Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Socialists and Parliament (1988)

Book Review from the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anti-Parliamentary Communism by Mark Shipway. (Macmillan)

Despite a good. seven-page description of socialism as a society of common ownership, democratic control, production for use and free access, this entire book is based on a myth: that there was, to quote its sub-title, a "movement for workers' councils in Britain, 1917-1945". That no such thing existed emerges from the text itself. Unlike Germany, Italy and some other European countries, Britain did not see the setting up of a single "workers' council. After the initial enthusiasm for the Russian Revolution among radical-minded workers died out here at the beginning of the 1920s, those who advocated them as a way to achieving a society of common ownership and free access were to be numbered, not in hundreds but in tens.


Mark Shipway an anti-parliamentarist himself really has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to sustain his thesis. Apart from a few anarchists in Glasgow during the last world war (who, to their credit, opposed fighting in it, as we did), all he can come up with are two individuals who were able to publicise what must be regarded as essentially personal views rather than those of any "movement".

One of these was Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of the suffragette leader and a militant feminist herself before being bowled over by events in Russia. By 1924, however, she had tired of this and eventually went off to Africa to "help" the Abyssinians. It remains true, all the same, that during this period she did advocate a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society (see, for instance, her article "The Future Society" reproduced in 1980 in Socialist Fulcrum, journal of our companion party in Canada, from the One Big Union Bulletin of 1922) and eventually realised that Lenin was establishing state capitalism in Russia.

The other was Guy Aldred, a Glasgow eccentric who besides advocating "workers' councils" was also into free thinking, pacifism, abolishing marriage and republicanism. Nor is it clear how he qualifies to be called an "anti-parliamentarist", for when the Socialist Party contested a parliamentary by-election in 1962 one of the other candidates was . . . Guy Aldred! Shipway reveals that Aldred was also a parliamentary candidate in 1922 and 1945 as well as standing on fourteen wards in the Glasgow municipal elections in 1934. Aldred also tried to stand for Parliament before the first world war. So we are dealing here with a life-long commitment to contesting elections by someone Shipway tries to present as an "anti-parliamentary communist".

The fact that we opposed real (if ephemeral) "anti-parliamentarists" like Sylvia Pankhurst as well as half-baked ones like Aldred does not mean that we accept the label "parliamentarist". We certainly hold that workers must use parliament in the course of establishing socialism but it is the socialist-minded working class majority and not their "messenger boys" who will actually do so. And we emphatically reject the idea that socialism can be established by a series of reform measures voted by MPs, which is the more usual meaning of the word "parliamentarism".

When Shipway asks "who else besides the anti- parliamentary communists was putting forward such a vision of emancipation?" he knows the answer very well. Having borrowed the form of words we pioneered to describe socialism/ communism, he is fully aware that the Socialist Party has sustained this vision much more effectively than his "council communists.
Adam Buick

Monday, April 24, 2006

Labour Without End? (2006)

From the forthcoming May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Futurologists, Alvin Toffler being the best known, have long heralded the imminent arrival of the "post-industrial society" an arcadia in which automation has almost done away with work and our main problem will be how to cope with an excess of leisure. Indeed, labour productivity has risen steadily and at an accelerating rate throughout the last century, except for a blip in the period 1975-85, when labour productivity in the US (though not in Western Europe) fell slightly. But it is only in a rational (i.e., socialist) society, where the means of life serve the community as a whole, that higher productivity will equal less work.

It is a little recognized fact that since the 1970s working hours have tended to rise. There appear to be only two books about recent trends in working time: Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (BasicBooks, 1992) and Pietro Basso, Modern Times, Ancient Hours. Working Lives in the Twenty-First Century (translated from Italian by Giacomo Donis; Verso, 2003). Schor is concerned with the US and has a reformist orientation, while Basso attempts a Marxian analysis and focuses more on Europe. Today's young wage and salary workers work longer hours than their parents and grandparents did at the same age. There is less time not only for relaxation, hobbies, self-education, and political activity, but even for parenting, family life, sleep, socializing, and sex much to the detriment of our quality of life and physical and emotional health.

It isn't just a matter of the number of hours per day, week, or year. Working time has been "rationalized" as well as increased. That means greater intensity of effort and reduced opportunity for rest, social interaction, and even going to the toilet during the workday (zero "dead time," also known as the Toyota system). It means "variable" or "flexible" schedules flexible for the boss, not the worker with more night and weekend work to keep costly machinery in nonstop operation. Many couples now meet only to hand over the kids as they change shifts. And while some are mercilessly overworked, others are thrown out of work altogether, all in the name of profitability.

Working time has gone through some dramatic ups and downs in the course of history. Chattel slaves, of course, were forced to work long hours, though not always as long as wage slaves in the early days of capitalism, when 14 or even 16-hour days and 7-day weeks (i.e., 5,000 hours a year or more) were imposed on children and adults alike. Medieval peasants, by contrast, had led a more leisurely life. Thanks largely to the numerous holidays of the church calendar, according to four studies of Britain in the 13th to 16th centuries they typically worked 2,000 hours a year or less. The working hours of "primitive" tribal people also tend to be relatively short. Capitalist "progress" put paid to such idleness.

In the mid-19th century working hours stood at about 3,500 hours a year (according to studies of Britain in 1840 and the US in 1850). In England the Ten Hours Bill (May 1, 1848) brought the work week down to 60 hours in the countryside (where the Sabbath was enforced) and 70 hours in the cities (where it was not). For decade after decade the working class movement struggled for the 8-hour day, but it was not achieved until after World War I. Children were finally taken out of the mines and factories and put in school. Eventually the weekend and annual vacation came (though not for all). By the late 1940s the typical work year in most "developed" countries was down below 2,000 hours just about where it had been in the middle ages.

After this the story varies somewhat from country to country. In France and Germany, where the trade unions fought for "work sharing" and the 35-hour week, the postwar decades saw a further modest decline in working hours. Paid vacations are much longer in these countries than in the US and Japan.  In the US working hours were stable in the 1950s and 1960s, only to start rising again in the 1970s: the average work week increased by almost three hours between 1973 and 1997. In Britain the rise in hours appears to have levelled off in recent years. According to the UK Labour Force Survey, the proportion of employed persons usually working over 45 hours a week rose from 21 percent in 1991 to 24 percent in 1997 and then fell to 19 percent in 2003.

Many American activists make a great deal of the contrast between the US and Europe and point to Europe as a model for the US to emulate. However, the same processes are underway in Europe, and indeed throughout the world, even though they are more advanced in the US and Japan. (And in China the 11 or 12-hour day is standard.) Only certain groups of European production workers ever won the 35-hour week. For example, German metalworkers and typographers won an agreement for the 35-hour week in 1984, though it did not come into force until 1995. In exchange they had to accept intensified work regimes and "flexible" hours, including weekend work. Moreover, the employers have since launched a largely successful counteroffensive against reduced working hours.

Why are working hours rising and what can we do about it?

Some commentators blame "consumerism" and the "work and spend cycle". No doubt there are those who overwork, often in two full-time jobs, for the sake of conspicuous consumption "to keep up with the Joneses". But the usual pattern is probably for people to work more in an effort to preserve their accustomed standard of living despite another trend of the last quarter century: the decline in real wages. Many overwork to save for their children's education or for retirement, although the overwork makes it much less likely that they'll survive to enjoy their "nest egg". And many have to overwork just to make ends meet or under pressure from their employers (e.g., compulsory overtime). Managers are especially vulnerable to such pressure: thanks to the cell phone, they can be called upon at any time and are thereby deprived of any guaranteed non-working time.

One important part of the explanation must be that it is cheaper for employers to hire a small number of employees to work long hours than it would be to divide up the available work among a larger number of employees. Many labour-related costs training, administration, fringe benefits depend on the number of employees, not total employee-hours. So "downsizing" is always an appealing way of quickly improving a firm's profitability and competitive position. Long hours also have the advantage of making workers more dependent on a specific employer and therefore easier to control.

So could reforms change the incentive structure for both employers and employees in favour of shorter hours? Suggestions include improving the status of part-time work, abolishing higher rates for overtime, and banning compulsory overtime. Tax incentives could be devised for spreading available work more thinly. In principle such changes might have a certain effect. But if capitalists were to come under strong pressure from a reformist government in one country to shorten hours, they would surely move their assets elsewhere, as they already do to escape unwelcome regulation of other kinds.

