Thursday, June 29, 2006

Asylum: From Pillar To Post And Back

From the forthcoming July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not good news for Chu Hua ('At the Bottom of the Heap', February Socialist Standard). She came from China hoping for asylum but her application was turned down and she was forbidden to find a job or claim benefit, which reduced her to living off friends or getting involved in something illegal -  like selling counterfeit DVDs. That was why she appeared in court, threatened with a prison sentence -  which probably persuaded her to take her chances elsewhere by going on the run.

This is where the bad news begins. On 28 May the Crown Court at Guildford sent a 34 year old man called Ling Cheng to prison for six months. Like Chu Hua, he is a rejected asylum seeker from China and, again like her, his offence - for the fourth time - was selling counterfeit DVDs. This case highlighted the uncomfortable fact that the manufacture and selling of illegal DVDs is dominated by organised gangs of Chinese. Gangs which make money in ways which are illegal - in the sense that they don't actually conform to the type of theft and extortion which capitalism thrives on - often assert their territorial or commercial integrity with extreme violence. In other words anyone who does not do as they say or who tries to muscle in on their territory is liable to be subjected to organised punishment beating or even killings. Chu Hua would be desperately vulnerable to that - it was not why she came to England.

Deportation
Worse news for Chu Hua was that when Ling Cheng was in court there was already an order that he should be deported back to China (although luckily for him the Chinese government had refused to take him, which means he had avoided a fate even worse than trying to scrape a livelihood in England out of nothing). If Chu Hua were also sent back to China she could well be tortured or executed. Her asylum application was based on the fact that she is a member of the Fa Lun Gong cult, which the Chinese government regards as dangerously subversive of their style of capitalism and of the discipline they need to impose on their workers if that country is to maintain its bid to become one of the great competitors of world capitalism. This is why members of Fa Lun Gong have been imprisoned, beaten and killed.

As if this is not menacing enough for Chu Hua, there has recently been some news about the Chinese government's keen interest in the profit prospects of the international trade in human organs -  and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to get a slice of the market. There is a world shortage of some transplant organs and plenty of desperately sick people who will pay a great deal for one. A kidney costs around u35,000, a heart about u80,000. Among the organisations which openly advertise their wares there are transplant centres in China running websites which promise to supply most organs quickly - a kidney can be had within four weeks, some viscera almost immediately. Perhaps the people whose lives depend on a quick transplant will not ask themselves too many searching questions about the origins of the organ they are buying and why it should be available so quickly. For them, a recent statement by the British Transplant Society should have made disturbing reading:
"an accumulating body of evidence suggests that the organs of executed prisoners are being removed for transplantation without the prior consent of either the prisoner or their family."

Executions
Professor Stephen Wigmore, who is chairman of the British Transplant Society's ethics committee, has referred to "a reported close relationship between transplant units and the authorities regulating executions and the availability of organs" in China and says that "The weight of evidence has accumulated to a point over the last few months where it's really incontrovertible in our opinion". He told BBC Radio Five Live that the speed with which patients and donors in China are matched must imply that prisoners were being selected before execution to give up their organs. Motoring enthusiasts may see some similarities between this and their expectation of popping down to the local breaker's yard to buy a salvaged part for a damaged car.

The government of China lays claim to it being a socialist country. Leaving aside the fact that this is a contradiction in terms, the truth is that that country exhibits some of the crueller, more repressive characteristics of life under capitalism. It is common for prisoners in China to be subjected to the humiliation and terror of a public sentencing rally. Of all the countries where the death sentence operates China is easily the most active; according to Amnesty International 3,400 people were executed there in 2005 - about 90 per cent of the total world wide. (Iran was in second place, a long way behind with 160). The number of executions in China can only be estimated as it is an official state secret. Some judge it to be far higher than Amnesty, for example one delegate at the National People's Congress put the figure nearer 10,000. In addition there is an unusually wide definition of capital crime, encompassing corruption and repeat instances of minor, or attempted, offences.

Terror
That definition also includes membership of the Fa Lun Gong, which the Chinese government is trying to wipe out. Supporters of the Fa Lun Gong say that members of the cult have been held at a labour camp near a town called Shenyang before being put to death so that their organs could be sold. It was to escape this kind of terror that Chu Hua made her way to England and eventually to the court where she was under threat of imprisonment for selling those DVDs - an offence which in China would almost certainly have resulted in her being executed. She went on the run from the court a few months ago and seems to be still at large. Perhaps she decided that after all she would be better off back in China. Either way it is not good news for her or for the people of the world, who are capable of organising human affairs much better than this.
Ivan

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Issac Rabinowich and the World Socialist Party of the United States

This year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the formation of the World Socialist Party of the United States, companion party of the World Socialist Movement in the United States. Printed below is a biographical article on one of its founding members, Issac Rab, which I've reproduced because I think it provides an interesting commentary on the history of radical politics in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, and also because I hope it goes some way in shedding light on the marxian socialist tradition in the United States.

90 Years On


The Party now known as the World Socialist Party of the United States was formed, in Detroit, in July 1916. Probably its most enthusiastic founder-member was Isaac Rabinowich, generally called Rab for short. His granddaughter and long time member of the WSP, Karla Rab Ellenbogen, has just written and published Role-Modeling Socialist Behavior: A Biography of Isaac Rab, which also contains a selection of Rab's letters and articles, as well as a report on his visit to Britain in 1954 and a tape-recorded address to the SPGB. annual conference in 1959.

Rab's parents, Sheppie and Sara Rabinowich, came from Navaradok in Minsk-Gobernia, on the Russian-Polish border. Sheppie's father and grandfathers for many generations had been rabbis; and Sheppie also studied to be a rabbi, but then decided that it was irrational to believe in a god. He gave up being a rabbi, and became a lay teacher. In August 1893, Sheppie and Sara, who was already pregnant, arrived in Boston in the United States, and on December 22 had a son whom they named Isaac.

Sara was, even before emigrating to America, the pioneer revolutionary socialist in the family. Almost immediately after arriving in the United States, Sheppie joined the Socialist Labor Party, and then with its formation, the reformist Socialist Party of America. He later became a charter member of the Communist Party, although neither Sara nor their son fell for Bolshevism. In 1909 at the age of 16, Isaac Rab joined the Socialist Party of America, and served as the Boston Locals secretary until he left in 1912.

In 1915, Rab moved to Detroit, Michigan, and as soon as he arrived joined the Detroit Local of the SPA. Detroit was a boom town with auto plants attracting workers not only from other areas of the USA, but also from Canada and Great Britain. Among them at that time were members of the Socialist Party of Canada and of Great Britain, including Tom Bolt, Bill Davenport, Adolph Kohn and Moses Baritz. As elsewhere, the reformers in the Detroit Local of the SPA predominated, but the revolutionary minority drew encouragement from the new reinforcements and socialist literature, as well as the International Socialist Review published by Charles H. Kerr & Co.

Rab soon heard about a Marxist study class conducted by Moses Baritz and Adolph Kohn in Duffield Hall. He immediately joined. And soon after rejected the majority reformism of the SPA. Rab also met, and became friendly with John Keracher, the Michigan State Secretary of the SPA, who originally came from Scotland. Karla Rab Ellenbogen relates that, in April 1916, at a lecture in Duffield Hall with a friend, Bob Reynolds, Rab "couldn't pull his eyes away" from the girl taking the collection a little way down the aisle from them. It was love at first sight. Her name was Ella Riebe. Rab was introduced to her.. "I'm going to marry that girl," Rab told Reynolds. And on September 27, 1916, Ella and Isaac were married.

