Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Heroic Tragedy: A Civil War Within a Civil War (2016)

From the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The second part of our look back at the Spanish Civil War. Continued from last month.

The Spanish civil war is often simplistically described as a war of democracy versus fascism, or by Francoist historians as Catholicism versus Soviet Communism but this hides the real multiplicity of the underlying forces that fed into the conflict. Religion, regionalism, the agrarian question, rival claims to the monarchy, and class conflict all played a role in shaping the course of events.

There was tension and conflict of interests between the various groups that made up the Republican Popular Front. The Generalitat (Catalonian regional government) sought to regain power that had been taken from them during the putting down of the military rising of July 1936. Events came to a head and culminated in the ‘May Days’ of 1937, as famously described by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia. On 2 May three trucks of assault guards, led by Rodriguez Salas the communist (PSUC – Catalonian Communist Party, pro-Stalinist) Commissioner for Public Order, arrived at the CNT/UGT controlled telephone exchange building with the intention of seizing it. Taking the occupants by surprise they were able to enter the building but were eventually forced back by machine-gun fire. The sound of the fighting alerted those nearby and news of the raid quickly spread throughout Barcelona. A stand-off ensued. On one side were the various forces of government and the PSUC, and on the other the CNT-FAI, backed up by the POUM (a small non-Stalinist communist party, similar in outlook to opposition Communists of Russia) and a smaller group The Friends of Durruti (a group within the CNT that objected to collaboration with the government).

CNT leaders made their way to the Generalitat to demand that Aiguader (Commander of the Assault Guards and Republican National Guard who was assumed to have given the order) and Rodriguez Salas resign, to pacify the situation. But no compromise could be met. The CNT declared a general strike. A network of barricades were constructed to resist the government forces, and movement of non-CNT vehicles was prevented. Sporadic shooting could be heard throughout the streets of Barcelona. A call for calm was put out over the radio, to no avail.

Anarchist and POUM divisions left the battlefront and attempted to head to Barcelona, only to be turned back by republican aircraft. Government reinforcements arrived in Barcelona via sea and road. The possibility of a full civil war within the civil war was becoming increasingly real. Seeing the futility of such a turn of events CNT and FAI leaders proposed that the barricades be taken down on the condition that no reprisals be carried out by the Assault Guards. The government agreed and on 7 May the barricades began to disappear. Five days of street fighting had resulted in more deaths and casualties than in the initial putting down of the military coup. The era of anarcho-syndicalist power in Barcelona was over. The PSUC and the PCE (Spanish Communist Party of which PSUC was the Catalonian branch) used the events to bolster their position within the government.

World war by proxy
In many ways the Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for the Second World War, with foreign intervention playing a decisive role from the beginning of the conflict. The fascist states of Germany and Italy provided troops and hardware to aid the Nationalists, using the conflict as a testing ground for new equipment and techniques. In the first days and months of the conflict it was impossible for large Nationalist troop movements to be conducted via the sea, as the Republic had control of the navy. So German aircraft provided transport for the otherwise stranded forces of the Army of Africa commanded by General Franco, this being the first operation of its kind in history with a force of some 13,500 men being moved from Morocco to the mainland by the end of the operation. Another historical first befell the Basque town of Guernica which, later in the conflict, was to be the first civilian town destroyed by air raid. The other western European countries in effect supported the Nationalists by preventing arms being passed to the Republicans under the guise of non-intervention. Only Russia and Mexico supported the Republic and Mexico only diplomatically.

The aim of Russian foreign policy was to seek anti-Nazi allies in the region, a policy dependent on French capitalism. As the spread of workers’ control would be a threat to the interests of the ruling classes in the area, the goal of the Russians was to secure the victory of the Republic but at the same time stem the successes of the syndicalists. As the Republic’s only source of arms came from Russia, administered by the Spanish Communist parties, they were able to apply much leverage to the situation; though not to the extent that the Republic was a mere puppet of Moscow, as is sometimes claimed.

The Spanish Holocaust
It is necessary to spread terror. We have to create the impression of mastery, eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do. There can be no cowardice. If we vacillate one moment and fail to proceed with the greatest determination, we will not win. Anyone who helps or hides a Communist or a supporter of the Popular Front will be shot’General Mola.

Away from the front-lines a wave of violent killings took place, claiming nearly 200,000 victims. Though atrocities occurred on both sides, the nature of the killings in the two different zones reflected two different attitudes towards violence and human life. In the Nationalist zone the repression was of a premeditated and coldly calculated nature designed to suppress the enemy through the imposition of terror. It has been estimated that, out of all the victims of rearguard repression, 150,000 were at the hands of the Nationalists. Once an area had been conquered they would round up known Republicans and trade unionists and mass executions would follow. Republican women would have their heads shaved and be forced to drink castor oil, so as to soil themselves in public. Thousands were subjected to rape and other forms of torture. The Nationalists were to continue with their policy of bloody repression well after the civil war had been won – in the years following the war a further 20,000 Republicans were to be executed.

The disappearance of conventional structures of law and order led to atrocities on the Republican side, but these were mostly brought to an end within the first few months of the war. Violence was spontaneous and came from the bottom up, rather than being the result of a deliberate policy. In the countryside armed gangs roamed from village to village, executing anyone that was suspected of being sympathetic to the Nationalists. Victims included captured rebel army officers and troops, the clergy, landowners and businessmen. Nearly seven thousand members of the church were murdered or executed. Some efforts were made to protect and assist the evacuation of Nationalist prisoners and others at risk, an equivalent move not seen on the Nationalist side. Workers organisations and political parties set up autonomous police forces and secret prisons, known as checas. As the conflict went on these would increasingly be brought into central control; though the Communists, assisted by imported NKVD Soviet secret police, would hold on to their checas, using them not only against suspected Nationalists but also against the CNT-FAI, POUM and other advocates of the social revolution.

Conclusion
It is all too easy to pass judgment from the distance of history. Any praise or criticism must be made in the light of the fact that without the military rising none of the subsequent events would have happened, and everything that did happen was unavoidably shaped and influenced by the conditions of war and the wider international situation. The social revolution in Catalonia only occurred because the normal functioning of state power had been disrupted by the military rising, with control of the economy temporarily passing into the hands of the syndicalists.

Could the social revolution (better understood as ‘trade-union controlled capitalism’) have spread further? The actual situation of the time meant that the odds were vastly stacked against this. The syndicalists were isolated both within the Republic and internationally. The central government deliberately held back credit and resources from the syndicalists, and international trade deals meant that foreign trade could only be conducted via the Madrid government, so economically the syndicalists found themselves behind a blockade.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, the CNT had somehow managed to become the dominant force throughout the whole of the Republic. How then would their programme have fared? Worker-controlled capitalism is subject to the same pressures as those of capitalism proper. Even with the whole industry of the nation forged into one great co-operative, the logic of market competition would remain. The national co-operative would have to be able to acquire goods and raw materials from the outside world and to do this it would have to profitably dispose of its own. In order for this to be possible enough surplus-value would have to be squeezed out of the working class so that at least an average rate of profit could be realised. As with any capitalist enterprise, the pressure would be to continually increase productivity of labour, ultimately to the detriment of the labour. The logic of capitalism is not imposed because of the greed of individual capitalists but because market competition compels enterprises to accumulate or die. Communism is not capitalism without capitalists but a system where productive activity is directly controlled by the whole of society, rather than being mediated through exchange on the market.

