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History of the SPGB

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Introductory note. Below our comrade Joe R. Hopkins sketches the history of our British companion party, The Socialist Party of Great Britain. For further reading on this topic we recommend the June 2004 issue of The Socialist Standard, which contains a wide range of material, including original documents such as the minutes of the inaugural meeting in 1904 and an education syllabus used by the party in the 1930s and 1940s, an article on the SPGB’s tradition of public speaking, controversies within the party, splinter groups, and personal reminiscences. Also worth reading is Robert Barltrop, The Monument: The Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Copies of the book are now hard to come by, but the text is online here. –SDS

In June 2014, the Socialist Party of Great Britain turned 110 years old:

At the Printers’ Hall, in a little alley off Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, the Inaugural Meeting of the new party was held on 12th June 1904. 1

The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) was brought into existence by a small group of “classical” Marxian socialists who had become disillusioned with what they collectively considered the faux socialist parties that had come to represent the socialist movement of the day. The founders of the SPGB were well aware that all of the self-ascribed socialist parties that they knew of had embraced the policies of reform, were hierarchical in structure, or a party leadership had developed. The SPGB was a revolutionary party and knew from its very beginnings that it was a social revolution that was needed to start the political changes necessary for the emancipation of the working class and that it is impossible to reform the capitalist system to benefit the majority class of workers; that socialism is a classless society and hierarchy is a contradiction to this tenet of equality. As far as leadership is concerned — all of the founders of the SPGB were ultrademocrats who agreed that “only a Party that did not know where it was going would need to be led.”

The Provisional Committee, organizers of the Inaugural Meeting, submitted a proposed set of Party rules and an Object and Declaration of Principles (DoP) to the small band of 142 founder members of the Party. The Party Rules were drawn up in a way that ensured the Party membership was and would remain in control of all of the Party’s affairs. The Party Rules provided for a democratically elected Executive Committee to administer the day by day operation and affairs of the Party — there would be no leadership. All of the Provisional Committee’s proposals were debated and adopted by unanimous vote.

The newly formed Party believed that “the failures of existing organizations were simply the fruits of false theories” and consequently held that “[S]ocialist propaganda had to be based on correct theory backed up by argument and persuasion, and that necessitated a reliance on formal definitions, logic and analysis.”2 The Party quickly undertook arranging the printing and distribution of their official Party organ: the Socialist Standard – Journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

TheSocialist Standard has appeared every month since September 1904, analyzing contem- porary political, economic and social events and expounding aspects of socialist theory such as Marxian economics and the Materialist Conception of History.3

There has been no month in the past 109 years (1,308 months) that the Socialist Standard failed to be printed and distributed; no mean feat during two world wars. There has been no issue of theSocialist Standard printed in the past 109 years (1,308 issues) that failed to display the SPGB’s Object and Declaration of Principles between its covers.

The Object and Declaration of Principles is an historical document that has remained unchanged since it was first adopted. The Object and DoP is far from expressing a comprehensive overview of the SPGB’s outlook and position on all things social and political, but it does, in legalistically precise language, give the basic outline of the SPGB’s theory of practical revolution. It is as follows:

This declaration is the basis of our organisation and, because it is also an important historical document dating from the formation of the party in 1904, its original language has been retained.


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles

The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds: 

1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (i.e., land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess. 

3. That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into the common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people. 

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex. 

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to 
conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organize consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic. 

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party. 

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom. 

One point of distinction is that the Object refers to socialism as a “system of society.” Elsewhere the SPGB explains that “a system of society alludes to the sum total of human relationships.”4

In addition to using the Socialist Standard to promote socialist values and principles, the Party grew in influence through its use of soapbox oratory. Many members interested in becoming public speakers for the Party attended speaking events given by experienced Party speakers — often held in Hyde Park, London — to get a “feel” for addressing gatherings that ranged in size from a few interested passers-by to crowds that numbered in the hundreds. The right to meet and speak freely in Hyde Park was enshrined in the Parks Regulation Act of 1872. Between 1885 and 1939 there were around 100 open-air meetings every week in London alone.5 As a collective, the Party developed a “Speaker’s Test” to instill confidence that the speaker would be up to the task of promoting the case for socialism with the utmost fidelity to the SPGB “platform.”

[T]he Socialist Party [as the SPGB often refers to itself] is particularly proud of the fact that one of the things we have succeeded in doing over the past 100 years [now 109 years] has been to keep alive the original idea of what a Socialist society was to be — a classless, stateless, frontierless, wageless, moneyless society, to define it somewhat negatively, or more positively, a world community in which the natural and industrial resources of the planet will have become the common heritage of all humanity, a democratic society in which free and equal men and women co-operate to produce the things they need to live and enjoy life and to which they have free access in accordance with the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”6

The broad description of socialist society given above — listing some of the main principled features necessary to create a socialist society within classical Marxian logic — does not provide detailed minutiae on social institutions, such as schools or law, etc. that will emerge diachronically through the transformation and development of the new social formation for good reason. The SPGB has expressed no interest in “writing recipes for the cook-books of the future.” In the words of Edward Shils, a man of like mind with Georges Sorel, writing in 1950:

