Monday, October 5, 2020

Another Labour Government or Socialism? (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party

Why does anybody join the Labour Party? Some join to make a career for themselves; to become leaders, rulers, future Labour Lords, men and women entrusted to run capitalism. At every Labour Conference it is easy to spot the opportunists: minds dominated by the opinion polls, concerned to be seen supporting whatever illusions or prejudices will win them seats in the places of power, red ties and smiles for the rank and file, but really they are aching to get away from all the noise, back to “the real job” of becoming successful politicians. The average Labour voter is being used by them.


Then there are those workers who join the Labour Party because they want modest reform of capitalism. They want to attend to this or that symptom of the capitalist disease, but will not get involved in the revolutionary work of abolishing the cause of the problems because “that would be immoderate –a vote loser”. These Labourites devote hours every week and years of their life trying to make the profit system just a little more humane. They have been at it since 1906 when the first Labour MP’s entered parliament: trying to empty the ocean of social distress by the bucketful. These people belong in the Labour Party because it is, at its best, a party of capitalist reform.


There is another category of workers who join the Labour Party: those who want to change society – transform it. This category includes not only the infantile Leninists of the Militant Tendency (whose conception of revolution is as outdated as it is elitist), but very many other ordinary Labourites who think that the election of a Labour government is the way to bring about socialism. It is to these people in particular that the Socialist Party–an organisation entirely separate from the Labour Party –addresses itself. It is our claim that by voting for and joining the Labour Party you are not in any way furthering the cause of socialism; the election of another Labour government would indicate that the workers do not yet understand or want socialism.

This was it

From the outset there have always been Labourites who have said that they are out to achieve socialism. Their sincerity is not in question. At the 1925 Labour Party Conference, George Lansbury stated that “Socialism is inscribed on our banners … we intend that the land of Britain and all its resources shall be owned and used in the service of the British people”. In Labour’s 1945 election manifesto, Let Us Face The Future, workers were told that: “The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose is the establishment of the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain”. When that 1945 government was elected many workers thought that this was it–the dawn of socialism. What happened? Industries were nationalised – only to leave workers like the miners exploited under state capitalism. Troops were sent to Korea, the NATO gang was joined, the British atom bomb was secretly initiated, and support was given to the bombing of Hiroshima, all by a so-called socialist government. The dockers’ strike was smashed by the use of troops. Bevan promised there would be no homeless workers in Britain by the time the Labour government left office; in 1951 they lost the election and capitalism in all its ugliness was still wholly intact.


Then came the Wilson and the Callaghan years; radical transformation remained something to talk about at Conference, but running capitalism in accordance with its harsh economic laws was what those governments were all about. Many workers voted Labour in 1945, 1964 and 1974 and concluded in disillusion, “If that’s socialism, we won’t bother to vote for it”. That is why Labour’s share of the vote has fallen: workers do not believe the promises as much as they used to and they are right not to.


“But we’ve got the wrong leadership”. This is the perpetual cry of Labourites who are mystified as to why the great change is not coming. It is not very long ago that Neil Kinnock was the golden boy of the Left. But now he has become a “realist”, as all leaders seeking to run capitalism must. The recently published Labour Party programme does not even mention the word “socialism”. Tony Benn, a member of the last Labour government, has described it as “violently anti-socialist”. Therefore it would seem that reality must be to leave a party which possesses such a programme. Of course, you will hear rousing speeches from Leftist leaders who will tell you that “Socialism is inscribed on our banners”; you will meet Labourites who will tell you that “anything” is better than the Tories; you will hear on the grapevine that there is a new socialist leader waiting in the wings and that, when they get power, socialism will be back on the agenda. The dogmatic belief that another Labour government is in the interest of the working class is one that will be thrown at you from every angle. But in your own mind you know very well that you will never see the establishment of socialism by sending Labour MP’s to Parliament.

The Alternative

Socialism will only be established when the vast majority of workers understand it, want it and democratically organise for it in a party which is not out to mend capitalism, but to end it. Socialism means the total abolition of capitalism. An end to private and state ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution, production would be solely for use, with all people having free access to the common store of goods and services, instead of production for sale on the market with a view to profit. To win workers to organise for socialism is a massive task and it is easy to be demoralised and deceive yourself that there is an easier way to initiate the new system. But there is no alternative to the hard work being carried out by the Socialist Party–and the sooner those who want us to succeed join us, the sooner it will be done.

Why you should (still) be a socialist (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
A myth is being celebrated. The rejoicing conveys all the emptiness of idiot-priests delighting in the exorcism of a demon spirit. The slayed ghost in question is “communism". The claim is that it, together with Marxism, socialism and anything else at all that dares to question the immutability of the capitalist system, is no longer on the historical agenda.

So it was that Jean-Denis Bredin. writing in Le Monde (4 September), a few days after the dissolution of the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union, could state triumphantly:
  Communism is dead—the word, the party, the empire, the theology, it’s all dead and everyone is happy . . . Mr Gorbachev was the timorous individual who started the progress . . . on the road which history had forced upon him. into the brilliant sunshine of the market economy. Are not the communists, if any are left, blind men and women who never understood that capitalism has taken over human destiny, that there would no longer be a Revolution but rather an eternal reform making the rich a little less rich, the poor a little less poor, not overnight but through the patient work of centuries. promising freedom and bread for all?
This crazed triumphalism has become an ideological hysteria, pushing the enemies of social change into ever new regions of intellectual arrogance in their assertions that—to use the catchphrase of She Who Was Deposed—There is No Alternative. What they are saying is that the decades of misery which followed the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 are proof that the consequence of deposing the dictatorship of Capital is ruin and grief. The tearing down of the statues of the Leninist leaders demonstrates, it is argued, that workers will never again be misled by those who dare to doubt the eternal life-span of “the brilliant sunshine of the market economy”.

The fundamental error—more than error: grand deception—upon which such reasoning is based is twofold. Firstly, the Leninist revolutions did not remove capitalism. Secondly, "the brilliant sunshine of the market” still does not shine upon the workers who form the majority of the world's population; on the contrary, we live under black clouds of debt, poverty, pollution, war, mass starvation, economic anxiety, all of which are direct consequences of the system of production for profit.

Lenin led to Stalin
Lenin and his Bolshevik Party were not socialists or communists (properly understood, the two words stand for the same thing: a society of common ownership), but élitists who sought to impose a new regime by minority insurrection. In the 19th century Engels had warned against the outdated notion that a so-called enlightened vanguard could emancipate the workers without the latter knowing about it. Marx had as his basic political motto that the working class alone could emancipate themselves, not leaders or vanguards.

By contrast, the Bolsheviks, in the style of capitalist revolutionaries such as Jacobins or Blanquists, took power in Russia where the workers were in a small minority and wanted only peace, land and bread, not socialism. It was impossible then, as it would be now, to establish socialism without a majority of socialists in society. It was inevitable that the Bolsheviks formed a dictatorship. The iron rule of Lenin, where opposition parties and newspapers were outlawed, the trade unions were turned into errand boys for the state, and secret police were at the service of the Party-run state, turned into Stalinism with all of its mass slaughter and torture and systematic suffering and pervasive lying. Stalinism was the product of Leninism.

