Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) Socialist Education Series - Marx's Conception of Socialism.


A similar lecture to the one published here was given in December 1982 by Edgar Hardcastle, known as Hardy who was expelled for continuing to use the full name of the Party along with other Socialists in May 1991, and appeared in the SOCIALIST STANDARD of July and August 1983.

The idea to publish the lecture was not the speaker’s and Hardy believed it to be wholly inappropriate. A Socialist journal is a propaganda organ trying to persuade workers to understand why capitalism cannot solve the problems of the working class and society generally and why therefore, establishing Socialism is a necessity.

Until the working class have been convinced of the necessity for Socialism it seems that inviting them to be attracted to the Socialist case against capitalism by speculation about the advantages of Socialist society is (a) out of place and (b) these speculative views of Socialism have not been adopted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Most utopias bear the hall-mark of their author; idealistic in the case of William Morris, authoritarian in the case of James Bellamy and others. The Socialist case, if it is anything, is certainly not utopian.

The Lecture notes from which this paper derives is dated 1989. We have taken the opportunity to update one or two of the statistics given.

Hardy gave the notes of his lectures to the reconstituted SPGB and these have been published in SOCIALSIT STUDIES or on the web site since his death. There is about another 30 to publish.

Scope and warning about Marx and Engels

Although the title is Marx’s Conception of Socialism some of the views of Engels have been considered as well.

However, it will be useful right at the beginning to make one important reservation.

While we are naturally interested in what Marx and Engels had to say, particularly the materialist conception of history, the political concept of the class struggle and the Labour Theory of Value, several of the ideas they expressed during their political life are not as coherent to the SPGB’s own clear conception of Socialism-free access, no nation states, production for use, administration of things not people, no classes and no wages system. This is not to say that Marx and Engels did not share these ideas but that the SPGB drew upon their ideas and established a political view of its own which is still valid and sound today.

What we have in mind is that some problems that Marx and Engels considered and for which they offered solutions do not exist for us at all because unlike Marx and Engels the SPGB rejects the possibility of attempting to establish Socialism, prematurely, that is before the workers are ready for it.

Marx and Engels sometimes admitted that they were assuming premature seizure of power and on other occasions that is in fact what they were doing without saying so. They were sometimes seeking solutions to problems which could only arise because of the premature seizure of power. Consequently the solutions they proposed for these problems offer no guidelines for socialists today.

The Early Marx and Engels: Armed Revolt

Of course, during their lifetime, and as they gained more knowledge and experience, Marx and Engels abandoned old policies and adopted new ones.

It is useful to recall those early policies because some parts of them have lingered on and still cloud the minds of workers.

There are some Left wing political groups who slavishly follow what Marx and Engels said in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO of 1848 ignoring what they later wrote under different social and political conditions.

The SWP, for example, have armed revolt and direct action as a central political objective. This is in contradistinction to what Engels stressed at the end of his life in the preface to the CLASS STRUGGLES IN FRANCE 1848-1850:

If conditions have changed in the case of war between nations, this is no less true in the case of the class struggle. The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of masses lacking consciousness is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in on it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are fighting for, body and soul.

The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required, and it is just this work that we are now pursuing, and with a success which drives the enemy to despair.

Summary of Marx and Engels’s Theory of Socialist Revolution in 1857

In their early days the belief of Marx and Engels about how Socialism would come about was this: capitalism would run into a big economic crisis, the poverty stricken workers would rise in revolt, there would be organised armed revolt and seizure of political power and then we would have Socialism.

Here is an extract from a letter written by Engels to Marx when they considered a severe industrial crisis was about to break.

In 1848 we said “now our time is coming-and in a certain sense it came, but now it is coming altogether, and it will be a fight for life. This makes my military studies more practical at once” (15th November 1857).

Engels went on to say that he was busily studying military tactics.

This letter has its amusing side for in the same letter and continuing the same sentence Engels wrote: “I am instantly throwing myself into the existing organisation and elementary tactics of the Prussian, Austrian, Bavarian and French armies, and beyond that nothing but riding, that is fox-hunting which is the real school” (loc cit).

This picture of Engels learning how to defeat the European armies in battle by sitting on a horse chasing foxes surely brings him into line with the Duke of Wellington with his famous statement that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton –especially as many of the youths at Eton were just as enthusiastic about fox-hunting as Engels was.