Socialism has become an unthought-out assumption, a collection of economic recipes and a nagging critique, from a distance, of existing institutions.7

The above is still the position and condition of thought held by some organizations and smaller more unstructured groupings over 60 years later — more than 20 years after the Soviet Union, with its planned economy, collapsed and disintegrated. It is impossible to foretell exactly what a socialist society will look like. The SPGB does not take upon itself the task of drawing a picture of the future society — not being a vanguard party; Marx explained in The German Ideology that socialism is “not a state of affairswhich is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself … [but] the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”8

The SPGB has held closely to that particular strand of classical socialist tradition established by Marx for over a century and managed to avoid becoming an ossified organization unable to accommodate and respond to changing political and material conditions. The Party continues to generate novel and surprising contributions to socialist theory on practical matters such as those dealing with global production and distribution, social administration and “economics” in a moneyless, wageless world. As science and technology advance, the SPGB has been able to syntonize these new developments within its socialist analysis, resulting in modern solutions to both old questions and new problems as they arise — such as global heating — that keeps the Party contemporary and relevant.

To address the approaching global heating catastrophe, the SPGB in 2008 printed An Inconvenient Question? — a booklet explaining the Party’s views on global heating. History had clearly shown the SPGB that action organized from the “top-down” would be worse than useless on this issue. Pressure groups, lobbyists, NGOs, especially governments, are founded on the “for-profit” system of production and could only try to reform that system rather than abandon it as the health of the planet required at this point. What followed from the “Stockholm Conference” shows the futility of “top-down” action. In 1972

A conference took place in Stockholm which discussed two groups of environmental issues. The first group was social and economic dimensions…
There followed various conferences, usually resulting in declarations or agreements on a limited scale. An example is the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1987 between Canada, Mexico and the US. But as John Bellamy Foster has pointed out, “…the primary purpose … was to promote accumulation, not ecological sustainability” (The Vulnerable Planet, 1994, p. 132).9

Here J.B. Foster and the SPGB certainly seem to share similar views. Marx’s views on the relation between natural processes and forms of production have been subject over the years to a variety of distortions and misunderstandings, coming from both Right and Left:

Karl Marx, unquestionably a “red” in ideas if not in name, never laid claim to being “red and green,“ even though he was well aware that capitalism harmed nature as well as the working class. Some of the numerous writers on Marx and Marxism disagree on what might be called his green credentials. The title of Paul Burkett’s (1999) book, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective, makes it clear where Marx stood on the issue. Burkett defends Marx against critics who claim that he favoured human domination over nature and that he down- graded the contribution of nature to production. Burkett, in paraphrasing Marx, “insists that production as both a social and a natural process is shaped and constrained by natural conditions, including, of course, the natural condition of human bodily existence.”10

What’s Wrong With Using Parliament?11

When the Socialist Party puts up a candidate to contest an election, as it often does, it is surprisingly commonplace for the crowd listening to the candidate to hear from the podium the campaign announcement that the SPGB wants votes only from those who understand what socialism means and have decided that they want to live in a socialist society. This announcement is such a commonplace for the simple reason that a review of historical social movements — especially of a political character — reveals with a law-like statistical regularity that the seeds borne in and by the tactics used will invariably germinate in the telos, or put another way, the path traversed is accumulated in the result. This is the logic of practice — it is also the karyotype of an informed socialist democracy and a hallmark of the SPGB.

The transformation of an existing socioeconomic formation cannot be accomplished by forcibly changing property relations among classes of people or legally changing social relations through written and impersonal laws. These changes should occur organically from the bottom up; the rise in class consciousness is one of the first steps toward a socialist revolution. Election results from a race contested by an SPGB candidate is one way to keep a finger on the pulse of a population’s class consciousness.

Is Socialism Utopian?

Is the Marxian theory and project of revolutionary social change utopian? Is the SPGB an utopian political party?

We’ll investigate these two questions together, as Marx’s ideas and theories are, mutatis mutandis, seminal — if not foundational — to the SPGB’s praxis. The method of grasping the truth adopted by many materialists is dialectics; dialectics entails “a reliance on formal definitions, logic and analysis.” In this sense the SPGB’s argument of the case for socialism is certainly dialectical. Utopia and socialism have at least one prima facie similarity: utopia, the New Latin word derived from the Greek words ou “not” plus topos “a place,” is usually translated as “no place” and has been established in exactly “no place” — the same holds true so far for socialism.

In common everyday language, the words “utopia” and “utopian” are used to describe what is impossible or unrealizable — an impossible dream. When something is said to be impossible or unrealizable, it begs the question: is this conceivable goal impossible within the particular historical conditions that presently obtain, or is it impossible in principle under any conditions?