In fairness to Lenin, his clique took power and knew that they had no hope of creating socialism in one country. Lenin was quite clear that the best that could be achieved was state capitalism in Russia. It was such a form of capitalism which was built up within the Russian Empire and which has failed so wretchedly. The Stalinists were to call this state capitalism “socialism” and "Communism”, and many leftists in the West convinced themselves that Russia was an island of socialist freedom in a capitalist ocean. They were as foolish as those in Russia who now look to Britain and the USA and see the mixture of state and private capitalism here as some sort of utopia. Distance creates absurd illusions.

The long history of the Leninist belief in the liberatory character of the Bolshevik regime has been one of the greatest obstacles to socialist understanding in this century. How often have we socialists talked of a free, co-operative, democratic social system to replace capitalism only to be told that if that is what we stand for we should go to Russia—where, incidentally, we would probably have been locked up for advocating such revolutionary ideas. The death of state capitalism and its naive supporters in the form of the Communist Parties can only be good news for socialists.

The Socialist Party has a proud record of exposing the pretensions of the pseudo-Communist dictatorships. While Stalin was being praised in Britain as “our democratic ally” we were exposing the purges, the show trials and the wage-slave status of the Russian working class. When Leninist newspapers such as the Morning Star, backed by money stolen from the Russian workers, told us about the happy lives of Russian workers and the peaceful intentions of the Warsaw Pact and the way in which nationalist and racist prejudice had been overcome within the Russian Empire, this party responded with utter scorn.

From food queue to dole queue
The celebrations in the West are all the more ridiculous when it is considered that orthodox capitalism is in the midst of a huge economic crisis which will be added to by the new demands upon the ailing Western economies to aid Russia and the new states which are coming out of its Empire. Bush has plenty of rhetoric to offer gullible listeners enchanted by his New World Order, a fairy-tale image of international capitalist unity, but is short on cash to pay for his little scheme. The fact is that the USA faces a record budget deficit; whole cities are on the brink of bankruptcy and working-class discontent is of a proportion which creates inner-city rioting and crime on a scale which makes Belfast look like a tame theme park. Is Bush to export to Russia and the Ukraine the economic wonder-drug which places the American workers in a position that one in five of them are living below the official poverty line?

As for the British government, its leader is so concerned about the coming of "freedom" to Russia that he celebrated it with a flight to visit his trading partners in the leadership of the brutal regime which butchered the workers in Tianenman Square. If Mr Lamont is to go to Moscow we suggest that the workers there prepare for a few more years of queuing, just as millions here queue for the dole in a country which tells talented and eager wealth-creators that it would be better for them to sit at home doing nothing because it is unprofitable to exploit them. The economic “experts" who are to lead Russia into the “free" market propose that there will be 30 million unemployed Russians within a year. Such is “the brilliant sunshine of the market economy”.

The Leninist left has no future. Those who went along with the nonsense of "Soviet socialism" are discredited and have one final historical task; to apologise to the workers for misleading them—and to socialists for getting in our way. The Right is in trouble because it no longer has the Russian bogey-man to frighten the workers with. Of course, there will be a sustained and vicious attempt to drown the vision of socialism in the muddy pit of the Leninists' grave. Anti-socialists have used this tactic since 1917 and have been more than adequately answered.

The future for genuine socialists—libertarians not statists; democrats not vanguardists; Marxists not Leninists; clear thinkers not sloganising sheep—is a good one. Our opponents in the Labour Party, who once posed as short-cut socialists, have now come out in the open as no-way socialists. Kinnock would be happier to be seen as a left-wing conservative than a real socialist. So, that red herring is out of the way. And the myth of “the socialist world" is now virtually buried. That leaves us with one final myth to shatter. The Big Lie: that capitalism can ever work in the interest of the majority.

The "magic of the market” and the miraculous power of “market forces" have enjoyed an improper reputation during the 1980s as having something to offer. That reputation will be short-lived, not simply because we socialists are going to expose its falsity at every turn, but because the market itself will fail to deliver the promised goods to the workers. Frustration will create an appetite for an alternative. Not a phoney alternative, as workers have so often fallen for. but the genuine socialist article: common ownership and democratic control of all the resources of the planet by all the people of the planet. Communism is dead? No, it has yet to be tried. And when the recognition that common ownership is the answer dawns upon more and more workers, as surely it will, the swines who bathe in "the brilliant sunshine of the market economy" will experience a severe case of sunstroke.
Steve Coleman

Reform or revolution? (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been a busy year for the reformers. There have been local taxes to abolish, NHS reforms to reverse, seven-plus tests to get rid of, the homeless to be provided with emergency shelter, bank charges to be made less harsh on the small borrower. Every year is a busy year for the reformer. No sooner has one minor concession been won—or, more often, half-won or quarter-won—than a ton of new problems, or old ones returned, fall upon society. The reformer's job is never done. The paint on the rusty machine is no sooner dry than it is peeling off.

The reformer is always busy. Petitions, marches, visits to MP’s, conferences of good-willed people to organise. Busy—too busy to stop and think. Have we been down this road before? Is the fight for a larger crumb worthy of their energies? When all the short steps forward are added to all the shoves back is any headway being made at all? No, the reformer has no time to think about that. After all, politics is not about theorising, says the reformer. They are people of the practical world.

Take the fight against the poll tax. Now, that was practical. No time to think about what taxes are . . . So, the opposition to the tax was mobilised and led on marches and forward unto the great victory of ... a new local tax.

To the reformist, with an immutable sense of the here and now, the revolutionary socialist presents a quite unacceptable spectacle. Here is someone who wants to go beyond the here and now into a system which is not here in a time which is not now, but could come as soon as the workers so decide. This discomforts the reformist because at root, despite all radical protestations to the contrary, the busy reformer is a hopeless conservative who cannot see more than the most trifling of changes as being possible. Reformists claim that revolutionaries irritate them because we seek what is impossible: we are “impossibilists”, to use the term of abuse applied to us back in 1904. But in reality it is the reformer’s conviction that nothing very much can change—a conviction shared between the left and the right wings of capitalist politics—which defines revolution as an unthinkable impossibility.

Sometimes the reformist will grant the necessity of a grand socialist change. But this must always be some time in the distant future. Reformists who flirt with the socialist vision turn socialism into a utopia. The conquest of the bakery is for the future, but for now the struggle for the crumbs must be all-consuming.

The political battle between Reform and Revolution is not a matter of tactical strategy: you take the high road and we'll take the low road. The reformist is taking the roundabout, never intending to stray from the here and now. All reformist talk about socialism in the future, but in the meantime . . . is so much hot air. The meantime of reformism is an eternity. Workers have died within this never-ending meantime. Indeed, it is a mean time, because the reformers aim is ultimately narrow and mean and constrained by a poverty of desire.

The revolutionary sets out to end and not mend the capitalist system. For the socialist there can be no such thing as humanised capitalism: the only good policy for capitalism is its abolition by the force of democratic, class-conscious action. Once workers get busy working for socialism, in larger and larger numbers, the owners and controllers of the Earth will shower us with piddling reforms. The capitalists will concede anything except their right to monopolise the resources of the Earth. It is this freedom which socialists, committed to common ownership, democratic control and free access to resources for all, will take away from the existing rulers.