On the dawn of the military rising, the working class of Spain faced a bleak choice; face repression and extermination at the hands of the fascists, potentially die fighting, or suffer the isolation of exile. Though the outcome was not and could not have been socialism, the efforts of a strong and well-organised workers movement did for a short time and in many respects successfully improve their living conditions. However, at the same time we should not over-romanticise, since the positive achievements of the syndicalists were happening against a background of violence and slaughter. The cooperative worldwide society we call socialism cannot be brought about through coercive means, as what is gained by force has to be held onto by force. Repression and summary killing can only contribute to an atmosphere of authoritarianism. Nonetheless one cannot help but admire the bravery of the ordinary men and women who courageously set about building what they saw as the new society, whilst at the same time resisting the forces of a military rebellion. War and civil war is always a tragedy, but in this case it was a tragedy of heroic proportions.

Following the death of Franco and the return to parliamentary democracy in Spain, anarcho-syndicalism returned to play a small but significant, though greatly reduced, role in the Spanish labour movement. Spain’s third largest union currently is the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), formed from a split with the CNT in 1979, with a reported membership of 80,000.
Darren Poynton

Monday, December 17, 2018

Greek dead-end (2016)

Book Review from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Defiance: Greece and Europe’, by Roger Silverman. Zero Books. 2016. £15.99

Yet another book by a leftist on Greece, this time by veteran Trotskyist Roger Silverman.

The first 6 of the 15 chapters are a potted history of Greek politics since a Greek state was set up in 1821. Although there were elections before, often rigged, Greece cannot be said to have become a capitalist political democracy till after the overthrow of the Colonels’ military dictatorship in 1973. Up till then the coercive parts of the state machine – the armed forces and the police – were not controlled by the elected parliamentarians but were a law unto themselves, intervening from time to time to overthrow any government which acted or threatened to act in a way they disliked.

Greece had had radical leftwing governments before Syriza was elected in January last year. In the 1980s it was Pasok. Like reformist governments everywhere, and in the 1980s like Mitterrand in France, Pasok failed to make capitalism work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers and ended up imposing austerity on them. It failed again in the 1990s and in 2009. So Syriza’s failure was nothing new.

Although he thinks the Syriza government could have acted otherwise than it did (by, for instance, nationalising the banks) he is under no illusion that there was a way-out – a way of avoiding austerity – within capitalism. Recognising that there was no immediate prospect of capitalism being ended (which would have had to be worldwide), Silverman is not as harsh on the Syriza Prime Minister Tsipras as some of his other critics. He virtually concedes that, given capitalism and isolated in Greece, the Syriza government didn’t really have any other choice than to impose austerity itself. He quotes a letter he received from a Cypriot Trotskyist:
  ‘The present battle in Greece has been lost. That the capitulation of Tsipras is the defining act of this loss cannot be questioned, but in all probability this battle would be lost a little further down the road. Tsipras could see this and he chose to throw in the towel rather than take further punishment.’
Silverman is critical of the leftwing breakaway from Syriza, Popular Unity, in which SOAS professor and former Syriza MP Costas Lapavitsas is prominent, with its call to leave the euro and restore the drachma, a move which, in Silverman’s view, would probably make things worse (hyperinflation). In fact, he can even see a positive side to the euro:
  ‘A currency union represents a positive attempt partially to overcome the reactionary effects  of the survival of the nation state, an obsolete relic of a bygone era.’
He employs the same language as us, writing that there is no solution to the problems facing Greek workers either within capitalism or within Greece alone, and that the only way out is to get rid of capitalism on a world scale. But of course he doesn’t mean the same. He envisages (wait for it) this being led by ‘a single party of the working class’ leading to a regime similar to what the Bolsheviks established in Russia after 1917. Trotskyists are so predictable.
Adam Buick

When it’s Amber it Means Caution (2016)

From the November 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tory Party has recently devoted some time to congratulating itself on being so progressive as to select a woman as leader. But then Theresa May’s victory left her to make some entertaining changes. Like transforming Boris Johnson out of his mannered buffoonery into Foreign Secretary. But there were others whose claws had to be blunted by a spell in some lower but heavily taxing ministry, for example David Davis and Liam Fox with their Brexit planning. And Amber Rudd who became marooned in the Home Office, which is not exclusively concerned with the crises in domestic matters but needs also to dabble in some of the more intractably damaging outside events attuned to modern capitalism. Some consolation for this among the trappings of her office may be her access to the polished BMW motor car, overseen by some pointedly muscled attendants.

Share Ramping
Rudd was schooled at the expensive Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Edinburgh University. Following the example of her father (who was once rated by an official enquiry as ‘totally unfit’ to be a director of any company) she began a career in banking and what is usually known as venture capital. This may have contributed to fitting her up to develop into ‘human resources counselling’ – which did not include therapy for anyone scraping by in zero-hours jobs or desperately unemployed existing in temporary housing. One of the companies she was involved in was the Lawnstone Group, in which her mother was a co-director and the fortunes of which can be described as ‘unpredictable’. In this Rudd’s work at finding some film ‘extras’ entitled her to be noted as something called an ‘aristocracy co-ordinator’. Many of the concerns Rudd was associated with seem to have been entangled in the devices of ‘tax evasion’ and one became notorious for share ramping – pushing baseless claims about the company’s outlook to provoke an upward effect on its share price. One member of the staff at Rudd’s Home Office was impressed – and perhaps ambitious – enough to needlessly remind us that ‘It is a matter of public record that Amber had a career in business before entering politics’.

Hastings
This came to pass in 2005 when, as expected, she failed to win the Labour seat at Garston Liverpool. But it was not all failure; she was put on David Cameron’s controversial ‘A List’ which resulted in her being the Conservative candidate for the more promising Hastings and Rye in Sussex where she won in 2010 with a majority of 1,993. That was the beginning of something big for in 2012 the Chancellor George Osborne chose her as his Parliamentary Private Secretary and some three years afterwards she got onto the Front Bench as Minister for Energy and Climate Change. At some stage it emerged that a couple of years before her election she had won a £50 voucher from the Chlamydia Screening Clinic in Hastings for a sexual health poem entitled Loving You Is So Exciting which included lines such as… ’ Darling, let us spend the night, Sashay past St. Mary’s Castle …But why dear heart, did you not mention, What we’ll do for contraception?… How about bingo on the beach?’  But it could not all be meandering relaxation for a previous press secretary described Hastings as ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’, which encouraged Rudd to respond that she was keen to be the Tory candidate there because ‘I wanted to be within two hours of London’ as if to escape from a constituency where she said ‘You get people who are on benefits, who prefer to be on benefits by the seaside. They’re not moving down here to get a job, they’re moving down here to have easier access to friends and drugs and drink …’

Poverty
For Hastings, with its history of the famous battle, its high Norman fort and its brand new pier, is one of the English seaside towns which suffered so grievously from the competition of package holidays in the foreign sun. And then there is the matter of the town’s recorded poverty. In November 2011 two of the housing estates there were among the worst affected by this problem, showing almost a third of the residents among the most deprived ten percent in the country. And so on: these figures might respond to a gentler interpretation, influenced by the emotions involved in Rudd’s 1990 marriage to A. A. Gill, who is now classified as a ‘recovering alcoholic’. Apart from that he is also a journalist – if this is an appropriate term for someone who receives generous pay from, among others, the Sunday Times for spouting assessments of restaurants which are little more than pretentious and irrelevant drivel. One fruit of Gill’s labours is that over a recent five year period he was the subject of 62 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission; a typical example of this and of his general opinion of others was that the TV presenter Clare Balding is ‘a big lesbian … a dyke on a bike’ and that in general English people are ‘an ugly race … lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed’. He and Rudd were divorced in 1995.