A History of Nowhere

The origin of the idea “utopia” is usually traced to Plato’s The Republic. Plato was born an aristocrat12 who from his social vantage point took a critical view of social reality. Possibly the most important aspect of The Republic is Plato’s relegation of the pervasive myths that had deep roots in Greek culture and the social psyche from their rôle as explanatory elements by substituting rational knowledge in their stead. Plato represents the theorist melded with the practitioner; he was not satisfied by contemplation of the suprasensuous world; he drew new ideals from that world in order to transpose them onto the old reality. Plato considered himself engaged in a practical political project, as evidenced by his efforts to persuade rulers of his day to reorder the extant society along the lines he had drawn in The Republic. For Plato the root of evil is ignorance. It seems that Plato developed the gnosis of the ontological, philosophical, epistemological and practical principles that supported his “Republic” in contradistinction to the evil of ignorance; and in so doing developed the intellectual infrastructure that would become the basis for many later Utopian thinkers and their projects. Plato’s was a vision of the world as it should be according to the truth.

Over 1,800 years would pass before Thomas More, inspired by Plato’s principles of the perfect state, would invent the strange word “utopia.”13

More inherited, through a close reading of Plato’s works (particularly The Republic) the principles necessary for understanding the “big picture” of social reality that are most important for utopia: the dichotomy of two worlds; that building the perfect state must be done according to the principles of “reason”; the determining rôle of theoretical knowledge in ordering the world; and the dominion of ideas in the world. It seems, however, that More’s understanding of these principles underwent a significant shift toward bringing them out of the metaphysical and down to earth. In his book, Utopia, More pruned away the extraworldly, immaterial and absolutely transcendent characteristics of Plato’s “higher” world by bringing these opposite worlds onto the same plane. Thus, metaphysical dualism is replaced by a dualism of values. This is the genesis of the degeneration of “utopia” and “utopian” into utopianism; utopianism is the “transformed form”14of utopia.

Utopianism may be considered an unintended product of utopia; utopianism perhaps finds its most fertile soil in the populism of a massified society which remains unaware of or indifferent to the intentions of the creators of utopia. Utopia gradually transmogrifies into utopianism as practical materialism in which ideal absolute values become practical goals. S.I. Gessen describes this process of the substitution of goals for values as the substitution of illusory goals for “goal tasks.” Values define the vector of movement and its meaning but cannot themselves be goals because they are protean — fluid and insubstantial — and therefore inexhaustible, consequently, unattainable.15 Under utopianism, utopia becomes inverted so that the basic postulates of utopia are expressed in a “transformed form” and the signs are reversed; as in George Orwell’s 1984; freedom turns into its opposite, unfreedom (or slavery); equality into a hierarchical caste system — much the same as liberal bourgeois democracy today in the USA and other bastions of liberal democracy the world over — war is economic competition by other means, and economics is war; and the Ministry of Love is a torture chamber.

The idea of utopia is perhaps one of the most powerful tools of analytical criticism socialists have. Wielded aright, utopia does not aim at intuiting the future but offers radical, revolutionary solutions to existing problems, entailing the uprooting of social evil in all its guises. In a world where ideology provides an apologia or justification for current reality, utopia formulates the demand for revolutionary fundamental change of the current reality. It is not unreasonable to agree with Anatole France that “Utopia is a principle of all progress. Without the utopians of the distant past, people would still be living a miserable life in the caves.”16 Alphonse de Lamartine wrote, “Utopia often turns out to be only truths given premature expression.”17

“Where no anticipating utopia opens up possibilities we find a stagnant, sterile present … The present, for men who have no utopia … quickly falls back into the past, for the present can be fully alive only in tension between past and future. This is the fruitfulness of utopia — its ability to open up possibilities.”18

Marx’s “scientific socialism” was distinct from the Utopian socialisms of the 19th Century in providing a logical, rational, historically grounded basis for socialism, thus relegating the limited “ethical” appeal from that position. Strictly speaking, due to the immature state of the means of production during the time Marx was writing, “free access” and other aspects of scientific socialism may have been utopian in the “common everyday language” sense of the word. That is no longer the state of affairs, as will be shown.

The Utopianism of Socialist Planning and the Self-Regulating Market — How the “Economic Calculation” Resolved a Crisis for Socialism

The SPGB’s commitment to “central planning” had never been total even though the SPGB had never once in the Socialist Standard or any of its pamphlets given any indication that it thought Marx and Engels were mistaken in some of their statements on the matter of central planning or that central planning was not an essential feature of socialism.19

It is probably the state-based socialism (what the SPGB refers to as “state capitalism”) of the Soviet Union that caused the SPGB to focus more sharply on what rôle planning in a socialist society might play. The central control of Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” that drove the forced industrialization of the 1930s had come under steady criticism from Liberals and anti-socialists in the West. The SPGB was quick to note the bureaucratic structure that central planning was generating in practice. This hierarchical political cum social relation is anathema to the SPGB’s classical tenets of Marxian socialism.

The SPGB had never embraced the idea of central democracy. Central planning, however, had become the favored, if not the only, socialist alternative to the market, and had become something akin to dogma in socialist theory, not least because both Marx and Engels had promoted the idea, after rejecting the idea of labor-time vouchers (as they would preserve Marx’s law of value were they to find their way into circulation).

