Showing posts with label peter critchley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label peter critchley. Show all posts

Sunday, March 30, 2014

William Morris and Socialism

The Socialist Party’s vision of a stateless, wageless, moneyless society is very close to anarchists like Peter Kropotkin in terms of both principles and practice, in the matter of how to organise and maintain a decentralised, collectivised, steady state, ecological society, in which both social responsibility and personal freedom are given equal emphasis, and guaranteed. It is also closely akin to the aspirations of William Morris.

The steady state economy forms a complete contrast to the capitalist economy in which, as Marx wrote, accumulation is Moses and all the prophets. The accumulative logic of capital ensures an endless ‘growth for growth’s sake’, turning finite needs into infinite wants to keep human beings trapped on a ceaseless treadmill. Once human needs are understood as finite, then the absurdity of the capital system is exposed.  In a steady-state economy, production is geared towards the satisfaction of needs rather than making profits through the inflation of wants. There is also the need to replace and repair the existing stock of means of production, both raw materials and instruments of production. The result is an economy which is geared to the satisfaction of people’s needs as opposed to blindly, endlessly accumulating more and more means of production in order to facilitate further accumulation. Such a system is a nihilism, endless, pointless – accumulation for the sake of further accumulation. A communist society would build thestock of means of production up to this level, and gear it towards the satisfaction of needs. At this point, accumulation, and even the further expansion of the stock of means of production, would cease and production levels stabilized. Economic growth – endless accumulation for the sake of accumulation – is unsustainable. Socialism is where economics and ecology are reunited,  based on a sustainable relationship of human society with the rest of nature, a life-affirming system of production which is in balance with the capacity of the biosphere to renew and replenish itself after supplying human with all they need.

“Free men … must lead simple lives and have simple pleasures: and if weshudder away from that necessity now, it is because we are not free men,and have in consequence wrapped up our lives in such a complexity of dependence that we have grown feeble and helpless." - William Morris,
The Society of the Future

The socialist society of the future will be characterised by simplicity but we should not confused simplicity with poverty or drabness for variety of life was as much an aim of socialism as equality. factories – ‘banded workshops’ as William Morris described them- may well be necessary, either to conserve energy through collective enterprise or to produce an article on a larger scale. In such collective workshops,individuals combine to work together to produce, for instance, metal (which needs smelting), and pottery and glass (which need large kilns) but the minerals will be extracted with as little pollution as possible with  widespread use both of wind and water power, and energy generated by renewable resources. Socialists envisages a free, unstratified distribution of goods. Whilst no-one is prevented from taking less than they desire, people learn to take no more than they need, since a scaling back of wants has redefined abundance beyond artificial scarcity.  Production for needs as against for profit thus produces a sufficiency which is able to satisfy the requirements of society, whilst also eliminating waste. Socialism as a society is able to lessen its deleterious impact on nature – and on human beings - by abolishing the production of waste, production geared to profit and false wants. By transforming the nature of work, the eco-socialist community of the future is able to reduce its use of energy and conserve natural resources, slowing down the rate at which productive human activity converts them from the ‘raw’ state to waste. The result is a changed relationship between individuals in society and between society and nature.

Socialism is a community of equals, in which each and all would have full and free access to the means of production, which would be used to produce useful things for the satisfaction of individual and collective needs of the community. In a socialist society, production for use would replace production geared towards buying and selling on a market with a view to making profits for a privileged owning class. In socialism  all associating and cooperating individuals are able to satisfy their needs, freely and fully; they do not have to pay for the useful things they need but take them from the stores according to a self-assessment of their own needs. It is a society which has abolished buying or selling as well as money, and  there is free access to goods and services according to self-defined needs. The means of production, owned by no individual or sectional group, but used by all according to need. An intrinsic feature of the socialist society is constituted by cooperative decision-making arrangements powered from the base upwards. In asocialist society, the coercive functions of a central state would no longer be required, whilst any administrative activities would be devolved to local communities, groups of producers and federation of local and industrial organisations. All men and women will have a share in the responsibility of the administration of things, whether in a commune, or a ward, or a parish, small scale units being desirable so that the greatest possible number of persons might be interested in public affairs. General assemblies  of all the members of the community would be the decision-making body in these communities and decisions would be based on consensus, with majority vote only required as a last resort. A participatory socialist democaracy society will be voluntary in the sense that all people will agree in its broad principles when it is fairly established, and will trust to it as affording mankind the best kind of life possible – i.e., due opportunity free to everyone for the satisfaction of his needs.  A local community could not be, or would want to be, self-sufficient, and will be inter-linked with other communities for specific purposes. These links would be established on a federal basis, so that the political power of centralised states would be dissolved into independent free communities living in  harmonious federation with each other, managing their own affairs by the free consent of their members. The regional bodies would be made up of delegates sent by the local communities. Just as the basic unit of political administration would be the local community, so the basic unit of the economy would be the local workers council. Those in the same trade or industry would organise themselves into abody for the purposes of controlling production in that particular branch. In like manner to the local communities in politics, these industrial bodies would federate on a national and a world basis. Production would be primarily for local use, supplemented as necessary by transfers of essential materials and products not available everywhere between regions arranged by co-ordinating centres at regional and world levels.