Brother
But that turned out to be just one example of Rudd attracting stress-driven attention in a career which seems at times to be devoted to it. At this year’s Annual Conference of the Conservative Party – her first from the eminence of Home Secretary, which may have encouraged her to use any means available to make an impression – she advocated that every company employing what she called ‘foreign’ workers should enter them on a register,  which presumably could be checked for deletions, adjustments, manipulation … Perhaps she did this as an example of crafty timing for it was the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, when Oswald Mosley’s fascists on a racist march through London were fought on the streets. Her brother, who is the boss of a public relations company, spoke out to attack her on behalf of ‘Those of us … who want Britain to remain a beacon of tolerance and who find the denigration of non-British workers appalling …’ During the Tory leadership contest Rudd was briefly prominent for the forceful expression of her standpoint. It did not take her long to show us that in this she is not a novelty.
Ivan

Obituary: Ken Shaw, 1920-2016 (2016)

Obituary from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

My father Ken Shaw died in October this year aged 96. He joined the Socialist Party in the mid-seventies and was to remain a party member for the rest of his life.

Along with a few others he was instrumental in forming the West Yorkshire branch, which, though short-lived, had some success staging and attracting audiences to a series of public meetings in his home town of Bradford.

When younger, Ken had been a member of the CPGB. Marriage to a catholic girl from Italy inevitably meant occasional visits from the local parish priest, whose disgust he incurred by leaving copies of the Daily Worker lying around the house.

Ken became disillusioned with the CP and for a number of years switched allegiance to Labour. Then, in the 1970s, he started reading the Socialist Standard and soon became convinced about the case for socialism. He quickly succeeded in getting a few others interested and the formation of the branch soon followed.

On my return visits home I would always find the latest issue of the Socialist Standard in prominent view somewhere around the house. I later discovered that this had been with the express intention of getting me interested – which eventually it did.

Ken spent his working life in the photo-litho department of a local printing firm. He was a talented amateur painter and photographer and has left a wealth of examples of his work.
Rod Shaw


Blogger's Note

Exhibition Review: ‘Dedicated to All Defenders of Human Freedoms’ (2017)

From the January 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers will quite probably never have heard of Paul Peter Piech, but may well have seen some of the political posters he produced from the 1950s onwards. An exhibition ‘Dedicated to All Defenders of Human Freedoms: The Art of Paul Peter Piech’ at the People’s History Museum in Manchester contains plenty of examples of his work, together with commentary on his career.

Piech (1920–96) was the son of Ukrainian immigrants to New York; he was stationed in Britain with the US Air Force in the Second World War, and returned here in 1947. He worked in commercial graphic design, and also produced a large number of linocuts as posters to advertise meetings, marches and political causes. He was never a member of a political party but his work essentially supported left-wing positions.

For instance, he produced one poster which showed the stars on the US flag transformed into swastikas. Others opposed war, cruise missiles and torture. One poster was commissioned by Amnesty against torture but was rejected by their head office as liable to offend some supporters: it shows a person being burnt with a cigarette and looks fairly innocuous now. A series of powerful posters on the theme ‘Racism is a Prison’ covers the US in the 1920s, Auschwitz, Soweto, Bosnia and so on. Other posters deal with the Miners Strike, with particular reference to South Wales.

In 1979 Piech became unpopular among some after he had worked on an exhibition in Iraq, sponsored by Saddam Hussein’s government. So he was not always a ‘defender of human freedoms’.

The exhibition contains a number of striking and memorable posters. A few are let down, though, by containing too much writing in an angular hard-to-follow script which hardly invites the onlooker to stand and read through them. 
Paul Bennett

So, You Want a Revolution? (2017)

From the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Worried about the state of the planet and what capitalism is doing to it? Want to do something about it? But what?

–  Burn down a bank, maybe?

You could do, but there’s a lot of banks, and even if you burned them all, they’d just build them again.

–  Kick a copper, perhaps?

Maybe, but they can kick harder than you can, every time.

–  Bring down the government?

And get a different government in? Or get martial law?

–  Start a revolution then?

Now you’re talking. But what kind of revolution? That is the question….

Opponents of capitalism are used to having their names dragged through the mud by the state but we don’t need to help the bastards do it in practice. Anybody who kicks in the window of a bank or a fast food joint is handing the state a propaganda victory on a plate.

You can’t bring down capitalism in the street. At best you can temporarily annoy it. Is that worth getting busted, or busted up, for? Don’t kid yourself that mayhem and rioting is a real threat to capitalism. Modern states have massive coercive power, and they can stand a lot more heat than you can deliver, and they can dish out a lot more heat than you can take.

To be dangerous to capitalism, we have to win the war of ideas, in the newspapers, on TV, amongst our friends and co-workers, in our groups, in our own head. And we have to be united about what we want after capitalism, and united about how to get it. Otherwise, the grim truth is that we really won’t get past Go.

For a revolution to be any good, you have to be for something, besides being against capitalism. Some people are just against big capitalism (WTO, IMF, World Bank, multinationals, etc) as if somehow ‘small’ national capitalism is a completely different thing, and perfectly nice. It’s not. They’re the same. Let’s have a definition: capitalism is production for sale on a market with a view to profit.

Instead of that we could have: cooperative production for use and free distribution on the basis of need. This would involve: no markets, no money, no commodities, no private property, no rich class and poor class, no Third World and First World, no profit-led profligacy of any description, no ecological destruction, no famine, and no war.

Think that’s unlikely? It isn’t. Capitalism has taken us as far as it can go, but there’s a lot further we can go without it. It doesn’t really matter whether you call it post-capitalism, world socialism, or post-scarcity anarchism, it is feasible and desirable. And given that some scientists are talking about a point of no-return for environmental destruction being reached, the word ‘urgent’ springs to mind too.

Trump’s Economist Advisors Seeing Red Everywhere (2018)

From the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The word ‘socialism’ is more attractive than scary these days—and that has the White House worried.

Two hundred years after the birth of Karl Marx, socialism is making a comeback in the United States.

That is not our optimistic claim, but rather the view expressed by the Trump White House in a report issued in October by its Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). The stated aim of the report, titled The Opportunity Costs of Socialism,’ is to examine socialism, its ‘economic incentives,’ and its ‘impact around the world on economic performance.’

In the opening paragraph the authors note with concern that, ‘Detailed policy proposals from self-declared socialists are regaining support in Congress and among much of the younger electorate.’ It would seem a hopeful sign—to socialists at least—that the White House is worried about the growing attraction of socialism.

The state of socialism
But if socialism seems to be ‘making a comeback in American political discourse’ in the eyes of the authors, to the point where socialists are seen lurking in the halls of Congress, it is probably because their definition of ‘socialism’ is broad enough to include nearly every sort of capitalist reform.

The CEA report claims that, ‘Whether a country or industry is socialist is a question of the degree to which (a) the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned or regulated by the state; and (b) the state uses its control to distribute the economic output without regard for final consumers’ willingness to pay or exchange’. In short, the greater the state’s intervention in production and distribution, the more ‘socialist’ is the country or industry. Indeed, ‘state’ and ‘socialist’ are nearly synonymous for Trump’s economic advisors.

It is important to also note the emphasis on the ’question of degree’. The report claims that that ‘socialism is a continuum’, not a ‘zero-one designation’, since ‘no country has zero state ownership, zero regulation, and zero taxes’. The authors point out that under ‘modern models of capitalism’, including the United States, there is an ‘ample role for government’, since there are ‘public goods and goods with externalities that will be inefficiently supplied by the free market’. And, conversely, ‘even the most highly socialist countries have retained elements of private property’.