The revolutionists within the Michigan SPA felt that a new political party was needed, in the words of the SPGB declaration of principles, "determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist...". Keracher largely agreed, but with Dennis Batt decided to remain in the 5PA for the time being. On July 7, 1916, however, 43 members of the Duffield Hall study group, including Rab and 18 other members of the Detroit Local, formed the Socialist Party of the United States. They included Bill Davenport, who became the first secretary, Lawrence Beardsley, George Ramsay, Walter Green and Bill Gribble, the first organizer (although not mentioned by Karla, Gribble had been an active member of the Socialist Party of Canada). Ella joined later. Shortly after, the Socialist Party of America challenged the new partys right to use the name, and Workers Socialist Party was substituted. The WSP adopted the object and declaration of principles of the SPGB. On August 11, 1917, Ella gave birth to a boy who was named Willie.

Following the Bolshevik coup d'état in Russia, writes Karla Rab Ellenbogen, "the socialists in the new Workers Socialist Party were sneered at for their failure to recognize a socialist revolution when it took place". And she adds: "To their credit, the WSP comrades saw that there was no conscious, political majority of convinced socialists in Russia; any revolution there could only lead to the establishment of a capitalist government."

Faced with a hostile political climate, of government repression against "reds", anarchists, radicals and socialists, the WSP membership had to make a hard decision. Without changing its principles, it decided in 1919 to abandon the structure of a political party, and re-group as the Detroit Socialist Education Society, generally referred to as the SES. In 1921 it changed its name again to the Marxian Club. In April, 1920, Ella Rab gave birth to another baby, whom they named Anna Hope. Rab, who was working for Ford, was warned that he was not to propagate socialist ideas in the factory, and was then blacklisted. In the same year, the family moved back to Boston.

In Boston, there were no members of the socialist movement. So, in the words of Karla, "Rab had resumed the task begun in Detroit, his lifelong work of spreading knowledge and understanding of the case for socialism, almost as soon as he got back to Boston." He was a charismatic speaker and soon drew large audiences wherever he spoke. Meanwhile, an active socialist group, the Socialist Educational Society, had been formed in New York, comprising former members of the SPGB and SPC, as well as others such as Sam Orner, the taxi driver immortalised by Clifford Odets in the play Waiting for Lefty.

In 1927, Rab and Ella, and their two children, marched in the funeral parade for Sacco and Vanzetti, the two anarchists executed by the state "for a murder of which they were patently innocent", writes Karla Rab Ellenbogen in her biography of her grandfather. (Charlie Lestor was also there - PEN).

Shortly after, Rab took charge of the Vagabonds, an athletic club which, in the words of Karla, "played a role in the growth of the socialist movement in Boston that no one could have anticipated". The Vagabonds was not just an athletics club, but encouraged discussions of science, history, anthropology and, under Rab's influence, socialism. Some members of the Vagabonds formed a Science Club, a number of whom became active in the socialist movement in Boston. In 1929, Rab and a number of his comrades were able to form a Socialist Study Class which moved into International Hall, which, incidentally, was also the headquarters of the local Communist Party. With increasing activities in Boston, New York and Detroit, the members of the various classes, clubs and groups voted to once again become the Workers' Socialist Party of the United States. Rab continued to soapbox at various locations in Boston. And by 1931, he was joined by a well-known, top-notch local tennis player by the name of George Gloss. As Karla notes, George Gloss was to play a major role in the history and development of the WSP.

In November, 1933, the Boston Local of the WSP had just 12 members. By 1939, it had around a 100. The Local moved into the WSP headquarters at 12 Hayward Place; and members spoke regularly on Boston Common. In 1940, Karla was born to Rab's daughter Anna and a young socialist, Lenny Feinzig. At the beginning of the Second World War, the WSP issued its anti-war manifesto, calling on the workers to establish socialism, and "put a speedy end to the profit system that breeds wars...". Unfortunately they did not.

In 1946, the Boston Local was forced to move to another headquarters at 27 Dock Square. This put quite a strain on the membership. Karla's grandmother, Ella, was the Locals secretary at the time. Rab was the National Organizer. In 1946-1947, there were at least a 100 active socialists in Boston. It was at this time that the Workers Socialist Party decided that it must change its name, largely because of the confusion caused by a Trotskyist group calling itself the Socialist Workers Party. Although many members of the WSP were reluctant to give up the old name, a majority, in a referendum voted for the party to be called the World Socialist Party of the United States. Rab said in later years that it had been a fortuitous choice, as it emphasized the international nature of the socialist movement.

By the 1950s, the WSP began to lose some of its often most active members. There were a number of controversies. Karla comments: "The material conditions were simply not conducive to a general desire for social change as they had been during the Depression. The American working-class were disinterested in socialism during the post-war years. McCarthyism was on the rise. It was a discouraging time for socialists." The National Office was moved from Boston to Detroit in 1950. The McCarthy witch hunts made it particularly difficult for not just "Communists", but also socialists and the WSP. Nevertheless, a much smaller party carried on. In September, 1954, Rab and George Gloss visited the United Kingdom. Indeed, this writer met Rab and heard him and George Gloss speak to a large and attentive audience one sunny Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park.

By the early 1970s, Isaac Rab began to age, although he continued to be active in the party. In December, 1975, there was, writes Karla, a huge celebration for Rab's 80th birthday. Hundreds of people came. Ella Rab died in 1979. And Rab began to suffer from Alzheimers disease. He died on December 31, 1986. The World Socialist Party, of course, carried on. In fact, "Eventually, members in other parts of the country who had thought the WSP was no more, found the party again", notes Karla Rab Ellenbogen. The World Socialist Party continues the struggle, 90 years on.
Peter E. Newell

Further information on the WSPUS and its history are available at the following links:
World Socialist Party of the United States MySpace Page
A Brief History of the WSPUS (dating from 1966 on its 50th anniversary)

Wage Slavery (1994)

From the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard


Some people don't like the term "wage slavery". It's not nice to be called a slave. They think you're insulting them and they might want to smack you in the eye. Other people recognise how accurate a phrase it is. They get all bitter and maudlin about their "wasted life". They normally want to smack their boss in the eye. (The boss, unconcerned, smacks his lips and carries on counting).

But "wage-slavery" is what we are in, whether we admit it or not - even those accountants in their fancy cars are only a few months from the breadline if their boss decides to dispense with their services, as well they realize. For the kind of money they're on, they've got to pull out all the stops. The family? Leave it to the wife. Interests? Two hours on Sunday and be thankful for that. Peace? Relaxation? Self-determination? Forget it.

Wage-slavery is a condition of capital and of capitalism. Capitalism itself is, you might say, the latest refinement of a popular illusion that there is something called "ownership" and something else called "property", rather in the same way that there is something called "gravity" and something else called "weight". As long as we accept the illusion that this is a physical law, then we are also obliged to accept the working conditions, to say nothing of all the other catastrophes we keep meaning to join Greenpeace, etc, etc supposedly to prevent.

Well-adjusted people take it philosophically. After all, if you were sent to prison for forty years without parole your best strategy would be to learn to like it. Look on the bright side. Things could be worse. At least I get fed. At least I've a roof over my head.

If you don't like being a wage-slave but you aren't rich enough to have other options it's a bit tough. Bad for stress. That attitude won't get you anywhere. Don't let the boss catch you talking like that.

It seems to me that there is such a thing as collaborating against yourself, like a Quisling in your own personal Class War. It's as if by some awesome mental self-deceit you can trick and trip into reverse the normal emotional process, with the result that employed work becomes life itself and you the employeee come to define and subjugate you the person. You con yourself into thinking you are doing something useful and worthwhile with your life, whereas in reality you are keeping some capitalist's books for him and nothing more. Thus, you live to work rather than work to live. It's not really a matter of cheap fuck-you-Jack materialism either, even if some people do dribble and slobber over fast cars occasionally. "You've got to work", they would argue, "you might as well enjoy it". So every morning, bright and early, you get up and shoot the resistance fighter in yourself and lace up the jackboots.

