Friday, February 24, 2006

Out of the Abyss (1999)

Book from the March 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The People of the Abyss. By Jack London, Pluto Press, 1998.

First published in 1903, this has now been re-issued as a Pluto Classic, with the 1977 introduction by Jack Lindsay. Lindsay hails The People of the Abyss, along with The Iron Heel (1907), as "the two works in which [London] most fully uttered his socialist faith and integrated his vision". There is no doubt of the horror of his descriptions of life amongst the workers of the East End of London and the powerful impact which his experiences had both on him and on generations of his readers. Upton Sinclair described how "for years afterwards the memories of this stunted and depraved population haunted [London] beyond all peace".

It is as a record of a society polarised between the "sickly and underfed" and the "riotous and rotten" that London's book acquired the reputation of a "socialist classic". The photographs which accompanied the original publication are particularly striking (some of these are reproduced in The Streets of East London by William J Fishman). But to those with more than a passing knowledge of the East End, it is a partial picture. London's aim in writing this book was to focus on the conditions experienced by the homeless, destitute and unemployed. Members of the "respectable" working class featured only in so far as they lived in the constant shadow of destitution.

The result is a portrayal of such unremitting degradation that London (and his contemporary American readership) were unable to bridge the gulf between themselves and those whose lives he described. These became "a noisome rotten tide of humanity", "a menagerie of garmented bipeds that looked something like humans and more like beasts". These are not the phrases of empathy with fellow workers, but of fear and loathing of outcast people. Large sections of the population were not mentioned by London at all, such as the Jewish community in Whitechapel (where he undertook most of his investigations) and the Chinese community in Limehouse. This may have had more than a little to do with London's self-declared racism: "I am first of all a white man, and only then a Socialist". Or not a socialist at all . . .

Furthermore, as an analysis of how to get out of the abyss, the book is on shaky ground. The thread of outrage that runs through the book culminates in a chapter on "The Management" in which London addresses the question of whether "Civilisation bettered the lot of the average man". Despite it having vastly increased "producing power" (the means of generating wealth), civilisation (by which he meant the British Empire) had singularly failed to share this wealth equitably. This was due, he argued, to the criminal mismanagement of the economy by its ruling class. As a consequence, London judged that the slum dwellers of the East End lived in conditions worse than animals, and far worse than did the Inuit people, with whom he was familiar from his travels in Alaska. His conclusion was that "society must be reorganised and a capable management put at its head".

This is weak to say the least, after such a vivid portrait of poverty, and it is certainly not the socialist case. The clearest statement of London's political philosophy emerges from his discussions with the carter and the carpenter. Dismissing their talk of revolution as the talk of "anarchists, fanatics and madmen", he declared an "evolutionary belief in the slow development and metamorphosis of things". And he reserved his greatest praise, not for any socialist orator or trade unionist, but for Dr Barnardo and his work with the children of the poor (or, "the progeny of the gutter folk"). London's anger and his moral outrage on behalf of the poor were genuine and passionately expressed. He understood the relationship which existed (and still exists) between the riches of the rich and the poverty of the poor. He also understood the futility of addressing poverty as an individual failing rather than a social condition. But none of this makes The People of the Abyss a socialist vision, for we will not climb out of the abyss of capitalism by changing the management.

Helen Roberts

The Right To Be Lazy (2004)

From the January 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party has just republished this classic pamphlet by Paul Lafargue together with some of his other writings. Below is the introduction.
Paul Lafargue's classic socialist critique of the capitalist work ethic (applicable only to the working class) dates from 1883. This means that some of the bourgeois politicians and ideologues mentioned in the pamphlet have long since been, deservedly, forgotten, but it remains a powerful presentation of the case that what workers should be demanding is not the "right to work" under capitalism but the "right to leisure" in a socialist society, where machines could be used to lighten labour and free people to engage in activities of their choice.

In this sense the pamphlet is a criticism not just of the capitalist work ethic but also of reformists. Its original subtitle was 'Refutation of the Right to Work of 1848', a reference to a demand raised by certain left-wing politicians under the Second French republic set up after the overthrow of King Louis Philippe in 1848. There is of course no such thing as the "right" to work under capitalism the number of jobs on offer to workers depends on the ups and downs of the capitalist business cycle but, as Lafargue points out, even if there were it would be a "slave's right", the right to be exploited. This has not prevented Trotskyists and other reformists, as in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, launching campaigns demanding the "Right to Work". To which we in the Socialist Party responded, in true Lafargue tradition, by demanding "full unemployment". To the extent that "Right to Work" campaigns receive the support of some workers this is not so much because they particularly want to work in a capitalist factory or office as because they want the higher income that usually comes from being employed rather than unemployed. It is a reflection of the fact that, in capitalist society, everybody has to have some means of obtaining money as this is required in order to get access to food, clothing, shelter and the other necessities of life. These have to bought, and to buy them you need money; which most of us can only obtain by selling our mental and physical energies to some employer for a wage or a salary, a state of affairs Lafargue did not hesitate to denounce as "wage-slavery".

The alternative, as Lafargue realised, made a practicable possibility thanks to the development of the forces of production, was for the wages system to be abolished and for both production and consumption to be free within the framework of a propertyless, classless, stateless and moneyless society which he called interchangeably communism or socialism.

Lafargue's approach to work in a socialist society - that it should be minimised - is only one of two possible socialist approaches to the question. While Lafargue emphasised the "Right to be Lazy" (or, less provocatively, the "Right to Leisure"), his contemporary fellow Socialist across the Channel, William Morris, was arguing that what workers should be demanding was what might be called the "Right to Attractive Work". As he put it:
"I claim that work in a duly ordered community should be made attractive by the consciousness of usefulness, by its being carried on with intelligent interest, by variety, and by its being exercised amidst pleasurable surroundings" (Useful Work versus Useless Toil, 1884).
The two different approaches suggest two different policies that might be pursued in a socialist society: maximum automatisation so as to minimise working time or making as much work as possible attractive and personally rewarding. Lafargue writes here of reducing the working day to 2 or 3 hours. Morris would not have seen the point of this even if he went on to claim above that "the day's work should not be wearisomely long" : if people were getting some enjoyment out of their work surely, on his view, they would want to engage in it for longer than a couple of hours or so a day. As this is not an issue that can be resolved in the abstract, all we can do is to leave the matter to be settled in socialist society in the light of the preferences of those living in it.