The Socialist Standard received a letter from a correspondent in Clapham signed D.G.D. that asked:

When you have convinced the working class of the futility, as far as they are concerned, of the present system and have got them to accept the principles of socialism … my question is this: what form of organization will you set up to run the country? Will it be based on a Central Government, or on local government, or on a sectional basis?

The SPGB responded in their official journal that:

Our correspondent’s difficulty is one which troubles many who are sympathetically disposed towards Socialism but who feel that some definite plan is required … This is a mistaken view … [T]he inauguration of Socialism implies (as our correspondent recognises) the support and understanding of the majority of the population. [Figuratively, the 99 per cent] … As far as the machinery of organisation and administration is concerned, it will be local, regional, national and international, evolving out of existing forms … [D]oubtless with the utmost variety of modifications to meet local needs in the different continents.

To those who think of the problem against the present background of property interests and national rivalries this presents overwhelming difficulties. To the Socialist, who sees that with the abolition of the capitalist basis the urge towards co-operation is released from its present imprisonment, the problems of Socialism fall into their proper perspective.20

It was then, in 1939, that the SPGB showed for the first time its willingness to distance itself from a commitment to central planning which had till then dominated socialist thinking about an allocative system that could replace the market in post-capitalist, i.e., socialist society.

Opponents of the SPGB, and some members alike, wanted the SPGB to be much more specific in expressing its ideas of what life in socialism would realistically be like; how would it differ from capitalism, and most importantly, what rôle planning and central control would play in the new socialist society.

The anti-planning free marketeers of the libertarian right showed themselves to be the most persistent critics on the issue of whether or not the classical Marxian conception of a moneyless, wageless, marketless, free-access socialism was “impossible in principle under any conditions.” Their attack came to be known as the “economic calculation” argument.

Market economy implies a self-regulating system of markets; in slightly more technical terms, it is an economy directed by market prices and nothing but market prices. Such a system capable of organizing the whole of economic life without outside help or interference would certainly deserve to be called self-regulating … No less a thinker than Adam Smith suggested that the division of labor in society was dependent upon the existence of markets, or, as he put it, upon man’s “propensity21 to barter, truck and exchange one thing for another.” This phrase was later to yield the concept of the economic man. In retrospect it can be said that no misreading of the past ever proved more prophetic of the future. For while up to Adam Smith’s time that propensity had hardly shown up on a considerable scale in the life of any observed community, and had remained, at best, a subordinate feature of economic life, a hundred years later an industrial system was in full swing over the major part of the planet, which, practically and theoretically, implied that the human race was swayed in all its economic activities, if not also in its political, intellectual and spiritual pursuits, by that one particular propensity (my emphasis).22

The “economic calculation” was developed by a number of bourgeois economists who were generally not convinced by the “human nature” argument against non-market socialism that Adam Smith’s assertion carried within it. The economic calculation was first expressed in a recognizable form in 1854 by H.H. Gossen, who claimed that socialist planning would run into difficulties because “only under private property can the measure be found for placing a value on goods. Therefore [non-market] socialists would find that they had taken upon themselves a task to which they were not adequate.”23

In his 1920 work, Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, Ludwig von Mises developed and advanced the economic calculation argument considerably. In this work Mises claimed that not only society as a whole needs to know its net income but that it was vital that each unit
 of production know theirs as well. Calculation of this sort, Mises asserted, would be impossible without prices and money, and in addition to being in the dark as to net income, a society without exchange and markets would be incapable of performing a whole series of calculations that are necessary in any advanced social organization. Most important among these, Mises asserted, would be the ability to allocate resources, particularly factors of production, as efficiently as possible. Due to a moneyless society’s inability to reduce the factors of production to a common denominator, socialism would have no mechanism for deciding through the medium of the plan whether it would be more efficient to use one resource or another in the manufacture of a product or even if that product should be manufactured at all.

When the “economic calculation” argument was brought up against the SPGB in the 1970s and 1980s by the libertarian free marketeers, the libertarians made the claim in their journal that because the SPGB kept to their classical Marxian position by refusing to acknowledge the validity of the economic calculation, and continued to advocate for a marketless future without money or prices, the SPGB constituted the “last Socialist Party.”24

Perhaps the fiercest and most adamant critic of the SPGB on the economic calculation argument during this period was David Ramsay Steele. Steele was an ex-SPGB member who had left the Party under the thrall of the economic calculation argument’s influence in the early 1970s.

In an “open letter” to the Guildford Branch of the SPGB dated 27 July 1982, Steele claimed, using the argument Mises advanced in his book of 1920, that decision makers in any advanced industrial society needed to compare millions of different factors used in production in terms of a common unit of value involving millions of simultaneous calculations, to decide which factor would be most economical and efficient. Steele’s example to illustrate his point was that “if a consumer good X could be made with either A+2B or 2A+B (where A+B are both factors such as kilowatt-hours of electricity, gallons of oil or tons of steel), then a choice has to be made about the relative efficiency between two technically possible methods of production. This would involve ascertaining which one used up the least resources and therefore left the most over for other uses. Unless a calculation is made to find out which of the two factors is worth more, a sensible choice cannot be made.”