Historical evidence does point to a clear relationship between working time and the willingness of workers and their organizations to fight for its reduction. Reduced hours have never flowed automatically from increased productivity. They have been won though long and intense struggle. And in today's world the struggle has to be waged on a global scale not for the "right to work" but for the right to live, which includes the right to leisure. Or, to borrow the title of a classic pamphlet by Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue, the right to be lazy.
Stefan

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Interpreting Marx (1982)

From the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the books the Socialist Party recommends to those wanting an introduction to Marx's ideas is Karl Marx: Selected Writings on Sociology and Social Philosophy, edited and introduced by T.B. Bottomore and Maximilien Rubel. First published as a hardback in 1956, it has since gone through many Pelican paperback re-editions and is, as its title suggests, a collection of extracts from Marx's writings. What does not come out in the introduction is the extent to which Rubel (as opposed to Bottomore) endorses our interpretation of Marx on a number of key points. However, in a later work, Marx Without Myth (1975), also written jointly in English (this time with M. Manale), Rubel clearly spells out that Marx stood for a classless, stateless and moneyless society.
   
Rubel himself is not from Britain but is a professor (maitre de recherche) in France and in fact one of the leading continental Marxologists, or experts on Marx. Besides editing a French edition of Marx's works, he has done considerable scholarly research on Marx's writings and sources. He describes himself as an independent researcher on Marx (which is true), but his sympathy for Marx's social and political ideas is only thinly disguised. His contribution to Marx-studies is his view that Marx was not a Marxist and his interpretation of Marxs commitment to socialism as ethical.
   
Marx himself of course is on record as saying half-seriously that he wasn't a Marxist. Rubel's theory is that Marx did not regard himself, and is not to be regarded, as the founder of a new philosophical school or ism. Marx, Rubel points out, himself described communist (socialist) theory as in no way based on ideas and principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from an historical movement going on under our very eyes (Communist Manifesto). It is thus quite contrary to Marx's own ideas to call socialist theory Marxism as this is to suggest that it was the invention of some Great Thinker and would not have existed had Marx never been born. Rubel is right here and all we can say in defence of our use from time to time of the word Marxist is that we need some way of indicating our agreement with the theory first clearly formulated by Marx as a reflection of working class experience under capitalism. Rubel gets round this problem by using the adjective marxien (literally Marxian but perhaps more accurately Marxs).
   
But RubeIs objection is not to Marx's ideas or even to their systematisation, but to those who have called themselves Marxists, from Kautsky and the German Social Democrats to Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, and the rest. In Marx Critique du Marxisme, a collection of essays he wrote between 1957 and 1973 (published together as a book in 1974), Rubel traces the origin of Marxism, as a new ism, back to Engels who, he says, after Marx's death eventually gave in to the temptation to make his lifelong friend the founder of a new theoretical school. Rubel also objects to Marxism, that is, to those who call themselves Marxists, on the grounds that they have forgotten Marx's commitment to a classless, moneyless, stateless society.
   
Rubel first developed his theme that there is an ethical, or moral, element in Marx's commitment to socialism in 1948 in the introduction to his Pages de Karl Marx pour une ethique socialiste (the French equivalent of the Bottomore and Rubel selection mentioned earlier and just as good).
   
Rubel's argument is that Marx became a socialist out of a moral objection to what money and the state were doing to human dignity, before he began his scientific study of capitalism and the working class. Historically this cannot be challenged: Marx became a socialist sometime in the winter of 1843-4 and only later interested himself in economics; Capital, written in the 1850s and 60s, was in fact not published till 1867. Although in the end Marx's motivation is really quite irrelevant (or no more relevant than the motivations of the rest of us), Rubel's work on the so-called early Marx does back up our insistence that Marx used the word socialism as we do by showing that, right from the start, Marx stood for a society without class conflict, without State power and without monetary fetishism (Pages).
   
Rubel is not saying that Marxs objection to capitalism was just ethical, but only that this was one element in his position. According to Rubel, Marx was both a man of science (his studies of capitalism) and a revolutionary who saw the working class having the ethical, or historical, mission to abolish capitalism and to take mankind on to socialism. Actually, apart from the use of the word ethical, Rubels position here is very similar to ours: the abolition of capitalism is not mechanically inevitable, but can only come about as a result of a conscious choice by the working class; if they don't make this choice or ethical decision, as Rubel would put it then capitalism will continue or (Rubel's view) be replaced by something worse; indeed, capitalism has continued precisely because the working class has not yet chosen to establish socialism.
   
This position of Rube'ls leads to the same conclusion that we have reached: that the task of socialists is to make socialists, to get the working class to reject capitalism and to choose socialism. Rubel does not shrink from this conclusion and this has led to him being criticised, along with us, for educationnisme (see La Gauche communiste en Allemagne 1918-21 by Denis Authier and Jean Barrot, p. 199 on us and p. 372 on Rubel). Rubel also points out that this was Marxs position too and that Marx held that socialism could not be established unless a majority of workers had come to want and understand it:
Without the hypothesis or the premise of an acquisition of revolutionary consciousness by the victims of capitalist exploitation, the abolition of the wages system, the condition sine qua non of a socialist economy, is inconceivable for Marx (Marx critique du marxisme, p. 220).

Rubel also frequently quotes, with approval, from Engels Preface to the 1890 German edition of the Communist Manifesto:
For the ultimate triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto Marx relied solely and exclusively on the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily had to ensue from united action and discussion.

Rubel even concedes (we say concedes since, as we shall see, he does not entirely agree with Marx here) that Marx held that the working class should take political action to end politics and the state and that one of the forms this could take was democratic electoral action:
The economic and social barbarism brought about by the capitalist mode of production cannot be abolished by a political revolution prepared, organized and led by an elite of professional revolutionaries claiming to act and think in the name and for the benefit of the exploited and alienated majority. The proletariat, formed into a class and a party under the conditions of bourgeois democracy, liberates itself in the struggle to conquer this democracy; it turns universal suffrage, which had previously been an instrument of dupery, into a means of emancipation (Marx critique du marxisme, p. 56).
   
As this quotation suggests, Rubel has no time for Lenin and Bolshevism; in fact when it comes to analysing Russia and the Russian revolution there is complete agreement with us. Not only does he regard Russia as state capitalist (now a fairly commonplace view) but he also talks about the myth of socialist October with regard to the Russian revolution. But let him speak for himself:
In 1917 none of the conditions needed for Russia to enter into the way to socialism were present: the economic conditions and class relationships within an essentially peasant society as well as the social weight and level of maturity of the proletariat forbade this, barring a miraculous intellectual and moral change at all levels of Russian society (pp. 140-1).

In Russia Lenin, his party and the bureaucracy took up the social role which everywhere else had fallen to the bourgeoisie, and performed it with great efficiency. And when we speak of the bourgeois revolution carried out by the Bolsheviks, we mean that this revolution took place in the closed field of capitalism and not within socialism (p. 115).

We mentioned earlier that Rubel does not agree with Marx's view that the working class could gain control of political power through universal suffrage. Referring to events since Marx's day, he wonders whether universal suffrage can still, as Marx believed (and as is our view), be converted into an instrument of emancipation. He feels that the working class has in the meantime found a new and better instrument: their own self-organisation into councils, as in Russia in 1905 and 1917, in Germany after the first world war, in Spain in 1936 as well as the so-called revolutionary trade-unionism of pre-1914 France.
   
Universal suffrage has not failed, however. What has failed is the reformist (Labour and Social Democrat) use of universal suffrage, but socialists have been saying this would happen ever since our foundation in 1904. For capitalism simply cannot be reformed so as to work in the interest of the wage-earning majority; as a system based on the exploitation of wage-Iabour for profits, it is constitutionally incapable of being made to do this. Therefore any government which tries, whether elected by universal suffrage or not, is bound to fail. To reject universal suffrage because reformist electoral action has failed is to throw out the baby with the bath water.
   