Nope, can't do it. I can't learn to love wage-slavery. I do think it's a prison, and I think of the Socialist Party as a somewhat understaffed Escape Committee. But I've emulated the capitalists and adopted sound business principles in selling my skills - we agree on eight hours, they pay for seven hours, I give them six and hope they don't notice. As for the solitary confinement of the dole, that's hardly an improvement.

I know there are a hell of a lot of workers out there who feel exactly like I do, but they either won't admit it or aren't saying anything for fear of being labelled a bad worker. Their attitude can be summed up as "OK, so it's all bullshit, but you've got to play the game."

The thing which really pisses me off is that if I object to the terms of this "game" I'm told by the likes of Michael "Mr Shithouse" Portaloo or Blue Peter Lilley that it's because I'm just a lazy feckless git who won't get out of bed to do a decent day's hard graft. This is true, in a way. Most of the "hard graft" which is on offer I wouldn't cross the road for, except maybe to avoid. But that doesn't mean I don't like money at all. I simply dislike employment on someone else's terms.

Let me have the sort of work I can see a useful point in, in which I have a say, which I can enter into freely and without obligation, which is creative, which I can take a pride in, which I can do when I want and stop if I want, which I change when I like to something else I want to try. With half the world starving and the planet poisoned it's not as if there isn't anything useful that needs doing. It's my body and my labour, after all. Why the hell shouldn't it be me that decides when and where to apply it? Money doesn't even come into it. That sort of work I would do for nothing if I could, and what's more if you're honest about it, so would you. Without "property" fetish, that is how socialism would be able to do things. But that's not how it is, and in this stick-and-carrot society, we've got there is no real opportunity, for most of us, to find this kind of work. Employment is for the most part a dreary, oppressive, soul-destroying way of paying the rent and the food bills, but it's the only game in town until we decide to change the rules.

So we carry on playing the game. Some of us even manage to like it. But we might as well recognize that we, the working class, are not holding any of the boss cards. We're not supposed to, because this is a game devised by the owning class which we cannot ever win. Therefore, we must kick the table over once and for all.
Paddy Shannon




Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cooking the Books

From the forthcoming July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

(I) Baron Rothschild rides again
According to the Times (13 May), the Rothschild dynasty is to invest again in Black Sea oil from which they were ejected after the Bolshevik coup in 1917. In the 19th century the Rothschilds were often regarded as the archetypal capitalists. To be honest, this wasnt entirely free from anti-semitism. Even Paul Lafargue, who was married to one of Marxs daughters, was not immune from this.

But if, as the pre-WWI German Social Democrat August Bebel remarked, "anti-semitism is the socialism of the fool", then a leading contender for the prize of biggest fool must go to the anarchist and comic opera revolutionist Bakunin who wrote in one of his polemics against Marx:
"I am sure that, on the one hand, the Rothschilds appreciate the merits of Marx, and that on the other hand, Marx feels an instinctive inclination and a great respect for the Rothschilds. This may seem strange. What could there be in common between communism and high finance? Ho ho! The communism of Marx seeks a strong state centralization, and where this exists, there the parasitic Jewish nation - which speculates upon the labour of people - will always find the means for its existence" (quoted, Polemique contre les Juifs, 1872).

On the other hand, F. A. Sorge, who was one of Marx's correspondents in America, recounted the following anecdote concerning a member of the dynasty:
"One day in 1848, as the story goes, Baron Rothschild took a walk on the Common of Frankfort-on-the-Main. Two labourers met him and accosted him thus:' Baron, you are a rich man; we want to divide with you.' Baron Rothschild, not the least puzzled, took out his purse good-humouredly and answered: 'Certainly! We can do that business on the spot. The account is easily made. I own 40 millions of florins; there are 40 millions of Germans. Consequently each German has to receive one florin; here is your share;' and giving one florin to each of the labourers, who looked at their money quite confused, he walked off smiling" (Quoted here).

The point Sorge was making is still valid. Bill Gates could behave in the same way today. One estimate of his personal wealth is $100 billion. The world's population is about 6.5 billion. So, if similarly accosted, the amount he would give would be $15. Even if only the US population was concerned theyd get only $333 each.

Contrary to a widespread belief, socialism is not about equal sharing or redistributing wealth more evenly. Its about the common ownership of the means of wealth production. Which is a different proposition altogether. These means are already a single integrated network operated collectively by the whole working class, but they are owned separately, whether by rich individuals, capitalist corporations or states. Its not a question of dividing them or their monetary value up amongst the population but of making them the common property of all.

On this basis they can be used to turn out what people require to satisfy their needs and to which everyone can have access to satisfy those needs in accordance with the principle "from each their ability, to each their needs". Because people's needs are different so will be what they take and use. But everyone will have an equal right to satisfy their different needs. Thats what socialism means, not sharing out the wealth of Bill Gates, the Rothschilds or other wealthy individuals.

(II) The Nutty Philosopher
"Tax breathing, not chocolate cake" ran the headline in the Times (30 May) of an article by a certain Jamie White, who was billed as "a philosopher". It didnt say of what but he seems to be a philosopher of taxation.

In any event, he advanced the view that the best things to tax are things people are prepared to pay for irrespective of the price. When the price of cakes reaches a certain level people will stop buying them, but whatever level a hypothetical price of air would reach people would still buy it.

"Privatising the air is the ideal solution", wrote the philosopher. "Alas, it is difficult to arrange".

Alas, be buggered. Fortunately, it is impossible to arrange. Not that some enterprising capitalist wouldnt seek to own and sell air if they could, as in the nightmare situation envisaged by Owen in Robert Tressells classic novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists:
"They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air - or of the money to buy it - even as now thousands are dying from want of other necessaries of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless they had the money to pay for it" (chapter 15).

While only a nutty professor would argue that the private ownership of air was an "ideal solution", most people today accept that the private ownership of the productive resources needed for life - land, water, minerals and the instruments needed to fashion them into useful things - is reasonable. Actually, from the of view of meeting human needs, it is a quite unreasonable solution.

Why should the land, water and the other things that are just as essential to life as air be privately owned any more than the air we breathe? Why should a section of society be in a position to hold the rest of us to ransom and say "unless you work for us (for less than you produce) you cant have access to what you need to live?"

Of course they shouldnt. All the means and instruments of production should belong in common to the whole community as the only basis on which they can be used to satisfy the needs of every member of society.

The good news is that White will be regarded as a fruit cake by most supporters of capitalism too. Even Madame Thatcher baulked at the free buying and selling of body parts, inconsistent with her own nutty philosophy as this was.
_____________

For further info about Robert Tressell and his novel, 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists', check out the following article from an old issue of the Socialist Standard.

Monday, June 26, 2006

On The Revolutionary Road (2005)


Film Review from the March 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Motorcycle Diaries

It's become a common practice to give directors grammatical ownership of a film regardless of how much input they have. So we have Hitchcock's The Birds, Anderson's If, and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, as well as Polanski's Macbeth and Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. Directors, like managers, are important to some extent, but most people know that when the boss is off the firm runs just as well, if not better. The practice of elevating the director to a position of supreme importance relegates to inconsequential roles the hundreds of other workers involved in a production. To make a film without a director would be difficult; to make one without engineers, musicians, caterers and cleaners would be impossible.

Such hierarchical structures have dominated society for so long that they appear natural and permanent, and revolutionary action has succeeded only to replace one hierarchy with another. Struggles for communism become struggles for fairer capitalism, as the experience of Latin America shows. Its turbulent recent history has produced a gallery of memorable radicals, but in terms of cult status there are few to compare with Ernesto Che Guevara. The Motorcycle Diaries, of which the director Walter Salles was one of the many workers involved in its making, concerns the early life of one of the 20th century's most charismatic rebels and whose image has become one of its most enduring icons.