In 1857 the ruling class who rode with Engels in the Cheshire Hunt would have used fox-hunting tactics to beat Engels’s army of workers inexperienced in military matters. The failure of the French revolutions in 1830, 1848 and 1871 is sufficient proof to support the assertion that armed revolts by the working class lead only to firing squads.

Engels on Bourgeois Workers.

It is interesting to note how Engels explained away the failure of the revolution to happen in 1858.

He wrote to Marx:

The English proletariat is becoming more and more bourgeois” (8th October 1858).

Ten years later in another letter to Marx (18th November 1868). Engels was furious that when the town workers got the vote the textile workers in Lancashire voted predominately Conservative.

He then went on to say of the British workers:

Everywhere the proletariat are the rag, tag and bobtail of the official parties, and if any party has gained additional strength from the new voters it is the TORIES”.

We can ask the question; are such workers good material for Socialism? If it is asked whether workers with such a political outlook is good material to establish Socialism the Socialist Party of Great Britain says “NO”!

But Marx gave a different answer.

In 1875 in his CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME OF THE GERMAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY, Marx devised a two-stage programme, what he called a lower stage of Communism and a higher, complete stage.

The Gotha Programme –Bourgeois Outlook of the Workers.

The main case Marx made in THE GOTHA PROGRAMME was the unreadiness of the workers to understand and establish socialism. In the lower phase there would still be workers with “a narrow bourgeois outlook”. There would still be “slavish subordination of the individual to the yoke of the division of labour”. There would still be “the distinction between mental and physical work”. Labour would still be regarded “as the means to live”.

Marx summed it up in the statement:

in every aspect, economically, morally, intellectually “society is stale” afflicted with congenital defects of the society from which it has sprung”.

To all intents and purposes this is a description of capitalism not socialism.

To find an analogy we would say that Marx is not here describing the outlook of convinced Socialists, but the outlook of the great majority of non-socialist trade unionists.

Labour Vouchers.

Marx’s solution to the problem of how the products of industry will be made available to the people during the “early phase of Communism” was a system of “Labour vouchers”.

Each worker would get a voucher certifying that he had done such and such a quantity of work measured not only by the number of hours worked but also by size of the output.

This is because Marx specifically says that the vouchers will “take into the duration and intensity of the labour”.

And as Marx discovered, “one person is physically or mentally superior to another, and therefore do more work in a certain time” (page 8, column 2).

The consequence of this system would be, as Marx admits, that some workers would be on a higher standard of living than others. Either because they have earned vouchers of a larger amount, or because: “one workman is married, another unmarried, one has more children than another; and so on”.

The question arises as to how the Socialist Party of Great Britain would deal with the problems arising in the early stages when “free access” is impossible in the full sense.

We are not contemplating socialists gaining political control while there were a large number of workers “with a narrow bourgeois outlook”.

There is no need or merit in a system of labour vouchers. Given a large majority of the population understanding and accepting the Socialist view, and aware of the realities of the production situation, what more is necessary than to rely on individuals to restrict their consumption accordingly. If it meant having some individuals who behave anti-socially, a socialist society could and would put up with it.

Premature Seizure of Power: Dictatorship of the Proletariat..

There is another aspect of premature seizure of power that needs to be considered.

In the critique of THE GOTHA PROGRAMME in 1875 Marx laid down that the lower phase of Communism would require political direction which had to be “the revolutionary dictatorship of the Proletariat”.

Marx and Engels both spoke against the premature conquest of power –premature because conditions for the establishment of Socialism were not there –but both of them were at times prepared to accept this political doctrine.

Marx wrote an article in the late 1840’s in which he dealt with the doctrine of premature conquest of political power. It was an attack on a man named Karl Heinzen and was published under the title “Moralising Criticism and Critical morality: A Contribution to German Cultural History contra Karl Heinzen” (SELECTED ESSAYS BY KARL MARX, Leonard Purses, 1926, page 197).

In it Marx agreed that if the Proletariat overthrew the political rule of the bourgeoisie before the material conditions for the abolition of capitalism existed, that proletarian victory could only be temporary. It could be, “only an episode in the bourgeois revolution”.

Marx illustrated his argument from the French Revolution. He treated as a proletarian seizure of power, the Reign of Terror which he also calls “the bloody action of the people”. But he justified the Reign of Terror which in his words, was only an episode in the service of the bourgeois revolution, on the grounds that it speeded up the actions of the bourgeois revolution. If it had not happened, said Marx, it would have taken many years for the bourgeois to complete their victory.