We fully understand Rubel's criticism of political parties calling themselves socialist or Marxist: their aim has been state capitalism and they have essentially only sought to exploit working class discontent with a view to coming to power and installing themselves as a new ruling class in place of the private capitalists. They have always seen the working class as playing a subordinate, following role, either as passive electors (Social Democrats) or as material to be manipulated by a vanguard party (Bolsheviks and Leninists of all hues). But how can this be held against our (and Marx's) position of working class democratic self-organisation into a political party based on socialist understanding, with a view to taking political, including electoral, action to abolish capitalism?
   
In theory, workers, once they had come to want and understand socialism could, we suppose, organise in some sort of workplace committees or councils; but they would be ill-advised to do so without at the same time organising politically, since this would be to invite a violent head-on clash with a state machine still controlled by the supporters of capitalism. But why take this risk when the existence of universal suffrage and limited political democracy make it unnecessary? Why not organise, democratically and without leaders, with a view to using the potential weapon that is the vote to win control of the state, so neutralising it? This is our policy based on an analysis of todays political circumstances and not on a dogmatic adherence to Marx's view. On other questions we are just as prepared to criticise Marx as Rubel is on this-which we think is, in todays circumstances, the most appropriate and most intelligent way of proceeding to establish socialism. 
Adam Buick

Monday, April 10, 2006

What the Fascists Need (1993)

From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is too easy to hate fascists. The sight of chanting skinheads, half Stormtrooper of the Year 1932, half late adolescent tantrum, fills us with memories of a genocidal past and fears that the jackboots are being polished up again. Ridiculous screwballs stand in East End markets with swastika tattoos, boots for brains and snarling detestation for the world in which they are impotent merchants of mean-spirited outrage.

What are we to say to them-think of them? "Drive the Racists of the Streets!" says the wallposter from the people who brought us "The Socialist Motherland". But who would be left on the streets except for rival sects of Leninist paper sellers arguing over whose central committee will make the most effective job of dictating over the proletariat? There are hundreds of thousands of racists on the streets. There are one or two in most of our houses. Are we supposed to give them all a good doing? And what good is a sore head to a racist-racism thrives on battered minds.

It is all too simple to paint caricatures of the monstrous jackbooted swine. TV pictures show us them in Germany, spewing hate before them, like primitive fertiliser spreaders. Not just murderous thoughts, but now they burn and kill and rejoice at the suffering of their enemies. Just like British workers did when bombs fell on Iraqi cities and who knows how many burned to death or were crushed in an underground medical centre. And when the conscripts met their death as the Belgrano sailed away from the Falklands exclusion zone, were not we told by the Mad Priestess that we should rejoice at the victory. Rejoice as men drown and babies are buried under rubble and bombs unknown to the non-professional terrorists explode with priestly sanction. Where does war stop and monstrous atrocity start?

The fascist moron follows his leader. The comical sight of fancy-dress Nazis doing their Mosley impressions to a few dozen Bash Street Kids from Povertyville is almost worth a smile. Of course, nobody will be smiling when the petty-fuhrer's words have been heard and another black family gets a petrol bomb or kicking on the way home. But there is an amateurish hooliganism about such viciousness: not an army but a venomous gang of no-hopers.

The military moron follows his leader and is paid well for it. The barking, and often barking mad, fuhrer is given medals and "our boys" are allowed to play with more than home-made bangers. The pseudo-militarism of the neo-Nazi boneheads, drilling in Hackney Marshes for the day when Enoch gives the word to get the Asians, is all rather ridiculous. Not so the official military training camps where violence is taught as a respectable art.

Fascists breed on false divisions. They seek to turn us against each other, as if life is not hard enough having to share the misery as one unhappy family. But what is new about the propaganda of Divide and Rule? it is the basis of all nationalism. "He's one of our lot; he was born under their flag. He is our enemy". Fascists might be the ultimate flag-fetishists, grasping on to their little Union Jack rag on the end of its pointy stick as if it is their lifeline to lunacy, but they did not invent them. The flags, and all the other emblems of nationalist idiocy, were here long before boys with muscles and not many brain cells decided to call street violence a political philosophy.

Let's rock against racism, by all means, but let's do a bit of rocking against nationalism while we're at it. How often is it the case that the right-on lefties who want to smash all racists find no difficulty in supporting the narrow bigotry of trendy nationalism?

So, why fascists? What horrible moment in history set in motion such movements of undiluted venom? The dung-like soil in which fascists are bred is fear. Because behind those hard-as-rock, we're gonna-get-you looks of enmity to the world, what we are seeing are a load of frightened people who are confused, threatened and deeply alienated from their social selves. The fascist is the human who aspires to be antihuman. The social nature which allows us to co-operate allows them to seek refuge in artificially constructed groups based on skin colour, flag colours, football team colours-colour-blind fascists often have a hard time with their pseudo-identities. The unique ability to use language is adapted by the fascists into a snarling, animalistic rage of incoherence. Rational discourse is swapped willingly for brute feeling. That is what the fascist wants life to be. Everything else seems to have failed.

It is a miserable, frustrating and disempowering alienation which is the lot of many under the profit-system-and so many more than those who are foolish enough to go down the fascist path-which is at the root of the fascist mentality. Alienation from a society where life as a conscious being seems unimportant and negligible leads some perhaps many-to seek comfort in the false security of national, racial and vanguardist loyalty. As the squeeze gets tighter, with a deepening world recession and the collapse of the elementary security offered by the welfare net, is it any surprise that new size twelves are slipping into new jackboots in the futile search for an honourable place within capitalist history?

The psychology of despair is one of the main symptoms of a society which converts the vivacity of the individual into purchasable chunks of labour power to be bought as cheaply as possible-and often left on the shelf to rot. The fascist mentality is part of the rot. And just as you don't blame the woodworm for the damp and dingy wall in which it thrives, it is futile to blame the rotten fascist for the stupidity of his position.

Fascism is a celebration of irrationality. The National Front should be called the Irrational Front. The confused wage slave is capitalism's very best friend. And confused, irrational, unscientific thinking will not be cured by socialists learning to fight better than the fascists. When it comes to brutality we are willing to come last. What the fascist needs is to be hit in those cerebral parts least used and most in need of life support. What the fascist needs, in fact, is to be educated by those who him not as a despicable fascist, but as a bloody stupid worker.
Steve Coleman

Sunday, April 9, 2006

The Rebuilding of the International (1915)

From the September 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

A historic document: our vindication

In the course of the last few years the German Social-Democratic Party has been dealt with more than once in these columns, and the exactness of our criticism finds striking confirmation in the article here reprinted from the International Socialist Review. The unity, the large membership, the huge voting strength, factors that would count for so much in a working-class movement born of and maintained by Socialist knowledgethese things, when brought about by desire for reform of the capitalist system are seen to be fleeting phenomena. Again, therefore, it is permissible to point out that on the way to working-class emancipation there are no short cuts whereby the necessity of Socialist education can be obviated. All this has been demonstrated time and time again, but this article of Rosa Luxemburgs is something more than a repetition of an old warning. It shows that one of the most important lessons for the working-class movement is being learned, the errors of the past recognised. And that is why, although we cannot endorse the writers remarks as to rebuilding the International, we welcome the pronouncement. For if, in the conditions obtaining to-day, there are those in Germany who even now are engaged in combating the old policy of compromise, it is certain that this work and its results will increase greatly when normal conditions return.

The Rebuilding of the International by Rosa Luxemburg (From the International Socialist Review)

[Note.In April Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring published the first number of a magazine called The International. It proved to be also the last number, for the censor forbade its further publication. But many a journal has run on for years without printing as much interesting matter as was crowded between the covers of this one issue. Rosa Luxemburgs article was left unfinished, for she was hustled into jail before The International went to press. Karl Liebknecht was prevented from making his contribution; the recruiting officer laid his hands on him and sent him to a military camp. But the two editors, Clara Zetkin, and other brilliant and earnest comrades managed to set into this single number of their journal a fairly complete statement of the position of Germanys anti-war Socialists, and a thorough-going criticism of the actions and theories of the war Socialists. The following article is reprinted here because it shows what the real Socialists of Germany are thinking at the present time. There could be no better proof of the fundamental soundness of the international movement. Rosa Luxemburg and her fellow-workers are the very best evidence to show that she is not entirely right when she says, The International has broken down. [W.E.B] [The plain facts refute this ridiculous statement of W.E.B.s Editors of the Socialist Standard.]