The revolutionary seeks to defeat the class enemy—and defeat can only mean total defeat, i.e. dispossession. The reformist seeks to leave the possession of class power in the enemy’s hands and then plead for a better deal. It is a futile and time-wasting policy, however sincere its many advocates undoubtedly are.

Next year will be a busy year for the reformers—and the one after and so on into the next decade and century. Unless the political folly of Reform is understood. Unless the partial victories of the crumb-collectors are abandoned and workers realise that we have a world to win. Not to ask for, but to take.
Steve Coleman

Turgid Tolstoy (1991)

Book Review from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

What Then Must We Do? By Leo Tolstoy. Reissued 1991 with an introduction by Ronald Sampson. Green Books. £8.95.

Leo Tolstoy was a writer of genius: his novels are amongst the best ever written, but this is without doubt his worst book and it is difficult to believe that the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina could write this also.

This book was written in 1886 when Tolstoy believed that his idiosyncratic religious views had given him the answers to society’s problems. A quarter of the book is devoted to Tolstoy’s guilt-ridden forays among the destitute to offer them charity. He rightly concludes that charity is not the answer to poverty but the point could have been made much more succinctly. Tolstoy concludes that money given by the rich to the poor is money that was gained by exploiting their labour in the first place.

Of wage labour he notes:
  Money is the new form of slavery, differing from the old only in its impersonality. in the freedom it gives from any human relation with the slave.
A large section of the book is devoted to the way that institutionalised violence maintains wage slavery. Marxists agree that the state is the instrument which the capitalist class uses to enforce exploitation but Tolstoy overlooks the fact that many workers accept working for wages because they believe it is natural and inevitable. The power of propaganda as a superior instrument of control to avert violence has been recognised more in the present century, but even in Tolstoy’s time the capitalist class used it for their own ends quite successfully.

Tolstoy’s solution to the inequalities of his time was to recommend that everyone should work on the land, living a simple life, without employing the labour of others. But this restriction of consumption would be regressive and not to the tastes of most people. Capitalism has made it possible, through technology, to release productive forces which would be used in a socialist society to eliminate all poverty and austerity.

The introduction by Ronald Sampson is more interesting than the rest of the book, such is the subordination of Tolstoy’s literary skills to the task of getting his message across. Tolstoy the novelist deserves our admiration but Tolstoy the polemicist and self-appointed prophet is downright dull.
Carl Pinel

Between the Lines: From Russia With Confusion (1991)

The Between the Lines column from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

From Russia With Confusion

The mind-numbing simplicities of cold war propaganda dominated the British media's coverage of the Russian coup. News programmes offered a cartoon image of events. Gorbachev the Rather Good had been overthrown by The Big Bad Reds who could only be defeated by Boris the Great. As ever in the capitalist picture of history, the workers were depicted as mere spectators — extras in the scene: the BBC News called them "Yeltsin's people". Is that what all the bravery of the crowd was for — the standing in front of tanks and the demand that democratic rights be retained? All that to become Yeltsin's people?

For the media there was no question that the coup was successful. Great Man Gorbachev had been replaced by Judas Yenayev. And that was that. The media never once considered the possibility that people could alter their history — that the power struggle would be more than the in-fighting of a ruling elite. On the first night of the coup both BBC and ITN News broadcast effective obituaries for Gorbachev. When the crowd began to assemble, the media was shocked. But they did not explain this as the action of thousands of workers fighting against a dictatorship. The defence of the Russian parliament was explained entirely in terms of the will of leaders, notably Yeltsin. When the coup was overthrown the BBC and ITN continued to explain the whole affair in terms of a power battle at the top. But this was not so: the collapse of the Communist Party dictatorship after the coup's defeat was not decided by Yeltsin and his political allies (whose political careers had been carved out within that dictatorship), but by the will of the people, the working class majority. From BBC l's children's news programme Newsround to BBC2’s fairly sophisticated Newsnight the analysis of the collapse of state capitalism and the Russian Empire has been over-simplified to the point of utter distortion. Good has prevailed over Evil. Good equals the market which is portrayed as a redeemer. Yeltsin, a political opportunist, nationalist and populist demagogue, compared by those who know him well as a modem Mussolini, is given an uncritical press. Two days after the coup the ITV News at Ten included a ludicrous report about the failure of "Marxist economics" in Russia. This report claimed that Russia had been run according to policies stated by Marx in The Communist Manifesto written in 1848. This unsubstantiated rubbish was put out without a thought given to the long-standing Marxist analysis of Russia as a state capitalist country — which is exactly what Lenin himself called it at the outset. (Speaking of crazy historical claims, the school's supplement to The Guardian in the week after the coup claimed that Marx supported the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 — thirty-three years after he died!) On the day that Yeltsin's elite banned the Communist Party in Russia (an unpromising start to a liberal democratic government) the ever-mistaken CNN opened its midday news with the proclamation that the Russian people were at last free. Indeed, CNN's American hysteria was reflected on the British news broadcasts by reporters making wild comments about the euphoria of the Russian people. In fact with continued empty shelves in the shops, rent food and fare increases on the way and 30 million plus to become unemployed soon, the delight of feeling free was about as great as in the British cities where workers have spent the nights celebrating with street riots.

On 7 September BBC2 had Charles Wheeler introduce a programme showing excerpts from Leningrad's archives of propaganda films. The Orwellian character of what was shown was chilling. Never again, we suspect will such crude propaganda con the wage slaves. But what of the less crude methods of keeping the proles in their place? We expect that Yeltsin's new TV controllers are studying the methods of the BBC and the US networks for newer, more subtle tricks of deceit; less conspicuous forms of ideological doping.

In the modern battle of ideas the media is crucial. The media bosses are accountable to no-one, least of all the workers. They continue to lie, to twist, to omit, to push workers into believing half-truths, non-truths and cartoon views of the world in which we live. It was no coincidence that the first action of the coup organisers in Moscow was to close the TV stations which they could not rely on. If the parish priest was the ideological mouthpiece of feudal rule, the newscaster is the high priest of capitalist ideology.

This writer cheered at the overthrow of the Leninist dictators. Their downfall and the tremendous political fire within the bellies of the workers who took to the streets, who tragically do not know what they do want but only what they don't, was a great moment to live through. As the cheering of the media hirelings started, with all their phoney talk of the downfall of Communism and triumph of Freedom through Market Forces, this writer's cheering slopped abruptly. Solidarity with our fellow workers, yes; but with the cynical pimps whose champagne corks were popping at the thought of new profits to be made — Never!
Steve Coleman

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Remember Labour's record (1970)

From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the general election Mr. Wilson said he was the lesser of the two evils (or the least of the three evils, as he later told Mr. Thorpe). Although this is no valid argument for voting Labour, Mr. Wilson was right on one point: neither Labour, nor the Tories, nor the Liberals are any good.