Today, Lafargue is known mainly for this particular pamphlet which enjoyed a huge revival in the 1960s and 70s when the capitalistic work ethic came under attack again. Before the First World War, however, he was more widely known as a Marxist thinker and populariser of Marx's views. When Charles H. Kerr of Chicago published an English translation of the pamphlet in 1907 they did so together with some other articles of his on other, different topics. They also published as separate books his The Evolution of Property and Social and Philosophical Studies. But even before these were published in English Lafargue was known to English-speaking opponents of capitalism as an intransigent revolutionary Socialist on the anti-reformist, anti-Revisionist wing of the international Social Democratic movement. It was as such that a number of articles of his were published at the time in the Socialist Standard, the journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We are republishing these here as the second part of this pamphlet. All except the one on the Nineteenth Century (which was reprinted from the Socialist Herald of Milwaukee and which also appeared with a different title as one of the other article in the Kerr publication The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies) were original translations by members of the Socialist Party and have up to now not been readily available.

We have used the 1907 translation by Charles Kerr himself but have restored the original subtitle of 'Refutation of the Right to Work of 1848' and corrected some of the footnotes. We have also added the letter, translated here into English for the first time, that Lafargue wrote to the L'Egalite where an earlier version of the text of the pamphlet first appeared as a series of articles in 1880.

Copies of the pamphlet can be obtained by sending a cheque for 1 pound 30 pence, made payable to 'The Socialist Party of Great Britain', to: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London, SW4 7UN.

More Lenin or Less? (2004)

From the January 2004 Socialist Standard

The Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia put the clock back in the sense that before the First World War the radical wing of the international Social Democratic movement was making progress towards positions similar to those of the Socialist Party in Britain but, after 1917, most of those involved were side-tracked into supporting the Bolsheviks. For many this was only a temporary dalliance, but the damage had been done. Crucially, when they were to break with the Bolshevik regime they did not entirely break with the Bolsheviks' ideas, regarding themselves as "leftwing communists" as they called themselves; in particular they accepted that the Russian revolution had been some sort of "working-class" revolution which had gone wrong but which still had some positive lessons for workers in the rest of Europe.

A recent pamphlet by Antagonism Press (c/o BM Makhno, London, WC1N 3XX), Bordiga versus Pannekoek, discusses and contrasts the later views of two pre-1914 Social Democratic radicals who had initially supported the Bolsheviks but fell out with them in the 1920s because they felt they had gone off the rails.

Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) is the more well-known in the English-speaking world, his pamphlet Marxism and Darwinism having been translated and published by Charles H. Kerr and Co before the First World War. He went on to become one of the world's leading astronomers and as such is the author of a History of Astronomy which applies Marx's materialist conception of history to the subject. His analysis of the failure of the Bolsheviks was that they had emasculated the soviets (or workers councils, soviet is just the Russian word for council) and instituted the rule of their party; which resulted in them becoming a new ruling class on the basis of a state capitalism. He later linked this with Lenin's crude materialism in Lenin as Philosopher.

During the Second World War, Pannekoek, who remained in Holland, used the time to write down his views in detail, which were published after as Workers Councils. Pannekoek was the best-known representative of "council communism", or the view that the workers' revolution (and the transition from capitalism to socialism/communism) should be carried out by workers democratically-organised in workers councils. Hence he is known in left-communist circles as a "councilist".

Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970) was the first leader of the Italian Communist Party when it was set up in 1921. His analysis of what went wrong in Russia was quite different from Pannekoek's. He had no criticism of the concept of the rule, even the iron dictatorship, of the party; his complaint was only that the Bolshevik party had ceased to be a genuine communist party. Since he clearly understood that socialism was a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society he never made the mistake of thinking that Russia had ever ceased to be capitalist. According to him, what happened when the Bolshevik party ceased to be a communist party (about 1926 with the eviction of Trotsky, whom he supported) was that Lenin's policy of state capitalism as "the development of capitalism under the control of the proletarian state" became simply the development of capitalism.

Bordiga believed, even more strongly than Lenin, that within capitalism a majority of the working class would never be able to develop a socialist consciousness; only a minority could, whose duty it was to lead the ignorant majority to socialism. Unlike Lenin who at least paid lipservice to the idea, Bordiga had nothing but contempt for the whole principle of democracy, denouncing it in the same terms as those Italian philosophers who justified Mussolini's rule (who, like Bordiga, had been a prominent figure in the leftwing of the pre-war Italian Socialist Party), i. e. as a mere counting of noses, as seeking the irrelevant opinion of the ill-informed and the ignorant, etc. Bordiga frankly advocated the dictatorship of an enlightened minority organised as a strictly centralised and disciplined vanguard party.

Needless to say, those in Pannekoek's tradition and those in Bordiga's have a mutual contempt for each other, the former regarding the latter as partisans of a new state capitalism and the latter regarding the former as muddled democrats and majoritarians standing for workers' self-management of capitalism. (Actually, there's a fair amount of truth in both criticisms).

Programme versus spontaneity?
Antagonism Press's 44-page booklet reproduces a short article by each of them, with their own 30-page introduction, on the question of "party and class", i. e. of whether the workers' revolution should be carried out by a party or by the whole class, or, from another angle, whether revolutionaries, when they are a minority as at present, should put forward a "programme" for adoption by the working class or whether they should rely on the working class "spontaneously" coming to act in its own interests. Antangonism regard this as a false opposition. So do we, though for different reasons (why can't a revolutionary minority organise today around a programme for adoption by the whole class tomorrow?)

But what were the arguments of the two protagonists? Pannekoek takes up an anti-parliamentary, anti-elections position, arguing that workers should ignore the state, elections and parliament and organise democratically in workers' councils based on their workplaces to carry out the revolution; basically, then, a syndicalist position. He rejects the idea both of a parliamentary party and of a vanguard party, seeing these as leadership organisations representing an embryonic new ruling class. However, he is not against the idea of a workers party, or rather of a number of workers parties as groups of "persons with the same fundamental conceptions [who] unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussions and propagandise their conclusions"; these would be "parties in an entirely different sense from those of today"; they would be "organs of the self-enlightenment of the working class by means of which the workers find their way to freedom", "means of propaganda and enlightenment". This is virtually the sense in which we see ourselves as a party at the present time.