On August 4, 1914, the German Social Democracy handed in its political resignation, and on the same date the Socialist International went to pieces. All attempts to deny this fact or to conceal it merely serve to perpetuate the conditions which brought it about.

This breakdown is without parallel in history. Socialism or Imperialism, this is the alternative which summed up the political life of the various labour parties of the world during the past decade. In Germany especially it has formed the basis of countless programmes, discussions and publications. One of the chief purposes of the Social Democracy has been the correct formulation of thought and sentiment with regard to this alternative.

With the outbreak of the war the word became flesh; the alternative changed from a historical tendency to a political situation. Face to face with this alternative as a fact the Social Democracy, which had been the first to recognise it and bring it to the consciousness of the working class, struck its sails and without a struggle conceded the victory to imperialism. Never before, since there has been a class struggle, since there have been political parties, has there existed a party which after fifty years of uninterrupted growth, after the attainment of a pre-eminent position of power, has thus by its own act within twenty-four hours wiped itself off the map.

The apologists for this act, Kautsky among them, maintain that the whole duty of Socialists in time of war is to remain silent. Socialism, they say in effect, is a power for peace, not against war. But there is a logic of events which none can elude. The moment Socialists cease to oppose war they become, by the stern logic of events, its supporters. The labour unionists who have discontinued their struggles for improved conditions, the women who have withdrawn from Socialist agitation in order to help minimize the horrors of war, and the Socialist party leaders who spend their time in the press and on the platform securing support for the government and suppressing every effort at criticism, all of these are not merely maintaining silence. They are supporting the war as heartily as any Conservative or Centrist. When or where was there ever a war which could exhibit a similar spectacle?

Where and when was the disregard of all constitutional rights accepted with such submissiveness? When was there ever such glorification by an opposition party of the strictest censorship of the Press? Never before did a political party sacrifice its all to a cause against which it had sworn again and again to sacrifice the last drop of its blood. The mighty organisation of the Social Democracy, its much praised discipline, gave the best proof of themselves in the fact that four millions of human beings allowed themselves to be hitched to the war chariot at the command of a handful of parliamentarians. The half-century of preparation on the part of the Socialist party comes to fruition in this war. All our education of the masses makes them now the obedient and effective servants of the imperialist state. Marx, Engels and Lassalle, Liebknecht, Bebel and Singer, trained the German proletariat in order that Hindenburg may lead it.

II

Our official theorists are not without an explanation of this phenomenon. They are perfectly willing to explain the slight disagreement between their actions of to-day and the words of yesterday. Their apology is that although the Social Democracy has concerned itself much with the question as to what should be done to prevent war it has never concerned itself with the problem as to what should be done after the beginning of hostilities. Ready to do everybodys biding, this theory assures us that the present practice of our party is in most beautiful harmony with our past theories.

The delightfully adaptable theory is likewise ready and willing to justify the present position of International Socialism in reference to the past. The International treated only the question of the prevention of war. But now, war is a fact, and, as it turns out, after the outbreak of war Socialists are to be guided by entirely new principles. After war has actually begun the great problem for each proletariat is: Victory or defeat? Or, as an Austro-Marxist explains, a nation, like any other organism, must preserve its existence. In plain language this means: The proletariat has not one fundamental principle as scientific Socialism hitherto maintained, but two, one for peace and another for war. In time of peace, we are to suppose, the workers are to take cognisance of the class-struggle within the nation and of international solidarity in relation to other countries; in time of war, on the other hand, class-solidarity becomes the dominant feature of internal affairs and the struggle against the workers of other countries dominates the proletarian view of foreign relations. To the great historic appeal of the Communist Manifesto is added an important amendment, and it reads now, according to Kautskys revision: Workers of all lands unite in peace and cut one anothers throats in war! To-day, Down with the Russians and French! to-morrow, We are brothers all! For, as Kautsky says in Die Neue Zeit, the International is essentially an instrument of peace but no effective agent in war.

This convenient theory introduces an entirely novel revision of the economic interpretation of history. Proletarian tactics before the outbreak of war and after must be based on exactly opposite principles. This presupposes that social conditions, the base of our tactics, are fundamentally different in war from what they are in peace. According to the economic interpretation of history as Marx established it, all history is the history of class struggles. According to Kautskys revision we must add: except in times of war. Now human development has been periodically marked by wars. Therefore, according to this new theory, social development has gone on according to the following formula: a period of class struggles, marked by class solidarity and conflicts between the nations; and then a period of national solidarity and international conflictsand so on indefinitely. Periodically the foundations of social life as they exist in time of peace are reversed by the outbreak of war. And again, at the moment of the signing of a treaty of peace, they are restored. This is not, evidently, progress by means of successive catastrophes; it is rather progress by means of a series of somersaults. Society develops, we are to suppose, like an iceberg floating down a warm current; its lower portion is melted away, it turns over, and continues this process indefinitely.

Now all the known facts of human history run counter to this new theory. They show that there is a necessary and dialectic relation between class struggle and war. The class struggle develops into war and war develops into class struggle; and thus their essential unity is proved. It was so in the medieval cities, in the wars of the Reformation, in the Flemish wars of liberation, in the French Revolution, in the American Rebellion, and in the Russian uprising in 1905.

Moreover, theoretically, Kautskys idea leaves not one stone of the Marxian doctrine on another. If, as Marx supposes, neither war nor the class struggle fall from heaven, but both arise from deep social-economic causes, then they cannot disappear periodically unless their causes also go up in vapour. Now the proletarian class struggle is a necessary aspect of the wage system. But during war the wage system does not tend to disappear. On the contrary, the aspects of it which give rise to the struggle of the classes become especially prominent. Speculation, the founding of new companies to carry on war industries, military dictatorship, all these and other influences tend to increase the class differences during time of war. And likewise the class rule of the bourgeoisie is not suspended; on the contrary, with the suspension of constitutional rights it becomes sheer class dictatorship. If, then, the causes of the class struggle are multiplied, strengthened, during war, how can the inevitable result be supposed to go out of existence? Conversely, wars are at the present time a result of the competition of various capitalist groups, and of the necessity for capitalist expansion. Now these two forces are not operative only while the cannon are booming; they are active in peace as well, and it is precisely in time of peace that they influence our life in such a way as to make the outbreak of war inevitable. For war is, as Kautsky loves to quote from Clausewitz, the continuation of politics with other means. And the imperialist phase of capitalist rule, through competition in building armaments, has made peace illusory, for it has placed us regularly under military dictatorship, and has thereby made war permanent.

Therefore our revised economic interpretation of history leads to a dilemma. Our new revisionists are between the devil and the sea. Either the class struggle persists in war as the chief life condition of the proletariat and the declaration of class harmony by Socialist leaders is a crime against the working class; or carrying on the class struggle in time of peace is a crime against the interests of the nation and the security of the fatherland. Either class struggle or class harmony is the fundamental factor in our social life, both in peace and war.

Either the International must remain a heap of ruins after the war or its resurrection will take place on the basis of the class struggle from which it took its rise in the first place. It will not appear by magic at the playing over of the old tunes which hypnotised the world before August 4. Only by definitely recognising and disowning our own weaknesses and failures since August 4, by giving up the tactics introduced since that time, can we begin the rebuilding of the International. And the first step in this direction is agitation for the ending of the war and the securing of peace on the basis of the common interests of the international proletariat.


Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Banality of Everyday Life (2003)

From the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

"As poverty has been reduced in terms of mere material survival, it has become more profound in terms of our way of life . . ."

6.30am. Get up, get dressed, go downstairs. Put the kettle on and tune in to the relentless drone of the TV. Some reporter in battle fatigues is bringing the dead victims of corporate America to you live, right to your breakfast table. Sanitised images of a dirty war wash over you while you eat cornflakes: smiling men in uniform, tanks crossing a desert, explosions at night, thin, barefoot children petted by US marines. You're not quite sure whether this is real or a re-run of some old propaganda film; you can't quite make the connection between blasts in the sky and people dying. But you haven't time to think or feel: you wash, brush your teeth, put on your coat and are out of the door.

"The crowd commutes in a brutish weariness . . . "

Getting on the bus you ignore the woman struggling with a pushchair and the madman who tells you to fuck off. On public transport you meet your fellow workers in an atmosphere of shared tedium that stifles communication. Sitting next to a face as blank as yours, you protect your body space and avoid eye contact. Jolted around on a grimy bus, you keep your head down and blend with the herd. Welcome to the morning rush hour.

