Saturday, July 29, 2006

To Have or To Be . . . (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard


The title of this article is taken from the book of the same name by the psychologist, Erich Fromm. It is probably true to state that many Socialist Party members view psychology with some suspicion because of its tendency to see "abnormal" human behaviour in isolation; but Fromm is in no doubt that it is our sick society that leads to such behaviour, and not the reverse. Thus, his ideas are worthy of study by socialists.

Fromm commences To Have Or To Be by stating that the failure of capitalism, aside from its economic contradictions lies in its two main premises:
"The first is 'that the aim of life is happiness, defined as the satisfaction of any desire or subjective need a person may feel (radical hedonism)";
The second is 'that egotism, selfishness, and the greed, as the system needs to generate them in order to function, leads to harmony and peace.'"


With regard to the first premise, Fromm distinguishes between subjectivity felt needs (desires) whose satisfaction leads to monetary pleasure, and objectivity valid needs that are rooted in human nature, and whose realisation is conducive to human growth which produces "well-being".

Fromm  notes the contradiction between the concept of unlimited pleasure and the ideal of disciplined work, and between an obsessional work ethic and the ideal of complete laziness. "Both contradictory attitudes", we are told, "correspond to an economic necessity; twentieth-century capitalism is based on maximal consumption of the goods and services produced as well as on routinised teamwork".

Fromm sums up the first section by stating that " . . . [the] pursuit of happiness does not produce well-being". We are a society of notoriously unhappy people lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent -people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save!

The second psychological premise of capitalism, that the pursuit of individual egoism leads to harmony and peace, is equally rejected by Fromm. To be an egoist means:
"I want everything for myself, that possessing, not sharing, gives me pleasure; that I must become greedy because if my aim is having, I am more the more I have.
I can never be satisfied, because there is no end to my wishes: I must be envious of those who have more and  afraid of those who have less."

Fromm is in no doubt that the passion for having must lead to never-ending class warr and, in global terms, international war. He states that "Greed and peace preclude each other". He is also in no doubt that the development of an economic system as an autonomous entity, independent of human needs and human will, is a recent development. The question, therefore, is no longer "What is good for Man?", but "What is good for the system?" - and the assumption is that the latter is good for the former.

And this assumption is bolstered by the further assumption:
"That the very qualities that the system required of human nature - egotism, selfishness and greed - were innate in human nature; hence, not only the system but human nature itself fostered them."

Societies  in which egotism, selfishness and greed did not exist, were supposed to be "primitive" and their inhabitants "childlike". People refused to recognise that their traits were not natural drives that caused industrial society to exist, but that they were the products of social circumstances.

Fromm reinforces his assertion with the little-known, but surprising, fact that the majority of the world's languages have no word for "to have". Such languages express possession in the form "it is to me", whilst others have only developed the construction "I have" at a much later date. "This fact", argues Fromm, "suggests that the word for 'to have' develops in connection with the development of private property, while it is absent in societies with predominately functional property; that is, possession for use". And "While private property is supposed to be natural and a universal category, it is in fact an exception rather than the rule if we consider the whole of human history."

This, for Fromm, the difference between "being" and "having" is between a society centred around persons and one centred around things such as property, profit and power. The distinction is between "I have knowledge" and "I know" - where "knowing" means to "see reality in all its nakedness".

Fromm therefore concludes that the character traits engendered by our socio-economic system are pathogenic, and produce sick people and a sick society. Given the fact, we are headed for an economic catastrophe unless we change our social system. The physical survival of the human race depends on it.
Richard Layton

Friday, July 28, 2006

China At Last Joins The Scramble For Africa

From the January-March 2006 issue of Socialist Banner, the quarterly journal of WSM members in Africa.

The recent announcement by the Senegalese to re-establish diplomatic ties with Mainland China did not come as a surprise to many. This move understandably signified an end to diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This comes in the wake of intensified efforts on the part of the Chinese authorities to get involved in "Africa's development". In this regard, their Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing officially unveiled an African Policy Paper (APP) on 12th February 2006 which outlined the future relationship between Africa and China. This was immediately followed by his tour of several African countries from 11th to 19th January.

Why, one would ask, have the Chinese authorities only just realised that they must redouble their efforts to assist in Africa's development? The policy document on Africa answers the question. As is always the case in carrot-and-stick diplomacy, it starts by promising that China, will "co-ordinate positions on major international and regional issues and stand for mutual support on major issues concerning state sovereignty, territorial integrity, national dignity and human rights." Of course, this kind of hackneyed phrase-mongering is what the bankrupt African leaders want to hear so as to justify to their suffering people the need to bring in the Chinese business interests.