First let us recall just what were (to use Mr. Wilson's choice of terms) the “evils” of the present Labour government:

  • Labour strengthened the immigration colour bar and, in keeping out Kenya Asians with British passports, put the nearest thing to a Race Law on the statute book.
  • Labour, while hypocritically proclaiming their ultimate aim of abolishing all health charges, increased them all round, even bringing back the prescription charges they themselves abolished in 1965.
  • Labour made provision for the rents of controlled tenants to be increased beyond even what “the wicked Tory Rent Act" allowed.
  • Labour encouraged big business mergers and praised profit-making, while proclaiming that there must be more unemployed.
  • Labour tried to restrain and freeze wages and salaries while encouraging prices to rise, in a deliberate bid to cut our living standards.
  • Labour kept nuclear weapons and sent troops to protect capitalist interests in Malaysia and Aden. Labour supplied Nigeria with the arms to reconquer oil-producing Biafra.

In view of this black record it is not at all surprising that Labour chose to fight the election on the negative plea that at least they were not as bad as the Tories. After all they could no longer claim to stand for the brotherhood of man. They could no longer pose as the party trade unionists should support. They could not even claim to be the party of mere anti-capitalist reform (they have long ceased even pretending to be a socialist party — which of course they never were). In words as well as deeds Labour was, and still is, clearly an ordinary capitalist party. It is Tweedledum to the Tories’ Tweedledee.

There is a good reason for this. The “lesser evil” argument is invalid because it assumes that what a government does depends on the good or bad intentions act, and their priorities, is the workings of the capitalist system. Capitalism is based on the concentration of wealth in the hands of a privileged few. Under it production is carried on for profit. The world is divided into a number of capitalist states (including Russia and China) all of which are competing against each other to sell their goods on the world market at a profit. How successful a state is in this is what of the leaders of the party in power. In fact what determines how governments limits its government’s actions. This is why it does not matter which party forms the government; in the end all governments are forced by economic circumstances to pursue basically similar policies. It is because the Labour Party accepts capitalism that it has become so unlike the Conservative Party.

Labour was forced to do the things we have listed, not because they are incompetent or insincere or weak-willed, but because they undertook to govern capitalism and capitalism is a class system that can only work for those who live off profits, and never for those who work for wages. Any party, as the present Labour government’s record confirms, which takes on the government of capitalism is bound to act against wage and salary earners.

The Labour Party, which set out to gradually change capitalism, has instead itself been gradually changed so that it is now little different from the Tories, the traditional rich man’s party. Judged even by its own standards, the Labour Party has been a complete and utter failure.
Adam Buick

A correction (1970)

From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Malthus and overpopulation

There has always been some confusion about what Malthus thought about the possibility of over-population, even in his lifetime. It arose partly because he used ambiguous phrases and partly because after the first edition of his book on population, he shifted his ground. By the time he reached the third edition his considered view was that overpopulation could never happen because it is always prevented. He wrote:
  For undoubtedly, as long as this continues to be the law of his (man’s) nature, what arc here called the natural checks cannot possibly fail of being effectual. (Appendix to Third Edition and page 488 in Eighth Edition).
In his view there was in an average year never any appreciable surplus of food and as population, if unchecked, always increases faster than food supply the checks on population operate immediately. So there never could be “too many people on the earth” as we misleadingly suggested he held in the August Socialist Standard.

When he wrote his first Essay on the Principle of Population his aim was to show that the ideas of Condorcet, Godwin and others about the perfectibility of society were unsound because population is and must always be held in check by means which produce vice and misery (war, poverty, pestilence, etc.) Faced with the argument that population could also be held in check by abstention from marriage or postponement of marriage he had to contend that this too leads to vice and constitutes misery.

In his second edition he abandoned the latter argument and admitted that “moral restraint” does not lead to vice and misery. Having to find another case against Condorcet and Godwin he now maintained that such “moral restraint" is possible only in a society based on private property and the incentive of “individual interest”. Therefore it could not operate in an anarchist or communist society.

By this time he had largely lost his interest in Godwin and was more interested in population laws themselves. He was forced to admit that food supply could never increase as fast as unchecked population but in face of all the evidence he continued to maintain his general proposition that population is held in check.
Editorial Committee.

The case for industrial unions (1970)

Book Review from the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Trade Unions and the Problem of Change, by Will Paynter. (George Allen & Unwin. 16s.)

In the case of trade union development the unions have taken many forms—craft and grade unions, general unions of “unskilled” workers, local and national unions, local federations (Trades Councils), industrial unions, and so on to the international federations of “Trades Union Congresses" and the international trade secretariats of unions in the same trade.

Alongside these practical adaptations to the needs of the workers and to changes in the organisation of industry there has been a continuous flow of ideas propagated by groups of enthusiasts designed to harness the unions to wider aims going far beyond wages and working conditions; from the short-lived Grand National Consolidated Trades Union of the eighteen thirties, to the IWW the One Big Union Movement and Syndicalism.

When they wrote their History of Trade Unionism over fifty years ago, the Webbs hoped and believed that the Unions were moving towards the idea of one union for each industry, both on grounds of greater effectiveness and in pursuit of the Webb’s doctrine of workers’ control. Will Paynter, former member of the Communist Party and General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and now a member of the Commission on Industrial Relations, set up by the Wilson Government, carries on from the Webbs. He presents an argued case for the Unions to remodel themselves on industrial lines in order to meet the growing concentration of capitalist industry and what he believes to be the permanent tendency of governments to intervene in wage fixing in the form of income policies and possible changes in Trade Union law. He supports his ease with much evidence of the harm resulting from the fragmentation of British trade unions, and from inter-union rivalries.

The Webbs hoped that one Union for each industry would emerge from amalgamations but in fact very little progress has been made since they wrote. The amalgamation have indeed taken place; in 1900 there were 1244 separate trade unions, now reduced to about 500, while T.U.C. affiliations have dropped from 184 with a membership of a million and a quarter to 155 unions with a membership of 9 millions. But the biggest growth has been in the conglomerate unions such as Transport & General Workers, the General and Municipal Workers and others with membership spread over numerous industries, with the result that from the standpoint of industrial unionism the position is as far as ever from what the Webbs expected. The TUC has on many occasions studied the problem but has always shied away from the task of trying to compel its affiliates to remodel themselves, knowing well that it cannot hope to compel the biggest unions to give up members. The TUC has also stressed the practical difficulty of defining what is an industry.

There are of course examples from other countries of what can be done. The Swedish Trade Union Confederation manages with only 37 affiliated National Unions and in Germany, where the trade union movement was rebuilt from scratch after the second world war, the Trade Union Federation has only 16 unions to cover the whole of industry.

Paynter accepts that what he advocates would be possible only if the TUC General Council acquired controlling authority over the Unions, something on the lines of the Swedish model which makes the central body the effective one for negotiating with the employers’ central organisation; at present the British TUC has no such powers.

What Paynter advocates comes up against two major problems. The first is that if trade unions are to be democratically controlled by their members, it is the members who have to be convinced that it is in their interest to adopt a new industry- based structure with effective authority handed over to the TUC, i.e. to a body ever more remote than their own union executives and officials.

The second is that any idea of trade unions pursuing wider social aims is limited by the fact that the great majority of members have, as yet, no revolutionary outlook embracing a complete change in the structure of society.

Paynter warns against what he thinks is another possibility, that the Unions, through close involvement with the employers and the government, may find themselves more or less government controlled, with, as its ultimate end, the corporate state of Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany, and Franco’s Spain. (For some reason he does not mention Russia, where the “unions” are also in effect government agencies.)