Already you're thinking of what you'll do when the daily grind is over. Outside work, you can be yourself. Outside work, time is your own. Except that it's packaged up, advertised and sold back to you as free time: time to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, time to drink Budweiser, time to wear Adidas, time to holiday in Ibiza. A measured amount of time freed up for consumption.

"The obligation to work alienates the passion for creation . . ."

At work, time is money. You work hard, performing your tasks efficiently but with a bored detachment. Tapping at the keys of a computer, you churn out meaningless words and numbers; on the assembly line you churn out shoddy goods in the name of mass production. It never occurs to you that before it became labour, work was creative, the pleasure taken in it offsetting the hours of effort. It never occurs to you that once people had control over how and when they worked. Lacking creative work and control, you have only wages to ameliorate your labour.

But money buys illusions. You don't just buy a car, a washing machine, a pair of trainers; you buy self-expression, individuality, contentment, a way of life. Created by marketing gurus and peddled through the media, lifestyles come conveniently packaged at the local department store. Happiness is carried home in a plastic bag. You consume illusions. Retail is therapy.

"Forgetting life, one identifies with a range of images . . ."

The evening rush hour: same as the morning, but in reverse

You get home, make something to eat, put up your feet and turn on the TV. The familiar round of soaps, game shows and reality TV, schedule your week: Monday, Coronation Street; Tuesday, Who Wants to be a Millionaire; Wednesday, Big Brother.

On the small screen, celebrities enjoy romance and adventure on your behalf. You watch passively as they compensate for your inability to lead a fulfilling life. Relating more to a character in a soap than to your neighbour, you're under the illusion of sharing a real human relationship. Separated from your fellow human beings, an illusory connection is better than no connection.

Waking from a doze, you turn off the TV and crawl up to bed. Before sleep you consider tomorrow's routine: same shit, different day. You don't think that there's a better way to live. You don't think you have the power to change things. Yet the house of cards is built on your complicity. We have a world of pleasures to win, and nothing to lose but boredom. You sleep. You don't dream.
Lynn Wright

An Open Letter to the Workers of the World (2004)

From the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Workers,

The world we live in at the beginning of the 21st century is one that is fraught with contradiction. Some 800 million of our fellow humans are chronically malnourished and at least 1.2 billion will, on any one day, go without food. At the same time, the governments of the world order the destruction of vast mountains of food to keep prices high, stockpile food until it rots and pay farmers to take land out of production because the laws of supply and demand insist that overproduction is bad for the market.

Some 600 million of our fellow humans are homeless, many sleeping rough on the streets of the worlds cities, yet there is no shortage of vacant buildings countless millions of acres of empty living space in the major cities of the world and certainly no shortage of building materials or skilled builders and craftsmen presently out of work. Again, we find that the market not only dictates who does and does not eat, but who does and does not sleep comfortably.

Well over one billion of our fellow humans have no access to clean water, while its growing scarcity is calculated to spark many wars across the globe this coming century. Meanwhile, the technology exists to desalinate millions of gallons each day and to set up treatment plants capable of cleaning the dirtiest water. However, there is not much profit in selling something which covers five-sixths of the planet, so the investment never comes.

While millions of children die each year of curable diseases and while we still await breakthroughs in medical science that can cure the presently incurable, we find there are literally thousands of scientists around the world employed in weapons programmes paid by their respective governments to devise new methods of murder, including germ warfare.

The list is as endless as it is insane. At every turn we find evidence of how capitalism destroys us physically and mentally, retarding real human development. At every turn we come smack up against the iron law of our age cant pay, cant have. At every turn we find capitalism running wild like a rabid dog, infecting all it comes into contact with.

Credit where credit is due. Capitalism has enabled us to carry out some pretty fantastic technological and scientific feats. Advances in warfare sparked a race for rocket technology that has enabled us explore the furthest limits of the solar system. The search for oil and other resources has allowed us to plumb the deepest oceans and map out the ocean beds. We can split the atom, map the human genome, and perform the most amazing organ transplants. Nothing, it seems, is beyond us. Our productive powers are unprecedented. Our capabilities are awe-inspiring. Sadly, however, and in spite of the technology at our disposal, the never-ending battle for profits means that we have entered the 21st century dragging with us every social ill that plagued the previous century.  War, hunger, poverty, disease, and homelessness are still making the headlines, and each of these problems is, to a lesser or greater degree, rooted in the way we continue to organise ourselves for production. The terrible irony is that we are already capable of solving the major problems that face us. Indeed, we have been capable of solving them for quite some time though obviously never within the context of capitalism.

Over 20 years ago, the World Health Organisation revealed that the technology existed to feed a world population twelve times its (then) size. Five years ago the UN reported that Africa could easily feed a population six times its current size if western farming technology was introduced. Science and technology are in fact so advanced as to enable us to solve all these problems. However, the requirements of profit everywhere act as a stumbling block not only to the full use of the productive forces, but also to the full and unhindered use of science and technology in the service of humanity.

Socialists long ago realised that the problems we face are in fact social problems, not natural ones or the vengeance of gods social problems because they have their roots in the way our world is organised for production, that is production for profit, not need. If you think seriously about it, youll be hard pressed to find any aspect of our lives that is not subordinated to the requirements of profit. This is the case the world over. We are all of us at the mercy of the anarchic laws of capitalism.

What is to be done?
If this is the case, then what can we do about it? Socialists, real socialists, believe the only way forward lies in abolishing the money/wages/profit system that we know as capitalism and establishing a world socialist society or, in other words, a world of free access to the benefits of civilisation. Only then can we gain real control over our world and reassert control over our own destiny. Only then can we produce without polluting our world and only then can we enjoy a world in which there is no waste or want or war.

Since 1904, the Socialist Party has been advocating the establishment of such a world system: a global system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interests of all people.

We advocate a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders, states or governments or armies. A world devoid of money or wages, exchange, buying or selling. A world in which people give freely of their abilities and take according to their own self-defined needs from the stockpile of wealth. A global system in which each person has a free and democratic say in how their world is run.

Human nature no barrier
Of course, many we come into contact with agree that such a world would be a beautiful place to live in, but that human nature will always be a barrier to its establishment, because humans are by nature greedy, selfish and aggressive. It quickly becomes apparent that what they are describing is not human nature as such, but various traits of human behaviour exhibited under particular circumstances. Socialists maintain that human behaviour is shaped by the kind of system people are brought up to live in that it is not our consciousness that determines our social existence but our social existence which determines our consciousness. Nobody is born as a racist or a patriot, as a bigot or with a belief in gods. Nobody is born a murderer, a robber or a rapist, and our alleged greed for money is no more a function of the natural human thought process than were slavery or witch burning.

In general, the ideas the common people hold have been acquired second-hand, passed down from the ruling class above us. This is because the class which owns and controls the productive process, also controls the intellectual life process in general. Any anti-social behaviour is likewise influenced by our social circumstances at any given time, i.e., when we are poor, depressed, lonely, angry and frustrated.

In most cases, those who produce the worlds wealth (some 95 percent of the worlds population) have had that second-rate education that makes free-thought difficult an upbringing that conditions us to accept without question the ideas of our betters and superiors. Indeed, the education system is geared to perpetuate the rule of an elite, insofar as it never encourages children to question and take issue with the status quo. Children may well cite that 8 times 8 equals 64, but how many will ask about the cause of wars or query the destruction of food?

Socialists hold that because we can adapt our behaviour, the desire to cooperate should not be viewed as irrational. We hold that humans are, by nature, cooperative and that we work best when faced with the worst and that our humanity shines through when the odds are stacked against us. There are millions of cases of people donating their blood and organs to complete strangers, sacrificing their lives for others, of people giving countless hours of their free time to charitable work all of this without financial incentive. There is even the case of a man throwing himself on top of a grenade to protect children in a school yard. He died to protect children, none of which were his own, and in the instant knowledge that his action was suicidal.

Today, world capitalism threatens the human race with extinction. The reason this obnoxious system survives is because we have been conditioned to accept it, not born to perpetuate it. Rest assured, no gene inclines us to defend the profit system.

