imponant was to create a desire for socialism amongst the workers. This done, the workers would know what to do to realise their desire. Socialists should be making more socialists by
persistent propaganda rather than trying to get reforms. A socialist party should thus not have a reform programme in addition to its aim of socialism.

This is Morris's main contribution to the reform-revolution discussion in the sense that it was a point, whatever weight is given to it, that had not been made before.


Engels, who had supported those who broke with the SDF in 1884 to set up the Socialist League, was opposed to the anti-parliamentarism which soon became the policy of the League and backed those who wanted it to have a reform programme. In a letter of May 12, 1886 he complained that
'the League is passing more and more into the hands of the Anarchists ... Bax and Morris are strongly under the influence of the Anarchists'.
4 The question of parliamentary activity was discussed at the 1887 and 1888 Conferences of the League. After the 1887 Conference Engels wrote in another letter
'As to the League, if it upholds the resolution of the last Conference, I do
not see how anyone can remain a member who intends using the present
political machinery as a means of propaganda and action'
(June 23).
'Of all the various Socialist groups in England, what is now the "opposition" in the League, was the only one with which so far I could
thoroughly sympathize'
(July 26).'

This 'opposition', which favoured parliamentary action, left the League soon after the 1888 Conference which re-affirmed the League's position on the question.

Engels was still pursuing the aims which he and Marx had set themselves in the International Working Men's Association in the 1860s and 1870's: the formation of independent workers' parties in Britain and elsewhere. With this aim in view Engels felt that the Socialists in Britain should not cut themselves off from any moves in this direction by remaining a mere propagandist group and refusing to have anything to do with reforms or Parliament. He regarded the League's anti-parliamentarism as a case of the 'infantile disorders' he had learnt was a stage all socialist movements went through at the start.

This criticism was to a certain extent valid: much of Morris's early argument against parliamentary activity and for just making socialists was based on an inadequate grasp of the process of social change. This policy did, as Engels expected, cut off the Socialist League from the 'growing movement for a workers' party and led also in the end to its capture by the anarchists.

Nevertheless Morris's early policy of making socialists could be said to have been right but for the wrong reasons. In a sense Engels was correct in arguing that the appearance of a workers' party in Britain would be a step forward as the working class would learn to act on the political field independently of their masters. But this party did not, as he had expected, evolve into a socialist party but remained a Labour Party committed to the administration and reform of capitalism rather than to revolutionary socialism.

This would, as it were, rehabilitate Morris. If he erred, he erred on the right side. For his policy of making socialists can be justified on strict Marxian grounds. All a small socialist party can do is to put over the case for socialism as strongly and as often as possible, to fight confusion and compromise, and to admit only genuine socialists to its ranks in preparation for the time when social development will have made the working class socialist. Such a party should not try to be a reform party at the same time.


Although the task of toning down Morris's socialism for the benefit of his wealthy admirers began almost as soon as he was dead, in Marxian circles his reputation as a 'revolutionary socialist' survived. His 'News From Nowhere' which leaves no doubt as to where he stood on this issue had a very wide circulation. It was quickly translated into German (by the wife of the pioneer German socialist, Wilhelm Liebknecht) and distributed by the Social Democratic Party.

At the end of his life Morris's political position was more or less that of the SDF and it was this organisation which first kept alive his reputation. The Twentieth Century Press which was at the service, if not under the democratic control of the SDF, reprinted a number of Morris's writings: some of the pamphlets he had written for the Socialist League, an article How I became a Socialist. The anarchists too reprinted some of the Socialist League pamphlets. Besides these pamphlets, articles and lectures Morris's books Signs of Change and Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (written with Belfort Bax) were also available. So that at the turn of the century, when the reform-revolution problem was re-opened, socialists could have had access to a fair number of Morris's socialist works. After the turn of the century yet more of his works became available. In 1903 the Fabian Society published a lecture of his on Communism. In 1907 the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which had broken away from the SDF in 1904, brought out another lecture 'Art under Plutocracy' as a pamphlet entitled Art, Labour and Socialism. In 1913 the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. in Chicago which specialised in popular editions of
Marxist works reprinted Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome.

