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Harry McShane

Talking About Socialism

Realm of Freedom

(April 1978)

From Socialist Review, No.1, April 1978, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Socialism is seen, and rightly so, as the complete negation of the social order that has dominated the world for many generations of mankind. It is true, as one reactionary politician has said, that Socialism would change our way of life. That is what makes the struggle worthwhile. No greater transformation of the conditions of life has been conceived of as a possible achievement of man himself. The movement to bring that change into being stands out in opposition to the economists and top politicians now engaged in futile efforts to make capitalism work. The pretence, made by some of them, that their efforts are in line with the ultimate aims of our movement makes it necessary that the revolutionary character of socialism be openly proclaimed.

It is becoming increasingly evident that we are living in a world of conflict inseparable from the existing social order. The opponents of Socialism must shut out the thought that revolutionary change is necessary if man is to extricate himself from the overwhelming conditions of conflict and start on the road towards human development. The supporters of capitalism have nothing to offer mankind beyond the continuous existence of a system of society which totters on under the the weight of crises inherent in that very system. We have philosophy, economics and history on our side calling for the surrender of the forces defending capitalism.

Socialism will be possible only when the workers, those who meet the needs of society, decide that they are determined to lay the living conditions of mankind on a new foundation. The whole future of humanity rests on the emergence of the proletariat as the creative force in society.

It was Marx who referred to the class struggle as ‘the immediate driving force of history’ while some of his socialist contemporaries were calling for collaboration between two main classes in capitalist society. His conclusions about the role of the proletariat sprang from his philosophic views confirmed by his analysis of capitalism. Marx lived long enough to find inspiration from the initiative shown by the workers in the Paris Commune of 1871. It is worth noting that Lenin also made many references to the Paris Commune.

Lenin, like Marx, put stress on the need tor initiative ‘from below’. This principle, enunciated by the two revolutionary figures mentioned, is not affected by the fact that Russia turned away from socialism. It is the fact that the workers held power that makes the Russian Revolution an important socialist event. Those of our opponents who see in this approach to socialism evidence that Marxism carries with it the implication of violence are looking in the wrong direction. They shut their minds to a host of events in recent history. Their boasted ‘democracy’ never permits social change of a kind that is fundamental. We are more aware of this today than we were years ago. After Hitler and Pinochet we know that violence has been the savage last resort of counter-revolution against the masses.

Socialism meets the desire for freedom innate in every human being. In 1875, nine years before his death, Marx wrote of ‘the withering away of the state’. He was pointing ahead to a situation in which class division had long since ceased to exist. No other school of thought can possibly visualise a situation of that kind. The class struggle is important and cannot be avoided because it marks the road towards the class-less society. With the end of class oppression the state disappears.

We can play no part in the building of the new society – that privilege must be left to those who come after us. We are in the position to deplore the criminal policy pursued by Stalin and his supporters after the establishment of proletarian power in Russia. But we have no right to imagine that future generations will be less intelligent than we are. What a thought that is!

It is possible, however, to see with Marx, the obstacles to human development under capitalism and to visualise human progress once they cease to exist. The veil can be lifted in that way. Our absorption in the class struggle makes it difficult for opponents to charge us with possessing Utopian tendencies. It was Marx who wrote in the Grundrisse when referring to production when capitalist conditions have gone ‘The measure of wealth will no longer be labour time, but leisure time.’ Marx elsewhere referred to socialism as ‘the realm of freedom’. He looked forward to the ending of the division between mental and physical labour, which he saw as the reduction of the worker to ‘a fragment of a man’. Instead of labour-power being sold as a commodity he saw production being carried on by ‘freely associated labour’. Marx was so aware of the debasement of man as being inseparable from capitalism that he could hardly avoid giving thought to what would happen once creative labour replaced production for profit. His philosophy of man actuated Marx throughout his life.

This view of socialism is far from discarding political activity, but there is more to politics than what happens in Parliament. Issues like wages, unemployment and the war danger become of much greater political importance as time passes. The economic crisis has brought many matters of importance into political discussion.

Parliament has lost much of its prestige but its control over the forces of law and order, the armed forces, education and a, number of other services means that it cannot be ignored. It is possible to forget the fact that the full picture of what is happening is concealed from the public, and even Members of Parliament. One could take up a great amount of space on Parliament and the forces hidden behind the scene, but it is only intended here to emphasise the political potentialities of the working class. There have been examples of political pressure being used by certain sections of the working class. One of the great obstacles to the extension of industrial action is the close relationship between top trade union leaders and the Cabinet. Solidarity in the working class as a whole, coming from below, is an urgent necessity if we are to further the cause of Socialism.

Socialist leadership, devoid of elitist tendencies, is a vital necessity. Courage and determination is required, but it is also necessary that everything possible be done towards spreading theoretical knowledge among as many workers as possible. The greater the theoretical understanding the greater will be our confidence in victory over the class enemy. Greater vigour must be shown in this field. The concept of motion which Marx took from Hegel and detected in the world of human beings, if seen and grasped, will strengthen our faith in the certainty of victory by the working class and the establishment of Socialism.

Harry McShane: No Mean Fighter by Harry McShane and Joan Smith will he published in May by Pluto Press. Price £2.95.

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