The report claims there are ‘highly’ or ‘extreme’ socialist countries, where the state intervenes in many areas and ‘moderate’ ones where its role is more limited. This clearly suggests that ‘socialism’ is not so much a separate form of society or a ‘mode of production’ in itself, as a set of economic policies employed under capitalism. And the success or failure of such policies will ultimately have to be judged on capitalist terms, such as whether they raise or lower productivity and profitability. The logic of capitalism, as a system of production for profit, is the unchanging base of society, whereas socialism is merely a means of directing the system toward certain outcomes.

Although the authors blur the line between capitalism and socialism, they are at least scrupulous enough to insert the following footnote on the meaning of ‘communism’:
  ‘For classical socialists, “communism” is a purely theoretical concept that has never yet been put into practice . . . Communism is, in their view, a social arrangement where there is neither a state nor private property; the abolition of property is not sufficient for communism’. . .  This report therefore avoids the term “communism”’.
The report recognises, in other words, that state-owned property or state-run enterprises have nothing to do with communism—a point that is not often clear in the mind of a typical Republican red-baiter. Of course, we are still stuck with a false distinction between ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’, but the blame for that confusion cannot be laid at the door of the CEA. It was rather Lenin who insisted that socialism was the first stage, to be followed by communism as the second. The Bolsheviks had to make that distinction to account for why money, wage labour, property relations, profit, and all the other capitalist economic forms continued to exist after the supposedly ‘socialist’ Russian Revolution.

We reject Lenin’s distinction, in favour of a view not so uncommon before 1917 that ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ are basically synonymous, as both indicate a money-free world of production for use in which all the social wealth is held in common. It makes little sense, from a logical standpoint, to use the separate term ‘socialist’ to refer to societies that remain in essence capitalist. We prefer to use the term ‘state capitalism’ to refer to Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and other countries described by the report as ‘highly socialist’.

One could hardly pin the blame for the confused understanding of ‘socialism’ on the authors of the report, however, since they are expressing a view that holds sway across the political spectrum. Where the authors are quite negligent, however, is in claiming that Karl Marx also understood socialism as a sort of state-run capitalism. One need only read his sketch of a post-capitalist society in the first chapter of Capital to know that he saw no need for a state existing over the heads of an association of free individuals producing to meet their own needs. Marx labels that new society a ‘free Association of men’—not socialism or communism—but the key point is not the word itself but the fundamental distinction between capitalism and what will replace it.

Marx has in mind a new mode of production, not a reformed version of capitalism. In contrast, the ‘Left’ shares the CEA’s view of ‘socialism’ as a set of policies under capitalism, so their criticism of the report tends to centre on defending the benefits of ‘socialist’ state intervention in the capitalist economy.

Incidentally, the CEA also makes a complete muddle of the theory of capitalist ‘exploitation’, offering the claim that Marx or Marxists view ‘state ownership of the means of production’ as a means for ‘ending worker exploitation by leveraging scale economies’. But to try to unravel all the confusion surrounding their vague but jargon-ridden claims, while presenting Marx’s actual view of exploitation, would require a whole separate article.

Redbaiting 2.0
What is the purpose of this report—and the reason for the authors’ apparent anxiety—if ‘socialism’ is just a set of policies that poses no real threat to capitalism itself? It seems to us that part of the answer is ideological and the other part simply concerns practical politics.

Clearly, the authors seem worried that the younger generation has become immune to the negative image of socialism that was fostered through decades of propaganda in the United States. The authors want to educate this younger generation about the dangers of embracing socialism. And the tone throughout the report is like that of a concerned parent trying to prevent a child from taking a wrong turn in life.

A sentence might begin with the concession that ‘present-day socialists do not want dictatorship or state brutality’ or that ‘proponents of socialism acknowledge that the experiences of the USSR and other highly socialist countries are not worth repeating’, only to end with the not-so-subtle implication that such negative results will occur despite socialists’ good intentions.

For example: ‘Historical socialists such as Lenin, Mao, and Castro ran their countries without democracy and civil liberties. Modern democratic socialists are different in these important ways. Nevertheless, even when socialist policies are peacefully implemented under the auspices of democracy, economics has a lot to say about their effects’.

Socialism: Extreme and Moderate
In seeking to tarnish the image of socialism, the first part of the report looks at the ‘dismal track record’ of the ‘most highly socialist cases’ such as Maoist China, Cuba, and the USSR. The report concentrates on the failed agricultural experiments related to ‘state and collective farming’. This historical example is intended to show the ‘misalignment between the promises of highly socialist regimes to eliminate the misery and exploitation of the poor and the actual effects of their policies’—with the suggestion that similar disappointments could occur today.

The authors point to history and recognise that the ‘highly socialist’ countries were mainly agricultural, but do not ponder the riddle of why agricultural—rather than industrial—countries would embrace socialism. It is a riddle not so hard to unravel once it is clear that ‘socialism’ was nothing more than state capitalism, and that the overriding aim of such systems initially was usually to rapidly industrialise, thereby laying the groundwork for modern capitalism.

Of course, the victims of that crude form of ‘primitive accumulation’ are many, starting with the peasantry, and there is no need to quibble with many of the terrifying statistics thrown out by the CEA report. The problem is that the authors do not pause to consider the significance of the historical facts they are listing. The history of the ‘highly socialist’ countries is in fact that of ‘backward capitalist countries’ trying to catch up rapidly. It is a history that has nothing to do with ‘socialism’—apart from the fact that the leaders of those countries used the term to conceal the harsh social reality.

The section on the extreme cases of socialism is followed by a look at the more ‘moderate’ socialism of the Nordic countries. In this case, the task is a bit more difficult for the authors because there are not many scare stories that can be pointed to and the image that many have of those countries is positive. So instead of listing up problems of socialism, the authors spend much of their time laying the successes at the doorstep of capitalism, arguing that Nordic countries have been turning away from socialist policies to allow more freedom for the market economy.

They claim, for instance, that the ‘Nordic countries themselves recognised the economic harm of high taxes in terms of creating and retaining businesses and motivating work effort’. At the same time, the report argues that the Nordic model of taxation ‘relies heavily . . . on imposing high rates on households in the middle of the income distribution’ rather than imposing punitive rates on high-income households. The aim of this part of the report is clearly to pour some cold water on the Bernie Sanders supporters who look to northern Europe as an economic model.

‘Socialised medicine’
The final section of the report turns squarely to a pressing political issue: the debate over a ‘single-payer healthcare plan’. And here the timing of the report’s publication, just prior to the Mid-Term elections, is certainly no coincidence. Trump himself felt obliged to write a rare newspaper article around the same time for USA Today, in which he claimed that the ‘Medicare for all’ plan of the Democrats—those ‘radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela’—would threaten the existing Medicare program for seniors.

The logic of Trump’s article and the CEA report is a bit odd, since they attack what they call ‘socialised medicine’ by drawing on fears of older Americans that the existing Medicare program would be gutted. According to their own ‘market’ principles they should really be attacking Medicare, too. But here we are in the realm of practical politics, not pure economic theory.

Several articles responding to the CEA report have already noted that the authors point to the relatively short waiting times at hospitals for seniors in the United States as an argument against single-payer healthcare, even though those patients are covered by the single-payer Medicare plan.

The point to note here, as far as this article is concerned, however, is that it is a misuse of the term ‘socialist’ to attach it to the example of government-run healthcare. Whatever concern the state might have for the physical well-being of its citizens is connected to the needs of capital for a reasonably maintained workforce. The debate among the American capitalist class over healthcare, much like the 19th century debate over labour laws in England that Marx describes in Capital, centres on that issue of the ‘reproduction’ of labour power. And much like that earlier debate, today’s clash over single-payer healthcare is a complex and contradictory battle that involves conflicting interests among individual capitalists and differing views of what would benefit the capitalist class as a whole.