Which brings us to the interesting question of Paynter’s own outlook. He makes many references to the class-struggle basis of trade unions, and the “socialist” aims of himself and some unions, and he chides "left” trade union leaders who are die-hards in their resistance to change. Yet he confines his proposals to “unionism under capitalist conditions in Britain”, though in the same context he writes of the purpose of trade unions applying “equally in a capitalist or a socialist society”. What he really means when he uses the term “socialism” is nationalisation, or state capitalism as in the nationalised industries. He supports the Labour Party.

He admits that coal nationalisation has made little difference to the miners:
  “The relations between management and worker remained the same, the union still had to fight hard to get improvements in wages and conditions and little in the daily lives of the men reflected the change that had taken place.”
He admits too that nationalised industries are “expected to operate as commercial undertakings, generally on strictly business principles characteristic of capitalism”.

He is however candid enough to confess that he was one of the people who understood so little about what was going on as to display “a naive and immature judgement” at the time the mines were nationalised. He writes:
  I remember the morning of January 1st 1947. the first day of operations with nationalised mines — standing on the top of a train of coal at one of the collieries. I served as a union agent, making an enthusiastic speech about ‘the dawn of a new era’, of the significance of the day being one where the ‘workers were moving forward to the control of their own destinies’, and that we were at the beginning of the process where capitalism would be replaced by Socialism.
The Communist Party now has no time for Paynter but it is interesting to see that at a time when he was one of their trusted leaders he had no more comprehension of what capitalism and Socialism are all about than he has now.
Edgar Hardcastle

Friday, October 2, 2020

Letters: “Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary” . . .

Letters to the Editors from the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary”

Dear Sir.

‘Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary’. This was quoted in the July issue of the Socialist Standard as The Socialist Party of Great Britain's viewpoint on the overthrow of the capitalist system (Debate with IS Group). In the same issue the Standard also makes its readers aware of the logical thought that Socialism could not be introduced, nor indeed function properly, unless the majority understood it to be the obvious method of organising society in absolute equality and freedom (About Ourselves). It is to this end—opening the eyes of the majority—that the SPGB surely works? How then could the SPGB actively ever work forward into a situation that would give rise to violence? It obviously knows that men who are forced to comply with an imposed system, not understanding that system, are of no value to that society, and are not helped or liberated themselves.

May we then see a published affirmation that the SPGB docs not agitate for that brand of struggle that requires violence? Or otherwise an explanation of that phrase which must grate on so many: ‘violently if necessary'.
R. Molony.
Bridport, Dorset.

“Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary” only applies when once the vast majority of society are already in favour of the establishment of Socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always said that Socialism cannot be established unless and until it has majority support and has always emphatically rejected minority violence. We are actively working to avoid violence by seeking to persuade in an open, democratic and peaceful manner a majority of the merits of Socialism.

The socialist revolution will be essentially peaceful precisely because it will be the act of a conscious majority. Unfortunately, whether isolated incidents involving violence may occur does not depend on the majority, but on the anti-socialist minority.

Whether a minority of anti-socialists, faced with an overwhelming democratic decision in favour of the establishment of Socialism, would dare to take up arms in a futile gesture against the Socialist majority is very much open to question. But if they do, the Socialist majority must have a policy for dealing with them. We think it reasonable that steps should be taken to restrain them, even to the extent of using actual physical violence if need be. After all it will be they who began the violence and acted in an anti-democratic way. Not to act against them would be to allow a few fanatics to hold up the establishment of Socialism.
Editorial Committee

" . . . false and sterile position."

The April issue of the Socialist Standard throws an interesting light on the theory of state capitalism as supported by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and also as supported by the leadership and majority of the International Socialism group.

The concept of slate capitalism as put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain is based on essentially contradictory premises. The article, “Just a Russian Revolutionary”, shows this. You, in contrast to Menshevism, admit that the Russian capitalist class was incapable of carrying out its bourgeois democratic tasks. This would lead one to conclude, in accordance with the theory of Permanent Revolution, that the working class would have to carry out the tasks of the bourgeoisie as well as creating a socialist state. Instead you are forced to say that the intelligentsia is a class, which could take state power and institute a bourgeois revolution! The intelligentsia is not a class per se, having no specific relationship with the means of production. It generally forms part of the petit-bourgeoisie, a class which, due to its peculiar economic position, tends to vacillate between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. As an intermediate class, it cannot exist independently in capitalist society and thus cannot take state power.

To add to this confusion, the intelligentsia also became a bourgeois class when it assumed power and ruled over a “capitalist state” in Russia. They managed to do this, despite the fact that the Russian capitalists “were dependent both on Tsarism and on foreign investors”, both of which would have liked to crush Lenin's “state capitalism”!

In the article on IS's position on the Soviet Union, you correctly state that IS failed to see all the implications of the state capitalist theory. Yet for all its faults (and I accept many of your criticisms but draw different conclusions) IS’s concept comes a hundred times closer to the correct interpretation of the Russian Revolution than the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s false and sterile position.
Bruce Robinson.
London, N.W.1.

We did not say that “the intelligentsia” were a class; we said they were “a social group peculiar to the Russia of that time”. Intelligentsia is in fact a Russian word and “the intelligentsia of diverse ranks,” composed of professional people of non-noble origin working mainly for the government, was one of the legal orders into which Tsarist society was divided, the others being nobility, clergy, merchants and peasants. This social group — or feudal order, if you like — is not at all the same as those who in modern capitalist society are loosely called “intellectuals”. Those employed for a wage or salary to do mainly intellectual work today are members of the working class as much as those employed in factories or down coal mines.

The Russian revolutionary intelligentsia were inspired by the ideals of the French bourgeois revolution. They wished to free the Russian “nation” from the yoke of Tsarism and to establish a democratic, and even a “socialist”, republic. These revolutionists knew that they could not overthrow Tsarism on their own; they knew their revolution needed a mass basis. At first they looked to the peasants. Then, as the development of capitalism in Russia produced a class of wage earners, they turned to the working class. Most of the Russian Social Democrats, and especially the Bolsheviks, shared the assumption of the peasant-oriented Narodniks that they, the revolutionary intelligentsia, were to be the general staff of the coming Russian revolution with the workers and/or the peasants as the rank and file.

Bolshevism — with its theory of the vanguard party and of the inability of the working class to evolve beyond reformist ideas — was an adapting of the Russian revolutionary tradition to the conditions created by early capitalist development in Russia.

Everywhere in the early stages of capitalism the workers incline towards blind violent revolt. It is a sign of their immaturity. It was Lenin’s genius as a Russian revolutionary, helped by some understanding of social forces he had gained from Marxism, to realise that this revolt could be harnessed to overthrow the Tsar, and to establish a democratic republic (the Bolsheviks' aim till 1917). In contrast to Menshevism and correctly, Lenin realised that Russia's bourgeois revolution would have to be carried through without the bourgeoisie.

The Bolshevik military coup of November 1917 was not a working class or socialist revolution (as IS, whose views on this Bruce Robinson commends, claim). It was essentially a stage in the revolution that cleared away feudal obstacles to the development of an economic system in Russia based on production for profit, money, the wages system and the accumulation of capital — Russia's capitalist revolution.