The rest of the content of the APP was devoted to the real intentions of China. First, it made it clear that "the Chinese government will adopt more effective measures to facilitate African commodities access to the Chinese market." This makes it clear that the focal point of China-Africa relationship is resource-based. China's economy, measured in terms of the capitalist yardstick, is growing at an alarming rate and, therefore, it is in dire need of raw materials. As a result, the document states further that "the Chinese government encourages and supports Chinese enterprises' investment and business in Africa, and will continue to provide preferential loans and buyer credits to this end". This, it said, would be done without any political strings attached.

The policy paper also promises to promote high level military-related technological exchanges with African countries, to continue to train African military personnel and support defence and army building of African countries for their own security.

However, one does not need to read between the lines to understand this desperate more by China to increase its role in "Africa's development". The African people must take cue from the age-old adage that once bitten twice shy. The western business interests (represented by their governments in London, Paris, Washington etc) entered Africa under the guise of bringing civilisation to barbaric Africa. The rest of the story is known to all. Therefore African people, not African rulers and their masters in big business, must realise that the Chinese are only coming as competitors to the traditional exploiters.

The pledge by China to co-operate with Africans on military matters means not only that China will sell Africa its obsolete military wares but in doing so it will also equip and strengthen state security forces in Africa, enabling them to better hold down the people so that the looting Africas resources can go on smoothly.

Another equally important aspect to the Chinese design is to use African countries as a pawn in their decade-old conflict with Taiwan. African countries that do not recognise Taiwan are sure to get Chinese foreign direct investment, aid and military assistance.

How then can African people react to this attempt by Chinese business to join in the scramble for the continents resources? Do we manifest our objection to the whole issue through mass demonstrations? This will not lead anyone anywhere, as rulers and their partners in business control the forces of coercion and will not hesitate to unleash them on defenceless civilians, as has happened all too often. Do we attempt to overthrow the governments? No - this will not only lead to violence and bloodshed in which only the innocent die and experience testifies that the new group of leaders will only turn out to be the same as, if not worse than, their predecessors.

The only way forward, therefore, is to endeavour to let as many people as possible understand the nature of system that is in operation in today's world - the capitalist system. It is a system that is global in nature. It is a system in which only a minority of people control the wealth and resources of the world and in which the majority live lives of poverty, denied access to the necessaries of life. Through their control of these resources they also effectively control governments. In fact, business and government are on the same side against the majority working class. Therefore, to put an effective and a definitive end to such looting and plundering, as the Western business interests are already deeply involved in and which now Chinese big business is contemplating, the capitalist system must go.
PG


Other articles in the latest issue of Socialist Banner include:
- NGOs: Friends or Foes?
- Kenya's Referendum Farce
- Hunger in the Sahel
- Zimbabwe
- African Leaders and the United Nations

For more details on the Socialist Banner and other literature produced by the World Socialist Movement, email spgb@worldsocialism.org

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chomsky

Book Review from the forthcoming August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wolfgang Sperlich: Noam Chomsky. Reaktion Books.

This is a volume in the Critical Lives series, so it opens with a brief biographical sketch of Chomsky, noting that he was influenced by writers such as Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick. It's good to learn that by his early teens Chomsky was not just opposed to Stalinism but was also "a pretty committed anti-Leninist". Then comes a chapter on his contributions to linguistics and philosophy, though to be honest you'd need to have some prior idea of his views here to make much sense of Sperlich's presentation.

The main chapter is entitled 'Political Activist', and it presents Chomsky's writings on various political issues, concentrating on his exposures of US foreign policy. This is a decent guide to Chomsky's attacks on the US government, military and establishment, from Vietnam to Nicaragua, the Middle East to the aftermath of 9/11. Unfortunately there's little attempt at elaborating Chomsky's own views on how society should be organised, other than labelling him variously as an anarcho-syndicalist and a libertarian socialist. He's quoted at on point as saying, "capitalist relations of production, wage labor, competitiveness, the ideology of 'possessive individualism' - all must be regarded as fundamentally antihuman." Also that a consistent anarchist must oppose wage slavery and private ownership of the means of production.

Chomsky has often expressed his support for 'left wing' governments in the developing world. With regard to the president of Brazil, Sperlich writes, "I ask Chomsky if Lula da Silva shouldn't have abolished the state of Brazil by now and introduced council communism or anarcho-syndicalist freedom. Chomsky answers that it's easy for us to say such things because we do not have to live with the consequences - Lula da Silva has to." Perhaps Chomsky should have said that it was a bloody stupid question, based on the assumption that a political leader can introduce a new social system.

The last chapter summarises Chomsky's work on the mass media as a tool for suppressing the truth and presenting a pro-capitalist view of the world, for (in the title of one of Chomsky's books) 'Manufacturing Consent'.