Steele’s open letter had implied that the scheme of central planning had been substituted for the market and market signals. In 1939 the SPGB had made it explicit that they were not committed to a central plan — but had not rejected the idea of “central planning” outright. Was this perhaps because they had not figured out an alternative? It was clear to all concerned that if the economic calculation argument was correct socialism was in trouble.

The Guildford Branch had organized a number of debates with notable free marketeers through the 1970s and 1980s and had sought to focus the Party’s attention on the issue of central planning. Guildford knew the Party needed to move away from the idea that a priori plans could coordinate massive socialist production. Guildford said as much in their pamphlet, Is “central planning” compatible with socialism?

Guildford Branch, with others of the SPGB, developed the idea of replacing the common unit value analysis of bourgeois economics by the organic “natural calculation” or calculation in kind.

In October 1982 Guildford printed the pamphlet The Practical Nature of Socialism, which explains how natural calculation obviates Marx’s law of value:

…it is perfectly possible to calculate “costs” without resorting to prices, and this is done all the time today: how much energy does this process consume per unit of output compared with another; which strain of wheat yields greater output; does this product use up more of a particular resource spread over the lifetime of the product than a comparable product; is the productivity of workers sorting mail use more or less in the case of automatic sorting, taking into account the labour embodied in the machinery used.25

It is probably no coincidence that directly after the October 1982 printing of The Practical Nature of Socialism, the Autumn Delegate Meeting 1982 passed the following resolution:

ADM recommends the EC [Executive Committee] to call for nominations for a committee to prepare a report on positive statements which the Party can make on the organisation of production for use. This report should be available for Branches to consider before Conference 1983.

The 1982 EC set up a committee of five members, and accordingly they submitted a report titled Positive Statements that the Party can make on the Organisation of Production for Use in February 1983 — well in time for Branches to consider before Conference 1983. The report is a four-section document set up as follows:

Section 1 – Socialism and Democracy 

Section 2 – Some Advantages of Production for Use

a. Change in the social form of labour 

b. More people available for useful production 

c. Greater use of production methods 

d. Wider selection of production methods 

e. The world as one productive unit 

Section 3 – Some “Problems” of Socialism

a. Some problems of adapting production 

b. “Self-determined activity” and social production 

c. Socialism and balance of world production 

d. The problem of initial scarcity

Section 4 – A Particular Problem – World Hunger

The only part of the Report for Use (as it is commonly called) presented here is Section 3c. The entire Report on the Organisation of Production for Use is available from the SPGB website.26

3c – Socialism and Balance of World Production

We have stressed the merits of local production and the provision of local services according to local needs and local work preferences, but in doing so we have not suggested that there can be complete local autonomy in either field. Such local activities would rest in part on the extension of world production to the local community. The organisation of world production under Capitalism has been generally structured according to the law of value which governs the accumulation of capital. Both nationally and internationally, there is “anarchy of production.” Production decisions are taken and processes set up, as a result of profit motivated initiatives, which are opportunistic in relation to shifting market capacities, competitive, and therefore separate from each other.
In time of “boom,” Capital enters into a phase of expansion. Inevitably, disproportionate expansion of production takes place in particular segments of total production which results in over-supply in relation to the market. This results in varying degrees of dislocation as its effects spread and cutbacks take place throughout the world capitalist economy. These alternate phases of expansion and contraction are “normal” to Capitalist production.

With Socialism we will establish conscious democratic control of production for need. This will require a method for maintaining the different parts of world production in reasonable balance.
This is not to suggest that any system of production, where finished items of wealth are the result of additions of labour diffused throughout the world, can be maintained, with the output of each process in perfect balance, nor is such perfect balance of world production necessary. In a system of production for need, Socialism could overproduce in particular parts of total production without the dislocating effects which result from this under Capitalism. In fact, such oversupply of, say, particular component parts of manufactured items, would simply be held as reserve stocks, to be drawn upon as the need arose.

However, some technique of general stock control would need to be applied so as to maintain total production in approximate balance.
There are generally two facilities necessary for social organisation, which are control of information and communication. It is important to stress that the types of information which Socialism will need to communicate are simpler than the types of information which are vital to commodity production. Socialism will dispense with the economic categories, the cost pricing factors and efficiencies of input and output values which govern the sale possibilities and exchange relationships of commodities in the markets. The types of information which production for use will be required to communicate will centre on physical quantities. The basic data will arise from quantity analysis of things. Production for use will resolve itself as quantities of productive activity in relation to quantified needs.

Having established, for example, the need for a given quantity of manufactured items, every element of those goods can be analysed and quantified as component parts, materials, and requirements of transport, which link the production of all these elements in different locations, and distribute them to places of consumption.

An adequate analytical tool is the input-output table. This is a table which breaks down the quantities of final products (outputs) into quantities of components and materials (inputs) and represents the combinations of relationships in permutations of simple forms. Thus, the input- output table can be a schematised representation of social production providing simple insights into particular parts of a complex and integrated whole. Such an input-output table enables the effect of an increase of one item on the total relationship of parts, to be closely monitored.