Set in 1952, Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado take off on a 1939 Norton for a tour of South America intending to bring medical relief (they are both doctors) to the needy, and sexual relief to their own needy libidos. But the exuberance and exhilaration of single young men high-tailing it around foreign countries is balanced by the need to do good beyond the remit of the Hippocratic oath which we see developing in the 23-year-old Guevara as the journey progresses. As the real Che explained in On Revolutionary Medicine: 'I came into close contact with poverty, hunger and disease I began to realise that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming famous I wanted to help those people.'

Where medicine cannot help, Guevara offers money, moral support and brutal honesty. On behalf of dispossessed peasants he throws stones and hurls abuse. For the sick of the leper colony where he briefly works, he swims the river that separates them from the healthy whilst battling against currents and his own asthma. This is Che the champion of the downtrodden, the challenger of injustice, the idol in the making. Consequently, the film itself is fertilised with the concerns of its hero and a message begins to form. This becomes clear at the end when a montage of South Americas working and peasant class is displayed in a vividness only monochrome can achieve. These people are still with us, the film seems to say. There is still work to be done.

Fortunately the film has no anachronisms which refer to Guevara's later status or appearance; no scenes with him in a department store plumping for the beret or trying on a pair of Cuban heels. Joy and misery are lucidly brought to life in a film that can be enjoyed even if you are one of the few people who has never heard of Che Guevara.

There are as few things to say about the cult of Guevara as there are about the cult of the director. Both reinforce the notion that socio-cultural events are made only by powerful individuals rather than by the thousands of workers who truly make history. Perhaps it is time we donned our berets, put on our army boots and proclaimed in sonorous tones: Workers of the film industry unite!

Neil Windle


For more articles from the Socialist Standard, feel free to check out the website.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What Marx Should Have Said To Kropotkin (1994)

The following is the transcript of a talk given by Adam Buick to the 1994 Socialist Party of Great Britain Summer School, which was held that year  at Ruskin College in Oxford, England.

I once read a book which contained a sentence which began "As Marx said to Lenin ..." This would not have been a physical impossibility, as Marx's life and Lenin's life did overlap for 13 years. But quite why - and how - Marx would have confided his political views to a schoolboy in provincial Russia was not explained. In short, it never happened nor was it plausible to imagine it could have happened.

Marx-Kropotkin meeting on the other hand, though it never did happen, could well have. Kropotkin was born in 1842, Marx in 1818 so, although Marx was a generation older, they could have met and discussed (just as Marx had in fact met and discussed with the three founding fathers of modern anarchism, Proudhon, Bakunin and Max Stirner).

If Marx and Kropotkin had have met, it could have been on two occasions: in 1876-7 when Kropotkin arrived in England after making a dramatic and well-publicised escape from a Russian prison, or in 1880-1 when Kropotkin again lived in England for a while (before going to France - and ending up in a French prison).

As a matter of fact, I think Marx would have been quite keen to have met Kropotkin on both these occasions. In the last years of his life (he was to die in 1883. aged 65) Marx took a great interest in Russia. He had always seen Tsarist Russia as a threat to democratic, let alone socialist advance in Western Europe and was interested in the prospects of an anti-Tsarist revolution there. He learned Russian and began to study in detail its history and social and political structure.

Kropotkins reputation during Marx's lifetime was not so much as an anarchist but as a Russian revolutionary with socialist leanings and as a geographer and explorer. Kropotkin came from a very privileged background. A member of the old Moscow aristocracy and a hereditary prince, he had been enrolled in the elite corps of pages, a military academy that supplied personal assistants to the Tsar. He had himself been the Tsar's personal page for a while, but when it came to choosing which regiment to be an officer in he opted not for some prestigious one but for a regiment of Cossacks in Siberia a first sign that he was becoming disillusioned with the Tsarist regime. In Siberia, where he did his exploring and geological studies, his liberal sentiments grew turning in revolutionary ones, especially after a visit to Switzerland in 1872/3 where he joined the IWMA (International Working Mens Association, or First International). On his return to Russia he became involved in a revolutionary circle, of the "go to the people" variety rather than the conspiracies to assassinate Tsarist officials and even the Tsars that later developed. He got arrested and was imprisoned, escaping, as I have mentioned, in 1876.

Marx would have loved to have met such a person and to have discussed with him the prospects for an anti-Tsarist revolution and for socialism in Russia including the Russian peasant commune (or mir). But the title of this talk is not "What Marx Would Have Said to Kropotkin". but what "Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". So what, then, should Marx have said?

Three things:
1. "Don't call me a State Socialist! I was putting forward a case for abolishing the State while you were still a toddler".
2. "With regard to paying people in labour-time vouchers in the early days of Socialist society, you were right and I was wrong. This was a silly, unworkable idea".
3. "Like me. You're a Socialist. We both want a stateless, moneyless, wageless society. Why then do you feel you have more in common with non-socialist opponents of the State than with me? After all, your disagreement with them is over ends, while you're disagreement with me is only over means".

Marx
Most people in this room will already know either from reading Marx themselves or from hearing the arguments that Marx was not what in the 1880s and 1890s was called a "State Socialist" but that, on the contrary, he was what might be called a "no-State Socialist". This, however, is not what most people out there, including many otherwise well-informed people, think. The myth of Marx the Statist is widely accepted, as a result, it has to be said, not just of his critics but also of many (perhaps even most) of those who have regarded themselves as his supporters.

But it is a myth and one that I'd like to begin by demolishing. The French marxologist, Maximilien Rubel, in an article first published in 1973 entitled "Marx: Theorist of Anarchism" has even argued that Marx was one of the pioneers of modern anarchism! I'm not sure I'd want to call Marx an anarchist without qualification, but I think a strong case can be made out for seeing Marx as the first person to put forward a full theory of no-state communism. Marx was, if you like, the first coherent and consistent theorist of an anarchist communist society. The quotes that I'll be using to show this are mostly taken from Rubel's article.

Marx became a Socialist, or Communist as it was then known and as Marx generally described himself, sometime in 1843. Before that he had been a simple Democrat and active as the editor of a Cologne newspaper financed by the radical section of the Rhineland capitalists and which advocated political democracy for Prussia (which governed the Rhineland) and Germany generally.

At this time Marx accepted the view of the then dominant school of political thought in Germany that of Hegel that the State was a higher realm of human activity than the realm of everyday economic activity ("civil society"). This was because, whereas in their everyday economic activity humans were acting in their own individual selfish interest (as they had to, to survive), the State was the realm in which they pursued the common good, the general interest of all. So the State in concrete terms, the law-making and law-enforcing institutions of society (the government, the parliament, the courts, the army, the police, prisons) was seen as representing the interests of the community as a whole. As indeed it still generally is seen.

Actually. Hegel was a great deal more philosophical than this, speaking of the State as the embodiment of reason, etc. He also saw the existing Protestant Christian Kingdom of Prussia as filling this role. But Marx and the group of Young Hegelians to which he then belonged argued that the State would not become the representative of the whole community until and unless all its citizens had an equal say in its decision-making processes, until, in other words, it had become a Democratic State.

When Marx became a Communist and came to reject individualism as the regulating principle of everyday economic life his perspective altered. The establishment of Communism would mean that it would be the realm of everyday economic activity that would become the realm in which humans pursued the common interest they would no longer be individuals trying to make an independent living in conflict with all others trying to do the same, but members of a real community cooperating to meet their needs. This meant that there would no longer be any need for another, separate and superior, realm of activity in which the common interest was pursued. There was no need, in other words, for a State.

In fact, once he had become a Communist Marx came to see the State as a false (or at least only a very partial) community and as a realm that only needed to exist where individualism was the regulating principle of everyday life. It was an institution that was only needed, and only arose, out of such conditions, in order to restrain economic individualism in case it should tear society apart.