Incidentally, if you apply Marx’s argument to the seizure of power in Russia in 1917 by the Bolsheviks, things worked out differently.

What happened in Russia was this; the Party under Lenin and Trotsky, which had seized power prematurely in the name of the Proletariat, carried out a capitalist revolution and held power by force in capitalist Russia for many decades.

Engels dealt with the premature seizure of power in a letter to Bebel dated 24th October 1891.

Among other things Engels also referred to the French revolution. Engels, like Marx, said he was against a premature seizure of power, but he told Bebel that the German SDP might be forced by a war to take power prematurely.

Engels gave as his reason for taking power prematurely a possible future war between French capitalism and German capitalism. France, Engels said, would “place themselves in the service of the Russian Czar, who is the enemy of the bourgeoisie of the whole Western Europe (which) will be the renunciation of France’s revolutionary mission”.

Engels was correct in that in 1914 France and Germany went to war and Russia was France’s ally. But it is also wised to recall that at the time Britain and France became allies under the Entente Cordiale there were Tory leaders in this country who wanted Britain to line up on the German side.

Result of Premature Power.

Engels said that if the German SDP was forced to take power prematurely they would be faced with deliberate obstruction and would have to use terror against it.

He said:

They will be our chief enemies, they will deceive and betray us whenever they can, and we shall have to use terror against them” (letter to Bebel October 1891 International Publishers 1942)

Engels referred, like Marx, to the reign of Terror in the French Revolution. He called it “The glorious example, France in 1793”. He said the French Revolutions were also faced with obstruction.

Even in the ordinary administration they had to leave the subordinate posts where real work is done in the possession of old reactionaries who obstructed and paralysed everything”.

So who was Engels saying that the German SDP will have to use terror against? It was the “technicians”, people with technical training. In other words, using terror against workers.

He went on to say that given 10 years the German SDP would not be faced with obstruction, because they would have time to recruit to the Party:

young technicians, doctors, lawyers and school-masters”.

Engels confidence in and admiration for the German SPD was quite misplaced.

In 1914 the war against France was supported by a big majority of the SPD membership.

The German SPD entered the government after the war, but the majority of the German workers, including a majority of the SPD membership were quite unready for Socialism.

There was plenty of terrorism but much of it was exercised by the government which included SPD leaders, against dissident members of the SPD.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain differs from Marx and Engels and others in rejecting the premature seizure of power under any circumstances. The SPGB argues that before Socialism can be established there has to exist a Socialist majority understanding socialism and prepared to take conscious political action to establish Socialism.

This difference is brought out when you look at what the German SDP aimed to do when they entered the Government of Germany at the end of World War I. As far as the majority of members of the SDP were concerned the thought of seeking to introduce Socialism as the SPGB understands the term never entered their heads.

Their condition for entering the Provisional government under Prince Max of Baden was a so-called “minimum programme” (LABOUR INTERNATIONAL HANDBOOK 1921 page 266).

The SDP leaders were actually negotiating to establish an alliance of employers and employed; capitalists and workers as though they had identical rather than conflicting class interests.

Their modest combined vote was less than the vote of all the other parties – showing that even their modest reform programme was not backed by the majority of the electorate.

Socialism and the Armed Forces.

We have dealt with the question of premature acquisition of power and said that the Socialist Party of Great Britain rejects ideas like Engels’s advocacy of using terror against sections of the working class.

But their remains a problem that Socialists have to face.

It concerns possible action by people opposed to Socialism.

Clause 6 of the SPGB’s Declaration of Principles states that organised socialists must conquer the powers of government, national and local, in order that the machinery of government, including the armed forces “may be converted from an instrument of oppression into an agent of emancipation”.

The Party is wholly committed to the democratic method of using the vote to gain revolutionary control of Parliament and the local councils which will give such political power to a Socialist majority.

But the question has often been asked whether we envisage a bare majority of the electorate as being sufficient.

Over the years you will find various answers given, ranging from bare majority, to substantial majority, to overwhelming majority.

But these different answers present different realities to be dealt with.

At the bare majority level there will be nearly half the population not prepared to vote for Socialism for one reason or another. This may encourage some minority of determined opponents to take violent action to obstruct Socialism.