In Britain the SDF first became the Social Democratic Party and then the British Socialist Party. After the first world war most of the members of the SDF went into the Communist Party of Great Britain. Here the reputation of Morris was kept up by those who knew, especially R. Page Arnott.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain still survives today and in 1962 reprinted Art, Labour and Socialism. The Socialist Party is interesting in that those who drew up its declaration of principles in 1904 must have had amongst the documents in front of them The Manifesto of the Socialist League which had been partly drafted by Morris. A comparison of the wording of certain passages makes this clear.

In America the Socialist Labour Party there still keeps alive the reputation of William Morris. With regard to America, it is interesting to note that as far back as 1907 R. R. La Monte, then a member of the Socialist Party of America, was surprised to read that Morris was not a 'scientific socialist'. He wrote in a footnote in his book Socialism, Positive and Negative:
'The other day [chanced upon a pamphlet by one Oscar Lovell Triggs of
Chicago. It bore the title, "William Morris, Craftsman, Writer and Social
Reformer". In turning over its pages I was somewhat startled to read " 'scientific' socialism he never understood or advocated". And again further on my eyes fell on this gem: "it is apparent that Morris's 'socialism' is poetic and not scientific socialism" '
Well might La Monte be startled-even in 1907.

It has been established that Morris was known as a 'revolutionary socialist' in Marxian circles, but was his contribution to the discussion of the problem of reform and revolution also known? This seems much less likely especially as the sources-articles in Commonweal, unpublished lectures and private letters-would not have been available to socialists at this time. To this must be added the fact that when he died Morris no longer held anti-parliamentary views.

It thus seems reasonable to conclude that when the discussion was re-opened at the turn of the century it was under the influence of Daniel De Leon's views in the Socialist Labor Party of America rather than of Morris's earlier views. Even so some of the terminology, for instance 'palliative', was common to both discussions.

J. Fitzgerald, a founder member of the Socialist Party ofGreat Britain, did refer to Morris in a discussion of socialist tactics at a meeting in March 1905. He was quoted as saying:
'... they had been told by some worthy people, even by a man of the stamp of Morris, that the soldiers would fraternise with the people'.7

However this is probably a reference to a passage at the end of the chapter 'How the Change Came' in News from Nowhere and cannot be taken as evidence that Morris's early views on tactics were still known. Morris in fact left the problem unsolved. He believed that using Parliament necessarily involved fighting for reforms. This was why when he was opposed to parliamentary action he was also opposed to a reform programme and why when later he supported parliamentary action he also supported a reform programme. The solution was in fact proposed by the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904 when they pointed out that using the vote and Parliament to get socialism did not entail having a reform programme. A socialist party could contest elections on a straight socialist programme and only seek votes for this programme; in this way could a socialist party avoid the danger, which Morris foresaw, of attracting non-socialist support and being forced into compromise, finally ceasing to be a socialist party altogether.

References are, respectively, Commonweal July 1885, June 9 1888 and
November 15 1890, and Labour Prophet January 1894. The lecture is given in
William Morris, Artist, Writer. Socialist, supplementary volume Il, 1936.
2 This is the picture in chapter XVII of News from Nowhere entitled 'How the
Change Came'.
3 E. P. Thompson argued otherwise in the first (1955) edition of his William
Morris Romantic to Revolutionary: that Morris's position was more or less that
of Lenin; that he favoured a highly disciplined vanguard parry ready to takeover
and lead the workers' struggle. 'Were William Morris alive today', wrote
Thompson in 1955 in an obvious reference to the Communist Party,
'he would
not look far to find the parry of his choice'. This is highly questionable, to say the
least. Quite apart from the fact that the system in Russia is obviously the State
Socialism (or State capitalism) for which Morris cared so little, Morris rejected
the idea of 'leadership'. In all his socialist writings the emphasis is on the
understanding and determination of the workers rather than on their leaders (or
so-called leaders, as Morris preferred to call them). This was the crux of his case
against Parliamemarism and later what he relied on to prevent 'the personal fads
and vanities of leaders' from standing in 'the way of real business'.
4 Engles to W. Liebknecht, Page Arnot, William Morris, The Man and The
Myth, p. 37.
5 Engels to J. L. Mahon, E. P. Thompson, From Romantic to Revolutionary,
6 R. R. La Monte, Socialism, Positive and Negative, pp. 122-3.
7 Paris Commune meeting, Socialist Standard, April 1905.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Other Crisis

The World Socialist Movement has always argued the case that hunger is not die to food shortages but to the fact that many people are unable to buy food .