Bordiga denounced such views as a variety of syndicalism and defended the idea of a minority, vanguard party which had to be prepared to ignore the ideas and wishes of the majority and push forward to try to seize power in an armed insurrection on behalf of their ignorant fellow-workers. So, Bordiga was not just anti-parliamentary, he was anti-democracy, an "anti-democratist" as might be said.

Bordiga's argument here is so outlandish as to require recording in more detail lest we be accused of exaggerating:
". . . never as a rule will the exploited, the starved and the underfed be able to convince themselves of the necessity of overthrowing the well-fed satiated exploiter laden with every resource and capacity. This can only be the exception. Bourgeois electoral democracy seeks the consultation of the masses, for it knows that the response of the majority will always be favourable to the privileged class and will readily delegate to that class the right to govern and to perpetuate exploitation . . . The bourgeoisie governs with the majority, not only of all the citizens, but also of the workers taken alone. Therefore if the party called on the whole proletarian mass to judge the actions and initiatives of which the party alone has the responsibility, it would tie itself to a verdict that would almost certainly be favourable to the bourgeoisie . . . The concept of the proletariat's right to command its own class action is only an abstraction devoid of any Marxist sense."
Against anti-democratism
Antagonism tries to combine both points of view, speaking of the need for a party in the broadest sense (similar to Pannekoek's idea of a variety of parties) while at the same time attacking democracy as a principle and defending minority political action (as opposed to minority propaganda and agitation). The impression comes through, however, that they are more favourable to Bordiga. Thus, they write:

"[Pannekoek] still holds to the mechanistic ideal that all workers – or all manual workers – will en masse become socialists, which is nonsense".

". . . a democratic power, even a democratic workers' power would put power in the hands of capital. Communism rejects workers' democracy and workers' power . . ."
When they refer to Bordiga's "tactical failings (e.g. on the question of unions)" and "his strengths (such as the critique of democracy)" they get it the wrong way round. From our point of view, Bordiga was right to say that workers should organise in unions (but wrong to say that his vanguard party should seek to capture and control them) and wrong about democracy.

Political democracy is not, or is not just, a trick whereby the capitalist class get the working class to endorse their rule; it is a potential instrument that the working class can turn into a weapon to use in ending capitalism and class rule. Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself. If a majority of workers really were as down-trodden and incapable of understanding socialism as Bordiga held, then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just could not be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by Bordiga. Democracy is not the mere counting of noses; it is the only principle of organisation compatible with a classless society.

So, if we were forced to choose between Bordiga and Pannekoek (which of course we're not) we would have to prefer Pannekoek with all his faults. He at least recognised that the working class must organise itself democratically, both to end capitalism and to run future society. His mistake was in being inconsistent in not realising that the principles of democratic organisation he recommended for his workers councils (mandated and revocable delegates) could equally applied on the political field, to the workers self-organised politically for socialism, i. e. to the workers' socialist party in the full sense.

But we wouldn't want to be regarded as "council communists". We are commending Pannekoek's "democratism" not his "councilism". Many if not most present-day "council communists" have yet to attain the same degree of understanding as Pannekoek. They really do stand for what Bordiga denounced them for: workers self-management of a market economy, i. e. for workers self-exploitation, and they are guilty (as was Pannekoek) of the charge of syndicalism that Bordiga levelled at them. On the other hand, we wouldn't want to touch Bordiga's super-Leninism with a barge-pole, even though he – and those in his tradition – have generally been much clearer on the non-monetary nature of socialism.

Adam Buick

Pathfinders (2006)

From the February 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard


Free radicals in mitochondrial DNA, the energy producing parts of cells, may be the cause of ageing (New Scientist, Jan 14, 2006). There is an understandably irresistible imperative to drive back the death horizon, but wouldn't it be better to create a life worth living before trying to extend it any further? For many people, death is the only possible way to beat the system. Eternal life in capitalism does not sound like fun, and we'd have to develop some pretty effective birth control systems too. But just how long would one want to live anyway? Would 300 lifespans create a race of super-educated highly motivated polymaths, or a rag-bag of apathetic and listless slugs too indolent even to wash?

It has been discovered that plants emit large amounts of methane (New Scientist, Jan 14, 2006). Now let's wait for the discovery that politicians also emit methane, and embark on a mass cull for the good of our health. Seriously though, this is potentially disastrous, and in one stroke renders all available climate models useless. If the carbon sinks we were relying on are themselves contributing to global warming, the threshold to a runaway feedback effect may be now impossible to prevent. If the capitalist class succeed in destroying the ecology of this planet, the window of opportunity for the human species will close, and socialism or indeed any kind of advanced culture will become impossible. The urgency of revolution is not decreasing with time, but increasing.

The recent furore in South Korea over the 'faked' results of the stem-cell research team headed by Woo Suk Hwang (New Scientist, Dec 24, 2005), has spiralled down into mutual recrimination amid more intensive probing into the past cloning work of the world famous team. This raises the question: would scientists or their researchers ever be disposed to fake results in socialism? Without the financial and status rewards that are capitalism's strong incentives, it's hard to see how. Who could own science in socialism, and therefore who could buy, sell, steal, corrupt, or profit personally from it? And therefore, what motive would any scientist have to lie? Socialism does not make people 'honest'. It just gives them no particular reason to be 'dishonest'.

Is science the natural enemy of religion, or can they coexist? Religious scientists (they do exist) will obviously answer the latter, but many scientists, reared on evidence-based thinking, could no more tolerate the free-for-all that is 'faith' than they could walk on water. Few scientists however bother to get up and attack superstition in so many words, it being considered beneath them.