Marx expressed these views in the first article he wrote after becoming a Socialist/Communist published in 1844 and called "On the Jewish Question". This was the question of whether or not Jews who did not convert to Christianity should be granted political and civil rights (in Prussia at that time only Christians could vote, be civil servants, army officers, etc). Naturally. Marx argued "yes", but went on to argue that "political emancipation", or the establishment of a Democratic State with equal political rights, for all, did not amount to full human emancipation.

Political emancipation and a Democratic State, he pointed out had been achieved in the US but humans there were still not in conscious control of their destiny as their lives were still dominated by money and the need to acquire it to survive. Human emancipation, could only be achieved in a communist society where needs would be satisfied directly without having to go through the medium of money. Such a moneyless, communist society would not require a State, not even a democratic one, since there would then no longer be any need for a separate, political realm in which the general interest was pursued this would be being done directly at the level of everyday life.

As Marx put it in the philosophical terms in which he then expressed himself:
"Man must recognise his own forces as social forces, organise them, and thus no longer separate social forces from himself in the form of political forces. Only when this has been achieved will human emancipation be complete" ( Jewish Question, 1844. Early Texts, p. 108).

So, what Marx was advocating was a society without money and without a State an anarchist communist society, if you like. And this remained his goal for the rest of his life, as a few quotes will confirm:
"The existence of the State and the existence of slavery are inseparable" (1844 article, Early Texts, p. 213).

"[The proletarians] find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State" (1845, German Ideology, p. 85).

Particularly significant is what he wrote in 1847 in The Poverty of Philosophy. This is a criticism of the economic views of Proudhon, the man who is regarded by Anarchists as the founder of modern anarchism. Proudhon wanted a society without government, a society he called "Anarchy". However, he was not a Socialist or Communist but an advocate of various cranky financial reforms in the context of a completely free market economy. In fact he was a bitter opponent of Communism as he believed that this would immensely increase the power of the government and turn people into State slaves (the common bourgeois objection to communism at the time.

So it is very relevant how Marx dealt with Proudhons views. Naturally, he shows that a free market economy based on free credit is not the answer. Communism is, but Marx underlines that this will be a society without a State:
"Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No ... The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society" (Poverty of Philosophy, 1847. Pp 196-7).

Exactly the same point is made in the 1848 Communist Manifesto:
"When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of the associated individuals, the public power will lose its political character" (1848 Communist Manifesto, p. 81).

After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 Marx was called upon to write what amounted to an obituary for it on behalf of the General Council of the IWMA. He wrote various drafts for this statement which was published under the title The Civil War in France. In one of these drafts Marx wrote:
"This was, therefore, a Revolution not against this or that, Legitimate, Constitutional, Republican or Imperialist form of State Power. It was a Revolution against the State itself, of this supernaturalist Abortion of society, a resumption by the people for the people of its own social life. It was not a revolution to transfer it from one fraction of the ruling class to the other, but a Revolution to break down this horrid machinery of Class-domination itself" (p. 166).

This was an exaggerated description of what the Paris Commune was about (it was not the attempted socialist revolution that this suggests) and it was no doubt because of this that Marx did not include this passage in the final version. But it does show very clearly that Marx thought that the socialist revolution had to be a revolution against the State, not a revolution to establish a more powerful, centralised State.

I only want to give one more quote from Marx but a very significant one as in it he uses the actual word "Anarchy". In the course of the dispute that broke out in the IWMA after the suppression of the Paris Commune, Bakunin circulated a document in which he claimed Marx stood for a new State in which a new ruling class of ex-workers would rule over the mass of workers who would remain exploited and oppressed. Marx wrote some notes in the margin of his copy of Bakunin's pamphlet. Some are just words like "idiot" and "ass" but others are more substantial, including the following:
"All Socialists understand by "anarchy" this: the aim of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, once achieved, then the power of the State, which serves to keep the great producing majority under the yoke of a small exploiting minority, will disappear and the functions of government will be transformed into simple administrative functions"(1874).

Here Marx is saying, in explicit terms, that the communist society he sees as the aim of the working class movement is to be a no-state, no-government society. Here Marx is proclaiming himself to be an . . . . anarchist communist. Eight years before Kropotkin.

Kropotkin
There can be no doubt that Kropotkin was a Socialist in the sense we use the term. In fact he probably did more than any other well-known 18th century Socialist to promote the idea that Socialism means not just a stateless but also a moneyless and wageless society a society where the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" would apply fully, where individuals would have free access to goods and services according to their own self-defined needs and without rationing of any kind. Kropotkin, in fact, always regarded himself as a Socialist and always called himself a Socialist.

Here, for instance, is what he wrote in an article in an English magazine in 1887:
"Common possession of the necessaries for production implies common enjoyment of the fruits of the common production; and we consider that an equitable organisation of society can only arise when every wage-system is abandoned, and when everybody, contributing for the common well-being to the full extent of his capacities, shall enjoy also from the common stock of society to the fullest possible extent of his needs "(1887, Anarchism Communism: Its Basis and Principles, p. 59).

The Swiss Jura Federation of the IWMA adopted "complete communism" as its aim in 1880. Previously it had stood for the common ownership of all productive resources but for a person's share in consumer goods and services to be proportional to the number of hours of work they had performed. Kropotkin and others criticised this as being only "incomplete" or "partial" communism and argued that a consistent communism implies free consumption according to individual needs as well as common ownership.

At this time Kropotkin (like many others) felt that capitalism could not last into the 20th century and that therefore a socialist resolution was more or less imminent. His articles from this periods (1880s) all advocate that the aim of this revolution should not be the formation of a revolutionary government nor the institution of a so-called "Workers State" (he actually used the term) but the immediate establishment of full communism.When a number of his articles from this period were collected together and published (in French, the language he wrote them in, though from 1886 he resided permanently in England till returning to Russia in 1917 after the overthrow of the Tsar) in 1892, Kropotkin gave the book the title The Conquest of Bread. This well sums up what he thought the revolution should be all about: not about conquering political power and setting up a new political regime (as had happened many times in France without altering the position of the majority of the people), but about meeting the immediate consumption needs for food, clothing and shelter of the impoverished majority. To this end. he advocated that all food, clothes and houses in areas won by the revolution should be put into a common pool to which every member of the oppressed class should have free access according to their basic needs.

The words Kropotkin used for "free access" were (in French) "pris au tas", literally "taking from the pile" or, colloquially, "help yourself, take what you need". If this wasn't done, said Kropotkin, then the Revolution would have failed. It has to be said, however, that Kropotkins conception of the form the Revolution would take was somewhat old-fashioned, even for his days: a series of town risings on the lines of the Paris Commune of 1871.

One of the articles that later appeared in The Conquest of Bread was called "The Wage System" (written in 1888, it appeared as a pamphlet in English in 1889). In my opinion, it is the best refutation that has been written of the idea of Labour Time Vouchers an idea, of course, that Marx somewhat unwisely endorsed in his 1875 comments on the Gotha programme of the German Social Democrats. Kropotkin's criticism was not in fact specifically aimed at Marx (he couldn't have known what Marx's views on the subject were since Marx's comments had not been made public at the time Kropotkin was writing). It was aimed at all those, including some anarchists as well as the German Social Democrats, who advocated the use of Labour Time Vouchers (LTVs), labour certificates, labour checks, labour chits, labour money, labour notes as they were variously called, to regulate consumption in a Socialist society.

Kropotkin put forward two simple, but effective arguments.

First, that it just didn't make sense to try to measure an individual's contribution to production. This was impossible since production was not (or no longer) individual, but was cooperative and social. All the workers in a particular factory or mine contributed to the product, but only as a group, not individually. In fact, in the end all that is produced is the result of the collective work effort of all the producers in all farms, mines, factories, transport, services, etc. So:
"No hard and fast line can be drawn between the work of one and the work of another. To measure them by results leads to absurdity. To divide them into fractions and measured them by hours of labour leads to absurdity also. One course remains: not to measure them at all, but to recognise the right of all who take part in productive labour first of all to live - and then to enjoy the comforts of life" (1888, The Wage System, p. 10).