MADRE , an international women’s human rights organization , appears to share this analysis .

"...the food crisis is not an issue of shortage but of inequitable distribution. Even as global crop yields are projected to reach record levels, rising prices place basic necessities out of the reach of millions..."

As they also reported when parts of the world are facing food riots, Agro-Capitalism were making huge profits.

Grain-processing giant Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. said its fiscal third-quarter profits jumped 42%, including a sevenfold increase in net income in its unit that stores, transports and trades grains such as wheat and corn, as well as soybeans. Monsanto maker of seeds and herbicides, Deere & Co., which builds tractors, combines and sprayers, and fertilizer maker Mosaic Co. all reported similar windfalls in their latest quarters.

There is some truth in this statement by Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst.

"The political urgency with which the US government and for that matter governments elsewhere have come to the rescue of the financial system from getting worse exposes their double standards. US $600 billion (that has been coughed out in just one week) could have wiped out hunger (FAO estimates 854 million people go to bed hungry every night) from the face of the planet. The additional US $900 billion that the US has spent in the past one year could have pulled out the world's estimated 2 billion poor from perpetual poverty and that too on a long-term sustainable basis. The US $700 billion bailout package that George Bush is promising could have wiped out the last traces of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and squalor from the face of the Earth...There would have been no need for the United Nations to provide a cover-up for their collective guilt in the form of Millennium Development Goals. Poverty would have been confined to history. Hunger could have been banished by now. "

Saturday, October 11, 2008

For Our Canadian Readers

Vote for Yourself for a Change

Are you planning to vote for a politician that you don't trust?

Are you planning to abstain from voting altogether?

If this sounds like you, then you owe it to yourself to read this leaflet.

Otherwise, have you found a political party that none of the rest of us have heard of? A party that can run the country in your best interest? A party that can eliminate poverty and war?

If this is you, then you know something that most of the rest of us don't, and you won't be interested in this leaflet.

Still reading?

Most people think that whichever government is elected it will make no real difference to their lives.

Most people are concerned about the environment, unemployment, and "the good life".

Keep reading. Canada and the other nations of the world have had just about every conceivable form of government. None of them have been too good at bringing "the good life" to all of their citizens.

In fact, if you look at the history of the country and the planet, and the different parties that have been elected, there is no real reason to vote for any one of them over any other.

Right wing governments have improved the lives of ordinary people like you just as much as left wing governments. Not very much in any case, but ...

Left wing governments have been as environmentally destructive and anti-social as right wing governments.

If you analyze society, and we hope you will, you will discover that government is not capable of solving the vast majority of the problems that you want solved.

You will discover that the economic structure of world society is far more powerful than any government and that government cannot control it. At best, government can avoid making stupid decisions that make a bad situation worse. But even at that, the politicians and economists don't have a very good track record.

Right wingers put their faith in a less-regulated economy. Left wingers put their faith in a more-regulated economy.

Fact: Neither has worked. The economic structure that prevails in the world today is, as we all know, capitalism. It was not always the prevailing economic structure of society, but it has brought to humanity the promise and possibility of plenty and security for all.

It hasn't delivered on the promise, though.

Instead, food is destroyed and wars kill hundreds of thousands every year.

Instead of the promise, the ecosystem is rapidly being altered, perhaps such that human life will no longer survive on earth. Grim — but remotely possible.

Why? If society was working to satisfy human needs (like edible food, drinkable water, breathable air, pleasure, security) would it be like it is now?

No it would not!

Society fails humanity today because it is organized not to satisfy human needs, but instead to produce goods and services for sale at a profit.

No matter which party that gets elected to government, this system cannot be controlled, and cannot be made to meet the needs of humanity as a whole (or even a major part of humanity).

But, is there an alternative that will work and that can meet our needs?.We have all heard, from the media, about "the failure of socialism". We have all heard that this proves that capitalism is the best possible system.