Once in power the Bolsheviks had no choice but to develop capitalism since (given that the rest of the world was staying capitalist) this was the only way forward for Russia. Over time the top members of the Bolshevik party and their hangers-on (including those recruited from the working class and the peasantry) gained a solid privileged position on the basis of exploiting wage-labour through their State-run industries and became a definite Russian capitalist class.
Editorial Committee.


It is difficult to avoid the impression that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is Crypto-Leninistic when it claims that capitalism was necessary to build up the organization of production until it could be replaced by democratic control of society. If people are inadequate to develop their economy communally and co-operatively, then by what means does competence magically descend on them after elitist-controlled growth. It takes blindness to ignore the achievements in voluntary collectivization (free sharing of talents and resources) of the Spanish anarchists in the 1930’s and to disregard the potential of the Mahknovites in the Russian Revolution. Again on what grounds does the SPGB condemn the Bolshevik usurpations when it alleges that capitalism is necessary in primitive countries (see p.45 Russia 1917-1967). I am very disappointed in the Companion Parties (WSP. SPGB. et al). This lack of faith in the ability of the people to control their own destiny was certainly not shared by Rosa Luxemburg who is otherwise favourably regarded by the WSP. 1 regret having to be so critical and I hope this disagreement is based on a misunderstanding.
Yours for Socialism.
Roger Lee.
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.

Roger Lee will be pleased to know that he has misunderstood us. When we say that the development of capitalism was necessary before Socialism could be established, we are thinking in world terms. By the end of the last century capitalism had performed this task of building up the material basis for Socialism. From then on it has been a reactionary system everywhere. We reject the view that the coming of capitalism to the backward countries now (or to backward Russia after 1917) is necessary before Socialism can be established.

When we wrote on page 45 of our pamphlet Russia 1917-1967: “That Russia had to follow the capitalist road and employ capitalist methods was inevitable”, we meant this to be understood in the context of the conditions then existing, i.e., that Russia was economically backward and that a majority of the workers both there and in other countries of the world did not want or understand Socialism. In fact we specially spelt this out on the previous page of the same pamphlet:
  . . . in the conditions that existed in Russia and the absence of a strong world socialist movement no other development was possible. Russia had to go through the stage of capitalism (emphasis added).
The land area of Russia and its people could have formed part of a world socialist community after 1917 had there been a majority of Socialists in the industrialised parts of the world. The brutal Bolshevik industrialisation of Russia was not historically necessary, whatever “crypto-Leninists" might say (if that is what they do say).

We are aware that throughout the history of capitalism there have been examples of workers (and peasants) organising themselves democratically to produce wealth. These however were not examples of Socialism but they do confirm that ordinary people can run society's affairs without a boss class — an argument we have always put forward.
Editorial Committee.

Need pollution be a threat? (1970)

From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite the overwhelming evidence for man’s ability to produce an abundance of the means of life, including food, there is growing evidence that if man continues to ruthlessly plunder his environment in the way he has done over the last hundred years or so then the gloomy predictions of the ‘miserable parson’ Malthus may become true. Rivers, oceans, the atmosphere and the land may steadily become less productive as the result of the irrational drive to accumulate wealth on the part of a minority.

We would be committing a Malthusian error ourselves, however, if we claim that this is an inevitable process. Capitalism is nothing if it is not in ovatory and it can and will attempt to solve the worst of the pollution problems, especially if they endanger the growth of capital accumulation generally. Neither should we neglect the effects of the growth of movements supporting conservation. Once movements and institutions of this kind are in being they acquire a momentum of their own and justify their existence by forcing politicians and industrialists to change their policies even at the expense of profits.

The extent of their success will depend partly upon the growth of such movements in various parts of the world and partly upon the degree to which the aims of the conservationists will coincide with the imperative need to accumulate capital. It could well be that the competitiveness of industrial nations in the future will depend upon their ability to control pollution.

The conservationists themselves have produced some interesting and important works on pollution in the modern world. In his Reith Lectures Dr. Frank Fraser Darling gives some telling examples of the effects of the indiscriminate use of modern technology on our environment. He makes a serious blunder, however, in blaming population growth for this indiscriminate, criminal mis-use of technology :
  Population and pollution are the two great problems of our age, and pollution is a function of population increase, though it need not necessarily be so. (The Listener, 27 November 1969).
What he is saying is that in order to feed the extra millions we have to continually develop technology in the form of fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and agricultural machinery, all of which will pollute the atmosphere in one form or another.

If we examine his analysis we can quite easily see the fallacy of his argument. Is it true to say that technology is continually advancing in response to increasing population? Technology advances and has a far greater polluting effect in advanced industrial countries where output is increasing at a far greater rate than population. On the other hand, areas like India and Latin America have tremendous population problems and technology is barely keeping pace with the growth of population, and pollution, as a side-effect of technology, is not serious.

It would be unfair to dismiss Dr. Darling’s arguments on this subject however because on several occasions he comes close to identifying what should be at the core of his argument:
  “The economic factor is enormously powerful, setting firm against firm in cutting down production costs and caring little about disposal of wastes. Country is set against country in getting the world markets, so the materialist’s creed is that once more industry' must not be handicapped by idealistic policies of pollution control.” (The Listener 13 November 1969).
It is not the materialist creed that is at fault; but the way humans are related to each other compel them to adopt ‘materialistic’ and inhuman attitudes.

He also realises that it is possible to organise ourselves so that the world becomes a fit place to live in through the intelligent use of technology:
  “There are examples of some correction through the advance of technology, for do remember that if the will of the people is ultimately that the environment of man shall be clean and decent, it will be technology that will be the handmaiden in achieving it.” (The Listener 27 November 1969).
It is a great pity that people like Dr. Darling do not realise that before the environment of man can become clean and decent a tremendous transformation in human organisations and institutions is necessary and that the main arguments he puts forward are holding up this transformation by offering false solutions to the wrong problems.
L. H.

The Marxist view of Russia (1970)

From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who understand the Marxian theory of social development have no illusions about Russia. Even in 1918 it was obvious that Socialism, as a democratic classless society, could not be set up there. Economically, Russia was too backward. Politically, the mass of the people were either ignorant of or opposed to Socialism. In other words, Russia was not ripe for Socialism. Marx had concluded that it was not possible for countries to skip the necessary stages of their social development by “bold leaps or legal enactments”. The Bolshevik bid to do this, to avoid capitalism by leaping from backward Tsarism straight into Socialism by means of a dictatorship, was doomed to fail and led not to Socialism but to a brutal state capitalism in which the former professional revolutionaries turned into a new privileged and exploiting class. Russia has got nothing to do with Socialism or Marxism, though of course a Marxist analysis can be made of the class society there.

Many from Lenin to Mao and Guevara do stand for minority insurrection leading to minority rule and this is accepted by many, supporters and opponents alike, as “Marxism”. But this was not Marx’s own view of the socialist revolution. He held that Socialism could only be set up when the immense majority of workers wanted it. This socialist majority should win political power (through the ballot-box where possible) and use it to carry out the social revolution. It is true that a few times Marx did refer to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” but it is obvious from the contexts that this was merely another way of saying “rule of the workers” which Marx insisted could only be based on democracy. Lenin is the man responsible for twisting this phrase to mean dictatorship over the proletariat for that is what his “vanguard party” set up in Russia.

