George Walford: Socialism

In reply to our repeated assertions that the (anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain does not know how (anarcho-) socialism, the system of society it proposes, would operate, a correspondent quotes these passages from party literature:

Socialism will in fact mean the extension of democratic administration to all aspects of social life on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. (Questions of the Day 1978 p. 98).

Free, voluntary work for the community will take the place of employment. (Is a Third World War Inevitable? p. 18. This citation we have not been able to check; it is presented as given by our correspondent).

In the late 1920s the editorial staff of the Times ran a continuing competition to see who could write the dullest headline to appear in the next day’s paper. On one occasion Claud Cockburn won with SMALL EARTHQUAKE IN CHILE; NOT MANY DEAD. In a competition for the most vacuous account of a system of society we’d put some money on the pair above. But there is more wrong with them than that.

The method normally used by this party is to put one side of its case at a time, leaving it to the critic to discover that the party also says the opposite so that the two statements cancel out, amounting to nothing. But in the “voluntary work” statement above they have been careless; the two sides of the case have been allowed to appear together. Hare the party is trying to say, in the one sentence, that in “socialism” people will be free to behave as they wish and that the party can now predict their behaviour. In attempting this it falls flat on its face; the sentence amounts to nothing. If the people will indeed be “free” to undertake voluntary work then they will also be free not to undertake it and the party cannot now predict that they “will” do it. If the party has good ground for predicting that the people will perform voluntary work then they will not have freedom to refuse the voluntary work will not be “free.”

The “democratic administration” statement runs foul of the assertion (also in Q of D 1973) that in a “socialist” society all human beings will be “freely able to co-operate in running social affairs.” If they are to be freely able to co-operate then they will also be freely able to refuse co-operation. If they are free they will not be bound by any prediction the party may now make, they will be free not to “extend democratic administration to all aspects of social life.”

For “socialism” as for other parts of the party case, when the different statements made are put together they cancel out, the case adds up to nothing. The Party has not been able to show that it knows how “socialism” would operate.

Society finds itself on a dangerous slope. The remedy offered by the “socialist” party is that we should jump over a blind precipice.

from Ideological Commentary 16, January 1985.