Neither is true.

First of all, the claims that the police state tyrannies of Eastern Europe, Asia, and elsewhere were socialist or communist are false. Even though the lying dictators in those countries claimed to be socialist or communist, wouldn't it be reasonable to subject those claims to some sort of verification or reasonableness check? Even though the rich capitalists in the West agreed that these places were socialist or communist, should we just blindly believe them without question?

If one examines the ideas of socialists of the 19th century, they don't sound at all like what we have been told is socialist.

If one examines the ideas of the Socialist Party and its companion parties in other countries, one finds that they have been repudiating the so-called "socialist" states since they were formed.

But socialism, the real thing, is a dangerous concept. It means democracy, not just voting every couple of years, but real control over society by real working people.

It means an end to poverty.

And poverty is one of the pillars of current society. A pillar that makes the rich rich at the expense of the rest of us.

There is a tiny minority that benefits from capitalism. They own the media, the factories and the land, they even buy and sell us. This minority is the capitalist class, and it is us that makes them rich and powerful.

The politicians do what they must to get elected, and when elected they do what they must to appease the capitalist class.

The media is the organ of the capitalist class, and it prints all the news that supports capitalism.

You don't think that those who own the major media are about to support the end of their utopia, do you? So instead of real analysis of how society functions and how it can be changed, we get platitudes and lies.

Capitalism is not the best possible system, and socialism has never been tried.

The Socialist Party does not want you to follow anything, or anyone, blindly or otherwise. The Socialist Party wants you to open your eyes, and your mind, to something that has been the subject of vilification and distortion for over a hundred years — socialism.

Socialism is a new way of running society based upon one very simple, yet profound, concept:

From each according to ability, to each according to need.

What would such a society be like? The Socialist Party cannot predict the future, nor does it wish to lay out some "cast-in-stone" blueprint for future society, but the following are features of what socialists envision:

Common (not state) ownership of the resources of society, such as mineral wealth, land, factories.

Democratic control of society by everyone, without leaders, instead of by the dictates of the profit system and a privileged minority.

Free access to all the goods and services of society — no money and no market.

Voluntary labour according to ability.

All of this is completely practical and attainable.

All of it is unlikely as long as you continue to support the current system that creates all the problems that the government cannot solve.

You are a human being. You have wants and desires. You have a brain. But today you are a second class citizen.

With the accelerating degradation of the environment, with real and expected job losses from free trade (or no free trade), with global trade adjustment, how secure is your life? How long will you continue to vote for capitalism? Until it is too late?

Since our inception in 1905, our aim, objective, platform, have remained the same, i.e.

The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole.

From this statement, it naturally follows that a socialist society must be one without social classes, states, central governments, money, trade, wage-labour, or employment, and must include voluntary labour and free access to all goods and services produced by society for all, based on their own self-determined needs.

The immense productive powers of capitalism have long since reached a stage where the establishment of socialism has been possible but because of the fetters of the financial market and the profit system it is unable to deliver what socialism can. Socialism has never been tried and it should be noted that what passed for socialism/communism in the former Soviet Union, and what is now taking place in China, Cuba et al, has none of the features of a socialist society. Rather, as we observed in 1918, what took place in Russia and subsequently in other countries called socialist was a form of capitalism run by the state with all the features of the capitalist mode of production – a monetary system, wage-labour, exploitation by the extraction of the surplus-value produced by the workers, state coercion, alienation of the worker from his product, and so on.

The Socialist Party of Canada
does not advocate reformism, i.e. a platform of reforms with the aim of gradually reforming capitalism into a system that works for all. While we are happy to see the workers’ lot improved, reforms can never lead to the establishment of socialism and tends to bleed energy, ideas, and resources from that goal. Reforms fought for can, and frequently are, taken away or watered down. Rather than attempting gradual transformation of the capitalist system, something we hold is impossible and has been proven by a century of reformist platforms of so-called workers’ parties which have led instead to the reform of such parties themselves to accept capitalism, we believe that only socialism can end forever the problems of our present society such as war, poverty, starvation, inadequate health care and housing, insecurity, and environmental degradation.