So this is a useful if unexciting guide to Chomsky's ideas. And until I read Sperlich I didn't know there is a radio station called Radio Chomsky, even if it is in New Zealand.
Paul Bennett

Friday, July 21, 2006

More Slaughter in the Middle East

Editorial from the forthcoming August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again in the Middle East innocent workers are being killed and useful structures destroyed. The immediate cause was the capture in a raid from Lebanon of two Israeli soldiers but the ultimate isssue was, once again, who controls this oil-rich region: the US and its allies or various local elites?

All states are artificial and illegitimate but Israel is particularly so. Set up by colonists from Europe on the basis of fables recounted in a book supposedly emanating from a god, it has been armed and financed by the United States as its only reliable ally in the region. Over the years it has acted as Americas gendarme there to deal with sections of the local Arab ruling classes who have sought to challenge US domination. These sections, in their turn, have identified Israel for what it is and have sought to destroy it and have been able to win considerable popular support.

This is not to say that Israel is under direct US control. The rulers of Israel have their own agenda and can, and do, act independently of their protector. But thats a price the US has to pay to avoid sending its own troops to fight and die there. The US would like some compromise solution between Israel and local Arab elites but in the meantime gives Israel a virtual free hand, only issuing ritual appeals to it to exercise restraint.

Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in Lebanon, is armed and financed by two states whose regime the US has vowed to change: Iran and Syria. It is entirely possible that the present crisis was deliberately provoked by Iran, which has ambitions to be the dominant regional power, as a means of bringing counter-pressure on the US in the diplomatic trial of strength going on over its nuclear programme, a means of showing that it too is not without bargaining counters. Israel, incidentally, is without doubt already a nuclear power, which shows up the US hypocrisy over the spread of nuclear weapons.

So, as a conflict over which states and ruling classes should dominate the region, no working class interest is involved except in so far as it is they who are its innocent victims and need the killing, maiming and destruction to stop. Socialists are always spontaneously on the side of the oppressed against the oppressors and the massive use of overwhelming force by the state of Israel clearly exposes it as the oppressor. But just because we sympathise with the victims of Israeli oppression does not mean that we favour the solutions popular amongst them.

A Palestinian state would be a capitalist state. "Anti-imperialism" is the slogan of local elites who wish to dominate the region in place of the US, a situation which would still leave the mass of the population there exploited and oppressed with the eternal problem of finding enough money to buy the things they need to live.

Capitalism is a war-prone society with a built-in clash of interests between states over markets, sources of raw materials, trade routes and strategic points to protect these. In the Middle East the conflict is over oil, and strategic points to protect its supply and transport, which has already led to many wars there.

The only lasting way out is to get rid of capitalism and replace it by a world society of common ownership and democratic control. On that basis, the resources of the world, including oil, could be extracted and used for the benefit of all the people of the world. Poverty and misery in the Middle East, as elsewhere, could be ended once and for all. The waste of arms and the horrors of war would disappear.

Socialism is, quite literally and without exaggeration, the hope of humanity. 

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tolpuddle Martyrs, 1834 (2002)

The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival is an event held every year on the third weekend of the July in the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England to mark and celebrate the memory of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six farm labourers who, in 1834, were arrested, convicted and transported to Australia for forming a trade union as a means of resisting the lowering of their wages.
The event is organised and attended by trade unionists, and in amongst the beers, the bands and the bouncy castles, occasionally a bit of politics breaks out in the form of stalls being staffed by political parties, and leaflets distributed to the attendees. The following is the text of a leaflet that was distributed by members of the Socialist Party at the event in 2002.

From the August 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard


"The establishment of a 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 interest of the whole community".

The above will be familiar to members of the Socialist Party as the party's object. It was, however, found on a web site celebrating the commemoration of the Tolpuddle martyrs. It demonstrates the extraordinary range of appeal that the memory of the "Dorset martyrs" still holds, from all sections of the left of capitalism.

The remembrance of the persecution of early unionism and the celebration of the ultimate triumph, both of reprieve of the martyrs and the ultimate widespread growth of trade unionism, seems to provoke outbursts of seeming socialist ambition. The tradition still continues, this year on 20 and 21 July with the annual TUC rally in Tolpuddle. Like all such occasions marking the history of working class struggle, the left makes it an opportunity to bluster about its "values" and, largely invented, history. These displays, of course, are in stark contrast to the reality of the achievements of the left and the tattered remnants of its ambitions.



The use of a socialist object in relation to the annual Tolpuddle rally is appropriate in recording the contribution made by working men and women in a period of rapid social change and industrial advance, accompanied by political persecution. Such resistance as was heroically given by those convicted of forming a union at Tolpuddle deserves to be remembered, along with other early political movements (such as Owenism, Chartism, republicanism) that allowed the eventual formulation of a socialist political party to be possible. But the use of socialist slogans by trade unionists and political parties whose aims are a long way short of anything approaching socialism is mere canting hypocrisy.