Not been tried
Many we come into contact with tell us that socialism has already been tried and has failed. They then point to the former Soviet Union, to China, Cuba and a dozen other states that claimed to have established socialism. What they fail to grasp is that socialism has existed nowhere, and that what existed being passed off as socialism was in fact state capitalism, not socialism or communism (which mean the same thing). A cursory glance at the affairs of these countries reveals they never abolished the wages system. The rulers exploited their workers and outlawed dissent. They produced when only viable to do so, maintained commodity production, traded according to the dictates of international capital and, like every other capitalist state, were prepared to go to war to defend their economic interests. Moreover, in all of these countries, it was believed that socialism could be established by force, that socialism could exist in one country. The Leninists who carried out the Bolshevik Revolution maintained that the revolution could only be carried out by a minority vanguard party, that the masses were too ignorant to understand the case for change.

Since 1904, our movement has maintained that socialism, like capitalism, can only exist on a global scale, and that it will only come about when a majority of the worlds people want it and are prepared to organise for it peacefully and democratically, in their own interests and without leaders. No vanguard can establish socialism the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.

We can do it
But who are the working class? Agreeing with Marx, we believe that there are two classes in society the working class and the capitalist class, each one determined by its relationship to the means of living. The capitalist class own and control the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, living as parasites off profits, rent and interest. The working class, other than possessions we have purchased with our own sweat, own little more than our ability to sell our physical and mental abilities to the highest bidder. There is  no middle class as the working class includes land workers, doctors, lawyers and teachers anyone, indeed, who must sell their mental and physical energies to survive.

This class, the working class runs the world and it is important to grasp this fact. It is we who fish the oceans and tend the forests and till the land and plantations.  It is we who build the cities and railroads, the bridges and roads, the docks and airports. It is we who staff the hospitals and schools, who empty the bins and go down the sewers. It is we, the working class, who produce everything society needs from a pin to an oil-rig, who provide all of its services. If we can do all of this off our own bats, then surely we can continue to do so without a profit-greedy minority watching over us and, more, in our own interests.

The ruling class, of capitalists and their executive, the governments of the world, have no monopoly on our skills and abilities. These belong to us. Moreover, it is we who are responsible for the inventions that have benefited humanity and the improvements in productive techniques. Most inventions and improvements are the result of those who do the actual work thinking up easier and faster ways of completing a task, the result of ideas being passed down from generation to generation, each one improving  the techniques of the previous. If those who work have given the world so much, in the past say 2000 years, then how much more are we capable of providing in a world devoid of the artificial constraints of profit?

Capitalism must go
It is easy to cite the advantages of capitalism over previous economic systems. Many people believe that capitalism, though not perfect, is the only system possible. One thing is certain, though if we follow the capitalist trajectory, were in for some pretty troublesome times. Capitalism has undoubtedly raised the productive potential of humanity. It is now quite possible to provide a comfortable standard of living for every human on the planet.  But, to reiterate, capitalism now stands as a barrier to the full and improved use of the worlds productive and distributive forces. In a world of potential abundance, the unceasing quest for profit imposes on our global society widespread artificial scarcity. Hundreds of millions of humans are consigned to a life of abject poverty, whilst the majority live lives filled with uncertainty.

Our ability to imagine has brought us so very far, from the days when our ancestors chipped away at flint to produce the first tools, to the landing of someone on the moon, the setting up of the world wide web, and the mapping out of the human genome. Is it really such a huge leap of the imagination to now envisage a social system that can take over from the present capitalist order of things? Is it just too daring to imagine humans consigning poverty, disease, hunger and war to some pre-historic age?

Do we really need leaders deciding our lives for us? Do we really need governments administering our lives when what is really needed is the administration of the things we need to live in peace and security? Must every decision made by our elites be first of all weighed on the scales of profit, tilted always in their favour? A growing number think not and have mobilised to confront what they perceive to be the major problems of contemporary capitalism.

In recent years there has been a world-wide backlash against neoliberal globalisation, corporate power and the iniquities of modern-day capitalism. Everywhere where the worlds ruling elite have assembled to decide their next step they have been met with protests and demonstrations that have attracted hundreds of thousands. Demonstrations at Seattle, Gothenburg, Prague and Genoa, for instance, have fuelled the ongoing debate on the nature of modern day capitalism. Thousands of articles have been written on the subject and hundreds of books have been published that explore the alternatives offered by the anti-globalisation movement.

What is now clear is that the anti-globalisation movement, however well-meaning, does not seek to replace capitalism with any real alternative social system. At best it attracts a myriad of groups, all pursuing their own agenda. Some call for greater corporate responsibility. Some demand the reform of international institutions. Others call for the expansion of democracy and fairer trading conditions. All, however, fail to address the root cause of the problems of capitalism.

One thing is certain: capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the worlds suffering billions, because reform does not address the basic contradiction between profit and need. The worlds leaders cannot be depended upon because they can only ever act as the executive of corporate capitalism. The expansion of democracy, while welcome, serves little function if all candidates at election time can only offer variations on the same basic set of policies.

Capitalism must be abolished if we as a species are to thrive, if the planet is to survive. No amount of reform, however great, will work. Change must be global and irreversible. It must involve all of us. We need to erase borders and frontiers; to abolish states and governments and false concepts of nationalism. We need to abolish our money systems, and with it buying, selling and exchange. And in place of this we need to establish a different global social system a society in which there is common ownership and true democratic control of the Earths natural and industrial resources. A society where the everyday things we need to live in comfort are produced and distributed freely and for no other reason than that they are needed. Socialism.

It is now no utopian fantasy to suggest we can live in a world without waste or want or war, in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation. That much is assured. We certainly have the science, the technology and the know-how. All that is missing is the will the global desire for change that can make that next great historical advance possible; a belief in ourselves as masters of our own destiny; a belief that it is possible to free production from the artificial constraints of profit and to fashion a world in our own interests. And how soon this happens depends upon us all each and every one of us.
John Bissett

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The Call of the Patriot

From the November 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

FELLOW Workers,During the last three months there has been staring at you from every hoarding, from trams, 'buses, and stations, from vans, warehouse walls, and notice boards on churches, from the pages of the newspapers and every other available space, the statement that: "YOUR KING AND COUNTRY NEED YOU."

This statement, showing, if you will but think, how important and vitally necessary you are to the ruling class, has been re-iterated again and again, with innumerable variations, from countless pulpits and platforms up and down the country. Urgent appeals by the hundred thousand have been made to all " fit" men to enlist; every device and every weapon that the "liberty-loving" masters could invent, from the call of a sham patriotism to the wholesale backing of employers; from lying to bribery; from silent coercion to the insults of the white feather brigade, and from this to the deliberate suppression of hostile opinion, have been used either to entice or drive you into the ranks. For you, fellow workers, are today, as you always are, indispensable to the bosses, both for the production of profits in the "piping times of peace" (!) and for cannon fodder and the slaughter of the "enemy" in times of war.

Without you the masters are helpless; without you the State collapses and the rulers of the one country cannot hope to win in their struggle against the rulers of another country; and knowing this, and recognising YOUR supreme importance, the bosses have been moving heaven and earth, spending money like water, lying like Christians, combining cajolery with economic pressure, and ringing the changes on every form of cant, from "stirring" appeals to your manhood to virulent denunciation of your indifference or backwardness, in order to make YOU go and fight battles from which you will receive the usual rewards of empty honour, broken health, wounded bodies, or the eternal silence of the grave.

The reasons advanced why you and the working men of Europe should fight each other have been many, and we could fill a column with the contradictions of the politicians, the black coats, and the "intellectuals" on this matter. Any excuse has been good enough as long as it has had the effect of making you and the German working men defend your respective masters. From the violation of treaties by Germany to deliberate provocation on the part of England; from Russian court intrigue to the capture of international trade; from the rottenness of secret diplomacy to the enthronement of Atheism; from the policy of "blood and iron" to the jealousy and hatred of the Allies: each and every excuse in its turn, according to whether the apologist was pro-British or pro-German, has been offered as justification for the infamy now going on, and as a reason why you should take part in it.

In England it is declared to be a war for "liberty, righteousness, democracy," and other bunkumalthough the bosses occasionally give the game away by stating, as the "Sunday Chronicle" of August 30th, that "the men in the trenches are fighting on behalf of the manufacturer, the millowner, and the shopkeeper." In Germany it is declared to be a conflict in which the ruling class of England, Russia, and Japan have combined to reduce her to the level of a fifth-rate power, and to render her politically, militarily, and above all economically, impotent for ever. And each aide, using every possible device, has dragged you and your fellow-workers abroad into the arena.