Kropotkin's second argument was that, in any event, and even if production had still been individual, it still wouldn't be fair to ration a person's consumption by the number of hours worked. Because the skills they would be using would have been acquired only through society they weren't born with them, but were benefiting from the experience of countless past generations. And the towns and factories they worked in, as well as the general level of education and culture, were likewise the result of the work of past generations. So:
"A society that has seized upon all social wealth, and has plainly announced that all have a right to this wealth, whatever may be the part they have taken in creating it in the past, will be obliged to give up all idea of wages, either in money or in labour notes" (1888. The Wage System, p.8).

What Kropotkin was claiming was that to use LTVs to regulate consumption would be to retain the wages system.

If people are to be given labour vouchers to regulate consumption, this implies that goods and services have to be given labour-time "prices". I've got the word "prices" in inverted commas in my notes but I could as well have left them out, as it is clear that the LTV system does imply problems of supply and demand, inflation, devaluation, etc, even taxes, just like the ordinary monetary system does.

When he endorsed LTVs Marx never said anything about this, though he had done earlier when he had discussed and dismissed as unworkable various schemes that had been put forward for introducing labour money under capitalism. What he failed to realise was that many of his objections also applied to the use of LTVs in Socialism. LTVs were, or would rapidly have become, labour money and we'd be back to buying and selling and capitalism.

It was Kropotkin's merit to have seen this and to have denounced the LTV system as nonsense a criticism of course which we have long taken on board.

Kropotkin was also able to see that because they didn't really aim at abolishing the wages system, groups like the German Social Democrats stood not for socialism, but for State capitalism. In fact Kropotkin must have been one of the first to use this term, as for instance in his autobiography Memoirs of A Revolutionist that first appeared in 1899. And in one of another series of articles later published (in 1913) in Modern Science and Anarchism:
"We entirely differ from all the sections of state socialists in that we do not see in the system of state capitalism, which is now preached under the name of collectivism, a solution to the social question. We see in the organisation of the posts and telegraphs, in the State railways, and the like which are represented as illustrations of a society without capitalists nothing but a new, perhaps improved, but still undesirable form of the wage system" (1913, Modern Science and Anarchism, p. 170).
"Anarchism cannot see in the next coming revolutions a mere exchange of monetary symbols for labor-checks, or an exchange of present capitalism for state-capitalism" (p.195).

So, as I said, if Marx had met Kropotkin he ought to have conceded that he was wrong on labour-time vouchers and that Kropotkin was right.

Of course Marx could have said that, in the end, there is no point in discussing now how goods should be distributed in the early days of Socialism, since that will have to depend on how much there was to distribute at the time of the socialist revolution. In fact this is what he did say. Kropotkin was fully aware of this and one of the themes of the Conquest of Bread was to show that enough food, clothing and shelter already existed, or could very rapidly be brought into existence, to satisfy people's needs for them. He knew that his call for the revolution to bring in full communism immediately depended on this being the case, and he used his scientific approach and knowledge to demonstrate that it was. This was also the theme of his other book Fields, Factories and Workshops, the first edition of which came out in 1899. Whereas the assumption in the Conquest of Bread was that communism would and should be implemented to begin with in one town and its surrounding countryside, here Kropotkin set out to show that a self-sufficient anarchist communist society could be established in the two islands that make up the British Isles.

In the 1880s, as I said, Kropotkin really believed that a Socialist revolution was more or less round the corner. When it became clear that this was not the case, he settled down to trying to give anarchism a scientific basis in much the same way as Engels did for socialism. And just as Engels spoke of "scientific socialism", so Kropotkin spoke of "scientific anarchism". Kropotkin was in fact better-qualified to do this than Engels since he was actually a scientist himself, having made a major contribution to an understanding of the geology and geography of North East Asia and nearly becoming the Secretary of the Russian Geographic Society (he had been offered the post, but turned it down in order to devote his life to revolutionary activity).

Kropotkin's great achievement here was undoubtedly his book Mutual Aid (1902), which used to be on the bookshelves of every Socialist (in fact we used to sell it as a Socialist book along with those of Marx and Engels). Subtitled "A Factor in Evolution", this was a refutation of the Social Darwinist view (then very popular as a defence and justification of capitalism) that capitalism was natural as "the struggle for existence" and "the survival of the fittest" were inevitable features of all animal societies, including those formed by the animal species homo sapiens.

Kropotkin produced the evidence to show that "mutual aid" and cooperation had been an important factor in both biological and social evolution. It was the right book at the right time as far as Socialists were concerned and by the right person, a Socialist who had had some scientific training and experience. This no doubt explains its one-time immense popularity amongst critics of capitalism. It showed that nature was not like capitalism and that human beings were social, cooperating animals and not isolated, competing individuals. This has since been confirmed many times by other scientists anthropologists, ethnologists, sociologists and others and is now an integral part of the case for socialism as a refutation of the so-called "human nature" objection.

Incidentally, the American scientific writer Stephen Jay Gould in his collection of articles Bully for Brontosaurus has a chapter on Kropotkin called "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot" in which he says that most of what Kropotkin wrote in Mutual Aid has stood the test of time, even if he did commit the same fallacy as the Social Darwinists (to reach the opposite conclusion, of course) of arguing from what happened in the rest of nature to what should happen in human society.

Creating an anarchist tradition
The other thing Kropotkin did, once his revolutionary days were over, was to try to create an anarchist tradition separate and distinct from the socialist tradition. Originally, those who became the anarchists were one of a number of different groups within the First International, a group which saw themselves as Socialists and who called themselves Socialists. They stood for the end of the rule and privileges of the bourgeoisie, for the common ownership of productive resources, for the abolition of the wages system and for production for use not profit. In other words, they werepart and saw themselves as part of a broader anti-capitalist movement.

This, no doubt, is why we today would find just as much to agree with in the writings of those in this tradition Kropotkin, Malatesta. Rudolf Rocker, Alexander Berkman and others as we do in the writings of those more directly in our tradition like Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Plekhanov. And our differences with them on how to get to the classless stateless, wageless, moneyless society that is Socialism are no greater, or no less, than those with the Social Democratic tradition of the Second International from which we emerged.

Perhaps because he saw that most of those who called themselves Socialists (and the German Social Democrats in particular) stood in fact for State capitalism, Kropotkin became the prime mover in an attempt to invent a separate "anarchist" tradition. Although he himself was a thorough-going Communist, he dropped the insistence on standing for a moneyless and wageless society as a condition for admission to this tradition in favour of standing only for a stateless society.

As a result, some strange people, from a working class point of view, came to be included in particular extreme individualists like Max Stirner as well as various currency cranks and free marketeers and other advocates of complete laissez-faire in the tradition of Proudhon. All of them raving anti-Socialists but with whom Kropotkin felt some affinity just because they envisaged the disappearance of the State even though they were all in favour of money and the market.

It has to be said that Kropotkin (who wrote the contribution on "Anarchism" that appeared for years in the Encyclopaedia Britannica) largely succeeded in creating this anarchist tradition which lumped together all those who opposed the state from whatever point of view. It has affected anarchism ever since. Most anarchists today justify their anarchism not on the grounds that they want to abolish the State because it is an instrument of class oppression and defender of private property and capitalist exploitation, but on the grounds of the "right of the individual" to be unrestrained by any external authority. Look at the various anthologies of anarchism in the bookshops and you will see that the socialist element has shrunk to a distinct minority viewpoint.