It may seem rather too obvious, to those fetishising "struggle", but what the cause of socialism needs is socialists. The struggles of the working class of the last two hundred years should tell us one thing - that it is futile to seek to fight a rearguard action against capitalism. The most successful movements of the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries had programmes that sought to maximise gains within emergent and rapidly expanding industrial capitalism. In politics, the Chartists challenged for political democracy, the success of which may have had revolutionary implications. In social thought, Owenism provided a critique of competition, combining the need for co-operation and the potential of harnessing of machines to humankind rather than the harnessing of workers to machines. In the economic sphere, trade unionism sought to increase the standard of living of the working class, including moves towards general unionism and, in the first decades of the twentieth century, syndicalism.

Socialists of course recognise the limitations of these movements. Chartism and trade unionism sought to increase the power of the working class, while Owenism tried to transcend it despite being at base a paternal, regulated capitalism. The threads and influence of all three, however, can be seen in the emergence of Marxian thought and the development of a programme emphasising the need to replace capitalism according to the design of the workers rather than reform the worst aspects of existing society.

The struggle of the working class to build a new society, replacing capitalist private ownership and competition with common ownership and production for use rather than profit resulted in the emergence, by the late nineteenth century of a growing movement pressing for something approaching socialism. The challenge recognised the nature of the source of working class exploitation in the productive process and saw poverty, material and mental, next to vast accumulations of private capital amidst the productive potential for material abundance for all.

It is unfortunate that as it grew, working class opposition to capitalism reacted to its partial concessions from capital by withdrawing its ambition from social revolution to social reformation. Here emerged, not the replacement of capitalism by socialism, but the incorporation of "labour" into existing productive relations. Paradoxically, the ideological justification for this (the "gradual" advance of working class interests rather than "inexpedient" socialism now) has not produced, by the twenty-first century, an emergent socialist society, but an almost complete withdrawal of most inheritors of this kind of position from any kind of programme which comes close to criticism of modern capitalist society.

So, what to do? No surprise here, I am afraid. No easy ways out. If you want socialism then you should be a socialist. If we, collectively as socialists, want socialism then we should make socialists. How is this to be done? Well, we can rule out "gradual" reform. A hundred years of that has brought us further back than we were in the beginning. What about a programme of ambitious reforms first with a genuine desire for revolution later - a "dialectical" strategic disappointment and a vanguard leadership for workers when they realise that capitalism cannot be reformed without new problems (inflation, for example)? Well, if you want someone else to direct you, if you want to work for a programme you know will fail, if you want to lie to lead, well, yes. But if not, if you regard democracy as important, then it is necessary to recognise that it is us, the working class, who must make socialism for ourselves and that we cannot be led to socialism.

As for programmes, if you want to work for union rights, benefits, full employment, against war, just name your cause, then join the Labour party to try and make them make promises or the Socialist Alliance or the ex-Militants who make promises they cannot keep. And, in ten or twenty years time, be prepared to be no further forward than you are now.

If people vote for an "ethical" foreign policy or an increase in public spending, in the name of socialism, and all they get is broken promises, because the global finance pulls the plug, or roaring inflation, then people will think that is what socialism is. Simple. However, if people vote for capitalism, in the name of capitalism, and get capitalism, then they might want something else. This has happened to some extent with the disillusion over New Labour and there is promise in the new (and growing?) "anti-capitalist" movement.

If it is solutions to world poverty you want, to insecurity, to global power politics, to war, then socialism, production for use not profit under democratic control (not just as a slogan but as actuality), that offers a positive solution, rather than valid but hopeless criticism. By all means let us defend and increase our share of the wealth we produce in capitalism. But if you want more than this, if we want something else, something better in the twenty-first century and beyond than we had in the decadent twentieth century, if you want something to work for rather than against, if you want socialism, then join the socialists.
Colin Skelly


Sunday, July 9, 2006

The Eileen Critchley Show (1991)

It turns out that Channel 4 is currently repeating Alan Bleasdale's drama GBH on its More4 channel. Best known for his earlier TV drama Boys From The Blackstuff, which by common consent is considered one of the most important and best loved dramas in the history of British television, Bleasdale was lauded and condemned in equal measure for GBH because so many people thought it was little more than a knockabout attack on the local politics of his hometown, Liverpool, and the then Militant Tendency's domination of its Labour council. Reproduced below is a review of the drama that appeared in the Socialist Standard at the time of its original showing, which delves deeper and goes beyond the notion that Bleasdale was doing little more than writing ten hours of television drama so that he could stick the metaphorical boot into Derek Hatton.

The Off the Telly website carries an
interesting article on GBH, as part of a series of articles on Bleasdale and his work.


TV Review From The August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Channel Four hyped it relentlessly as a Great Drama of our times. Militant renamed it BGH: Bleasdale Gets Hatton. Hatton himself went on Channel Four's Right To Reply to say that Michael Murray must have been based on him because the fictional character was a bullying, corrupt council leader. The Right wing objected because the series portrayed MI5 as being a shower of devious criminals - heaven forbid the thought. The SWP, who rarely comprehend anything that was not written by a dead Russian, denounced Bleasdale as a brown-nose who sold out to the ruling class. GBH (C4, Wednesdays and Sundays) seems to have upset them all. So does all great drama.