The control of this information and its universal communication is an ideal application for a distributed network of information systems. An article in the December 1981 Socialist Standard, “The Socialist Breakfast,” stated: 

The network will hold a four dimensional mapping of the entire productive system with linkages established between associated data using a worldwide digitised telephone system. It will record and respond to the capacities and requirements of every unit of production — factory, depot, dock, mine, farm — linking all consumption and demand through to raw materials, land and labour through every intermediate stage of distribution and processing.

The network consists physically of millions of small computers sited locally to information sources, all linked by telephone lines to form a ‘distributed’ computer system. It is worth emphasising that this would not have a hierarchical structure with levels of control, nor would it require giant databases at administrative centres. Indeed, the function of the network would be communication and not control. It would enable people involved in production to know what needs to be done.

It is with the use of these techniques of information systems and communication that production for use could register its needs and coordinate world production.

The “dated” aspect of the technology mentioned in the Report — which would have worked, but in a “clunky” way — shows how determined the Socialist Party was to overcome the inherent evils of the self-regulating market. The “invention” of the Internet, i.e., World Wide Web, smoothed the way. George Konrád tries without success to claim “the theory of scientific socialism is founded on the postulate of the unity oftelos and techné.”27 But this statement is clearly as erroneous as Jacques Ellul’s claim of an hypertrophied technological determinism in The Technological Society. It is also clearly erroneous that technology is a principaldeterminant of social institutions and relationships, though technology’s influence must be admitted. Most theories along these lines invoke a cultural lag between a new technology’s introduction and its full impact. It is during this lag that the real determiners of history, human beings, develop new ideas and become determined to use a technology in one or more of its potentially many applications to further their ends. This is why history is indeterminant; history becomes determined only when a large class of people become determined!

Socialists are futurologists,28 because socialism is a theory of the future, but we live in the present and our feet are on the ground, where workers actually live … That is not to say the world hasn’t changed, or that technology has not been instrumental in the changes, but the real differences lie underneath the gadgets, in social attitudes. Far from being paralyzed by the blinding speed of change, we are learning to change ideas at blinding speed … What is a shock is the discovery that we can make our own future, and it doesn’t have to be what our masters tell us it should be … The world might not be listening to us today, but give it 24 hours and all bets are off.29

Towards Rethinking Elections

Given the evident mindset of the Report for Use(above), it is only reasonable to wonder how the SPGB thinks a socialist revolution could possibly fit into a ballot box. Aren’t elections just so many scams designed to keep a bad system weaving back and forth from crash to crash? The answer is that elections may be thought of as a kind of longitudinal training exercise for a working class that is learning by degrees to eliminate ideological toxins from its system, sweating out the varieties of “false consciousness” that cloud its understanding of how the world works:

Candidates for local office are usually selected by the local branch. Candidates for National and European elections are selected by the Executive Committee, on a recommendation from its election (sub)committee or a branch. We decide which elections to contest on the basis of where we have the members to conduct the campaign, though we are currently considering contesting next year’s European elections in Wales mainly to obtain our first official Party TV Election Broadcast. Apart from showing that we are a political party and that we see the ballot box as the best way to socialism, we currently contest elections for the publicity, so the number of votes obtained has little significance…30

The SPGB hopes that the material conditions — the cooling of the economy over the last 40 years resulting in global economic stagnation and the environmentally exploitative blindness of capitalism resulting in global heating — does not need to worsen for the global working class, as the majority of the human race, to recognize that There Is No Alternative — for the world to survive, we must have Socialism Now. Yes — Utopia: We have the technology!31

Money — A Waste of Resources

One of these “ideological toxins” grows out of a notion often beaten into our heads – that money is ultimately what makes civilization possible. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Perhaps you think that the money system is a necessary means of allocating scarce resources; in that case, you won’t regard the resources that society devotes to operating the money system as waste. But have you tried to assess the sheer scale of these resources?
 One approach is to see how many people are kept busy at tasks that would not exist in a society without money. I focus on the United States, but I don’t think the overall picture is much different in other countries. My figures come from the May 2010 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The occupational classification used in US government statistics divides the employed workforce into 22 broad occupational groups, which are subdivided into specific occupations. When we search these groups for money-related occupations, here is what we find.

Group 11. Management occupations

There are 516,000 sales, marketing and advertising managers, plus 479,000 financial managers. At least a fifth of all managers manage monetary flows rather than material processes.

Group 13. Business and financial operations occupations

This group includes:1,072,000 accountants and auditors, 221,000 financial analysts, 272,000 purchasing agents, 63,000 claims adjusters, examiners and investigators, 262,000 market research analysts and marketing specialists,184,000 cost estimators, etc.Some of the market research analysts might still be needed in a socialist society for the non- manipulative analysis of consumer preferences.

Group 33. Protective service occupations

This group includes:
1,007,000 security guards
, 644,000 police officers
, 111,000 detectives and criminal investigators, 
458,000 jailers and correctional officers. 
As most crime consists of offenses against property, few of the functions performed by these two million people will exist in a socialist society.