Richard Dawkins has never been one to keep his views to himself, and the militant monarch of evolutionary biology has just recently been waging war on 'the religious virus' on UK TV (The Root of all Evil? Jan 9 & 16, Channel 4). This somewhat overambitious project to lay waste the world's religions in two hours flat ended up being frankly underwhelming. Truth is, our Richard suffers the same problem as a lot of socialists he's so rational he doesn't really comprehend the nature of what he's dealing with, and this is a serious disadvantage when the argument goes nose to nose. The religious types, having had a logic-ectomy, are impervious to all the gigantic contradictions in their own world-view, and thus perform well, talk impressively, and look confident. Richard, on the other hand, clearly didn't go into these interviews properly prepared. Too long among real thinking humans who play by the rules of debate, he looked as shocked, baffled and bemused as somebody being addressed by a talking baboon in a dress. The effect, sadly, was that the zealots constantly seemed to get the better of him. It should not have been difficult for a scientist to make a fundamentalist bigot look the fool that he is (even accusing the scientist of arrogance, which was a nice touch), but one had the feeling that Dawkins actually was being a tad arrogant in his approach, imagining that reason and the scientific method were all the weapons he would need. Socialists, who have a lot more experience of this sort of debate, could have told him it wasn't going to be that easy. These people just don't roll over and die when calmly presented with the facts. The only thing to do is go for the jugular, make them squirm, make them angry, and then enjoy the fun. Instead, it was Dawkins who was too angry, and Dawkins who wasn't thinking straight. And in indulging his exquisite loathing of the religious 'meme' he made an even bigger mistake, from a socialist point of view, in imagining that 'for good people to do evil things, it takes religion'. It doesn't, it takes capitalist class society. The Nazis didn't kill for religious reasons, and contrary to what Dawkins supposes, suicide bombing was not invented by religious extremists but by Leninists (the Tamil Tigers). In fact, new research that Dawkins ought to have known about shows that for someone to become a suicide bomber takes no extreme belief-system at all (New Scientist, July 23, 2005).

But why attack religion on TV, and why now? Dawkins does not really explain, but the answer lies in a secondary school in Dover, Pennsylvania, where a celebrated federal court case has made headlines around America for weeks. Dawkins, with many other biologists, was incensed that the school board of governors ruled that Intelligent Design should be taught in science lessons alongside evolution, as if it had equal scientific validity. In America, ID cannot be taught in 'religious lessons' separately because such lessons are outlawed by the First Amendment, which separates Church from State. Thus, religion is smuggled in by other means. However, the parents weren't having it, and sued the school, and in the end the parents won and the governors had to resign, their defence team having made themselves look ridiculous in court, equating ID with astrology. So why wasn't Dawkins himself called as a witness for the prosecution, one wonders? He would have jumped at it. The surprising answer is that the parents didn't want him, for the even more surprising reason that, defenders of evolution though they were, they were Christians themselves. Even among religious people there is clearly only so much unreason they can take.

So should scientists really worry about a new-age fundamentalism wiping out all progress and knowledge, burning the libraries of Alexandria and plunging the world into the long night of ignorance, fear and superstition? Well, they can worry, but there's really no need to be paranoid. Religion has had to do all the hard work of accommodating more and more scientific progress, which is why mature religions tend to become ever vaguer and more metaphorical, and there's no prospect, save nuclear Armageddon, of the world's knowledge being lost again. Progress is progress, and it will stand. Dawkins can vent his spleen, and he is right to do so, but fear of a new order of god-driven moral extremism is probably taking things a little too far. And blaming the ills of the world on sad delusionals merely deflects attention away from the real problem the divisive effect of class and its social relations.

Seattle - Five Years On (2004)

From the October 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is almost five years since unprecedented public protest and a demonstration of some 100,000 people disrupted the meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle. Today, the protest is mainly remembered for the violent exchanges between a minority of protesters and the Seattle police and National Guard that provided the media with exactly the sensational spectacle it was seeking. For a day or so at the end of November 1999 images of the more violent aspects of the protest were flashed across our television screens while the newspapers carried vivid descriptions of the mayhem caused by this major public demonstration. With only minor exceptions the event was resoundingly condemned by the media as irresponsible, while the underlying issues were dismissed without further consideration. Within a day or so the media circus had moved on to find its sensationalism elsewhere and the demonstration was quietly forgotten.

The main purpose of the demonstration was to highlight 'unfairness' in WTO rules, perceived as defending the domination of the industrialised countries over the undeveloped countries. The protesters represented a broad spectrum of opinion however; ranging from human rights and pro-democracy groups to environmental, religious and labour activists each having their own agenda and motives for demonstrating. Some decried the inhuman conditions imposed on undeveloped countries by 'structural adjustment packages', others the composition of the WTO with its unelected officials. Certain groups condemned the savage exploitation of child labour while others opposed the dumping of toxic waste in undeveloped countries. Other sections opposed 'free trade' although interestingly it was claimed the majority of protesters were in favour of international trade but critical of the 'unfairness' of the current model of 'free trade'; believing that free trade is beneficial to all if only it can be made 'fair'. Existing trade agreements, they argued, were seriously skewed because only the 'developed' nations have benefited while poverty and social inequality have grown rapidly in developing countries.

With perhaps the exception of the 'anti-capitalist' group, who supposedly advocated the abolition of the capitalist system altogether – but failed to specify what should replace it and how this change should come about – the protesters seem to have been united by a single common belief. They all broadly believed that international trade could be reformed to work in the interests of ordinary working people and with 'fairer' trade and a little less exploitation of the undeveloped countries and their people, the world could live in harmony.

Cause and effect
The Seattle demonstration was bound to fail in exactly the same way as anti-war protests fail to achieve an end to war. It is a question of cause and effect; we can demonstrate against all kinds of things that we consider 'unfair' but unless we recognise and tackle their cause the problem will only remain.

We cannot hope to understand world events unless we view these from a class, rather than national, perspective. We live in a world where the dominant world economic system is capitalism, a system that has organised all people into two opposing classes with conflicting interests. The owning or capitalist class lives on profits by virtue of its ownership of the means of producing and distribution wealth. It is their class interest to depress wages and benefits to increase profits. The working class everywhere has nothing and therefore is forced to sell its labour power for a wage or salary in order to live. But the source of all wealth is the product of labour applied to nature, and the very people who produce this wealth are denied access to it by laws and ultimately the state. Government's function is to protect the capitalist class and its legal 'right' to accumulate the wealth created by ordinary working people. The two classes thus have opposing and conflicting interests.