What was GBH about? Taken literally, it was implausible nonsense. Whole cities are not thrown into chaos by half a dozen or so Equity ruffians; Good and Evil rarely take on such vivid personal realisations as Murray and Nelson; even corrupt Labour leaders have more political know-how than Murray was shown as having. As fictional political history the series was drivel. Sadly, it is as fictional political history (FPH) that most lefties watched it and switched off in disgust. GBH was about power. It was about why people lust for political leadership, what they do with it, and how, after all the panting after it and delusion of luxuriating in it, most politicians come to discover that they do not really have it. Politicians are tools of power. The French professor, Maximilien Rubel, once wrote a letter to the Socialist Standard saying that the people who are our rulers are paranoid megalamaniacs who cannot be trusted. Maybe so, maybe not - certainly, even the most balanced of leaders must act like a madman if they are to dance to the cacophone of the profit system. Michael Murray, abused and beaten by power, became a political abuser and beater. It was the only way he knew. The political was personal. The brilliance of Bleasdale's writing was that Murray, the hateful petty tyrant, was so much more than that. He was more even than a comical, power-hungry stooge; a modern Chaplinesque Great Dictator. Murray was a man with whom we empathised. His was a world of the used and the users; he had been used and now he tried to use others. His world was our world: the world of human exploitation on every level.

Jim Nelson, Michael palin's romantic hero of the series, was aman afraid and therefore strong because he understood - or began to do so - his fear. He spoke more than once of how in our society the poison is seeping down. The poison in question is the poison of power-madness and obsessive exploitation. The simplification that eveil emanates from Tory bastards may have satisfied simple-minded rebels a decade ago, but now it is clearer to see just how the human perversions of power-madness are coming from all directions, including those movements which pose as being for the people. In short, the fleas from the Tory dog have rubbed off on to the Labour poodles who can only fight the Tories by being like Tories. As for Militant, it is infiltrating amongst the fleas, only able to get power by being more loathsome than the rest. They are playing the same game.

The message of GBH is that if you try to beat the Devil by dressing up as Satan you end up not being able to tell who is who. Murray thought he was being manipulated by Trots when he was really being used by MI5. The only reason he couldn't tell the difference is because there wasn't any. MI5 broke Murray. Bleasdale overstated the real power of the state to intervene in electoral politics. But then this was not FPH. What he got right was the power of the decent many to resist the arrogant few. That is one of the most hopeful political lessons; it must be, for workers are the many and the force against us is the very, very few. The scene in the final episode when the "decent workers", as the caricature portrayed them, stopped the "ignorant little gobshites", as the script referred to the thuggish Trots, from dictating to the majority was an inspiring moment. At that meeting leadership collapsed and illusory power was no shield: Murray wept and the boys who had only ever read one book and knew how to shout slogans were shown that democracy is bigger than them.

But wait a minute. Where was that great scene taking place? In the Labour Party hall. What was a bloke of principle and courage doing in that old wreck of a political whore-house? Here we see Bleasdale the faithful Labourite overcoming the writer of insoght. On one level GBH was a series about why Labour should expel Militant. We socialists could not care less if they expel them or sleep with them or form a coalition with the Monster Raving Loonies, but if that is the political message which was being offered to us, then when are we to see the series about hypocritical, compromising, well-bribed Labour "moderates" who do not need to be crushed by MI5 because they are safe? You do not need state conspiracies to neutralise Neil Kinnock or Tony Blair - they come ready-neutered.

GBH will be talked about for a long time to come. It should be. Both Robert Lindsay (Michael Murray) and Michael Palin (Jim Nelson) performed in ways that we will not see again soon. The wit of the writing was a model of classical characterisation and symbolic plotting. It made us think, even though we were not all thinking the same thing. GBH was about a horrible corrupt country - "a cold land" - where the opposition was dirty and the "intelligence" people filthy and all of us either in it or against it.
Steve Coleman


Further Reading:
From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
Leftist Wonderland: Militant in Liverpool

Monday, July 3, 2006

Bar Room Rebels (1986)

From the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The bar-room rebels are very tough - when they talk. And they know how to talk. They have fought a hundred bloody battles in their conversations in the boozer on a Saturday night. With Guinness as their fuel for their tanks they have defeated countless oppressors - at least, they have spoken of doing so.