Saving graces (2020)

Book Review from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Science and Passion of Communism. Selected Writings of Amadeo Bordiga. Edited by Pietro Basso. Brill. 540 pages,

Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970), the first leader of the Italian Communist Party who later became a prominent figure in the Left Communist opposition to Stalin, was a super-Leninist. Not only did he hold that under capitalism the working class was incapable of understanding socialism but that (for this reason) the working class should not be consulted by the vanguard party as to what to do; this party should seize power as a minority in an armed uprising and then rule on behalf of the workers. So why should he be of any interest to socialists?

After the Second World War Bordiga resumed activity (during the fascist period he had remained in Italy), which for him was mainly a question of developing a correct understanding of Marx. This led to his two saving graces – his analysis of the USSR as capitalist and his view that communist society had to be a society from which production for the market, working for wages, and using money (even as an accounting unit) had disappeared.

According to him, Russia had never ceased to have a capitalist economy. In this he followed up Lenin’s view of the ‘New Economic Policy’ that the Bolsheviks were forced to adopt in 1921 and which Lenin described as the development of capitalism under the auspices of the ‘proletarian state’ (i.e, a state controlled by a vanguard party claiming to have socialism as its aim). For Bordiga, at some point during the 1920s the ‘proletarian state’ ceased to exist but capitalism continued. He preferred to call Russia simply capitalist rather than state capitalist, on the grounds that production was in the hands of enterprises as separate accounting and capital accumulating units producing for the market. Even though he exaggerated the degree of autonomy of state enterprises, he was to be proved right to the extent that, with the collapse of Bolshevik rule in the 1990s, many of the oligarchs who emerged as open capitalists did come from the ranks of those who had managed state enterprises.

To illustrate Bordiga’s view of communism (which we call socialism) the editor has chosen an article written in 1958 entitled ‘The Revolutionary Programme of Communist Society Eliminates All Forms of Ownership of Land, the Instruments of Production and the Products of Labour’. In it Bordiga starts from a criticism Engels made of the agrarian programme adopted by the French Workers Party in 1894 which came out in favour of peasants owning the land they worked even those employing workers. Engels saw this as ‘opportunism’ in the sense of adopting a policy to attract votes that contradicted the socialist aim of common ownership by society of land. This aim, says Bordiga, rules out both peasant cooperatives and either municipal or state ownership of land.

He doesn’t object so much to the word ‘nationalisation’ (also used by Marx) as this implies that the land belongs to the people rather than to a political institution. He ends up rejecting the word ‘property’ – even as ‘common property’ – altogether as it still implies ownership by a restricted group, even if this group is the whole human population alive at a particular time. In communism the existing population would not have exclusive rights over the land to do with it as they pleased, as this would be to exclude future generations. What they will have is the use of the land which they will have to care for and hand down to future generations in the same or better state that they found it. Bordiga quotes Marx:
  ‘Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias’ (Capital, Volume 3, chapter 46).
The words in Latin are from Roman law (which Marx started to study in university) meaning literally ‘good heads of family’. Today, we would use a more familiar form of words such as ‘good stewards’.

This introduces what would now be called an ecological dimension to socialist society as envisaged by Marx. Bordiga, writing in the 1950s as a Marxist, took up this point and developed it in other writings, long before ecological movements got off the ground.

Bordiga goes on to apply this not just to natural resources but also to the instruments of labour made by humans and to the products of their work (hence the article’s title). None of these will be ‘owned’ but will simply be there to be used by good stewards. The concept of ‘property’ and ‘ownership’ is replaced by that of ‘stewardship’ though the word Bordiga uses is ‘usufruct’ (use without ownership).

Bordiga’s brand of Left Communism gave rise to various groups in the 1970s which inherited his (and Marx’s) view of communism as a worldwide society from which classes, private property, the coercive state, markets, money, wages and profits had disappeared. So he deserves some credit for keeping alive, as we have done, the original idea of socialism/communism.

Priced at over £50 this book is mainly for university libraries not the general public. Bordiga’s article is available, though in a different translation, in the Libcom online library.
Adam Buick

Do monkeys produce surplus value? (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Liverpool FC have cut ties with their “official” coconut milk following allegations that monkeys were used as slave labour to pick fruit for the product’ (Times, 11 August). The animal rights group PETA had produced evidence that in Thailand monkeys were being used as ‘coconut-picking machines’ and were maltreated by being held in chains when not working.

The monkeys were certainly maltreated but were they being economically exploited in the same way as human wage workers? Were they producing surplus value?

Marx divided the capital of a business into two parts. (1) The instruments of production, raw materials, buildings, fuel, which he called ‘constant capital’ and (2) the fund out of which productive workers were paid, which he called ‘variable capital’. In the course of production the elements of constant capital transferred only their pre-existing value, whether in one go or gradually, to the product. Productive workers too transferred the value of their labour power to the product, but at the same time added new value over and above this; hence ‘variable capital’ with the variation being surplus value.

But what about the labour power of animals used in production, which at one time was so widespread that ‘horse-power’ was chosen as the name of a unit of mechanical force: is this constant or variable capital?

In discussing, in the opening chapter of Volume I of Capital, production by humans of what they need, Marx made the point that this involved them changing other parts of nature into something useful for them. These use values
  ‘are combinations of two elements – matter and labour. If we take away the useful labour expended on them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man. The latter can work only as Nature does, that is by changing the form of matter. Nay more, in this work of changing the form he is constantly helped by natural forces’ (Section 2).
In a later chapter Marx pointed out that ‘physical forces, like steam, water, etc when appropriated to productive processes cost nothing’ (chapter 15, section 2). In the previous section of the same chapter he had included animal power alongside wind power and water power as among the natural forces that humans used in production.

A capitalist enterprise, therefore, does not have to pay for the ‘material substratum’ of wealth or for the forces provided by Nature; these are available to them cost-free. This applies as much to animal power as to wind or waterfalls (or the sun’s rays, tidal power, etc). What a capitalist enterprise does have to pay for, however and which can be costly, is the means of harnessing these free natural forces – windmills, water-wheels (solar panels, tidal barrages etc). In the case of animal labour, it is the animal itself that has to be paid for; its labour power does contribute to production but, as it is free, is not a part of capital, neither constant nor variable.

 As the animal itself has value (it has to be bred or acquired and maintained by human labour) it is a part of capital, but as constant capital. Like a machine it transfers its value gradually to the product until it wears out, but adds no new value. PETA was not so wide of the mark in describing those monkeys in Thailand as ‘coconut-picking machines’.

Just because they don’t produce surplus value is no reason for us workers not to show solidarity with our fellow other-animal workers and oppose their maltreatment.