At the other extreme of the scale, if Socialists waited until everyone is won over, that is the last Labour Party member, no such problem arises.

If you read early issues of the SOCIALIST STANDARD we think you will find that SPGB members then accepted as a possibility that there might be a violent resistance.

Jack Fitzgerald, in an agreed reply in the SOCIALIST STANDARD for January 1928 stated:

The socialist society, in its first stages may have to maintain a standing army, and it will be the workers then who will determine the question”.

That was the position accepted then by the majority of Party members. They did not contemplate a Socialist majority refraining from taking political action until the whole population of the world, that is the last Labour Party member, had been won over to the Socialist case.

Like Fitzgerald, we do not see how we can say anything else than that it will be for socialists at the time to determine the question. We cannot decide for them whether they will wait for everyone to be won over to Socialism.

Is Enough Produced Already to Make socialism a Practical Alternative to capitalism?

We now come to the question of the need for a Socialist society to increase greatly the volume of production.

Marx made a valid point about Socialism. Fully operational Socialism, with its principle of “from each according to ability to each according to his needs”, what we call “free access” to what society produces to meet human need, cannot operate immediately after the conquest of political power because the rate of production and the type of production necessary will be too low. Until production has been greatly increased fully operational socialism has to wait.

Marx made the point in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO in 1848 and again in the CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME in 1875 for Socialist society to increase the volume of production.

There were then and there are people now who hold that regards total quantity capitalism already produces enough.

Marx said that these people were mixing up two separate and unrelated issues. The fact that periodically capitalism produces too much for the market does not mean that it produces enough to meet human need.

Marx said that capitalism never had produced enough to meet the needs of the masses “decently and harmoniously” (CAPITAL VOLUME III, p. 302, Kerr edition). It is still true today.

Chiozza Money: “Riches and Poverty”

In its early days the Socialist Party of Great Britain made use of the book “RICHES AND POVERTY” by Chiozza Money, an economist and statistician.

He showed the great gulf between the incomes and accumulated wealth of the rich and poor. He was a Liberal who later joined the Labour Party.

In addition to what he said about inequality, C. Money’s book also showed with abundant examples how inadequate was the production of, clothing, housing, and so on in relation to social need.

He blamed the inefficient way capitalism managed industry and recommended as a solution, Nationalisation not common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Smallness of National Production Now

If you look at the present position you will find that what Chiozza Money found in 1904 is still true today.

The governmental statistical department puts out annual estimates for the amount of national production.

Using estimates of the amount of food and drink. clothing and footwear, health and transport which are produced annually the result can be expressed in market prices. This is of course a crude but best approximation since government statistics conflate the income of directors of companies, like Murdoch and Branson with the working class.

The total in 2004, after deducting income tax and NHI contributions was 752 890 million per annum (ECONOMIC TRENDS July 2006 Office for National Statistics).

It looks a very large amount but when you divide it equally 25.7 million households it gives you an amount per head of £563 per week. If you allow for 4 persons per household it gives a figure of £141 per week per person

There are of course lots of people, the unemployed, pensioners etc getting much less than £141 per head. A single pensioner gets £77.45 per week, a couple get £123.80 per week. A job seeker allowance for someone over 25 is £57.45 a week. The minimum wage for someone over 22 is £5.35 which makes about £187.25 for a 37 hour week.

Even though these figures carry a lot of caveats it will be obvious that volume of production today falls far short of what would be needed for “free access” to be feasible.

Again, it should be recognised that capitalist relations of production act as, what Marx called, “a fetter” on production. It is only when the constraints of class society are removed that production can develop freely according to social need.

Division of National Income and Profits.

This can be looked at from the way in which the total national income is divided between wages, profits and the income of the self-employed.

Income from employment (that is wages and salaries of workers a week) account for nearly two-thirds-63%

Gross trading profits of employers -17%

Self Employed – 20%


It will be seen that company profits do amount to less than a quarter of wages and salaries

The payments to the unemployed and the pensions come out of taxes deducted from unearned income of the capitalist class.

Inequality of income is considerably less than it was when Chiozza. Murray’s book was published in 1904.

What we have said about low total production relates of course to British capitalism. There are several countries in the world where production per head of the population is higher than in Britain.

But in a large majority of the 200 or so countries in the world today it is less and in some countries very much less.