The central imperative of capitalism is to expand and to seek new ways of extracting more profit from ordinary working people by seeking out raw material and markets and imposing itself on the people of other countries; transforming indigenous self-supporting people into wage and salary workers. People everywhere are compelled to join the ranks of the world's working class to face the same class struggles as their fellow workers in the industrialised countries. We share a common interest.

It cannot be denied that capitalism has entered a particularly pernicious phase in its development – euphemistically called 'globalisation' – in undeveloped countries as large corporations viciously compete globally to secure markets and relentlessly exploit labour in countries where they reputedly earn 75 percent of their profits. But exploitation is not just confined to undeveloped countries. Working people everywhere are on the defensive against the class whose imperative is to maximise its profits and perpetuate their mastery over all working people. There can be little doubt that the wages and salaries of the majority of people in industrialised countries have stagnated or declined, working hours and job insecurity have increased and conditions of life have deteriorated. The correlation between economic growth and improving social welfare has been cut as corporations seek to introduce 'Third World' standards into the established industrialised countries. We share a common interest.

The Seattle protesters did not share this view of the world. The real enemy is class society engendering the domination of ordinary working people by the class who live by making profits. Countries don't dominate or exploit other countries; the capitalist class who own the companies and corporations assisted by their respective governments exploit the working class everywhere, regardless of their geographical location. Working people don't benefit from the ruthless exploitation of undeveloped countries; companies and corporations benefit by maximising their profits for their shareholders. Ordinary workers don't import or export commodities; companies and corporations owned by the capitalist class export commodities in order to release the profit generated for them by the world's working class. Ordinary workers don't make trade rules; governments working to further the interests of companies and corporations draft these rules. Ordinary workers don't invest in other countries or claim 'free trade' is an impetus for global prosperity; companies and corporations invest in order to generate 'super-profits' and it is they as a class who prosper, not ordinary working people. Ordinary working people don't live on profits; instead, they struggle on a wage or salary. We have a conflict of interests.

Workers don't benefit

When the Seattle protesters demanded less corporate investment and exploitation of undeveloped countries they were intimating that the indigenous population would be better placed if left to its own devices. This is a delusion; less interference from 'foreign' capital would simply allow the indigenous capitalist class or even the state to take over the exploitation of the indigenous working people. The same is true of struggles against colonialism, demands for national liberation, independence and the right of national self-determination. These movements are no more than the struggles of an indigenous capitalist class, striving to gain the right to exploit ordinary workers in their own country. Worker support for such movements is based on the misapprehension that it is somehow less painful to be exploited by someone born in the same country than by a foreign corporation. Workers have no country, just a place where we struggle to live, work for a wage or salary and make profits for the owning class. We have a common interest; we are all wage slaves.

The demands of the Seattle demonstrators were misguided. Demonstrators can at best hope to alleviate a problem, but the respite is only temporary. The world cannot be made 'fair' by rewriting trade rules, electing WTO officials or even abolishing the WTO altogether. The WTO together with the IMF and the World Bank and all the other institutions exist only to serve the needs of the companies and corporations owned by the world's capitalist class in their pursuit of profit. Their abolition would not alter the underlying conflict of interests between ordinary working people and their capitalist masters.

It is only with the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialist society that worker servitude everywhere will end. This is achievable not by demonstrating for reforms to institutions of capitalist society but by a majority of the world's workers understanding the need for socialism and working together to capture political power to abolish capitalism and build a socialist society.

Socialism is a classless society based on common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth, where production will be used to overcome needs, not to create profit. It will be a society without money and free from conflicting class interests, democratically controlled by ordinary people for and in the interest of all people everywhere. This is our common interest.
Steve Trott

The WTO in Seattle (2000)

From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
The World Trade Organisation, trans-national corporations (TNCs) and the governments of advanced industrial countries all agree that free trade is a jolly good thing. Their representatives, such as Stephen Byers, Britain's Trade and Industry Secretary can be regularly heard spouting the usual dogmatic cant such as: "free trade and open commerce are a bringer of opportunity and not a threat".
When the Seattle round of WTO talks stalled in early December, President Bill Clinton announced his intention to "move forward on the path of free trade and economic growth while ensuring a human face is put on the global economy".

No, stop laughing a moment. Clinton really said that. His ilk really believes that global capitalism can have a smiling face and that organisations like the WTO can help bring this about.

The representatives of globo-buck really believe that a levelling of the "playing field" would benefit all, poor country as well as rich. This in spite of the fact that many TNCs have incomes greater than the combined GNP of several of the poorest nations on the planet. This in spite of the protectionism that the USA, Japan and the EU don't like to boast about. And this in spite of the fact that the debt burden and related structural adjustment programmes mean that many a developing country is considerably worse off now than 30 years ago.

The umpire helping oversee this state of play, refusing to cry foul, bending the rules to the advantage of the more skilful and experienced player is the WTO. Its remit is so framed as to allow corporate control over every aspect of our lives, be it patent rules that allow the TNCs to monopolise centuries-old remedies and recipes in the developing world, seeds and human genes, indeed everything from drinking water and health and safety to hospitals and schools. Anything deemed an obstacle to the pursuance of profit can be labelled an illegal barrier to free trade.

The WTO is the supreme court of international commerce, whose constitution reinforces the rule books of the world's corporate elites. It has a Disputes Settlement Committee—a kind of wealthy man's Star Chamber—which has, time after time, considered barriers to fair trade such concerns as the environment, health and labour rights. It allows TNCs to not only control the fate of national currencies—with governments closely tailoring their economic policies to the interests of the giant multi-nationals—but helps ensure little host government opposition when environments are destroyed (witness Shell in Nigeria, Texaco in Ecuador and Union Carbide in India).

Through the establishment of free trade zones between countries, TNCs are enabled to invest where there are tax concessions and exemption from local labour laws, frequently, because of their non-union policies, taking advantage of low-wage economies with poor health and safety standards. At Seattle many commentators sensed that deals could have been struck, but were scuppered for domestic political reasons, not least because Al Gore is anxious for union support in next year's elections. Moreover, while the US argued for concessions in every field, they were unwilling to offer anything in return.

Whereas decisions were supposed to be reached by consensus, and democratically, the powerful countries dominated the talks. With the US desperate to get the deals they wanted, smaller countries were bullied and sidelined, with reports frequently emerging that delegates from the developing world were being physically refused entry to the negotiating tables.