It would be naïve and dangerous for socialists to imagine that any of the parties involved are motivated by a genuine concern for the interests of workers.
Michael Schauerte

Is Britain Going Fascist? (1938)

From the December 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political Parties in the Melting Pot
Mr. Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler has had the effect of bringing to the surface some hitherto hidden currents in the political parties. Mr. Anthony Eden, who speaks for the Conservative group which favours a strong line against Germany, Italy and Japan, is now criticising Mr. Chamberlain’s policy and possibly challenging him for the leadership of the Conservative Party. That he is acting with the advice and guidance of Lord Baldwin is an indication of the amount of support he can count upon in Conservative circles.

On the Opposition side of the House of Commons the Labour Party and Liberals are both divided internally on foreign policy. In each party is a group who favour Chamberlain’s ideas of international ”appeasement ‘ and another and larger group which leans more to Eden’s policy of using the League of Nations and the appeal to safeguard democracy as a means of rallying as many Powers as possible to make a stand against the dictatorship countries.

Still another group of Conservatives are anxious to prevent Mr. Chamberlain giving back colonies to Germany.

The small I.L.P. contingent of M.P.s back Chamberlain, while the solitary Communist takes the opposite side.

Here is a mix-up, out of which a new party grouping might emerge, and already Mr. Eden is counting on getting followers from all three of the larger parties. Time alone will show whether Mr. Eden’s group will succeed outright or whether their purpose will be sufficiently served if Mr. Chamberlain is forced to speed up re-armament and adopt some other planks in their programme, and much will depend on the reception the Eden programme gets in the constituencies.

Two factors emerge which throw light on the political confusion. One is the nature of the Eden programme, the other is the peculiar position now occupied by the Labour Party. Mr. Eden, in his speech in the House on November 10th, demanded a greatly speeded-up re-armament programme, and wants “every citizen in this country given the opportunity for some training in one or other of our vital defence services.” He demands a reorganisation and speeding-up in the working of the democratic machine, action to reduce unemployment and help the depressed areas, and more attention to housing and nutrition. “It is no use,” he said, “having the finest armaments in the world unless you have a fit nation to wield them ” (Hansard, November 10th, 1938, col. 378). He wants unity between the classes – “an England in which comradeship was the spirit of the nation” – all, of course, in order to meet the threat from abroad.

The wealthy would be called upon for “some measure of sacrifice in their present standard of life” in order to meet the two-fold cost of armaments and social services.

Thus, in a manner typical of the British ruling class, Mr. Eden is putting forward a programme which echoes more than faintly the slogans of Italian Fascism and German Nazism. Suitably toned down for the English scene, it is the Nazi formula of exaggerated nationalism as a cover under which to enforce national unity, linked up with social reform trimmings to make it attractive to the industrial workers. It is the same political swindle as that worked off in Germany and Italy, devised for the purpose of winning the workers over to the service of capitalism in its struggle with its competitors in other lands. It is called a policy of peace, security and social reform, but it points to war and destruction.

There is no need to argue that the Chamberlain policy – even though it fails in the eyes of some Conservatives through its inability to appeal strongly enough to the workers and in its inability to tackle the re-armament programme with sufficient drive – is in essentials the same as Eden’s. But where does the Labour Party stand ?

At once it is obvious that the Labour Party has no real alternative to offer. One Labour group could easily fall in behind Chamberlain and another group behind Eden with nothing fundamental to distinguish them from those leaders. The truth is that the Labour Party no longer possesses any characteristics to mark it off from progressive Liberals or social-reform Conservatives. Thirty or even ten years ago the Labour Party stood, above all, for nationalisation, but now that nationalisation has, for all practical purposes, ceased to be a live political issue what is there left? The Labour Party every day and in every way becomes more and more a reborn Liberal Party, but without that Party’s political fire and its capacity for the rough and tumble of the Parliamentary battle.

And, in the meantime, more than a few representatives of British capitalism are thinking that there is much to be said for the totalitarian idea to replace the party system. One of those who is toying with this is Mr. Eden’s supporter, Duff Cooper. Writing in the Evening Standard, November 15th, 1938, Mr. Duff Cooper concludes an article on “New Parties for Old” with the suggestion that “the challenge of the totalitarian States seems to demand a degree of national unity and national efficiency which the party system cannot provide.”

Without being prophetic, it may be said that British workers will show a disinclination for totalitarian ideas which will surprise Mr. Duff Cooper and any others who think on those lines. But whether that is so or not, one deplorable charge made by him has to be admitted to the full. Read the following passage from his article, remembering that when he writes “Socialism” he does not necessarily mean it literally, but has in mind rather the old-time “nationalisation” propaganda of the Labour Party. Yet what he says is largely true of Socialism, too.
  "There has probably never been so much political discussion between private individuals as during the last two months, but it would be hardly rash to assert that Socialism has never been discussed.
   “We are approaching the end of a week’s debate in Parliament in which any subject may be raised. It has not occurred to anyone to raise the subject of Socialism.”
Here we are facing a critical situation for which Socialism is the sole remedy, and one of our opponents can boast that the population all but ignore it. The S.P.G.B. is, however, not surprised or dismayed by that. For years we have said that the popularisation of reforms would end up by reducing the Parliamentary struggle between Liberal, Labour and Tory Parties to a shadow battle. We added, however, that our insistence on keeping alive the issue of Socialism would one day make the struggle a fierce reality, in Parliament and in every constituency. The S.P.G.B. has not failed to do its part, and Mr. Duff Cooper will yet learn that Socialism is neither dead nor sleeping, but a virile and growing movement. It will achieve a double victory. In gaining Socialism it will at the same time save democracy.
Edgar Hardcastle

Bolshevism (1939)

Pamphlet Review from the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bolshevism by Rudolf Sprenger, (International Review)

Books on Russia are no longer eagerly read: the sufferers from Russiaphobia have reached a state of satiety: Bolshevik publications have ceased to be news.

It is a mistake, however, to think “we know all about it”. There is much that has been concealed, and in this connection Rudolf Sprenger’s booklet supplies a long-felt want.

The first part deals with “The Class Triangle” of the Russian Revolution, and pithily sums up certain phases of the struggle.

Those things that Socialists want to know have been sifted out in a masterly fashion and placed before the reader in a consecutive form.

The Russian bourgeoisie could no longer part ways with Czardom. Lenin said in this connection, “For us the victory of the bourgeois revolution as a victory of the bourgeoisie, is impossible . . . .” “This trait does not remove the bourgeois character of our revolution”.

The Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie.

Leadership: the intellectuals. Weapon of attack: the proletariat. Mass-basis: the peasantry. Within this triangle the Russian Revolution unrolled. Without the understanding of this grouping of forces there can be no understanding of the nature, course and results of the Russian Revolution. Bolshevism was the political expression of those revolutionary intellectuals of Russia who understood the tasks of the moment and, with indomitable energy and ruthless consistence, set themselves to carry them out.

The second part deals with this interesting question: To what extent was the social character of Bolshevism determined by its origin in the revolutionary intelligentsia of Russia? Was Bolshevism the continuation of the international Marxist movement, or was it merely the continuation of a national Russian movement of the revolutionary intellectuals of that country?

The author sets himself the task of answering these questions.

The genesis of the movement in Russia is painstakingly examined by Sprenger. The Narodniki and the Bakuninists are faithfully sketched, together with many other organisations that contributed to the development of the thought of the Russian Bolsheviki.