Work and Leisure in Capitalism and Socialism

Marx considered the question of people’s attitude to work and leisure in Socialist society.

He described the situation existing in capitalism as one in which workers were forced to work excessive hours in order that the capitalist class could have all the leisure. Marx wrote:

In capitalist society…leisure time for a privileged class is produced by converting the whole lifetime of the masses into labour time”. (CAPITAL VOLUME 1).

Marx compared the situation under capitalism with what it would be in a socialist society.

Marx made several points.

Firstly, that much labour is spent on occupations which are indispensable to capitalism but “which are themselves superfluous”. These will disappear so that the necessary labour-time will be reduced. Increased productivity will mean shorter hours.

Secondly, that as productivity per worker increases; this also reduces the necessary labour time. More people available again mean shorter working hours.

The present “leisure-class” of non-workers; that is the capitalist class, will be available to work which will reduce average labour-time.

But Marx also pointed out that there is a factor working in the opposite direction. He said that as, under Socialism, the standard of living of the mass of the population would rise “this would necessitate more labour being required”.

Here as elsewhere, Marx did not take the view that as far as total quantity is concerned, enough is already produced to meet the needs of Socialist society.

Lastly, Marx said that when the masses work shorter hours in Socialist society, “the amount of time available for the individual’s free intellectual and social activities will be greater”.

Marx did not see work under Socialism as a necessary evil to be avoided.

Lots of workers re-acting to the work they do under capitalism “in order to get a living”, and to the unpleasant conditions surrounding that work, have supposed that any kind of work is inherently unpleasant and to be avoided if possible.

They have looked on Socialism as a secular paradise in which the aim will be to cut work to the absolute minimum so that leisure time will be greater and greater.

In his criticism of the GOTHA PROGRAMME (page 9) Marx wrote that in the higher phase of Communism, when the narrow bourgeois outlook ha disappeared, labour for the workers would no longer be simply the means to live, but would be “in itself the first of vital needs”.

Other translations from the German to the English are the phrases “the higher want in life” and “prime necessity of life”.

Take Marx’s own life. He spent the best part of it diligently studying capitalism and history in order to produce his major work, CAPITAL.

Can you imagine Marx at the end of his life saying how much happier I would have been rich and be able to enjoy undiluted leisure, and escape all the poverty and drudgery of an émigré.

Which is what in fact do the leisured rich do.

Finding that having nothing to do all day is a shocking bore and they go to great trouble and expense, inventing all sorts of intricate ways of expending their physical and mental energies, in other words, “forms of work”, which they call games or play, or sports or hobbies –such as skiing, hunting, shooting, fishing, mountaineering and so on.

For them the justification of these activities, they hope, is out of reach of the masses and especially that they do not produce anything of value.

Readers of P. G. Woodhouse’s will recall the aptly named Drones Club in London where Bertie Wooster dines:

In the heart of London’s club land there stands a tall and grimly forbidding edifice known to tax-drivers and the elegant young men who frequent its precincts as the Drones Club. Yet its somewhat austere exterior belies the atmosphere of cheerful optimism and bonhomie that prevails within. For here it is that young gallants of Mayfair forgather for the prelunchion bracer and to touch lightly on the topics of the day” (EGGS, BEANS AND CRUMPETS 1940).

P. G. woodhouse did not refer to his fictional club as the Drones Club for nothing. The male of the honey bee does no work but lives off the labour of the worker bees, hence a sluggard, an idler, a parasite, whether genteel or not.

Seventy years ago, the Belgium, Henri de Man, who flirted with every crazed political idea across the capitalist spectrum, made a useful study of the question of leisure.

He remarked on the stupid, empty lives lived by many of the rich, and noted with regret, that it was the ambition of many trade Unionists to be able to ape the rich.

He coined a phrase which went something like this:

The bourgeoisie have become intellectual prostitutes and the workers want to live like them”.

But de Man made a survey of the attitude towards their work of workers in Belgium and Germany. And he said that he was surprised to find now very many workers there still were who in spite of capitalist pressures were able to get intellectual satisfaction out of the work they did, and take pride in it.

It was reported once, for example, that at the Kodak factory in Harrow, the plumbers had erected their intricate working quarter-size models of heating systems made when they were apprentices around the wall of the workshop in which they worked. There was intense pride in the labour of love it took them to produce these models, perhaps a contrast to the often hard and dangerous work they had to do when they finished their apprenticeships.