Much has been written as to why the WTO talks in Seattle failed, suffice to say the negotiations crumbled for no other reason than that the myriad representatives of global capitalism failed to reach agreement on how best to proceed with the task of exploiting as many as possible while upsetting as few as possible.

Writing in Red Pepper in November, Katharine Ainger observed that "the only policy objective the two recognises is the expansion of corporate hunting grounds by opening up markets and the universal application of free trade rules. It's rhetoric is that of levelling the playing field in world trade".

Such sentiments are fair criticism and have been echoed much in recent weeks. What is important is to realise that they do not suggest globalisation is a recent trend—it has been gathering momentum since the late 1970s—nor that the global nature of capitalism is relatively new.

Over 150 years ago, in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels pointed to the dominance of the world market over individual countries: "The need of a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, establish conditions everywhere."

As then, as now, talk about fairer trade and a more democratic "human face" of capitalism is simply ignoring the true nature of capitalism. Capitalism is a decrepit and ruthless social system whose mode of production cries out for a total overhaul. The most far-reaching reform of its major institutions—including the WTO—won't alter one iota its inherent contradictions. Hunger, poverty, homelessness and a thousand other social ills will prevail until, the last cent has been taken out of circulation and production freed from the artificial constraints of profit.

November 30 saw 50,000 protestors on the streets of Seattle lined up against the police and state troopers, more than equipped to repulse a third world army let alone unarmed campaigners (and indeed serving as a reminder to those who believe the state can be forcibly overthrown of the might that would be thrown against them). Whilst their slogans and placards often echoed the language of the genuine socialist, they failed to go further than demanding "alternative social and economic structures based on co-operation, ecological sustainability and grassroot democracy".

Whilst their demands would be realisable in socialism, demanding the same from institutions whose sole function is to serve the interests of profit is like asking a hungry shark to consider a vegetarian diet.

The protestors who took to the streets on 30 November in over 20 countries are without doubt well-meaning with a genuine hatred of the system that impoverishes the lives of billions of their fellow humans. It can only be hoped that they, and workers the world over, will come to realise that a real alternative is up for grabs. It has nothing to do with fairer trade, nor indeed any sort of trade, but free access to the benefits of civilisation. Socialists are not in the business of protesting for a larger slice of the cake the workers bake, but for control of the whole bakery. We argue that we should only settle for free and equal access to all that we produce and all the services we, the working class, provide, in a world without borders or frontiers, states or governments, force or coercion, buying and selling.
John Bissett

Greedy Bastards (2004)

From the November 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The planet we live on has been arbitrarily divided into some two hundred nation states. In all of these states, the very richest and the poorest, there are people who die from the effects of poverty and, conversely, there are those who are immensely rich.

In the UK there is some disagreement about the number of people who die prematurely because they are poor, though the figure of an average of some four thousand per annum for hypothermia is generally accepted. For example, the death certificate may say 'pneumonia' in the case of an elderly person who in fact dies of hypothermia because their income does not allow them a sufficiency of food and heat to keep them alive. Again, there are thousands denied the necessary medication to keep them alive while life-long poverty itself has an incalculable effect on human longevity.

The singer, Elvis Presley, sang:
"If Living was a thing that money could buy,
Then the rich would live and the poor would die."
In actual fact, the rich do live on average longer and, certainly, better lives and in millions of cases every year throughout the entire world of capitalism, the poor do die, not because the food, medicine or shelter they need is not available but because they are poor; because they do not represent a market that promises profits for capitalism.

Same economic regime
Admittedly, the numbers who die of poverty diseases in most of the developed countries are minuscule by comparison with the tens of thousands who die every single day in those very 'poor' countries that are normally referred to as 'undeveloped' or 'developing'. Still, someone dying from the effects of poverty or medical neglect in this country or, say, the USA, is a victim of the same economic regime that causes that horrible phenomenon that the media refer to as the 'Third World'.

In a grotesque way, it is comforting to think of the 'Third World' as a number of far-away geographic locations. It gives people in the developed world a sense of misplaced gratitude to think that, however bad things might be where they are, they are worse in other places. As we have noted, the numbers vary dramatically between the 'poor' nations and the 'rich' ones but the basic problem, the reality of riches and poverty, demonstrates that 'Third World' syndrome is a general economic consequence of capitalism rather than specific parts of the earth.

According to one United Nations Human Development Report, four men between them own more wealth than forty-seven of the poorest nations on earth. The same report claims that a mere four percent of the aggregated wealth of three of these men could provide food, clean water, medication and basic education for all those currently denied these necessities.

The problem, then, seems to be a simple one: there are a number of greedy bastards holding the very lives of millions of people in their hands. The UN Report mentions only four of these but there are hundreds of billionaires – people who have ownership of wealth in excess of one thousand million dollars – in the world.

So a chastising lecture on charity to these 'greedy' people and a whip round with plastic buckets, and the problem of world hunger could be resolved in a flash. That is what the myriad competing charities imply when they seek alms except that most of their donations come from the poor. At another level, that is what reformist political parties traditionally aimed to do by taxation and the argument seems justified when we consider what could be done with a mere four percent of the wealth of three of the billionaires. There are thousands of fabulously rich people who, however extravagantly they live and whether or not they engage in any useful activity, are likely to continue to get richer for the rest of their lives.

But the problem does not reside with greedy bastards nor can it be resolved either by charitable donations or by the action of reforming governments. The problem is caused by the economic system which gives rise to the rich, the millionaires and billionaires, and as a consequence, also gives rise to those who endure mere want or deadly, killing poverty.

Charity is a popular, and we have to say, a cynical pastime for the rich. Lady Layabout's charity ball is an important item on the social calendar, like croquet on the lawn. Sometimes it may take the form of a fashion show where the well-heeled can see the sort of clothes only they can afford. The residual funds from these expensively organised, posh affairs may be donated to the deserving poor where it will no doubt offer momentary, ephemeral relief to some facet of poverty. Nowadays the charity industry – itself a big employer of labour – has proliferated and diversified but so, too, have the problems.