The idea of the isolated, completely independent and unrestrained individual is an absurd proposition, both from the philosophical point of view and from the point of view of social theory. It assumes that the individual exists prior to society. And it is this that makes it absurd since, clearly, society exists prior to any particular individual. An individual human being does not, and could not, exist outside society: all the things that makes humans specifically human arose in and through society language, abstract thought, the transmission of acquired experience by non-biological means, the consciousness of being a separate individual, even our physical attributes (voice box, brain size), all these are social products.

Society is of course composed of individuals, but of social and already socialised individuals, not of previously independently-existing individuals who came together to set up society and who retain certain pre-existing rights against society, including the right not to comply with majority decisions if they don't want to. People who take up this position are opposing not so much the State as Society. The ironic thing here is that Kropotkin's Mutual Aid is one of the best refutations of extreme individualist position, which of course is shared by open supporters of capitalism as well as probably by most anarchists nowadays.

It was because he understood that anarchists, including some who regarded themselves as Communists, were taking up an anti-society rather than a simple anti-State position that William Morris always refused to call himself an anarchist; in fact to denounce anarchism (in this sense) as an impossibility. This from a man who is on record as saying:
"State Socialism? I don't agree with it, in fact I think the two words contradict one another, and that it is the business of Socialise to destroy the State and put Free Society in its place"(Morris, Commonweal, 17 May 1890, p.479).

So there would have been no need for Marx to have been clairvoyant in the early 1880s and warned Kropotkin against going off the rails by associating with anti-socialist, individualist anarchists as he was to after Marx's death. Morris could have done it for him, and no doubt did since Morris and Kropotkin met frequently up to Morris's own death in 1896.

It only remains to mention the sad end to Kropotkin's political life. When in 1914 war broke out Kropotkin came out in vociferous support of the British-French-Russian side against the German-Austro-Hungarian side in that struggle for markets, trade routes and spheres of influence. He was immediately disowned as a traitor (as he was) by most of the anarchist movement.

It was clear that his character was marred by a deep-rooted anti-German prejudice which led him to advocate and cheer on the slaughter of millions of workers in a conflict between two imperialist power blocs. Even after he returned to Russia following the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917 he still advocated continued Russian participation in the slaughter. The Russian soldiers, however, were more sensible. They voted with their feet, as Lenin put it, by simply walking away from the front.

Kropotkin died in Russia in February l921 and his funeral was the occasion of the last public opposition to the state capitalist regime Lenin and the Bolsheviks were setting up in Russia. He died a discredited old man, but this should not detract from his contribution to socialist ideas in the rest of his. life. After all. some others who we have always recognised made a contribution, such as Kautsky and Plekhanov, also took (separate) sides in this imperialist slaughter. And we are on record as criticising Marx for his support of the British-French-Turkish side in the Crimean War.

I want to end on a point anarchists should appreciate. This talk has been called "What Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". But neither Marx nor Kropotkin should be regarded as authorities, whose views should be accepted just because they put them forward. They should be regarded simply as two 19th century Socialists who made some interesting contributions to the development of Socialist ideas. Their views are not, and should not be regarded, as any more "authoritative" than those of any of us in this room. The case for a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society rests on the facts and on its own merits, not on what one or other great man may or may not have said or written.
Adam Buick

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bertold Brecht's Mother Courage (1998)

Theatre Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mother Courage by Bertold Brecht. Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

Brecht's epic plays Mother Courage and Her Children (1941), The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941, The Life of Galileo (1943), The Good Person of Szechuan (1943) and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1945), dont lack for performances, in spite of their overtly political agendas. Brecht would no doubt find some irony in the fact that the essentially bourgeois theatrical establishment finds merit and an audience for these plays, in spite of their obviously revolutionary flavour.

At one level Mother Courage is an account of the struggle of a gutsy woman and her family in a period of war. Brecht sets the play in the Thirty Years War the better to enlist the objectivity of the audience. However, the play is also structured so that it can be seen as a parable and metaphor, and audiences are invited to draw particular conclusions about the nature of all wars and people's reactions to them. the challenge for anyone directing and playing in Mother Courage is to ensure that play emerges essentially as a metaphor, and that the audience doesnt identify too much with the plight of its apparent heroine. Mother Courage, pushing her cart from one place to another, is a business woman intent on making money out of the war. She says that she isn't interested in politics only the wellbeing of her family and herself, but the play makes it clear that she colludes with the system that sees war as a means of making profits, and in so doing she loses all her children.

Brecht saw the theatre as serving the needs of society not those of the playwright, and from his (as he saw it) anti-capitalist position this meant using the theatre as a vehicle for criticising capitalism. Typically Brecht wished to display events on stage in an unusual way: a way which would prevent use from identifying ourselves unreservedly with the plight of, for example, a single character. He talked about "a double process" which would allow us "to lose ourselves in the agony (of events) and at the same time not to lose ourselves", the better to understand the plight of people in a more objective, analytical manner. However, Brecht himself wasnt always successful in achieving the necessary balance. At the play's first performance in Zurich in 1941, which he directed, the audience seems to have hugely admired Mother Courage's spirit and her ability to survive, without recognising Brecht's larger strictures about capitalism and war.

The audience at the Wolsey in Ipswich when I saw the play recently made no such easy identification. In an admirable production which manages to draw the audience into the spirit of the enterprise, we are left in no doubt about the roots of war and its monstrous human consequences; and of the culpability of Mother Courage in the death of her children. Full of the satire and occasional moments of the grotesque, and intercut by songs in the manner of a music hall, the play makes for wonderful evening. As Brecht had it "War is a continuation of business by other means" and "business people are in it for what they can get". Those leaving the theatre that evening and being immediately confronted by a newspaper poster advising of "Kosovo Air Strikes", might have recognised the force of these injunctions in a new way.
Michael Gill

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

June 2006 Socialist Standard Online

Hello All,

Just a wee bulletin to mention that the June 2006 Socialist Standard is online. People who would like to read it in all its glory as a colourful pdf can click on the following link:
Socialist Standard June 2006

People who might just want to check out individual articles and book reviews can also click on the links listed below.

As mentioned previously, people can take advantage of the offer of the free three trial subscription to the magazine. Details of how to go about ripping the arm off of the person offering up this generous freebie are available on the profile page. Just remember to mention MySpace when sending in your request - it keeps Rupert Murdoch happy.

all the best,
Darren
The World Cup and Workerism Blog

June 2006 Socialist Standard

Editorial - They Call It Sport, M'lud
World Cup 2006 Fever

Pathfinder
The regular science column in the Socialist Standard. This month's articles are about how some people will seek to swap the real world for a virtual one.

The British National Party Advances - What Does It Mean?
The BNP gained seats in the May local elections because it put together a better package of lies than the mainstream parties.

Exporting Crime
The witch hunt against ex-prisoners from abroad shows that xenophobia is now more than ever official policy.

Cooking the Books
Regular economics column in the Socialist Standard carries articles on Capitalist Ideals & Towards an Economic Crash?



'Prejudice and Equality'
The Equality Act, which came into force earlier this year, covers discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender, disability and race. Yet it illustrates the point that government legislation cannot in itself change people's attitudes.

Japan: A Woman for Emperor?
No male heir born in 40 years sparks a debate about bringing "gender equality" to the Japanese monarchy. What is the role of the Japanese monarchy? Would a female monarch be a step forward?

JK Galbraith: a Radical Keynesian
An economist who remained loyal to the end to the discredited view that
government intervention can make capitalism work in the interest of the
majority.

Book Reviews
Graham Harvey: We Want Real Food/Steven Poole: Unspeak/Hyashi Hiroyoshi: Marx's Labor Theory of Value. A Defense/Stephen Ingle: The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A reassessment.

Modern Times
Exhibition Review of Modernism 1914-1939: Designing a New World, Victoria & Albert Museum.