Socialism in one enterprise? (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article in Counterpunch (28 July) Richard D. Wolff, of ‘Capitalism hits the fan’ fame, criticised the widespread definition of capitalism as ‘private’ or ‘free’ enterprise on the grounds that it ignores state enterprises and that ‘free’ is a loaded term that in any case only applies to those who own enterprises. He offered instead:
  ‘A key unique quality of capitalism is the employer/employee relationship between two different groups of the people engaged together in the economic system. That relationship entails an exchange of wages or salaries for labor power (the ability of an employee to work). A contract between employer and employee covers that exchange plus the employee’s exertion of brains and muscles over lengths of time and to ends specified by the employer. ’.
A defining feature of capitalism is indeed the wages system. Ending capitalism does involve the ending of this employer/employee relationship. Wolff, however, sees this as being implemented at enterprise level, describing as ‘instances of communist enterprises’ worker co-ops where ‘one and the same community designs, directs, and performs the work of an enterprise such that each community member has one vote and enterprise decisions are made democratically.’

His justification for calling worker co-ops ‘communism’ is that they are commonly owned by those working in them and end the employer/employee relationship as far as their members are concerned. But if the common ownership of something by a group is ‘communism’ then there are many other examples of it within capitalist society. What socialists aim at, however, is the common ownership of the means of life by society as a whole – a communist society.

Marx wasn’t opposed to workers forming co-operatives. In fact he saw their emergence as one of the signs that society was becoming ripe to move from a capitalist to a communist society; they showed that the individual private owner/employer was redundant and that workers were quite capable of organising production without them. He was, however, opposed to the reformist demand that the state should subside them. In his own words:
  ‘The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour’ (Capital, Volume III, Chapter 27).
In other words, under capitalism, workers co-ops had to function like a capitalist enterprise with all the shortcomings this involves such as, we can specify, having to make a profit to re-invest in up-to-date methods of production so as to remain competitive and stay in business.

Wolff’s conception of the role and significance of ‘co-operative factories’ is different. He envisages them as producing for the market alongside private and state enterprises both under capitalism and in ‘socialism’ (by which, going completely off the rails, he seems to mean places like the old USSR). He advocates co-operative enterprises as a way forward for workers within capitalism in the same way that other reformists used to advocate state enterprises.

This brings out that his definition of capitalism is incomplete. It needs to include as well as the employer/employee relationship that production is carried on for sale with a view to profit. Capitalism is a market society in which everything is bought and sold, not just labour power.

Common ownership on a society-wide scale implies that the democratically-run productive units would not be producing for a market, precisely because what they produced would belong to society and be available to be distributed in non-market ways, whether free distribution, free use or taking according to need.

Conflicts in Hong Kong (2020)

From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hong Kong was a small but important part of the British Empire, acquired by military might. Hong Kong Island originally became part of the Empire in 1842, after China was defeated in the First Opium War, as the lucrative opium trade was imposed on China by Britain. After the Second Opium War in 1860, further land was ceded, including Kowloon Peninsula. Then in 1898 the New Territories to the north of Kowloon were leased to Britain for 99 years.

Under British rule, Hong Kong became a centre of global trade and finance, much of it supported, directly or indirectly, by the opium industry. Its Chinese population lived in squalor, while, in the first decades at least, many wealthy Westerners enjoyed opulence and an often-debauched lifestyle, with the Royal Navy ready to defend Britain’s interests and so-called free trade.

As the end of the lease approached, the British government decided that Hong Kong without the New Territories would not be viable, so in 1984 an agreement was reached that the whole of Hong Kong would be transferred to China in 1997, with an undertaking that the social system would be guaranteed for fifty years. Hong Kong is officially a Special Administrative Region of China, under the supposed principle of ‘one country, two systems’, and there is at least a semblance of the capitalist idea of democracy, with elections and political parties, though the members of the Legislative Council are only partly chosen by direct elections.

Hong Kong’s economy has fared pretty well in capitalist terms since the Chinese takeover. It is a very large importer and exporter, with many goods being trans-shipped through its container port and its airport the largest anywhere for international cargo. It has the world’s seventh-busiest stock exchange, and the second-highest number of billionaires of any city (behind only New York). Some supporters of capitalism have regarded Hong Kong as leading the world in economic freedom, in terms of the rule of law and the ability of people to make decisions about their lives. Given the extent of inequality and poverty and the lack of genuine democracy, this was always nonsense, but presumably even such apologists are likely to be changing their minds given recent events.

At the end of June this year, China imposed on Hong Kong a new security law, which included possible life sentences for secession, subversion or terrorism. Some cases could be tried in China, not Hong Kong, and the Beijing government would have the final say on how the law should be interpreted. The head of Amnesty International’s China Team said the law ‘represents the greatest threat to human rights in [Hong Kong’s] recent history’ and ‘China will have the power to impose its own laws on any criminal suspect it chooses’. Others claim that it infringes human rights and international law. There were protests last year that involved pitched battles with police, and the new law was widely seen as making any kind of protest illegal. Some critics thought the law meant that Hong Kong was ‘turning into China for real’.

Even before the law came into effect, some opposition groups, both pro-independence ones and campaigning organisations, decided to dissolve themselves, though some carried on their work from Taiwan. Many people deleted social media posts in order to be on the safe side. On the first day of the law being in operation, there were demonstrations, met by riot police, with ten people being arrested under the security law. Anyone allegedly promoting ‘Hong Kong independence’ can be charged with inciting secession.

China set up a new security agency in Hong Kong, with a so-called ‘hard-liner’ as its head. Journalists have become worried about revealing sources and fear that even reporting banned slogans may be illegal. Books by pro-democracy activists have begun to disappear from local libraries, supposedly so it can be ascertained if they violate the new law. Among those arrested was a newspaper owner, and the offices of his paper were searched. At one demo in early September, around 300 people were arrested, including a twelve-year-old girl who allegedly ran away ‘in a suspicious manner’.

District council elections held in November last year resulted in a big majority for the ‘pro-democracy’ groups, while opinion polls showed that most people supported the protests, if not the violence. This year’s Legislative Council elections have been postponed till next year, presumably because the authorities fear an outcome unfavourable to them.

Politicians in other capitalist countries have objected to China’s recent policies. Johnson has said that up to three million Hong Kong residents who hold British national overseas status would be given the right to settle in the UK, though it remains to be seen if he would keep to this if push comes to shove. Australia has made it easier for Hong Kong students in Australia to remain there after they graduate. Trump has put an end to any special economic treatment for Hong Kong, so that it will be treated the same as China. This may mean that US companies will switch from using Hong Kong as a regional hub to another Chinese city or Singapore.

One reason for these actions by China may relate to the issue of control in the South China Sea, which is an important sea lane and has extensive oil and gas reserves (see the August Socialist Standard). Eight missile boats and corvettes from the Chinese navy are currently stationed in Hong Kong, and one recently took part in a ‘live-fire drill’ which involved firing cannons and torpedoes. This is a very small part of the whole navy and even of the South Sea Fleet but it may still be useful in standing up to US naval operations there. There is, however, little chance of demonstrations in Hong Kong undermining the Chinese navy’s strength, and Hong Kong becoming independent from China is hardly a real possibility in the short or medium term. It may also be the case that clamping down on dissent in Hong Kong is a way of sending messages to Taiwan, which is still viewed as a ‘rebel province’, or to workers in China who may be kicking against the traces. China, the message reads, will not put up with dissent or any kind of demand for more democracy. The Beijing government is in charge, and people had better bear that in mind. Stopping demos and arresting fairly small numbers of people could be an effective way of making this point.
Paul Bennett