You had neither lot, voice, nor counsel in the events leading to the conflict; YOUR place while it lasts is that of automata, conscious only to obey blindly and, if need be, to suffer; and your lot after it is over will be the usual lot of your class, the lot of the poor, the down-trodden and the oppressed everywhere.

Of the forces now engaged not more than five per cent come from the ranks of the well-to do; YOU furnish the remaining ninety-five per cent. YOU have to bear the infinitely greater proportion of the deaths, the disease, the permanent injury and the awful strain, while those who goad you on with sweet words or threats, rest securely and comfortably in their easy chairs in club or office, killing the enemy every day with their mouths, but taking particular care, in the vast majority of instances, never to risk their precious carcases within a hundred miles of the actual conflict.

We Socialists would therefore ask you to put on your considering caps and think for yourselves, instead of allowing the capitalist Press, Tory, Liberal, and sham Labour, to think for you.

When the war is over, and you are tramping the country, as you will be in many cases; when you and those near and dear to you hunger and thirst; when you feel the whip of semi-starvation and the gaunt spectre of want is your daily companion, will your "King and Country" need you then? Does not your daily experience teach you that you have no country, that you are landless and propertyless? Does it not show you that here, as in Germany, the land and its fatness belong to the masters, your portion being a mean tenement in a mean street, with the bare means of existence, and then only if you are lucky enough to get work?

When the bosses ask you to fightto offer your lives for "democracy and liberty against militarism"; when they pose as the defenders of oppressed people, and express themselves deeply concerned to uphold justice, humanity, and right, ask them why it is that they have so long practised in Englandpractise to this day the tyranny and oppression they now denounce abroad.

The present British Government, the "champions of liberty," through their then Home Secretary, Churchill, prepared, previous to the railway workers going on strike, and turned out at the request of the railway magnates, no less than 58,000 troops, crushing by militarism the attempt of those workers to slightly improve their admittedly rotten conditions of existence.

This Government, "the apostle of humanity," during the last London Dock strikewhen the men merely asked that agreements previously entered into by the Government itself should be honouredplaced at the disposal of the capitalist Devonport and the gang around him, an unlimited supply of police and military, and deliberately starved the women and children, in some cases to death, in order to break the resistance of the men.

This Government, the "defender of freedom, the upholder of justice, and right," endorsed martial law, the denial of all liberty and the firing on defenceless crowds in S. Africa; it batoned 700 men in Dublin, turned out the military against YOU at Belfast, Llanelly, Leith, the Rhondda valley and elsewhere; it has callously refused to give underfed children sufficient food; it mocks with pretty words, but cynical, brutal inaction, the condition of the ever-growing army of unemployed; it has sanctioned wholesale imprisonment, exile and butchery, in India, Persia, Egypt, and the New Hebrides, and allied itself with the infamies perpetrated in Russia and Japan: in a word, it reeks with lying pretence and self-satisfied Pharisaism, for in very truth, it is the ever-willing tool of autocracy. Capitalism, and class rule and the deadly enemy of the working class everywhere.

Ask this or any capitalistic Government for their credentials, examine their records, and you will learn that, beyond all dispute, whether it be England or Russia, France or Belgium, Germany or Japan, there is, so far
as YOU are concerned, no difference between them whatever. They are all made in the same mould, filled with the same lust the lust of exploiting YOU. When it suits them they flatter you; but when you ask them for a little of the justice they now prate about, then they insult, imprison and often murder you. To-day they want you badly, for they are at war with each other and want YOU to do THEIR dirty work; but remember that whoever wins or loses, your lot will be the same; the politician will still soft-soap you ; the industrial machine will still grind you, and poverty and all that it means will still enchain you.

If, therefore, you are wise, if you are men, if you are really anxious for freedom from slavery, then look around you here, and you will soon learn the truth, that it is your class which is denied this freedom, and denied it by the very class who now call upon you to act. One law for the rich and one for the poor. Adulation, servility and the world's wealth for the rich; grinding toil, insecurity and eternal hardship for the poorthese are the commonplace of every day life. Is it not so?

Your duty, then, is to fight against this, and the only way you can fight successfully is by understanding your position in society, realising that wars and hate, malice and theft, oppression and greed, class rule and the travail of the workers the world over, are to-day born of capitalism. This it the root evil; it is this you have to war against if you would be free, for all else is futile; and when you do this, BUT NOT BEFORE, then liberty will be with you as your possession; there will be no oppressed peoples, for the might of the working class, organised consciously for the overthrow of the modern octopus, will have conquered, and the international commonwealth will be here.

Monday, April 3, 2006

State Capitalism (1987)

Book Review from the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Alfred P. Sloane, who once ran General Motors, is reported to have said: It is the business of the automobile industry to make money not cars and what he was saying applies generally to production in the modern world. It takes place first and foremost with a view to making monetary profit and only incidentally with a view to producing goods or services. Theres no difficulty in seeing this in whats called the private sector. Its clear that an employer will only carry on a business as long as it is making a profit or theres a prospect of profit. If profit stops being made, the business will either try to cut costs (usually by reducing its workforce) or, if this is impossible, will close down.

We can see this process together with its human toll in insecurity and unemployment going on all the time. And we can see it not just in the private sector but in state-owned industry too, as in the closure in recent years of so many British coal mines. Yet its still widely thought that in state owned industry profit is not paramount and that in countries such as Russia, where virtually the whole of the production process is state controlled, planning and not the profit motive prevails. In the West, because many of the state-owned industries have been concerned with providing essential goods and services (such as energy and transport) its been widely believed that they somehow belong to us all, that their purpose is to serve the community and they do not have to run at a profit.

This belief was particularly widespread in Britain in the years immediately following the second world war when the Labour government introduced large-scale nationalisation measures. The old lady who went down to the pithead with her coal bucket to collect some of what she thought was her coal had just this kind of optimism. She had been told that now the mines were nationalised they belonged to the people. In fact she was greeted with delirious laughter and told to go and buy her coal from the coal merchant as before. Many other people have been similarly disillusioned when confronted with the failure of nationalisation to bring about the shared prosperity of a new social order. And so unpopular has it now become that the present-day Conservative Party is able to gain electoral advantage by bringing in sweeping privatisation measures.

Its often said that this failure of state-run industry to give people a better life shows that socialism has been tried and failed. This is true only if you regard socialism as synonymous with state ownership (and by extension capitalism with private ownership). But another way of looking at it is that state ownership is simply an alternative to private ownership of capital and of running a capitalist economy. No matter who handles capital the state or private investors the majority of people, all those who have to work for a living, continue to have only the limited access to the wealth of society which their wage or salary gives them.

State industries
This is an approach adopted in a new book by Adam Buick and John Crump called State Capitalism: the Wages System Under New Management (Macmillan, 1986, 157pp.) Buick and Crump argue that state-run production is just as much concerned with profit as private enterprise and present convincing evidence that, when it comes to making profit, nationalised industries in Britain and other Western countries have on the whole been extraordinarily successful. They do not deny that state-run industries such as coal and transport necessary for the overall profitability of production have sometimes been run at a loss with the aid of government subsidies. But this has been the exception rather than the rule and in general nationalised industries, which have a statutory legal obligation to try to run at a profit, have not been allowed to continue to run at a loss. The cut- backs in the coal and iron and steel industries over the last 20 years by both Labour and Tory governments are evidence of this and on the whole anyway, despite popular myth, subsidies have not been needed for nationalised industries. They have generally produced not only enough profit to accumulate new capital but also enough to provide a property income for the private individuals who originally owned the nationalised industries. For the old private owners nationalisation meant a change in the form of ownership from private shares to interest-bearing government bonds, while some chose to receive payment in cash from the state to the full value of what was being purchased from them.

What this shows is that nationalisation does not dispossess private capitalists but simply changes their property titles. And what Buick and Crump go on to illustrate with many practical examples is that historically state intervention in industry (or state purchase as it used to be called) has taken place not for ideological reasons but to protect the interests of the private-owning class as a whole so that individual or groups of capitalists could not, by their monopoly of an essential good or service, hold the rest of the capitalist class to ransom.