Group 41. Sales and related occupations

All of the 13,438,000 people in this group directly service the money system.
Here we find: 4,155,000 retail sales workers; 1,172,000 supervisors of retail sales workers; 3,354,000 cashiers; 1,748,000 sales representatives; 415,000 counter and rental clerks; 319,000 insurance sales agents; 289,000 telemarketers, etc.

Group 43. Office and administrative support occupations

This group includes:
1,675,000 bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks, 
556,000 tellers
, 883,000 clerks processing and collecting bills
, 232,000 clerks processing insurance claims and policies, 
40,000 meter readers, etc.

Other money-related occupations lie scattered among various other groups.
 Actuaries, tax inspectors, teachers of business studies — the list goes on and on.
 Then, combining related occupations assigned to various groups, we discover 145,000 people working at casinos and other gambling joints and 519,000 people who do nothing but handle loans (interviewing and checking out loan applicants, processing repayments, pursuing defaulters, etc.).

There are many money-related jobs that the occupational classification does not allow us to count separately. Thus, computer science occupations must include many people working with computer systems for storing and processing financial information, while Legal occupations includes many people working in areas like commercial law and inheritance.

Next there are all the people who design, manufacture, transport, install and repair money-related machinery and equipment, such as ATM machines, cash registers (for all those cashiers!), safes, slot machines, credit card verifiers, gambling machines, and those contraptions which prevent you from getting into the underground without a ticket. Not to mention the people who actually make coins, banknotes and gold bars! 

Then there are the workers who build, maintain and clean the premises used by banks, insurance companies and other money-handling offices, those who transport money handlers to and from work, and so on.
 My best estimate is that about one fourth of employed Americans are engaged in tasks that would not exist in a moneyless society. To these people we must add members of the armed forces, workers in military industry, most non-working prisoners, the unemployed as usually understood, and the unemployed as unusually understood (otherwise known as the idle rich). All these people could be making a useful and productive contribution to society.

Let’s return now to the question of waste. The money system is commonly justified as a rational way of coping with scarcity of resources. And yet, as we see, the operation of the money system consumes enormous human and material resources. We should also take into account the resource costs of such capitalist practices as built-in obsolescence, the use of patents to suppress innovation, and luxury production for the wealthy.
 So how serious would the problem of scarcity be if all these costs were eliminated together with capitalism and the money system? Can any reasonable person avoid concluding that money is itself largely responsible for the problem to which it is supposedly the solution?32

How money persists in society despite its terrible consequences for the working class — rationing of food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, by the number of little colored pieces of paper with numbers on them — has long been known to sociologists; this phenomenon falls under Marx’s “transformed form” mentioned earlier, but by a simpler practical example it was explained by W.I. Thomas in the first part of the 20th Century:

Our picture of how the world works is integrally tied to how we work in the world. By acting in accordance with our conception of the way things are, we concertedly make them the way they are, whether we are treating pieces of paper as money, conducting a routine conversation or electing a President. Thus, money is good for exchange only because people treat it that way and enforce this treatment on one another: that things can be otherwise becomes evident during inflationary panics.33

Why is socialism within our reach but beyond our grasp? Alexander Herzen34 gave us one answer to this contemporary question before he died in Paris on 14 January 1870. He wrote:

The old order of things is stronger through being recognized than it is through the material power supporting it.

And the same is still true today.

Joe R. Hopkins                                   


  • David A. Perrin, The Socialist Party of Great Britain — Politics, Economics and Britain’s Oldest Socialist Party (Wales, Bridge Books, 2000), p. 15.

2. Ibid., p. 17.

3. Socialism or Your Money Back – Articles from the Socialist Standard 1904-2004 (Published in 2004 by The Socialist Party of Great Britain), p. 9.

4. Socialist Principles Explained (Socialist Party of Great Britain, London, 1975), p. 8.

5. “Sounds from the Park — An Oral History of Speakers’ Corner,” Bishopsgate Institute, London 2013. Retrieved from http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/Library/Schools-and-Community-Learning/Projects/Sounds-from-the-Park 15 May 2014.

6. Socialism or Your Money Back, p. 10-11.

7. George Sorel, Reflections on Violence (The Free Press, 1950); Introduction to Reflections on Violence, Edward Shils, p. 11.

8. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology – Part One (International Publishers Co., Inc., 1947; revised translation 1970), p.56-7.

9. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, An Inconvenient Question? Socialism and the Environment, 2008, p. 26.

10. Ibid., p. 35.

11. The title of a July 2010 SPGB booklet that explains the cases for and against the revolutionary use of Parliament.

12. Plato, born Aristolles, was the son of two distinguished Athenians; his father Ariston traced his ancestry through Codrus, the last king of Athens, to the god Poseidon. Plato’s mother was related to the celebrated Greek lawmaker Solon and to Dropides, the archon (principal magistrate of Athens) of the year 644 B.C.E.

