In response to:
What Socialism Is and Is Not from the April 9, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
Unless and until a majority of the electorate in a democratically governed country is prepared to do without a continuous rise in living standards (as conventionally interpreted), economic considerations will take precedence over social and cultural claims
according to George Lichtheim in NYR [April 9]. We are also informed that
[state capitalism] also operates against the public interest by making the great monopolies the final arbiters of the key decisions which are invariably taken behind closed doors.
Does Mr. Lichtheim see any problems arising out of the juxtaposition of his propositions?
Mr. Lichtheim informs us that there is no need “to waste time and energy over frivolities such as the demand that the ‘consumer society’ be abolished” since “the corruption of the working class through excessive rise in money incomes or the desire to possess consumer goods” is not responsible for “crisis” of contemporary socialism, i.e., for slow progress toward it. We have this assertion but no data.
May I present one counterexample? My brother is aged twenty-three and has the $35,000 house in the suburbs, cabin cruiser, herculean color TV, Shelby Cobra, etc. He was not born to money nor is he atypical—he just works twelve hours a day selling the rest of them 1970 Fords. His wife watches soap operas a lot.
But alas, Mr. Lichtheim feels that this state of affairs is inevitable for “nothing less than” achieving a state where all reasonable economic demands have been met or are in the process of being satisfied will make it politically feasible to turn to noneconomic considerations.
How much violence must be wrought in the name of economic growth, of increased “living” standards before Mr. Lichtheim awakens? I wish he could see Jerrold Schatzberg’s photograph of a dwarfed woman longing at a Christian Dior display window.
Given my brother’s economic “needs,” the state of state-capitalism, and the poverty of the world, we can wait till hell freezes over and economic growth, GNP, and John Maynard himself will not have done much for the quality of life.
Paul Goodman recently suggested that there has been a “religious” crisis regarding the omnipotent god technology—I submit that economic growth is dead as well. If Mr. Lichtheim and the rest of the economic clergy (socialist, capitalist, and all) would like to remain relevant, they should turn their energies toward the study of “need” reduction.
I would suggest that in their search for a living deity they look carefully at current experiments in need reduction, for instance on Cuba, the commune, the stor familj (large family), the Kibbutz, etc.
Swedish Institute for Administrative Research
George Lichtheim replies:
I thought I had made it clear that the rationale of socialism is not economic growth, but social equality and the abolition of the wage relationship. In this sense Sweden is not socialist, but neither is Cuba, where the entire population has been mobilized to achieve economic targets. In a poor country this is inevitable. A rich country such as Sweden could in principle reverse the order of priorities, but probably won’t because it would be unpopular with a majority of the electorate. That is just why nothing worth being called socialism exists in the world today. There is no dispute as to the facts of the case. Whether the “associated producers” in a democratically governed country will decide to have done with economic growth and the relentless accumulation of capital is a matter for debate; unless and until they are ready to do so, we shall all have to witness the continuation of present trends. I quite agree that an authentically socialist movement would put a stop to this insanity, but the first move will have to come from lands where all reasonable economic needs have already been met. Placing the responsibility on the poor is not going to get us anywhere.
September 24, 1970