It is something of a misnomer to argue that socialism is based on the common ownership of the means of production. In truth, with socialism the means of production are owned by no one,neither individual nor group, and certainly not the state; socialist society is a system of non-ownership. The concept of property has given way to production solely for use, with property rights in the means of production being replaced by commonly agreed and adhered to social arrangements which allow free access to the means of production for use according to need

This concept of socialism is often labeled ‘utopian’  but if the definition of ‘utopian’ is the pursuit of an end or an ideal in abstraction from the means of its realisation, the Socialist Party deny the charge. Ours is not an ideal social system which is the product of the imagination, but  connected to the means of its realisation – the creative political agency of the working class. We are a political party that possesses a clear vision not only about the basic features of the future society - common ownership in place of private property, production and distribution according to need and use as against buying and selling for exchange value – but about the means of reaching that end. We advocate the class struggle in a class war against the plutocracy. Revolution is  a process whereby workers learn to organise themselves and develop the ability to administer their own affairs in their own collective interest. Part and parcel of the revolution is that, in struggling to change society, workers also change themselves. The socialist revolution does not arise simply when a sufficient number of workers have had their otherwise empty heads filled with socialist propaganda. Rather it is that, through their own experiences of struggle, first within capitalism and ultimately against capitalism,workers come to understand not only how to fight but also what it is that they are fighting for. Discontent is not enough, though it is natural and inevitable. The discontented must know what they are aiming at.

Through their possession of the means of production, capitalists compel the workers to sell their labour power for wages which are less than its true value, the surplus value being appropriated by capital. This exploitation is the basis of class struggle. We argue for human co-operation to replace the system of class exploitation and commercial competition but we are well aware that such co-operation was possible only on the basis of certain social relations. The prerequisite for human cooperation is the establishment of a classless society. Conflict is endemic to the capital system.  You cannot have profit-making without competition, individual, corporate, and national; but you may work for a livelihood without competing and you may combine instead of competing. A system of exploitation and domination is incapable of generating the conditions which promote the flourishing of human life. In such a system, labour ceases to be the creative means of human self-expression and merely becomes the means to making money and profits. The result is dehumanisation and degradation. The privilege enjoyed by the capitalist class has nothing to do with talent and ingenuity but is but the privilege of the robber by force of arms.

Attempts at social reform can end up ameliorating the workers’ condition at the expense of the workers freedom, independence and initiative. The workers remain workers within an oppressive, exploitative and alienated system. Political changes is  are done not for  the workers but by them. There is little point in the workers exchanging one form of class rule for another.regardless of how  rational and well-meaning it claims to be. The workers remain workers, with all that that entails with respect to the dehumanisation of labour.

William Morris summed up our task:
 “ The real business of Socialists is to impress on the workers the fact thatthey are a class, whereas they ought to be Society...The work that lies before us at present is to make Socialists, to cover the country with a network of associations composed of men who feel their antagonism to the dominant classes, and have no temptation to waste their time in the thousand follies of party politics...” (Socialism and Politics’, 1885)

“I say that our business is more than ever Education…It is too much to hope that the
whole working class can be educated in theaims of Socialism in due time, before other surprises take place. But we must hope that a strong party can be so educated. Educated in economics,in organisation, and in administration. To such a body of men all the aspirations and vague opinion of the oppressed multitudes would drift, little by little they would be educated by them, if the march of events would give us time…We must be no mere debating club, or philosophical society; we must take part in all really popular movements when we can make our own views on them unmistakeably clear; that is a most importantpart of the education in organisation.Education towards Revolution seems to me to express in three words whatour policy should be..”

Without an organised political party embodying a theoretical consciousness of socialism, any spontaneous revolt would dissipate its energies and fall to the counter-revolution. The task facing socialists is to aid the conscious attacks on the system by all those who feel themselves wronged by it. The real business of socialists is to instil the aim of the workers becoming the masters of their own destinies and of  their own lives. The socialist objective is to form a vast labour organisation of all the workers who have awoke to the fact that they are wage-slaves and the purpose  of this labour organisation is the overthrow of capitalism and the achievement of socialism, its weapons would be those of solidarity and cooperation; the strike and the boycott.

But Morris understood the limits of socialist agitation and once again emphasised that
 “Our business .. is the making of Socialists, i.e. convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles in practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible. Have we that body of opinion or anything like it? Surely not… Though there are a great many who believe it possible to compel their masters .. to behave better to them, and though they are prepared to compel them … all but a very small minority are not prepared to do without masters. They do not believe in their own capacity to undertake the management of affairs, and to be responsible for their life in this world. When they are so prepared, then Socialism will be realised; but nothing can push it on a day in advance of that time.” (Commonweal, November 15th, 1890)

A socialist party has a twofold task, to provide the theory of the struggle in order to give direction to the spontaneous movement of the workers, and to participate alongside the workers in the class struggle, whatever form it takes.

Abridged and adapted from a paper by Peter Critchley that can be found here

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