See also here for overview

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Continuing the saga

1 . Max says "humans cannot organize properly in groups of people larger than approximately 100 persons without having the need for leaders on top of leaders in a hierarchical chain."

Since Max Price has read about the Socialist Party of Great Britain then he will be aware that we pride ourselves upon being an organisation of equals without a leadership . Nor do we possess an executive committee which can impose its will on policy or even submit motions upon conference . It has a simple housekeeping administrative function . Decisions are made by branches and conferences and referenda . All EC minutes are there to be read at our website , in full keeping with our practice of democracy and openness.
We have existed as an organisation for over 100 years with membership exceeding Max Price's 100 member benchmark .Over these years we have had charismatic orators , skilled writers and knowledgeable theoreticians but never did these members ever form a hierarchy within the organisation .
The longevity of the SPGB as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles which has produced without interruption a monthly magazine for over a hundred years through two world wars is an achievement that most anarchist ( and Trotskyist and Leftist ) organisations can only aspire towards .

2. Tom "..This idea was first proposed in the World War 1 era by the British guild socialists, like GDH Cole (a libertarian socialist at that time). .."

Tom just for background info , the only union to really take up Cole's idea was my own , the post office union , who went against the current trend of thought of the miners and railwaymen who were arguing for nationalisation because as an already state owned industry which the others weren't the postal workers understood first hand the State as an employer and ruthless exploiter and sought an alternative means of organisation . The Postal union's commitment to some form of guild socialism remained until the 1970s .

3. However , Tom ( and Max too) , i am still awaiting a Parecon critique of the practical workings ( the general mechanics of it ) presented at my blog of the free access model which does claim "to each according to need" is a very feaseable idea and that it is the necessary pre-requisite for human liberation .

So far , all i have heard is that won't work because people just ain't like that ...

Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society.

In a society such as capitalism, people's needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner.

If people didn't work society would obviously fall apart. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society.
If people want too much? In a socialist society "too much" can only mean "more than is sustainably produced."
If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work.Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs.Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption.In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising.There is also in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. As Marx contended, the prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the more the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular.

For socialism to be established, there are two fundamental preconditions that must be met.

Firstly, the productive potential of society must have been developed to the point where, generally speaking, we can produce enough for all. This is not now a problem as we have long since reached this point. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by "enough" and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism.

Secondly, the establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Would they want to jeopardise the new society they had helped create? Of course not.

If people cannot change their behaviour and take control and responsibility for their decisions , not only will socialism fail but Parecon itself will not succeed then either .

4. Tom , you ask "... an industry that has far flung supplier and customer links, such as manufature of steel products. fhow is this to be linked to communities throughout north america for example?...so presumably there needs to be a way to link decisions about allocation of resources to steel manufacture and power generation to what people actually want....they will have to make tradeoffs and prioritize as they won't be able to obtain every thing they might want because of the limits of productive capactiy relative to possible wants."

The first and most important point is that we are not starting from the beginning . Its not a blank sheet . We are taking over and inheriting an already existing economic system which has in place various means of determining allocations and trade-offs .
There are countless professional and trade associalitions and marketing boards and government departments which have the research and diagnostic tools available , not just the trade union movement of the syndicalists . All those bodies may be at present based on commerce but can be quite easily democratised , socialised and integrated organisationally .
Planning is indeed central to the idea of socialism, but socialism is the planned (consciously coordinated i mean , and not to be confused with central planning concept ) production of useful things to satisfy human needs precisely instead of the production, planned or otherwise, of wealth as exchange value, commodities and capital. In socialism wealth would have simply a specific use value (which would be different under different conditions and for different individuals and groups of individuals) but it would not have any exchange, or economic, value.

Socialism does presuppose that productive resources (materials, instruments of production, sources of energy) and technological knowledge are sufficient to allow the population of the world to produce enough food, clothing, shelter and other useful things, to satisfy all their material needs.

Conventional economics and Parecon deny that the potential for such a state of abundance exists.