The bar-room rebels come to life on a Friday night when the pub doors open and the band is tuning up. After a pint or two they speak with passion about injustices which they know to exist. The troops in Ireland and the despicable prison camp at Long Kesh where men are sent without trial before a jury to be tortured and wasted. They are right to be angry - only the politically desensitised are not. The misery caused by racist tyranny in South Africa - the white dictatorship, the torture and murders committed in its name for the sake of "law and order", the willingness of governments to deal with such oppressors. Again, workers are right to be angry. The bosses who are robbing us - we work hard, they grow rich. The idle, parasitic millionaires. And the bar-room rebel downs another pint and concludes that "they're all a bunch of bastards". A common response to the class which exploits us; scientific socialists are not too pure of mind to share such indignant emotions - we would be peculiar revolutionaries if we did not.

The leisure hours of some of the bar-room rebels are one long expression of anger. Every symbol of capitalist oppression is muttered against in endless bitterness, usually preceded by the inappropriate adjective "fucking", and that for some of the bar-room rebels is the beginning and the end of the fight. At best, such behaviour can be described as harmless; it is also politically useless. But that is not the worst of bar-room politics.

Worse still are the theoretical terrorists who are to be found making aggressive verbal noises in the pub. They support the IRA. "Up the Provos", they shout, as if this is some kind of threat to the ruling class. Now let us be clear in understanding two points about the politics of the gun. Firstly, it has nothing to do with liberation. You do not liberate anyone by the tactics of the militarist oppressor. Cetainly, it is theoretically possible that violent struggle will remove British occupation of a part of Ireland, but it is just as sure that once the old oppressors are out the men with the guns will be the new oppressors - the new ruling class. That is the lesson of 1916. Workers who believe in the illusion of national liberation should look at the Irish Republic, where British capitalists have more capital invested in working class exploitation than in the North, and they will see that wars over nationalism lead only to new, but not very different, nations. Secondly, violence is not something to be theorised about. Armchair terrorists are not only mistaken for thinking that freedom will come from the barrel of a gun but they are hypocrites for doing nothing about their conviction.

Not so long ago the Islington branch of The Socialist Party had a debate against a bunch of bar-room rebels called Red Action. Their main speaker argued that winning the war against the British state in the north of Ireland is the key issue in the class struggle, exhibiting a degree of sincerity unusual on the Left. His comrades cheered him when he made his comment and spoke loudly about the important and brave struggle of the Republicans in Ireland. But killing workers is not a theoretical position, it is a practical one. Why don't those who are so eager to cheer when it comes to supporting military violence get in on the act? After all, if socialists genuinely believed that defeating the British army in Ireland was the decisive issue in the class struggle (a nationalistic belief which no socialist could share) we would have an obligation to join the armed struggle. But for the bar-room rebels it is much easier to sing a few nationalistic songs (it is a sight worth seeing: these so-called Red Internationalists sitting in a pub on a Saturday night singing A Nation Once Again) and paint a few slogans on the toilet walls than to go and do what they urge other to do.

The bar-room rebel fight wars with his mouth. The present writer has been told countless times that he is not qualified to speak about Ireland because he was not born there. Such crass reasoning would lead to the conclusion that the Loyalist majority of the North must be most qualified to speak about Ireland because they were born there. Socialists recognise that workers have no country. The bar-room rebels will agree with that view and then talk at length about the nation which is soon to be born out of the heroic military struggle which they are unwilling to join.

Those who offer support to terrorism in resolutions have an obligation to do so on the streets. Socialists refuse to make brave sounding noises which we cannot back up with action. Like the Christian pacifist who declares that "Thou shall not kill . . . unless under orders from Her Majesty's government", the bar-room rebels proclaim that the armed road is the only road - but they'll not be collecting their ammunition this weekend.

Within Trotskyist circles, where insurrection is always just coming up on the agenda (after the expulsion of this or that member) bar-room rebellion is a favourite pastime. They are to be found often, sitting over half pints of lager discussing whether the Socialist Workers Party or the Workers Revolutionary Party will run soviets after the BBC has been taken over in a midnight coup and the Royal Family has been sent to Epping Forest to receive the Nicholas II treatment. Big talk; if words were bullets the millionaires would be trembling. And the bar-room rebel is quite sure of the futility of trying to persuade fellow workers of the need for a new system. The essence of Leninist politics is that workers are too thick to know what socialism is all about. We must be led. So the bar-room rebels persist in their puerile fantasies about Petrograd in 1917, expelling each other as they fight over who will be Lenin and who will be Trotsky. Meanwhile the would-be Stalin never buys a round and takes the minutes.

The odd thing about these bar-room insurrectionists is that (to their credit) if they saw a gun they would faint. Guns and bombs and the sophisticated instruments of murder are sickening, obscene objects, not symbols of human freedom. Armies are necessarily brutal and authoritarian.

