Charmian Skelton, reply to the De Leonist Society of Canada


Charmian Skelton
member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain
letter to the Discussion Bulletin
in reply to the De Leonist Society of Canada
From the Discussion Bulletin
May-Jun 2001 #107, pages 21-22

Dear Editor,

Re the DLSC's argument that in a socialist society -- at least at first -- labour time vouchers would be necessary, if only in order to prevent "slackers" -- the former capitalist class -- from continuing to act as parasites.

It seems that the DLSC regard Socialism as being founded on the principle of "he who does not work, neither shall he eat" , also known as the old capitalist principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his work".

This principle is used to justify big salaries for the fat cats and extreme stinginess towards state pensioners, the disabled and the unemployed.

If labour time vouchers were to be relied on in Socialism, it would cause serious problems, both of a practical and a theoretical nature.

A practical problem, since only those who worked would qualify for these vouchers. The principle says nothing about the needs of those who are unable to work -- the sick, the disabled, the old, the young. There are indeed large numbers of these in the population, probably a far greater number than the tiny minority of the population which constitute the capitalist class.

The DLSC assume that none of these former capitalists would be willing to work at all. But there is plenty of evidence that many of them are willing to work -- and work hard -- where they think their interests are involved. Is it too much to suppose that, in a situation where the old class system has been got rid of and there is a new sense of community, that in such a situation, these former capitalists will find they would have no place, no role to play, except - like everyone else, contributing according to their ability? And, since work is a basic human need, it is hard to imagine many of them actually wanting to do nothing, especially on a long-term basis.

Also, the voucher system would fail to take account of the fact that the sick and the disabled are precisely the people whose needs are greater than average. So there would be a strong case for more 'goods' being provided for those least able to work: the very opposite of what would happen under a labour time voucher system.

As you pointed out (FG, DB no. 105, p.21), capitalism has already solved -- potentially, at least -- the problem of scarcity, so that rationing would not be needed in a Socialist society. But, to be realistic, Socialism may be confronted by serious problems from time to time -- earthquakes, epidemics, crop failures, etc. -- which would put temporary and unusual pressure on a system based on 'free access.' Then, there may be local situations where some form of rationing might be necessary on a temporary basis. In such a situation, if the Socialist principle of "to each according to their needs" applied, priority would be given to those most in need, and -- if their need was less not necessarily to those who work hardest. But the voucher system would also fail this, practical, test.

On a theoretical level, these labour time vouchers would surely acquire the function of money, being exchange of a certain amount of human labour -- measured by time -- against a certain quantity of goods. These vouchers would be functioning as a medium of exchange, one of the characteristic functions of money, whether the money be in the form of coinage, paper notes or, as in the ancient Maya civilisation, cacao beans. What's more, in using such vouchers, it is hard to see how they could avoid acquiring that other function of money and become a measure of value.

Worst of all, the labour time voucher system would perpetuate the practise of exchange, with the idea that so many hours or units of labour time would count towards an equivalence in terms of goods or units of wealth produced. Yet surely an essential distinction between capitalism and Socialism is that the latter will be a social system where goods will be produced for use, not for exchange.

No doubt the DLSC would think this is purely Utopian, but if Socialism is worth struggling for, it is precisely because it will be based on the principle of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs". And capitalism, with its reliance on exchange, utterly fails to satisfy the real needs of the vast majority of the human race.

Yours for Socialism

Charmian Skelton
Socialist Party of Great Britain

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Copse Road, WOKING
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