Not so dumb
Of course it is easy to think of a person with billions or even millions of pounds, euros or dollars as a greedy bastard. That person lives on the same planet as the rest of us; he or she knows about world hunger, about the extremes of lifestyles between themselves and the overwhelming majority around them. They can't be so dumb as to believe they could have earned their fabulous wealth by doing what the rest of us have to do, selling our mental or physical labour power for a wage or salary, and they know that however idly and extravagantly they live, their wealth is likely to continue increasing.

But they do not face a moral dilemma, nor should they. In a way, indeed, they are like the millions of poor people who dream about winning the lottery, except that in the case of the rich capitalists they have their own moral apologia and the power through their wealth to enforce that apologia on the rest of society.

Investment with a view to profit and capital accumulation is the powerhouse of capitalist society; without investment, production and distribution would stall, workers would have no jobs. This is the reality of capitalism from which springs the justifications that capitalists advance for their system.

Acceptance of those justifications is general and almost unchallenged throughout capitalist society. Media, churches, politicians, et al sing the praises of the 'job creators' ; nobody but the socialist questions motive or points out that capital invests in job creation purely for the purpose of generating profit through the exploitation of workers and that capital disinvests and relocates if it can find a place where it can intensify that exploitation. That is the nub of the question, not whether or not the millionaires and billionaires are moved by the miseries they create to give sums large or small to charity or whether they are forced by taxation to effect some amelioration of those miseries.

Riches and poverty are two sides of the same relationship and can only be ended when that relationship is ended; when society takes over the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution and institutes a system of social organisation in which production and distribution are democratically administered in the interests of the needs of society as a whole.

As far as blaming 'greedy bastards' is concerned we workers should remember that capitalists are not in a position to effect real change even if they wanted to – which, of course, they don't. Only the majority, the working class, can do that.
Richard Montague

On Understanding Marx (1933)

Book Review from the July 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx" By Sidney Hook . New York: The John Day Go. $2.50.

Karl Marx, the one-time almost unknown exile, the patient digger for economic facts in the British Museum Library, is now a "world figure." No man of his generation could claim so many alleged followers, so many bitter enemies, as Marx, if he were alive to-day. He has become almost a god for millions, a veritable devil for other millions. Just as the books of Voltaire and Rousseau were publicly burned in France in the years preceding the French Revolution, so the other day, on an immensely larger scale, tons of Marx's volumes were consigned to the flames by the fanatical Nazis in Germany, whose leaders, like Canute, hope to hold back the rise of the tide that will sweep away this capitalism.

No man's ideas have suffered more at the hands of his self-claimed disciples. Even in Marx's own time his views were distorted and misrepresented by would-be friends as well as opponents, so that Marx himself was driven to declare that he "was no Marxist." What, then, would he say to-day, when "Marxism" is used to cover all manner of ideas, from reformism and pacifism to the dogmas and crazy political "interpretations" of the Communist press?

A book which restated soundly and in reasonably short compass the fundamental ideas of Marx and applied them to modern events would at the present period prove especially valuable. The volume before us calls attention to the confusion that to-day exists as to Marx and his theories in its very title. It is noteworthy in several ways. Its author is assistant Professor of Philosophy at New York University, and, so far as I know, this is the first time a member of the staff of an "English-speaking" university has written a fairly full exposition on Marx. Furthermore, the book treats well and at greater length than is usual in introductory works, of the less studied aspects of Marx's system, especially the dialectic method and the interaction of activity and thought.

It is impossible to adequately comment on all the virtues and vices of a book so full of intellectual meat as this is, but, as it will probably be widely read, it certainly calls for whatever praise or condemnation it merits from the Socialist point of view. There are many minor points of criticism that could be raised if space permitted, but the outstanding merits and faults of the work are all that can be dealt with here.

Let me commence with well-merited praise for the three fine chapters on the Materialistic Conception of History, which, in my opinion, except, for one or two points to be mentioned, are excellent, and more satisfactory than the exposition by Boudin or that by Plechanov, in his valuable "Fundamental Problems of Marxism."

The rebuttal of the manifold crude misconceptions of the theory, such as those which identify it with the views that economic interests on the one hand, or mere technical developments on the other, are the basic factors in history, is well, if briefly, done. An appendix gives the four valuable letters by Engels on Historical Materialism, in which he explained certain difficulties and criticised false interpretations.

I believe that Hook's theoretical treatment of the role of "great men" in history is essentially sound and far closer to Marx than the absurd view sometimes put forward as Marxian that their historic influence is practically negligible. It is all the more surprising, therefore, to find that when our author descends from the abstract to the concrete he falls into a queer contradiction of his main argument and enormously overrates the role of political leaders. In considering the question as to whether or not "great men" always arise when there is an historical setting which calls for them, he writes: "Why did not a great man arise to unify India against foreign imperialism in the nineteenth century, and China in the twentieth? Where was the great leader hiding when Italy was objectively ready for revolution in 1921 and Germany in 1923? Was he not needed then?" (p.172). Apart from the false assumption that the "objective conditions" were ready in any of these cases, are we to believe that the "great leader" would have brought about the desired result if they had been? Hook may object to such an interpretation, but to me the unescapable inference of his statement is that Fascism triumphed because Mussolini appeared and a "Socialist" leader did not, or because Mussolini was a Fascist, not a Socialist.

The chapters on economics are fairly good, considering their brevity, though they are too abstract. On p.193 there is a strange slip in defining "capital" in Marx's sense as "wealth used for the production of more commodities," instead of, as Marx always stressed, wealth used for the purpose of acquiring surplus value. (See "Capital," Vol. 1. p. 128, Glashier Edition.)

A grave fault of Hook's is that he takes a basic idea of Marx's and then rides it to death, exaggerating it to the point where it becomes absurd, and in a manner which it is certain would have shocked Marx's logical sense.

Throughout the book he stresses Marx's philosophic tenet that the test of the truth of any theoretical proposition lies in action-upon the outcome of activity directed by the idea in question. Hook applies this principle correctly enough for the most part. But, when he writes, '"What justifies Marx and Engels in holding that the mode of economic production is the decisive factor in social life is the revolutionary will of the proletariat which is prepared to act upon that assumption " (p.181), he is straining the principle until it becomes sheer nonsense. Even if we overlook the slightly awkward fact that, except for a small minority, the proletariat have as yet no "revolutionary will" and are not "prepared to act on that assumption," Hook's view would fail to explain how it is that many bourgeois historians now accept the economic factor as decisive. I am afraid that they, unphilosophic fellows, simply "justify" themselves by an appeal to historic data and contemporary events, and this is precisely what Marx and Engels did.