The delegation of the Russian Social Democracy declared in its report to the International Socialist Congress in 1904:
    “ . . . The Russian Social Democracy came into being primarily as an organisation of revolutionary intellectuals who were disappointed with the previous methods used in their fight for liberty and who arrived at the understanding that in the capitalistically developing Russia only the proletariat could offer them a sure support in their struggle against Tsarism.”
Axelrod had declared previously that the “’ideological elements of our upper classes’ could not stop at mere propaganda activity, but had to direct the aroused revolutionary energies of the ‘popular masses’ toward political action . . .  "Naked reality points for the revolutionary intellectuals to the industrial proletariat as the class in which the organisation of a revolutionary people’s movement has the best chance of success.’”

Lenin also placed the proletariat in a central position, only “because the latter shows the greatest susceptibility to Social Democratic ideas, the highest intellectual and political maturity and, thanks to its numbers and concentration in the largest local centres of our country, decides the outcome of the battle”.

The Marxist theory adopted by them was nothing more than an ideological garb . . . . a covering that helped to tide the revolutionary intelligentsia over a period that they themselves could not cope with.

Tkachev gives us a clear and concise statement on the role played by the intelligentsia. “Neither now nor in the future is the people left to itself, capable of  accomplishing the social revolution. Only we, the revolutionary minority, can and must accomplish the revolution and as soon as possible . . . The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its own needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution . . . . This role and mission belong unquestionably to the revolutionary minority.”

The writer shows the influence of the terrorists on Bolshevik thought, and arrives at the conclusion that, “By uniting the formal principle of ‘democratic centralism’ with the Narodnik principle of a professional revolutionary organisation, the Bolsheviki created their particular, typically Russian type of political organism”.

Many guileless proletarians are appalled at the recent display of nationalism by Stalin and Co., but the writer quotes Lenin to prove that this was inherent in the Bolshevik movement. “Is, then, the sentiment of national pride alien to us Great Russian class-conscious proletarians? Of course not. We love our language and our fatherland, and strive to raise its toiling masses to a conscious democratic and socialistic life”.  “ . . .  We, the Great Russian workers, full of the sentiment of national pride, desire, at any price, a free, independent, self-reliant, democratic, republican, proud Great Russia”.  “ . . . The interests of the (not slavishly constituted) national pride of the Great Russian fits in with the socialist interests of the Great Russian (and all other) proletarians.”

One of the most interesting parts of the booklet is that dealing with Jacobinism and Bolshevism: the difference between the tactics of the Blanquists and the Party of Lenin is clearly pointed out and is a valuable contribution to Socialist knowledge.
    “The party that Lenin wanted to create was to be a conspiratorial, "leader" organisation, which, with the aid of the "professional revolutionists" would fashion a wide net of party organisations, ranging "from the narrowest and most conspiratorial kind to the broadest and least conspiratorial." The "masses" were to "cover up" and envelop the party.
    The party centre as the general staff, the local committee as officers, the party membership as the lower rank of officers, the mass of workers acting under the command of this military political apparatus . . . .
    Their party was a workers’ party only in the sense that it wanted to put the mass of workers under its orders.”
  The struggle over the "masses" has always been for Bolshevism a struggle against the competition of "bad", "opportunist", "betraying", "social fascist", "Trotskyist" leaders who have to be vanquished so that the "leadership" might fall to the Bolshevik Party. Policy is the business of leaders and leader organisations. They do all the thinking for the mass.   
   Bolshevism does not recognise a proletariat that is capable of developing and executing its policy independently.
Class-consciousness as viewed by Lenin is dealt with ably and well. According to him, the only possible creators of a Socialist consciousness were the intellectual strata of society, a part of the bourgeoisie. Socialism would be achieved by the working class, but the idea of the need of Socialism, that is, Socialist thought, could only be the creation of the bourgeois intelligentsia.
    “Political class consciousness can only be brought to the workers from outside, that is, outside of the economic struggle, outside of the orbit of the relations existing between all classes and social strata and the State, that is, in the sphere of relations existing among all classes.”
This was, in essence, Lenin’s thesis.
  “The political thought by which the workers were going to be mobilised for action in the complicated revolution against Tsarism could only be the creation of the Jacobinical intelligentsia.”
The writer does a creditable job in tearing off the Marxian mask. He says rightly: “Lenin’s Marxist terminology is a disguise veiling an outlook that is typical of the Jacobinical intelligentsia”.

You became a class-conscious working man, according to Lenin’s theory, if you agreed to support without question the decrees of the Bolshevik Party.
   “By possessing themselves of the political direction of the proletariat, the Bolsheviki also possessed themselves of the opportunity to direct the peasantry.
    This is the social significance of Bolshevism. It was a movement of the Russian intelligentsia. It enlisted in its service the two revolutionary classes of Russia: the industrial workers and the peasantry. It realised its aims through the action of these two classes. It won State power under a disguise of Socialist ideology. The Russian revolution was carried through by the Russian proletariat, acting as the dependable instrument of the Bolshevik intelligentsia. But the Russian workers did not and could not decide the course or content of the national revolution.
The booklet is too good to be missed.

Get it and read it!

The price is only 15 cents, but the knowledge you get in return is worth ten times this amount. Publishers’ address is P. O. Box 44, Sta. O, New York, N. Y.

There are a number of copies at the Head Office of the S. P. G. B. we shall be pleased to forward one in return for ninepence to any of our readers. (10d. post-free.)
Charles Lestor

Important People (1940)

From the December 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
   "We had our party in a restaurant near Piccadilly, where the 'important people' sought after by all propagandists go to see and be seen while they eat gorgeous luncheons that make ration books look absurd."
— Tom Clarke (Reynolds, October 27th, 1940).

Post-War Unemployment: An Inconvenient Question in the House of Lords (1941)

From the December 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily Telegraph of November 19th records an amusing conversation in the House of Lords the previous day. Lord Sempill asked a rather inconvenient question about what the Government were doing to give practical effect to the fifth and sixth principles of the Atlantic Charter.
 The fifth principle, he recalled, advocated the fullest collaboration between all nations in securing improved labour standards and social security, while the sixth hoped for a peace which would secure freedom from fear and want.
  The fifth principle could not be realised, he declared, so long as unemployment remained unsolved.
   Viscount Cranborne, replying for the Government, said it was clearly desirable that we should begin to look forward into the future.
   “Wars of attrition, and this is becoming a war of attrition, are like tugs-of-war,” he said. ” Suddenly one side begins to weaken, and after that the end is not far off.
    "It is clearly right we should take thought for the future now, so that as soon as German morale begins to weaken we shall be in a position to go straight on to the next phase—the rebuilding of a shattered world.”
    The practical application of the principles of the Atlantic charter depended on the collaboration of all nations and the joint consideration of all those concerned in making the peace.
    The Allied Governments on September 24 adhered to the Atlantic Charter and passed a resolution dealing with the distribution of food to the occupied countries after the war, and the United States Government had informed the other Governments of their readiness to co-operate at the appropriate moment.
    In the meantime, the Government had set up their own organisation to consider post-war problems, under the guidance of the Minister Without Portfolio in collaboration with the other Government departments concerned.
   “I can assure Lord Sempill that no matter is engaging the attention of the Government more than that of unemployment,” he said. “A Government such as this, which is composed of all the parties in the State, should be particularly qualified to deal with it.”
It would be sacriligious to suggest that Viscount Cranbome was speaking .with his tongue in his cheek when he said that the Government were giving as much attention to the question of unemployment as to any other question (and the Government have some important questions on their mind at the moment), but it does not seem to quite square with the wonderful new world promised us by Mr. Herbert Morrison. If there is going to be a wonderful new world (and quite a lot of one’s fellow-workers seem to be firmly convinced of this), why bother about unemployment? But if there is going to be unemployment, and if it is actually occupying the serious attention of the Government, then it seems that the post-war world won’t be so vastly different from the pre-war world. So many Governments during the past century have given serious consideration to the question of unemployment, but its solution has so far so completely eluded them that, instead of decreasing, unemployment has increased in geometrical rather than in arithmetical proportion. Unemployment is a fact which is grounded rather too deeply in capitalist society for it to be remedied by the superficial thinking of ministers who are only too interested in the preservation of capitalism, itself the root cause of unemployment.