Another important point not to overlook is that we are seeking a 'steady-state economy' which corresponds to what Marx called 'simple reproduction' - a situation where human needs were in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilized at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. The point about such a situation is that there will no longer be any imperative need to develop productivity, i.e. to cut costs in the sense of using less resources; nor will there be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market. Of course, technical research would continue and this would no doubt result in costs being able to be saved, but there would be no external pressure to do so or even any need to apply all new productivity enhancing techniquesGiven that socialism will still need to concern itself with the efficient allocation of resources this will be achieved mostly through calculation in kind.Decentralized production entails a self-regulating system of stock control. Stocks of goods held at distribution points would be monitored, their rate of depletion providing vital information about the future demand for such goods, information which will be conveyed to the units producing these goods. The units would in turn draw upon the relevant factors of production and the depletion of these would activate yet other production units further back along the production chain. There would thus be a marked degree of automaticity in the way the system operated. The maintenance of surplus stocks would provide a buffer against unforeseen fluctuations in demand .

As i said , more of the details at the blog http://mailstrom.blogspot.com/2008/06/pareconfusion.html
or here http://mailstrom.blogspot.com/2006/11/how-socialism-can....html
or here http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=4018139&blogID=125680221&MyToken=e74668d4-db9d-4bf3-a533-674f54df3b09

Friday, October 03, 2008

man kills 2 day old baby

Kolkata , Ratan Santra , a balloon seller , choked his two day year old daughter to death in West Bengal and surrendered to the police .

"I hardly earn Rs30 [ 40 pence ] a day and have a mother , wife and two more daughters to feed . So I killed her to save her . as well as ourselves , from poverty and hunger "

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Michael Albert's Failings

Similar to Anarcho's reservations , Parecon appears to me to be about building a massive (and socially unproductive) administration for policing all the wage levels, labour outputs , prices etc. In contrast , the practical aspects of a (world- and not national as has been already pointed out ) socialist revolution is not about creating ever greater bureaucratic structures, but quite the opposite.

It must be terribly deflating for a person to have devoted so much time and energy in creating an elaborate , complex , complicated construct to offer an alternative to capitalism and then to have others declare that it was totally unnecessary and that the answers and solutions already existed and stood on firmer foundations . This is the case with Michael Albert when he helped design the Parecon model . He rejected free access socialism , or as others describe it , anarcho-communism on the grounds that it was an unachievable utopia . Without quite knowing what he was rejecting .

And Michael Albert's reasoning reveals exactly why i am not a Pareconista - his reasoning is deeply and profoundly conservative . In fact , most of his objections to a society without buying and selling , without money and without wages and without prices derives at their root from the theories of Von Mise and the Economic Calculation Argument .

In his responses to the case for free access socialism , he confuses the abolition of the Law of Value to the abolition of valuations ie "... it will always be very desirable to make judgements about what we want to do with our time, resources, energies, etc..." even though the article clearly stated "...In any economy there needs to be some way of prioritising production goals..." and offered various details on the means to achieve this using the tools and methods of to-day's society that are able to be adapted and transformed and carried over to socialism to determine and satisfy needs and wants in a rational way in socialist society - all conveniently ignored by MA .

What was being stated in the article which MA seemed to overlook was , to now use the words , of Paresh Chattopadhyay.

"The problem of rationally allocating productive resources in an economy is common to all human societies at least as long as these resources remain relatively limited compared to needs. However, there is no need to assume that this allocation could be effected rationally (if at all) only through the exchange of resources taking the value (price) form."

And although Paresh says it of other economic writers the following equally applies to MA and Pareconists

"The authors of the model [ read MA and Parecon ] under consideration in common with their opponents confuse the rational allocation of resources as such with the rational allocation of resources uniquely through the price system ... The point is that the allocation through the value form of the products of human labor is only "a particular social manner of counting labor employed in the production of an object" precisely in a society in which "the process of production dominates individuals, individuals do not dominate the process of production" (Marx). Only the "routine of daily life" makes us accept as "trivial and self-evident" that a social relation of production takes the form of an object" (Marx ).


Michael Albert still confused by the difference between allocation choices (valuations) and the abolition of value goes on to say

"What is bad about capitalism and for that matter, neoclassical economics, is not that they think economies involve choices among possibilities based on valuations. Maybe I am sheltered somehow, but I know of no serious marxist economist, or any other kind of economist - indeed radicals of any stripe at all, who wouldn't be pretty much horrified at the idea that such claims could be taken seriously."