Look at the time and effort which goes into the work of the steam train enthusiast and the voluntary labour to stoke the tenders, repair the track, maintain the station and drive the train.

Then there is the allotment, where heart breaking toil brings forth so much vegetables that they are just given away to friends, relations and neighbours.

Since Marx’s day there has been a very big reduction in paid working hours, from sixty and more a week to forty and under.

To some extent that increased leisure is being used by workers for what Marx called “intellectual and social activities”. But there has also been another development, the “do-it-yourself” activities

Workers who struggle to reduce their hours of work for their employers, then use their leisure, and appear to get intellectual satisfaction out of it, by doing work themselves –often the same type of work they are paid for.

Another aspect of work on which Marx expressed views was the variety of skills each individual worker would be able to acquire.

He called it society’s escape from “slavish subordination of the individual to the yoke of the division of labour” (GOTHA PROGRAMME, page 9).

He used the amusing illustration of a bourgeois country gentleman, being able to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening and discuss matters of the day after dinner over a fine port (see THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY).

If we translate this amusing way of putting it into the realities of modern techniques and organisation of production it would obviously be an advantage both to the individual and to society if people did acquire more than one intellectual or physical ability and be able to move from one sphere of production or administration of things to another.

Marx on Nation States

Marx had definite views about nation states and their history and their relation to the conquest of political power and the administration of socialist society.

About the conquest of political power he put forward two linked propositions. He said it was for the working class in each country to conduct its own struggle against the capitalist class in that country.

But Marx and Engels, in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, said this:

United action of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat”.

They did not name the civilised countries except that they had in mind European countries and the United States.

We can be certain that they did not at this time include Russia among the civilised countries seeing Russia as a threat both to the development of both capitalism and Socialism.

At its formation The Socialist Party of Great Britain would, we believe, have included also Australia, Canada and New Zealand and perhaps some other developing countries.

In the language of the time the members of the SPGB did not think that Socialism had to wait for the last Hottentot, meaning that the industrialised countries did not have to wait for the industrially backward countries to catch up.

Marx and Engels, in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, envisaged the disappearance of all differences between the countries. They wrote:

national differences, and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing”.

This, they said, was “owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world-market, to uniformity in the mode of production and the conditions of life consequently thereto”.

Much of what they said has been shown to be correct but there are two questions which can be asked. First, can we say a hundred and fifty years later that antagonisms between peoples have vanished?

Secondly, we question Marx’s assumption about “freedom of commerce”. THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO was written at the time when British Capitalism, only because it was the cheapest producer of manufactured goods in the world, was committed to Free trade.

But the world today is full of barriers to the freedom of commerce and Socialism cannot be thought to be dependent on either the movement of Free Trade or Protectionism. Socialism is dependent on a class conscious socialist majority not the particular economic fashion then in vogue between capitalist countries.

Socialist Administration -Centralised or Dispersed?

We are now going to look at forms of administration in Socialism. If you recall, most sketches of administration in a socialist society are speculative and bear the hall mark of the author’s own predilections rather than how future socialists will decide to democratically organise themselves.

The most popular view with authoritarian and bureaucratic minds is the centralised view. The centralised view takes as its model the United Nations. Because there will be a world community of socialists there would be, the advocates of a centralised administration argue, a world centralised administration which will plan everything, everywhere and carry it out irrespective of the views of local people throughout the world.

There are also questions about the relationship between the community and separate industries. The view of the SPGB is that the community democratically decides not self-controlled industries. This does not mean that the voluntary labour within these industries will not have a democratic say in how production takes place; the quality of the environment and health and safety, but it does not mean that they will have sole say of what is produced and for whom.

There will be disagreements and these will have to be dealt with democratically. The experts will also disagree as now, under capitalism, issues over power and choice of power, e.g. nuclear power, coal, oil, gas, electricity, tidal, wind power and solar energy and decisions will have to be made committing labour and resources, but it will be for the community to democratically decide on transparent information, facts and reasonable argument, not the experts or people who work in each industry. The SPGB rejected the “syndicalist” view of administration.

In Socialist society the community will have to take major decisions about the allocation of voluntary labour and finite resources. While production will be much greater than it is now, voluntary labour and resources will not be unlimited.