13. Thomas More constructed the word “utopia“ in a way that best expressed his conception of the idea it represented. There are several correct variant translations from the Greek (1) ου (omicron upsilon) – “no” or “not” (negation of a fact but not the possibility of a fact) and τοποσ (tau omicron pi omicron sigma) – “place” or “country”; and (2) a blessed place (good place, ideal place, happy place). More also used the words eutopia, from the Greek ευ(epsilon upsilon) – “good” and and τοποσ (tau omicron pi omicron sigma) – “place,” that is, “good place” and udepotia, from the Greek ουδεποτε (omicron upsilon delta epsilon pi omicron tau epsilon) – “categorically never.” More had considered using the more categorical name “Nusquamam” from the Latin nusquam– “nowhere,” “from nowhere,” “to nowhere,” “for nothing,” “to no purpose,” “in no way.”

14. Karl Marx provides an example of the “transformed form”:

“Within the value relation and the value expression included in it, the abstract universal does not count as a property of the concrete but, on the contrary, the sensible concrete counts as a mere form of appearance or as a definite form of realization of the abstract universal … This inversion by which the sensible concrete counts only as the form of appearance of the abstract universal, instead of the abstract universal being a property of the concrete, characterizes the expression of value.” K. Marks [Marx], “Forma stoimosti,” in K. Marks and F. Engel’s [Engels], Sochineniia, 2nd ed. [“The form of value,” in Marx and Engels, Works, 2nd ed.] (Moscow, 1974), vol. 49, pp. 147-48 (emphasis added). 

M.K. Mamardashvili explains the nature and operation of the “transformed form” as follows:
“Such a form of existence is a product of the transformation of the inner relations of a complex system, which takes place at a definite level of the system and conceals the actual character of the relations and their direct mutual connection by means of indirect expressions. While the latter are products and sediments of the transformed operation of the connections of the system, they at the same time exist independently in it, in the form of a distinct, qualitatively coherent phenomenon, an ‘object’ alongside others. This ‘beingness’ constitutes the problem of the transformed form, which appears in a visible (and practically certain) way … as a special indivisible formation, as the ‘substance’ of observed properties.” M.K. Mamardashvili, “Prevrashchennye formy: o neobkhodi- mosti irratsional nyky vyrazhenii,” in Mamardashvili, Kak ia ponimaiu filosofiiu (Moscow, 1990) [“Transformed Forms: On the Necessity of Irrational Expressions,” in Mamardashvili, How I Understand Philosophy (Moscow, 1990)], p. 315; cited in Viktor Dmitrievich Bakulov, “Utopianism as a Transformed Form of the Expression of a Positive Utopia,” Russian Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 46, No. 2 (M.E. Sharpe, 2007), p. 32-33 (tr. by Stephen D. Shenfield).

15. I owe various of these formulations, passim, to Elena Chertkova especially, and to S.I. Gessen, Izbrannye sochineniia [Selected Works] (Moscow, 1999), pp. 248-49, in particular.

16. A. France, Discours aux étudiants [Lectures to Students] (Paris, 1910), p. 36.

17. See Aforizmy [Aphorisms] (Moscow, 1966), p. 166.

18. Paul Tillich; cited in Frank Edward Manuel, ed., Utopias and Utopian Thought (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966, p. xxi.

19. David A. Perrin, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, p. 173-74,passim.

20. Ibid., p. 174 passim, p. 25.

21. Propensity; a “natural” inclination or bent. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary G.&C. Merriam Co., 1953), p. 677 (emphasis added).

22. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The political and economic origins of our time (Beacon Press [Eighth printing], June 1967), p. 43-44.

23. H.H. Gossen, The Laws of Human Relations, and the Rules of Human Action Derived Therefrom (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983), p. 15, cited in Perrin, supra, p. 175.

24. See Libertarian Student (Alliance of Libertarian Student Organisations, London, April 1986), cited in Perrin, supra, p. 177.

25. The Practical Nature of Socialism, by Guildford Branch of the SPGB, October 1982.

26. [email protected]; <http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb>.

27. George Konrád and Ivan Szelényi, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., and The Harvester Press Limited, 1979), p. 20.

28. One who makes a speculative study of probable or presumed future conditions, as extrapolated from known facts or trends. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Ed. (Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio, 2006), p. 576.

29. “Please don’t feed the drones,” Socialist Standard, January 2014, p. 4.

30. Adam Buick – Socialist Standard Editorial Committee, email to author, first week of June 2013. 

31. Ron Cook, Yes — Utopia! we have the technology. Paperback, January 2003.

32. Published as “Material World” in the Socialist Standard, No. 1238, July 2011, p. 8.

33. W.I. Thomas, The Child in America (New York, Knopf, 1928), p. 582. William Isaac Thomas (1863—47) was an influential professor at the University of Chicago. Thomas’s theory of the “definition of the situation” results in the empirical fact that “when people define situations as real they are real in their consequences.” W.I. Thomas served as president of the American Sociological Association in 1927. [Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, p. 663 — passim.]

34. “A prolific writer, talented essayist, original thinker and revolutionary nobleman, Alexander Ivanovich Herzen is best known as the first self-proclaimed socialist in Russian history.” — Marina F. Bykova, Editor: Russian Studies in Philosophy.