Incidentally, it is worth noting what a neat little get-away is given by the “proviso” clause. The practical application depends on the “collaboration of all nations.” And if they don’t collaborate?

Viscount Cranborne’s neat little gibe against the Labour Party will also be noticed. A Government composed of “all the parties in the State” should be “particularly qualified” to deal with the question of unemployment. This recalls the heydays of Ramsay Macdonald and the Labour Party and their promise to solve the unemployment question. But it ignores the existence of at least one party—the Socialist Party—which roundly repudiates any suggestion that it forms part of or is in any way associated with the executive section of the British ruling class.
Ramo.

Are Socialists Dreamers? (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thirty years or so ago it was common for the kindly and the ill-disposed to describe Socialists as dreamers, and thereby wipe them out of the sphere of practical politics. With the passing of the years the efforts of the Labour Party and similar organisations have led to a misunderstanding of the meaning of Socialism. Thus in the minds of many Socialism is wrongly identified with social reform and hence is accepted as practical. But Socialism is not Social Reform. They are opposites, and all the social reform in the world will not bring Socialism. Social reform presumes the existence of the present social order, which Socialists are organised for the purpose of abolishing.

Taking Socialism, then, in its real sense, as a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of production, are Socialists dreamers, dreaming of a state of affairs that may or may not come, and, anyhow, is a hundred years or so away ?

As Socialists we insist that we are practical, that we are working for something now and not in the dim and distant future. In fact, we insist that, from the workers' standpoint, we are the only practical people because we have the solution to all the economic evils that baffle our rulers, and our solution is one that can be applied now. To apply this solution all that is needed is the understanding by the majority of the workers of the few basic ideas set out in our Declaration of Principles.

When the taunt is flung at us that Socialism, as defined above, is a dream, what the users of the phrase mean is that the workers have neither the capacity to understand nor to apply Socialist principles, and that Socialism, as a system, is not capable of being run by human beings.

The answer to the last objection is a simple one. Present society in all its fundamental aspects, that is to say, in the production and distribution of all that ministers to the needs and the luxuries of people to-day, is the work of the workers. The people who “direct," no less than those who produce, are members of the working class; they belong to that part of society which depends for their existence upon selling the energy of hand and brain for wages or salaries. If they can do this work for a dividend-drawing group of idlers they will be able to do it much more easily when it is being done for a society in which all work according to their capacities and receive according to their needs.

With the present standard of education an understanding of Socialism is within the capacities of all sections of the working class. One reason that has prevented the workers from getting to grips with Socialism is the existence of groups who claim to have found short cuts to prosperity within the present system and waste the time and attention of large bodies of workers in the chasing of will-o’-the-wisps or exploring blind alleys.

Socialist ideas are spreading wider; even the much derided “Capital’’ by Karl Marx is now accepted as a classic, and Socialists are no longer treated as cranks. The insoluble contradictions of capitalism, with its glaring evidences of wealth and poverty, its inability to plan production and distribution or to abolish unemployment, except under the stress of war, are factors that are forcing the workers into a frame of mind to appreciate the Socialist message. Reform movements are losing their appeal to the workers’ imagination and capitalist apologists of all kinds are being forced back not only to the task of trying to give practical answers to fundamental questions but also to giving lip service, at least, to some of the views put forward by Socialists. They may believe they have prepared ground to which to retreat after the war, but they will not find the retreat as easy or as permanent after this war as it was in 1918. For, however slowly the workers’ understanding may appear to be moving, it is most certainly moving steadily and in the right direction.

There are some who shrink at the thought of social change and the overthrowing of established forms. Let them take heart. Revolutions are terrible things. They shake society up like an explosion. But the Socialist Revolution, unlike an explosion, will not shake society to pieces; it will simply break the shackles of property and, with them, the ties that bind down the majority of people to lives of unending toil in return for the mere necessities of existence.

Socialism offers a quick, easy, and certain road out of the economic evils that afflict the workers to-day. For its accomplishment it requires the understanding and mutual co-operation of the mass of the workers. It has already made giant strides in this direction. Its accomplishment is inevitable because the capacity of the capitalists to divert the attention of the workers from the source of present evils is rapidly diminishing. Thus it is not the Socialists but their opponents who are the dreamers.
Gilmac

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Black Hole of Calcutta (1943)

From the December 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

What might be termed the sequel to the historical incident we know by the above term has been, and is being written in the blood of thousands of starving, pestilence-stricken Indian workers and peasants of Bengal. Daily references in the newspapers to the famine in India have provided grim evidence of the ghastly scenes enacted on the streets of Calcutta by actors unable to choose the part they wish to play. Stories have been related of children being sold for a handful of rice, and of skeletons of men and women feeding on jungle roots and leaves. Figures of the death rate show it to have increased to nearly four times the normal average. The whole tragedy is graphically epitomised by the Calcutta Statesman which said:-
  “Thousands of emaciated destitutes still roam the streets in the ceaseless quest for food, scouring dustbins and devouring rotten remains of castaway food and fruit. Rickety children clutching imploringly the tattered garments barely covering the bones of their mothers are seen in all quarters of the city.” (Quoted in Manchester Guardian Weekly, October 15, 1943.)
Famine has always been a factor to reckon with in the economy of India, and has usually meant suffering for large sections of the population. It is commonly understood that a famine means a shortage of food owing to the natural failure of crops, but what is not generally recognised is that the character of the famine, and the way in which it affects the people, varies with the type of society in which it occurs. To the middle of the nineteenth century famines in India were localized in the area in which there was a shortage of crop, and meant an appalling lack of food in that area and of employment. Even if one had money there was no food to be brought, and the general solution was to migrate to areas where food was available. From about 1850, however, capitalism, under the tutelage of the British, became superimposed on the old Indian feudal economy at an ever quickening rate, with an ever greater intensity. With the spreading of capitalism the growth of industrialisation, the development of the plantation and factory system, the production of goods for sale came more and more into evidence. Concurrently with this development the means of transport and communication were vastly increased and extended. Hence, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it became relatively easy to shift quantities of foodstuffs into famine-stricken areas, and a change in the general character of Indian famines took place. They now meant, not so much an appalling lack of food as high scarcity prices and lack of employment, and whilst the growth of the means of communication lessened the danger of local famines, it tended to widen the area where high prices would prevail.

Thus the famine, from being a calamity of the natural order, turned into a calamity of the social order, aggravating the sufferings inflicted on the poorer sections of the population, notably the peasants, the landless day-labourer, and the growing urban working class.

It is true that in the area most affected by the recent famine, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, there has been some destruction of crops due to natural causes, but at the same time there have been good crops in other provinces. In the reports that have arrived in this country there is a general insistence that the catastrophe has not come about because of any basic natural shortage, but because such deficits in supply as did exist have been taken advantage of by hoarders and speculators. The loss of the Burma rice crop, excessive inflation, and general economic dislocation (all factors arising out of the war), and natural shortages in certain districts, all tended to encourage the farmers and merchants to hold on to their stocks in order to get still higher prices and greater profits when they did at last decide to sell.

