Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 11, No. 6. June 3rd, 1948
Where are we Going—and How? — Socialists Stop To Consider
Where are we Going—and How?
Socialists Stop To Consider
The Socialist Club held a meeting on Monday evening May 3rd, to hear three speakers expound their different views on what they held "Socialism" to mean. Unfortunately one speaker was unable to turn up; but Mr. Phil Armstrong, M.Sc., and Mrs. M. Stables. J.P., provided us with a good provocative discussion, ree Sunn" newspaper contains some
Marx and Science
Mr. Armstrong spoke frankly for the Marxian Socialist point of view, which he held to be essentially scientific. The science of society, he claimed, had developed as the natural sciences had developed—by objective observation and experience giving rise to and constantly testing in practice, a definite scientific theory. Thus in Biology Linnaeus observed and noted facts, but it was not until Darwin that a theory of organic development was fully formulated: similarly in the science of society, the Utopians observed the facts, but it was not until Marx that a scientific theory was formulated. Far from being a static dogma. Mr. Armstrong claimed, Marxian Socialism, like any other science, was constantly developing: many of Marx's original theories had already been refuted—some by himself, some by later students like Lenin.
The chief pillars of the Marxian view of the science of society, was the theory that the economic basis was the determining factor in any society. This was inextricably bound up, however, with the "relations of production" that is under capitalism, for example, the relationship between the many who produce, and the few who appropriate the plums. It was anomalous, he said, that under the first form of society in history under which production was social the benefits of production should be in the hands of so few. This was what inevitably bred the "class struggle." the fundamental conflict of interests between producers and owners, proletariat and bourgeoisie.
There were other contradictions in capitalism, Mr. Armstrong maintained, the collision of two or more expanding capitalisms brought war, while, despite the obvious need for goods, production often broke down because too little profit was obtained from it. Like the class struggle, revolution was not a policy of Marxists, but something they inferred by scientific observation. One form of society naturally gives way to an another, with a different economic basis and different productive relations. Such revolutions are always sudden, but not necessarily violent. The transition to Socialism in Eastern Europe today has been a bloodless revolution.
In conclusion, Mr. Armstrong claimed that Marxian Socialists alone took their policies seriously. The declared policies of other political parties, claiming to palliate the evils of capitalism without overthrowing capitalism were illusory. He was certain, however, that Labour "Socialism" was held quite sincerely by such stalwarts as the recently expelled Mr. Platts-Mills and his present amicable opponent Mrs. Stables.
Mrs. Stables said her Socialist ideals had come to her, not from the writings of others, but from personal experience. Early in life she had been struck by the realization that in many aspects something was rotten in the state of society. At that time she found that her convictions coincided with those of a small group of thinkers and workers in her home town who formed a branch of the Social Democrat Party—the core of the present Labour Party. Today, she added, many of her own convictions did not coincide with those of the official Labour Party. For example, she was resolutely opposed to all forms of heresy hunting! (Applause).
"Socialism," she said, "means the collective good of the whole people." This was the declared aim of every socialist party—and any government that claimed to put it into practice but failed even to try were fakes. There she agreed with Mr. Armstrong absolutely. It was quite impossible to have capitalism and socialism at once.
Socialism was "the pathway of the people." That meant it was basically democratic, and must recognize the right of everyone to his own conscience; but surely, she said, the service of the people was the first social duty of everybody. Surely everybody's conscience must tell them that a system keeping the many in want, and the few in abundance was wrong! And that a system giving everyone what they need and a vital part in political, social and industrial life was right. True socialism meant every man giving his best, and in return, never knowing what want was
"We don't want doles and charity," Mrs. Stables said decidedly, "we want life!" and she added. "It's up to you young people to see that you get it."
What advance have we made? Individuals have done something, she said. But it was only collective effort that could save the world—that meant socialism—or it may even, she conceded coyly, mean communism. It was only a matter of labels. What it meant really was the common good of the whole people. And this ideal she claimed had been put into practice to a greater extent in Soviet Russia than anywhere else. (Consternation.) The Labour Government had done more than any other government in this country in that direction.
We must fight, she said, for socialism as the essential condition for the survival of our civilization. Better a heaven on the earth we know than a doubtful one in the sky. Equal opportunity was the chief demand of socialists. The class distinctions of present society were iniquitous, considering that those who were worst off were those who produced the world's wealth with the sweat of their brow.
Discussion on the two talks was lively while it lasted but the idea of supper seemed to loom large in the minds of those present. One question concerned the U.S.S.R. Both speakers had implied that socialism was in construction in that country. If socialism consisted in the control of production by the producers themselves, was Soviet society really socialist? Mr. Armstrong said definitely, yes. He referred to John Reed's "Ten Days that Shook the World." which described the actual seizure of Russian factories by the workers in 1917.
Another member of the audience inquired, "Are not capitalists also producers?" Since they contribute money to society were they not entitled to a share in the benefits of production? Mrs. Stables was equally Definite in her reply, No! The capitalist made his money out of the labour of others. There could be no capital without labour. Capital was an accumulated appropriation from the workers, and represented the balance between the real value of their labour, and the wages they were paid. Capitalists were thus parasites. Labour was better off without them.
Mr. Bertram, one of the club's vice-presidents, made a very bright contribution to the discussion which was evidently lagging. He started by telling us two jokes of doubtful connection with the subject in hand. He ended by declaring that Socialism was not so much what to aim at, as how-to get there. The old school, the gradualist social democrats, knew where they were going, but had a very small chance of ever getting there. The Communists had a most realistic idea about how to get there—but would it be socialism when they got there?
This provocative remark had its desired effect in stimulating some heated discussion—for about half a minute, when Mr. Brian Bell, obviously almost faint with hunger, introduced a hasty vote of thanks to the speakers, the time being 9.50, and suggested that we repair to the cafe for supper.