Well , does he consider Engels a serious economist when he says value becomes redundant ?

"Hence, on the assumptions we made above, society will not assign values to products. It will not express the simple fact that the hundred square yards of cloth have required for their production, say, a thousand hours of labour in the oblique and meaningless way, stating that they have the value of a thousand hours of labour. It is true that even then it will still be necessary for society to know how much labour each article of consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange its plan of production in accordance with its means of production, which include, in particular, its labour-powers. The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted "value". - footnote- As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value. (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, p. 95) The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx's Capital."


But of course when offered this quotation MA simply dismisses it

"My guess would be there are a hundred interpretations of the above...and honestly, I could not care less...I don't believe in scripture...so to speak."

Which begs the question why MA appealed to the authority of serious Marxist economists in the first place .

As i have said , i find Parecon to be conservative in essence .

The reason that Parecon has to go to such lengths to construct such a complicated and complex (and wasteful system ) of elaborate checks and balances is ultimately that its proponents are unwilling or unable to accept that if given the right economic framework (or arguably no economic framework, as we maintain ) , then , in fact , humans can consciously co-operate, work and consume together.
In the final analysis, Parecon lack confidence that either there are sufficient resources on the planet to provide for all , or that human beings can work voluntarily, and co-operate to organise production & distribution of wealth without chaos, and consume wealth responsibly without some form of rationing .

Pareconists remain fixated to the lazy person, greedy individual critique of human behaviour .

In denying free access socialism , Michael Albert simply preaches conventional bourgeois wisdom about peoples' selfish human .

"...I think you believe, instead, that there is a capacity for humanity to generate as much nice and fulfilling goods and services as anyone could possibly desire to have, plus as much leisure as anyone could want, and so on. Well, is that really your view? If so, okay, we can agree to disagree. And, honestly, I can't imagine discussing it - further - because for me it is so utterly ridiculous, honestly.... Suppose everyone would like - if the cost was zero - their own large mansion, on the ocean, with wonderful fantastic food every day, with magnificent recording and listening equipment, with a nice big boat, with their own private tennis courts, or basketball, or golf, or whatever....a great home movie system, a wonderful violin, magnificent clothes, and so on and so forth, and, also, while they like creative work a lot, they would like a whole lot of time to enjoy their bountiful home and holdings - so they want to work only twenty hours a week and of course not do anything other than what interests them. What you seem to be saying is that you think that is possible... or, even if all that were possible, no one would want it. Both are false..."

"...if something is of no cost, and I want it, sure, I will take it, to enjoy it, why not..."

"...Tell everyone that they can have a free house, a really nice car, or two, whatever equipment the like for sports or hobbies, whatever TVs they would enjoy and other tools of daily life, whatever food they want nightly, etc. etc. because it is all free, no problem for them to take what they want. And see what happens....no one will be able to conduct themselves responsibly..."

"... since they can have product, from the available social product, regardless. So sloth is rewarded. Likewise greed..."

Nor is he alone in this pessimistic view of human behaviour . Another prominent pro-Parecon advocate has previously said

"Under the moneyless scheme, those with the least social consciousness or least sense of social responsibility will win out because they will be more aggressive in taking "free" items from the distribution centers. Since there is no requirement of work the "free riders" who do no work will burden the system to the point of collapse...Why, then, burden ourselves with the risky system of moneyless "free access," with its huge dangers of being dragged down by parasitical free riders?" .

I have heard it argued that Parecon may be the transional stage towards "from each according to ability , to each according to need " and if "anonymous" is correct concerning the employement of computers then Parecon can fight it out with the Labour-Time Vouchers which also has been criticised for being impossible to deduce due to the complexity of calculating labour hours as the half-way house . For Free Access Socialists and Anarcho-Communists we will continue to struggle to create a structured society where people have accepted socially mutual obligations and the realization of universal interdependency and we understand that decisions arising from this would profoundly affect people’s choices, perceptions, conceptualizations, attitudes, and greatly influence their behavior, economically or otherwise.

Most of the this can be found at the following link [http://mailstrom.blogspot.com/2008/06/pareconfusion.html ]