The depth and sophistication of the authors analysis makes their conclusions irresistible nationalisation is essentially a buying and selling transaction involving haggling over a purchase price and represents no more than an institutional arrangement, a change of formal ownership which leaves intact the basic social relation of wage labour to capital. It is of no concern therefore to the majority of us in society, who receive in return for selling our energies to a state or private employer a wage or salary of smaller value than what we have produced. And like private capitalists or the managers of a private enterprise, the professional managers appointed by the state to run the nationalised industries are, as the authors put it. the mere agents of market forces, interpreting, more or less successfully, the dictates of the market and exploiting, more or less successfully, the labour power purchased.

But what about countries like Russia and China where there is blanket state ownership and no distinct privately-owning capitalist class? Here Buick and Crump show that the party bosses and bureaucrats who govern Russia also effectively own the wealth of that country, by virtue of their control over production and the productive machinery. The privileges they draw from ownership are expressed in the massively higher living standards they enjoy compared with the majority of Russians. Like the private capitalists in the West they derive their wealth from the surplus value produced by the wage and salary earners. But instead of, as in the West, receiving this wealth directly in the form of profit due to them legally as a return on investment, they receive it in the form of enormously bloated salaries, bonuses and payments in kind of various types holiday villas, travel abroad, access to special shops and so on.

Socialist analysis
Not that Buick and Crump claim to have discovered anything new in this. In the detailed and wide-ranging account they give of the idea and history of state capitalism, they point out that since the 1920s the Socialist Standard has argued that Russia has a capitalist class and that the system there is not socialism or communism but a form of capitalism -state capitalism. They point out too that in recent years other observers and political currents have been driven to a similar view, usually without even knowing about the pioneering work of the Socialist Party. Unlike the Socialist Party, however, most of them have argued that if Russia is now a class society in which the party leaders and bureaucrats have become a new ruling class on the basis of the wages system, it was not always so. The Russian revolution of 1917, the arguments run, was a socialist revolution which overthrew capitalism for a while until it was restored at a later date by Stalin, Kruschev or whoever. But, as Buick and Crump remark, wherever the date of capitalisms restoration in Russia is fixed, all the elements which are cited as evidence of capitalisms existence subsequent to that date were also in existence previously.

The point here is that the difference between capitalism and socialism is seen as a difference between the politics of those controlling the state and not as a different form of social organisation. And what the authors show, in their chapter entitled The Revolutionary Road to State Capitalism, is that a different form of social organisation on a socialist basis of production for use, voluntary cooperation and the abolition of the wages system never existed at any time in Russia. The Russian revolution from the very beginning was aimed not at abolishing capitalism and making the means of living into the common property of the whole community but at a takeover of the state by a minority group whose purpose was to centralise capital in the state with a view to speeding up industrial development and all this behind a smokescreen of socialist declarations.

How has this centralisation of capital in the hands of the state worked out in practice? The answer to this question is the area in which Buick and Crump are at their most original. What they do is to analyse in detail the mechanics of production in Russia and other such countries (but in particular Russia) to show precisely how and why production, even under almost total state control, takes place and indeed must take place with a view to making profit and not to satisfying peoples needs. Not to concentrate on profit, they point out, would be to ignore the pressure arising from the international rivalry of competing capitals, the pressure to compete both militarily and commercially, and therefore to accumulate capital. And the penalty for such ignorance would be economic and political collapse. So Russian planning is not aimed at satisfying the needs of consumers but at extracting surplus value from Russian workers as effectively as possible making them produce greater value by their labour than they receive in wages or salaries, just like workers in the West. Not that, under the profit imperative, planning and its production targets are a particularly precise, reliable or long-term instrument for economic organisation. They must of necessity be short-term, piecemeal and subject to constant revision as indeed they have always been in Russia as the nature and amount of the goods that can be sold on the market at a profit constantly changes.

Russian capitalism
Shades here of Western market forces. And indeed perhaps the most penetrating insight of this book is that an effective market and the forces of competition that go with it do exist in Russia. The plan does not abolish exchange relationships between enterprises but merely attempts to quantify the exchanges in advance.

In other words the state has to devise mechanisms of a market kind and the pressures which act on the state and its economic planners in the state capitalist countries are identical to the pressures which act on their private capitalist counterparts via the market. And these pressures, the need to make financial calculations in order to realise profit and accumulate capital indicate, over and above any differences of detail, the essential similarity of the economic systems of East and West. Nor does planning remove the element of competition from Russian production. Competition remains an essential and ever-present feature. There is competition between enterprises producing different goods where financially accountable enterprise managers are anxious to achieve their targets ahead of other enterprises. There is competition between enterprises which produce the same goods, with planning specifications, which are necessarily vague and approximate to allow individual managers latitude to adapt to rises and falls in spare capacity and consumer demand, have brought about a situation where a number of different enterprises may be producing, say, refrigerators at the same time in competition with one another. There is, above all, because of the pressure on managers to reach production targets, competition among enterprises for the skilled labour power available.

Such is the intensity of competition for scarce grades of labour power that even the Russian authorities admit that almost one-third of labour recruitment by-passes official channels, while many Western scholars believe that, with certain exceptions, the immense majority of workers and employees is recruited at the factory or office gates.

All this knocks sideways the arguments of those who say that what exists in Russia is not state capitalism but some form of socialism, or at least a fundamentally different economic system than in the West. The view of Trotsky, Trotskyist theoreticians like Ernest Mandel and Trotskys followers in many of todays left-wing organisations, that Russia does not operate on capitalist principles but is a deformed or degenerate workers state where production takes place at least partly for the benefit of workers is shown to be based on excessive attention to legal forms and official ideological pronouncements rather than on how the economy functions in practice. Likewise, those who, identifying socialism with fullscale nationalisation, refuse to see Russia as capitalist because it has no privately-owning class are shown wrong through overestimating the importance and effectiveness of planning and seriously underestimating the role of prices, profit and money. Often of course such Western observers have an ideological point to prove but in this they are no different from the official ideologists of the Russian state who must also insist on qualitative differences of organisation and lifestyle between socialist Russia and the capitalist West.

But if Russias state propaganda calls the society there socialist, what it claims to be moving towards as the ultimate realisation is communism . And what it is widely thought to mean by this is a classless, stateless society based on the principle from each according to ability, to each according to need. But in their final chapter, The Alternative to Capitalism, Buick and Crump examine closely the wording of official Russian pronouncements on future society and find that what is actually being advocated is not a classless society of free access at all but a society of free distribution, one in which a minority will still rule and a majority will still work for the rulers receiving in return for their work payment in kind of the things the rulers consider they need. Such a society would still be a form of wages system and in any case not a society based on the self-determined satisfaction of needs.

Alternative society
The alternative the authors offer to replace all the different forms of wages system examined in the book is just that society of free access which Russian state ideology denies. It is a society without money and wages and without buying and selling. It cannot, they insist, be brought in gradually by some kind of transition process but only as a rupture, a clean break with the present system if for no other reason than the total difference in the form that wealth takes in the two societies. In the one (socialism or production for use) it appears in its natural form for the purpose of satisfying human needs; in the other (capitalism or production for profit) it appears in the form of exchange value for the purpose of being sold on the market at a profit. And the two are mutually exclusive. In socialism, as the writers put it:
"Goods would simply become useful things produced for human beings to take and use . . . people would obtain the food, clothes and other articles they needed for their personal consumption by going into a distribution centre and taking what they needed without having to hand over either money or consumption vouchers."

And they go on to suggest how it could be organised in practical terms. Such arrangements are possible today, they conclude, because our resources, technology, skills and knowledge are sufficient to allow us to produce a massive abundance of all the goods and services we need in order to live comfortably on a worldwide scale. But if this is to be achieved then we must organise ourselves democratically on the basis of voluntary cooperative work instead of forced wage labour and through production for use instead of profit and all this in a society without states and frontiers, without rulers and ruled, without leaders and led.

Some might find these recommendations require too great a leap of the imagination, but they should not be deterred from reading this excellent book. It is a landmark in the study of modern society to which no short account can do justice and it is thoroughly readable. It will find its way on to the bookshelf of socialists but it will also be read by, and change the thinking of, many non-socialists. 
Howard Moss