There are many people whole would like to be able to visit the moon by rocket. The cost in voluntary labour, much of it specialist, and the resources would be enormous, and if allocated to that project, it would mean that labour and resources cannot be allocated to other industries that other people favour.

The community will have to democratically decide between them.

We now come to the question of central versus local administrative organisation.

The advocates of centralisation say that as thee will be one world community sharing a common interest, the decision-making about what shall be produced and where and how it shall be produced will be made by a world central administrative organisation, and they will carry it out. They will make the decisions and what they decide will apply all the way down to local levels.

It is in my view unnecessary, undesirable and impracticable.

The Problem of Size and Complexity

There is first the factor of size and complexity. As organisations become larger –larger in the number of people covered, and larger geographically, its ability to handle centrally all the problems that arise decreases and because they are more remote from local needs their decisions and actions are more likely to be wrong.

We see this instanced in some huge company organisations operating over a large part of the world. The multi-nationals like Royal Dutch, Shell and GEC and others were often formed by amalgamations and takeovers and operate under rigid central direction. But, with experience, they see the need to give greater autonomy to functional and geographical divisions.

Royal Dutch Shell used to have rigid, top-down planning and direction but has dismantled a lot of its rigid hierarchal structure and given greater autonomy to their local boards.

But as regards socialist administration of things there is a more important criteria. And that is that a great majority of people prefer to live in settled communities, by which we mean that, while wanting to visit other places, the centre of their lives is where they live. And they are therefore much more concerned with how they spend their lives locally than they are with more remote communities in other parts of the world.

Historically, and this is particularly true under capitalism, people only migrate elsewhere under pressure. This pressure can be droughts, wars, political oppression, as in the case of Marx, local community violence and of course, unemployment.

These pressures to migrate will disappear in a Socialist society. This does not mean that people will not want to travel and to engage in dialogue, although the internet allows you to do this from the comfort of a bedroom or study. It just is that in our opinion the great majority of people will still be much more concerned with managing local affairs than with more remote problems. And they will not want their local issues to be settled by the dictates of some world administrative organisation. Such a bureaucracy would result in the destruction of much of local institutions.

In my view, therefore, socialist administration will not be decision making by a central world organisation, with people regionally and locally falling into line. Instead people at a regional and local level will just get on with the task of ensuring production meets human needs in what form it takes where they live.

So what use would a world organisation of production and distribution have in a socialist society? There are four areas where a world administration would have a useful role; first, a repository of information about production, transport and communications all over the world; second, a repository of expert technical information; third, that it would arrange co-ordination between surplus products in some areas and deficiencies in other areas; and fourth, they would extend some of the functions already existing at a world level, like health, atomic energy, food and agricultural organisations and so on.

As an example we can turn to the example of the Universal Postal Union. At present they handle three kinds of processes; financial, technical and organisational

The financial question will disappear, i.e. what the different organisations pay each other. Postal authorities in each country meet together and draw up conveyances which, when agreed, they all separately carry out. What the U.P.U does not do is to carry on the postal services themselves. They have no hand in it. But there is now and will continue to be agreement of all the postal services about weights and sizes of what they send abroad.

There is agreement about safety –exclusion of dangerous articles, explosives, poisoned articles and so on. There is agreement about forms of addresses, postal codes and evidence of parcels causing difficulties for workers on sorting work. However, there is no case whatever for the U.P.U to organise and run the services themselves.

Of course, we are making one basic assumption. We do not envisage a socialist world from which all the existing variations between different communities have been stamped out. That is total uniformity –with all people speaking the same language, reading the same books, watching the same television programmes - and other entertainment, providing identical services and so on.

On the contrary, we are assuming that while there will be the same mode of production, in Marx’s meaning of the word, and consequently the same distribution according to need, i.e. free access, the different communities each with their own history, literature and language may well want to preserve their different cultural, environmental and artistic characteristics.

There is also the factor, that for climatic reasons, the form taken by peoples’ needs in different places will continue to be different.


While we are interested in what Marx and Engels had to say about the political revolution from capitalism to socialism, much of it is irreverent to the SPGB because we do not contemplate creating unnecessary problems by the premature seizure of power.

We would add that we ought to remember that our speculations about the Socialist future should be kept in proper perspectives. Let utopias be written by science fiction writers and remember that our main and urgent task is to get workers to understand capitalism and to see the necessity, not just the desirability of abolishing the profit system and establishing Socialism.

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Socialist Studies

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