This was the position as early as January 15, 1943, when in the Manchester Guardian Weekly it was reported that “price control has never been rigorously enforced, except against small retailers. The impression is widespread that there are considerable stocks which would be brought out if price control was removed and this would relieve the shortage until next harvest.” The same issue of the paper also stated that black markets flourished everywhere.

After seven months had elapsed the same paper wrote as follows (August 13, 1943):-
  “The Government of India’s Food Member did not deny last week the allegation that men in authority have obstructed the Government’s measures to bring relief to the masses. The Food Secretary on Sunday admitted that Sind had made enormous profits through the sale of surplus wheat and rice. Lack of foresight, the toleration of profiteers, and the fear of alienating certain favoured sections like the landlords, have created the food crisis.”
Whilst we learn on the one hand of the fear of alienating certain favoured sections of the property owning class, we learn that there was no such fear during the period of alienating those sections of the population with little or no property. Side by side with the blackest of black markets, dealing in the very life-blood of the poverty-stricken masses, there were “long queues of hungry workers waiting all night outside Government controlled grain shops in places like Bombay.” (Manchester Guardian Weekly, January 15, 1943)

Investigations conducted by Calcutta University have revealed that 50 per cent of the families of destitutes have been broken up, and that 47 per cent are landless labourers, 25 per cent small cultivators, 6 per cent town beggars, and the remainder unclassified.

Such evidence as this throws into bold relief the fact that it is the propertyless who suffer and die, whilst the propertied reap excess profits and get all they want in the black markets.

The Indian scene, in normal times, is a picture of a vast mass of humanity living in the grip of abysmal poverty. Utter destitution resulting in a prolonged death through starvation, or a quicker death through mal-nutritional diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid, is the lot of Indian workers and peasants. What then must be their lot when the price of the food they require for a bare existence soars far and away above their means? What can they do but wait for death to claim them, their bony hands held out imploringly for food, on the pavements of the second largest and one of the “most prosperous” cities in the British Empire! In other parts of the same empire the granaries of Australia and Canada are full to overflowing with the wheat that would bring succour to those in need. The problem, however, according to Mr. Amery (Secretary for India), speaking in the House of Commons, October 12, 1943, was “entirely one of shipping, and has to be judged in the light of all the other urgent needs of the Allied Nations.” Yet the Allied Nations are producing ships faster than they have ever been produced before in the history of mankind, and the USA is able to boast of a production of 15,000 naval ships of all dimensions in the past three years.

Well might the reader at this point exclaim, “This is madness!”

No, reader, this is not madness—simply another example of the ever present anarchy in CAPITALISM, the economic system of society that holds the world enslaved.

An economic system that is based on the ownership of the means of life by the few, and the exclusion of the means of life from the many. Only under capitalism is it possible for conditions to arise where hoarders, speculators, and black marketeers of every nationality can flourish on the one hand, and be the social complement of starvation, unemployment, squalor, disease and poverty on the other.

Only with the abolition of this private property basis of society and its replacement by the ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution by the whole of humanity, can humanity solve the evils with which it is confronted.

This is the job, the only worth-while job, of the working class. Not only the working class of this country, but of the working class of the world acting in unison. No longer must they acquiesce in the retention of a system which condemns great numbers of men and women to exist like a seething mass of gentils beneath a rotten, stinking piece of meat. Just as the meat is a condition of existence of the gentils, so is capitalism a condition of existence of the working class. It must be removed, and with it will go all class divisions.

This can only be done by a working class conscious of the cause of its troubles, desirous of solving them, and with knowledge of the solution. Even in the case of the Indian working class the solution to their problems is the same as ours. It does not lie in the substitution of one kind of capitalism for another. It does not lie in the substitution of a native Indian master class in place of the British Raj; their fellow countrymen are among their most ruthless exploiters. In common with the rest of the workers of the world, their solution lies in the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life – the establishment of SOCIALISM. Along this road alone, however tiresome may be the journey and however many pitfalls may be on the way, lies the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
N. S.

Lights Up (1944)

From the December 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The writing is on the wall. Victory for the Anglo-American capitalist class and defeat for its German counterpart. Once more the Governments of France, Belgium, Holland are about to return after four years in London, presumably controlling the underground movements in their respective countries. Queens are returning from Canada, and Kings and Princes are polishing their buttons and medals, and shaking the moth-balls from their best uniforms, ready for the victory parade. At this stage one could ask what it was in the first place that induced them to leave, but that would create a certain awkwardness, to say the least. Besides, who are we to doubt the bravery of the ruling class?

Older members of the working class, with not too short memories, will remember the victory parades of the last war—the military displays, the victory balls, bands playing, flags waving, etc., etc. Perhaps, too, they will remember the days of the General Strike and the slump years of the late twenties and early thirties, when the ruling class made wholesale onslaughts on their standard of living—the dole queues, the hunger marches, the means test.

This was the interlude between the two world wars, and even to the most obtuse members of the working class it must have been painfully obvious that there were two classes in society, and that they (the working class) were to have all the pleasures and thrills which accompany job-seeking, bringing up a family, paying rent, and in general keeping the proverbial wolf from the door. For the capitalist class there was roulette at Monte Carlo, a bungalow on the Riviera, the playground of Nice, a trip to the Mediterranean or Florida.

Sun-chasing has been a popular pastime with our masters. In latter years several of these places have proved just a bit too warm, so they have had to content themselves with a shooting lodge in Scotland, a fishing trip on the lochs, or maybe a few racehorses.

The contrast between the classes is so striking that one constantly wonders why it is that the most useful section in society, the working class, don't set about the job of finding a solution to the problem—that most peculiar problem of poverty in the midst of plenty. This social phenomenon has its roots in the capitalist system of production, and will persist as long as capitalism persists. Sooner or later the workers will tackle this state of affairs, and we feel sure of the result. A social system which breeds slums, disease, malnutrition, poverty and war must go, and capitalism as such cannot possibly survive without the acquiescence of that overwhelming majority—the working class. No doubt its demise would come much quicker were it not for the existence of reformist organisations, who, even granting them the best possible intentions, do no more than cloud the issue and generally land up either hand in glove with the capitalist class or else go out of existence.

The black-out has been replaced by dim-out. but we are very much afraid that when the lights finally go up they will illuminate the same old sombre surroundings, the filthy poverty for the wage slave, the wealth and opulence for the capitalist parasite. To prophesy in detail is both foolish and dangerous and would avail nothing, but we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain are not posing as political Isaiahs when we say that the transition from war to peace will not be the smooth running affair that our politicians, and planners fondly imagine. The working class have been subjected to all sorts of controls and anti-working class legislation. These they have accepted with little or no demur. They have watched the formation of new political groups, the political chicanery of others—life-long enemies drinking each others toasts and becoming friends and bed-mates.

The trend of events plus the attendant inconsistencies and contradictions of capitalism at war has given the worker food for thought, sharpened his political wits, and in general made him more wary. Consequently the task of changing the wartime harness for the peacetime chains isn't going to be an easy one. and the apostles of the status quo and "the good clean healthy competition” school are going to have a. few spanners in their planning mechanism before this delicate operation is over.

Without being unduly optimistic, we regard this as a healthy sign because workers who are critical of existing conditions will be more receptive to the Socialist idea; and will ultimately join with the S.P.G.B. in working for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. In the meantime our advice to workers of all lands remains unaltered. Comrades, arm yourselves with the most potent of all weapons—Socialist knowledge.
Jim D'Arcy