The case for political violence is the case against the possibility of working class consciousness. Once workers understand our oppression we can disposssess he ruling class of both the means of violent coercion and the means of wealth production and distribution. The bar-room rebels base their talk about violence on the defeatist belief that the ruling minority will always be bigger than us. Indeed, the capitalist elite might respond to majority socialist revolution with violence. But if they do they will be powerless in the face of the democratic majority. There is no glory in getting killed; as workers, our aim must be to avoid at all costs the possibility of suffering for our class, while ensuring victory for our class.

A recent topic of noise-making for the bar-room rebels is the struggle in South Africa. Socialists are just as sickened and angered by the racist dictatorship of apartheid as are our fellow workers who have come to hate it. It is easy to be sickened and angered, but then what? There is an implicit racist attitude, expressed by some leftists in Britain, both white and black, that violence is the only possible way out of oppression for the African blacks. It is a racist perception because it assumes that persuasion, organisation, democratic action, trade union struggle - these are not to be expected of the black South African. It is based on the racist caricature of the spear-carrying, unthinking "native" who can only win by the rules of the jungle. The bar-room rebels are quite happy to see a bloodbath in South Africa - "it is the only way". But it will not be their blood in the bath. There have been no reports of British leftists going to fight alongside the ANC.

Socialists would not be historically scientific if they did not understand why workers join the IRA, why they join the ANC. The present writer was once told by a comrade in Belfast how after the British troops started beating up and killing Republicans the IRA won more recruits than they had guns. State violence breeds counter-violence. The Socialist Party is not the Liberal Party; we do not sit around tutting at workers for becoming violent. But neither are we opportunist liars who will tell workers that violence will create anything but new rulers. Only the struggle to end capitalism will bring genuine human liberation. And the struggle is easier to win than those in which countless workers have had their lives wasted as they have swallowed nationalist myths and joined the dead heroes.

It is not for socialists to begrudge our fellow workers a few drinks and a bit of shouting on a Saturday night. The bar-room rebel is but a political reflection of the poverty of working class life. Out of the emotional anger of the heated pub debate socialists have been made - and many more will begin to think about politics in the place where workers try to escape and brewers get rich. But to the bar-room rebel we have a warning: you can't romanticise the struggle forever. The need to get rid of this rotten capitalist system is urgent. Sloganising and fighting wars with bar mats and looking for new nations is no solution. And the bar-room rebel knows that it is no solution. Perhaps that is why one or two of them are reading this article.

Steve Coleman

Transition Period To Socialism? (1984)

From the March 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and Engels argued that socialism (or communism, as they called it) could not have been established at any historical time but only when the material conditions for its existence, large-scale industry capable of producing plenty for all, had come into existence. They were well aware that these conditions had only just begun to appear in the 1840s and that they were not then sufficiently developed to have allowed the immediate establishemnt of socialism. The point was specifically made by Engels in reply to another of the questions ("Will it be possible for private property to be abolished at one stroke?") in his draft for the Communist Manifesto:

"No, no more than existing forces of production can at one stroke be multiplied to the extent necessary for the creation of communal society. In all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity." (Engels, Principles of Communism, Pluto Press, p.13).

In other words, Engels was saying that at that time conditions were not ripe for the establishment of socialism as the forces of production were not sufficiently developed. So what could be done? The Communist Manifesto (at the end of the section "Proletarians and Communists"), as the programme of the German League of Communists in 1848, envisaged the following "transition to communism":
1. An insurrection to establish political democracy which would put effective control of political power into the hands of the wage-working class.

2. The use by the wage-working class of the control of political power thus acquired to:
(i) immediately expropriate the landlord class and sections of the capitalist class with capital invested in banking, transport (railways, ships, canals) and communications (posts, telegraph);
(ii) gradually expropriate the rest of the private capitalist class;
(iii) develop the means of production by setting up and expanding state-owned factories and farms.

3. When all the means of production had been acquired by the state, then classes would have been abolished and the state as an instrument of political rule would disappear; state ownership would give way to common ownership by society as a whole and a classless, moneyless, stateless society would then have come into being.

No indication was given as to how long this "period of revolutionary transformation" as Marx later described it, could be expected to last, but it seems reasonable to conclude that Marx, Engels and the other members of the League of Communists were thinking, in the 1840s, in terms of a longer rather than a shorter period, perhaps even as long as a generation.

So, at this time, Marx and Engels envisaged a longish "transition period" during which there would be, on the one hand, a declining, but at the beginning a fairly considerable, private capitalist sector employing wage-labour and producing commodities and on the other hand, a growing state sector, financed by a state bank, also employing wage-labour and producing commodities in competition with the private sector. Wages, prices, profits, money, banks, taxes, would all continue to exist. There is only one name for such an economic system: capitalism.

In other words, the economy during the proposed transition period would remain capitalist. This was only logical since if socialism was not possible then capitalism could only continue in one form or another. What the League of Communists was proposing, in the absence of the possibility of immediately or even quickly establishing socialism in the 1840s, was a period of up to thirty years of what might be called "proletarian-administered state capitalism".