50 Years Ago
The Mosley Movement Today: British Fascism's New Look

Greasy Pole - Panic Aboard SS New Labour
Regular monthly column in the Socialist Standard that looks at current British politics from a historical angle. This month's article, looking at the increasing specualtion surrounding Tony Blair and how he might step down as Prime Minister before his full third term of office is completed, writes of how a a strategically timed withdrawal from government need not ruin a political career.

Voice From The Back
An irreverent look at the insanity, greed, barbarity and hypocrisy of capitalism.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Book Reviews From the June 2006 Socialist Standard

Book Reviews From the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Graham Harvey: We Want Real Food. (Published by Constable)

Criticisms of food production usually concentrate on the supermarkets: with their emphasis on selling homogeneous produce and driving down the prices they pay to the producers, they play a major role in depriving consumers of healthy and tasty food. The fast-food industry is also attacked for its bland tasteless pap. In this book, though, Graham Harvey points the finger of blame at the companies that produce artificial fertilisers.

It is true that life expectancy is far greater than it used to be and that diseases like TB and cholera are almost things of the past in Britain. But degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis are reaching epidemic proportions. Harvey ascribes this to a change in the make-up of the soil, owing to the increased use of nitrogen compounds in fertiliser, which itself has been pushed by the companies who make big profits from selling the stuff.

Traditional farming exploited the minerals in the soil that contributed to a healthy lifestyle, but modern methods have relied more and more on chemical fertilisers that destroy these nutrients. According to one study, for instance, carrots lost 75 percent of their magnesium and copper between 1941 and 1990.

Minerals have various roles in protecting and promoting human health: copper, for instance, is important for the functioning of the liver, brain and muscles, while selenium protects against the onset of a number of kinds of cancer.

Harvey's solution is a programme to reintroduce these crucial minerals to the soil. But this will face a problem: "For the best part of half a century, the chemical industry has effectively vetoed every attempt to remineralize over-worked soils and restore the health benefits to everyday foods." So "What's needed is leadership - from farmers, retailers or politicians." Effective government legislation could supposedly promote sensible agriculture and hence healthier and tastier food. But food production would still be at the mercy of the profit motive rather than be aimed at satisfying human need.

Assuming that Harvey's science is on the right lines, he makes a convincing case forchanging the way in which agriculture is organised, but the problem is that this cannot be divorced from how society as a whole is run. His website, We Want Real Food, is also of interest, though we wouldn't recommend bothering to write to supermarkets asking them to change their ways.
Paul Bennett

Steven Poole: Unspeak. (Published by Little Brown)

Which word would best describe those who use violence to oppose the US-UK occupation of Iraq? 'Terrorists' is condemnatory, while 'resistance' (with its echoes of those who opposed Nazi occupation in Europe) may register approval. Perhaps the most neutralterm is 'insurgents'. This is one of the examples that Steven Poole uses to show that choice of words is important, that the labels attached to people or ideas can affect attitudes towards them.

Socialists are well aware of this, of course, the very word 'Socialism' having been dragged through the mud of dictatorship and Labour Party politics. But Poole does have some instructive examples to discuss. For instance, Republicans in the US have been advised to talk about 'climate change', rather than 'global warming', on the grounds that the former is less frightening.

The UN General Assembly had in fact already used the euphemism of climate change, which does not specify in which direction the change is proceeding, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the US, both which of which have interest in playing down the effects of burning fossil fuels.

Equally, 'genetically engineered' has often been replaced by cosier-sounding terms such as 'genetically modified' (usually shortened to 'GM'), 'genetically enhanced' and 'biotechnology foods'. And 'ethnic cleansing' sounds so much less nasty than the straightforward 'genocide'.

In the mealy-mouthed platitudes of capitalism's apologists, even military operations have to be given nice-looking names. Hence Operation Enduring Freedom (US invasion of Afghanistan) and Operation Just Cause (the invasion of Panama in 1989). The invasion of Iraq was going to be called Operation Iraqi Liberation, till someone realised that the initials spelled OIL!

The 'war on terror' is another snappy phrase, one which Poole regards as absurd because you can't have a war against a tactic or technique.And this 'war' has itself given rise to a great many mendacious expressions. Think of 'extraordinary rendition', which refers to transporting supposed enemies to countries where they will be tortured: 'rendering' is a word used in industrial meat-processing, so perhaps the phrase is not so inaccurate after all.

'Sleep management' is what is more honestly known as 'sleep deprivation'. And 'abuse' is used in place of the taboo word 'torture', so that the government responsible for torturing prisoners can take refuge in the position that it's really only subjecting them to abuse.

It needs to be said that the reality of capitalism and its works is what's really objectionable, not the names that smell of roses but cover up the filth beneath.

Socialists have always called a spade a spade, not being frightened to expose capitalism and the capitalist class. But Poole's book is a useful reminder of some of the ways in which defenders of the status quo go about their business.
Paul Bennett

Hyashi Hiroyoshi: Marx's Labor Theory of Value. A Defense. (Published by Universe.)

It has always been our contention that it is the workings of capitalism, with the problems it causes those obliged to work for a wage or a salary for a living, that throws up socialist ideas and not just the educational and propagandistic activities of those workers who have already become socialists. This book is a confirmation of this.

Written by a member of a group that emerged from the student wing of the Japanese Communist Party in the late 50s and early 60s, it makes the point that money and value will disappear in a socialist society because production will no longer be carried out by independent economic units (whether individual owners, capitalist corporations or state enterprises) and will no longer be for sale on the market.

It also expounds the view that the Russian revolution was not a "socialist" or "proletarian" revolution and that the regime it established was never socialist, but state capitalist from the start as, given the historical circumstances, capitalism was the only possible development.

As a book put together from articles written at different times, it suffers from a lack of flow, and some of the polemics in the earlier part of the book about the nature of value are obscure, being directed at authors not known in this part of the world even if well-known in Japan.

This said, there are useful discussions in later chapters on Adam Smith, the parts of Volume III of Capital devoted to interest, credit and rent, and on the two different definitions of "productive labour" to be found in Marx's writings.
Adam Buick

Stephen Ingle: The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A reassessment. (Published by Routledge)

Despite the title this is more a work of literary criticism than political theory. But since Orwell wrote mainly on political and social subjects the two are intertwined. Orwell considered himself a socialist and was briefly a member of the ILP in 1938. Later, he wrote for the left-wing weekly Tribune and was a declared supporter of the post-war Labour government. In fact one of the issues Ingle discusses is whether Orwell should be described as a "Trotskyite" or as a "Tribunite". He opts for a third choice: "ethical socialist".

Although we wouldn't regard him as a socialist in our sense, he was always clear, at a time when few others besides ourselves were arguing this, that Russia had nothing todo with socialism. Which was why the Russia-lovers called him a "Trotskyite" and why his fear of being assassinated was not entirely groundless.

Two of Orwell's works in particular have been appreciated by socialists. Homage to Catalonia, an account of events in Barcelona in 1936 and 1937 when workers took over the running of the city and the subsequent suppression of this by the so-called "Communists". And Animal Farm, a brilliant satire on Bolshevism (including Trotskyism).

The main book for which Orwell is known is Nineteen Eighty Four. This paints a horrifying picture of a world in which the evolution towards a totalitarian state-capitalism (which, in the 1940s, many to the left of the Communist Party thought was under way) has been completed. It was mainly aimed at those left-wing intellectuals who thought that Russia was "progressive" and deserved support. Inevitably, and whatever Orwell may have intended, it was used by the West as an ideological weapon in the Cold War.

Ingle mentions that Orwell and Aldous Huxley offered contrasting views on how class society might evolve. It has to be said that, in the event, Huxley in his Brave New World turned out to be more prescient than Orwell. Capitalism has survived not by treating workers more and more brutally, but by making them think they are happy - happy slaves who don't even realise they are slaves rather than down-trodden proles.
Adam Buick