This programme was completely unrealistic. For not only was the immediate establishment of socialism impossible in the 1840s but so was the coming to power of the wage-working class which was then still numerically weak and politically immature. The proposal for a transition period of state capitalist  development supposedly under working class political control was essentially only an artificial invention thought up by mid-19th century socialists to try to compensate for the fact that, whatever they did, they could not have established a world classless, stateless, moneyless society in their day.

Today, however, this problem no longer exists. The further development of capitalism did eventually create the material basis for world socialist society, as Engels recognised in 1891 when, in contrast to what he said in 1847 about the impossibility of establishing socialism then "at one stroke", he now spoke in terms of socialism being possible "perhaps after a short transition period". In the same introduction to the republication of Marx's 1847 talk on Wage Labour and Capital Engels referred to the technological developments of his day and wrote of the productivity of human labour increasing "day by day to an extent previously unheard of".

Engels was writing in the middle of a period which had been called the second industrial revolution which saw the invention and application to industry and production of the electric motor and the internal combustion engine. These and other technological advances showed that it had become possible to produce enough to eliminate want throughout the world and to satisfy people's needs, as Engels put it, "in ever-increasing fullness". At the same time the imperialist expansion of the European powers into the other continents meant that capitalism had come to embrace the whole world in its system. Then in 1914 came the aptly-named first world war which marked the clear emergence of capitalism as the unchallenged and predominating world system.

From this time on world socialism could have been established at any time, without society passing first through a period of state capitalist development of the means of production. The means of production had become sufficiently developed for society to pass directly from capitalism to socialism, once the political conditions for the establishment of socialism were fulfilled.

In other words, the very concept of a "transition period" has become redundant and can be abandoned.
Adam Buick



Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Way The World Is (2006)

Editorial from the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is sometimes argued that the kind of destitution and abject poverty that existed in the 1930s and earlier is no longer to be found in developed capitalist countries like the UK. Nowadays, the argument goes, workers take holidays abroad, have homes with several TVs and computers, and can spend large parts of their leisure time on shopping expeditions. It is fair to respond to these obervations by making two main kinds of point.

Firstly, that workers are in fact by no means as well off as such a sketch implies. In England alone, for instance, there are a hundred thousand homeless families, few of whom take holidays abroad.

Many migrant workers, here for fruit-picking, earn 70 pounds for a six-day week when various deductions are taken into account (Guardian 5 June). They cannot even afford to buy the strawberries they pick. The UK minimum wage is a mere 5.05 pounds per hour for those over 21, and around a million workers are on the legal minimum - few home computers for them. A couple of years ago, it was claimed by a trade union that employees in British supermarkets would have to work 94 hours a week to earn the national average wage.

So low pay is by no means a thing of the past.

Secondly, how well off workers are in terms of wages is not the whole picture. The insecurity caused by redundancies and the fear of redundancies, the short-term contracts now so widely used, the boring dead-end 'McJobs', the ever-present fear of production being moved to other countries with lower wage rates - all these undermine workers' sense of well-being. Nearly one person in six in Britain is described as depressed, while over a million are mentally ill and receiving incapacity benefit. Such is the stress and hassle of living under capitalism. At the same time hospitals close and trained medical staff are made unemployed, while overall levels of sickness show no sign of decreasing. The amount of debt is also an indication of how badly off workers really are. Eight million people have over 10,000 pounds of unsecured debt (that is, excluding a mortgage); a third of these say that their debt situation has had an adverse effect on their health or relationships. This year perhaps as many as 100,000 people will declare themselves bankrupt as a means of escaping from their financial problems.

Thus it cannot be said that capitalism has raised workers' living standards to a level where they no longer have to concern themselves with how high their wages are or how secure their position in society is. Poverty and worry about the future are built in to capitalism as far as the working class are concerned.

Moreover, if you take a global perspective, you can see that things are even worse. Half the world's population live on less than two dollars a day, and many on far less. Every day one person in five goes hungry. Over a billion people have no reliable water supplies and more than twice that number lack sanitation. Statistics like this can be multiplied for ever: the essential point is that an incredibly large part of the earth's population lead lives of numbing poverty and precariousness.

At the same time, a relatively small number of people are rich beyond the imaginations of ordinary people. A few hundred billionaires own as much wealth as the world's poorest 2.5 billion people.

The inequality which exists under world capitalism is simply breathtaking, and it is increasing: the world has never been so unequal as it is today. Governments exist essentially to defend the interests of the rich and powerful. Wars are fought to serve their interests too, whether to gain access to oil or to deny such access to others, or to open up some area to so-called free trade.

This is the way the world is. But it should not and need not be this way. Instead, the world could be run on Socialist lines, without rich or poor, without wages or money, without countries or governments.

If you think this sounds like a better way of organising things, contact the Socialist Party and see how you can help to bring it about.