Similarly, Hook, after appearing to give endorsement to the Marxian theory of value, declares it to be of little use in the analyses of complex economic phenomena or the prediction of economic trends, and says: "It is rather the self-conscious theoretical expression of the practical activity of the working class engaged in a continuous struggle for a higher standard of living ..." (p.222). Need I point out that the theory of value has never yet been the accepted theory of more than a small minority in the working class movement, industrial or political ?

Again, at the close of a chapter in which he sets out to prove by historical examples the soundness of Marx's view as to the decisive role of class struggles in history, our author, true to his obsession, avers that, "the truth of Marx's theory of the class struggle can be established only in the experience of the social revolution, i.e., after class society has been overthrown", (p.248).

It is difficult for us to take these aberrations of Hook's literally, for he writes as an advocate of Marx, but if we do they amount to a declaration that, for the most part, Marx's immense theoretical work is a mass of deductive, a priori reasoning, an elaborate "justification" for his revolutionary politics. Many open opponents of Marx have, of course, made this accusation, but it is new to find a would-be exponent tending in that direction.

Marx was a life-long revolutionist, but it is grotesquely untrue to even imply that he was nothing else, that everything he did and wrote was motivated almost exclusively by his revolutionary aims, No human activities are so circumscribed, though some neurotics tend that way, and Marx was thoroughly "human," very much of an "all-round man," a man, as any alert reader of his works is bound to see, intensely interested in philosophy, science and history for their own sake as well as for their bearing on the problems of the working class movement, and he had a wide-awake intellect. Had he not been all this, the unscientific and unhistorical distortions that would have unavoidably crept into, even dominated, his work, would have exposed it to critical annihilation long before the expiration of half a century.

Hook has four chapters dealing with the distorted "interpretations" of Marxism by the German Social Democrats and the syndicalists of France, by which the former sought to justify their anti-Marxian policy of reformism, and the latter their non-political "direct-action," and he treats briefly but well of the economic and political conditions out of which these "schools" arose.

He describes what he calls the "orthodox canonisation of Marx" by Kautsky, Hilferding and Co. But when he comes to deal with Lenin, he subscribes to the latest "canonisation" without a blink. Though he can see the distortions of the Kautskyans he appears blind - or, at least, keeps silent-about most of those of the Communists. Just as the former had their roots in definite social conditions, so the newer distortions, the "orthodoxy" of Moscow, originally germinated in the underground, illegal struggles against the blood-soaked Czarist absolutism but was only brought to its present detailed perfection under the Soviet regime, with its dictatorship of the Communist Party over the proletariat and peasantry.

When Marx used the phrase, "dictatorship of the proletariat," which he did on extremely few occasions, he meant, as the context shows, nothing more than the political domination of the working class majority during the period of the , socialisation of capitalist property. Hook appears to accept this view, but he refrains from pointing out that the Soviet dictatorship, with its disfranchisement of the old exploiters, its indirect and "managed" elections, its stifling and penalising of opposition opinion, even within the ranks of the Communists, find no justification in Marx's use of the phrase. This repression is without doubt necessary to the retention of power by the Communist Party in its present form, but, to justify it by "interpretations" of Marx is distortion of the crudest type. To be fair to Hook, he does not do this - he keeps silent on the matter - but roasts the Kautskyans. It is our business to call attention and to condemn both sets of "distorters"

Hook, following the general argument of the Communists, tries to prove (p.287) that it was Marx's settled opinion that, in general, the workers can and will be compelled to resort to armed struggle against the state in order to win political control. Now if Marx had laid this down as one of his major propositions it would be perfectly impossible to ignore the fact or suppress it. There would be no room for argument, at least, as to what Marx said. But actually, in the vast bulk of his writings, Marx said very little about revolutionary organisation and tactics or the form the revolution might be expected to take. Only in his earlier writings, during or immediately after the 1848 period, of revolts, do we find any attempt at a detailed programme of action. After the revolts had subsided and it had become evident to him that capitalism had settled down for a far longer period of life and expansion than he had previously thought, Marx's statements on the proletarian revolution were in very general and guarded terms. He knew that neither he nor anyone else could lay down methods of procedure for an event that would not materialise for many years, and which would do so under conditions very different from those of his day and which would vary from country to country.

Hook writes, "Ultimately, whether fifty per cent or ninety per cent of the population support the revolution, the state power will be won not by pencil and ballot paper, but by workers with rifles. As late as 1872 in speaking of the continental countries . . . Marx wrote: ' It is to force that in due time the workers will have to appeal if the dominion of labour is at long last to be established.'"Rifles against tanks, poison gas and aircraft? - come, come! Mr. Hook, and where would they get even rifles? Believe it or not, this slight quotation from Marx's voluminous writings is the solitary one that Hook gives to support his contention. It contains nothing to indicate that Marx was not referring to the use of force against the bourgeoisie after the working class had gained control of the state armed forces. The phrase, "as late as 1872" is significant. It shows that Hook is fully aware of the big difference between Marx's earlier and later views on working class tactics. Yet nowhere in his book does he point this out.

There were sound historical reasons for this difference. In the bourgeois revolutionary struggles of 1848, armed insurrection for the bourgeoisie and their working class allies was, in the absence of a wide suffrage, the only form of struggle available and, what is most important, the weapons and fighting methods then in use, made victory for the insurgents, under favourable conditions, possible. Marx and Engels then believed that "the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution." (Communist Manifesto, IV.)

Following the compromise of the German bourgeoisie with the aristocracy and the defeat of the revolution, Marx in 1850 surveyed the conditions for further advance in his "Address to the Communist League." During the developing struggle of the workers along with the petty-bourgeoisie for a liberal constitution, he advocated the independent organisation and arming of the workers. But for the period which would follow the establishment of parliamentary government Marx urged the use to the full of the political franchise and conspicuously refrained from advocating the continuance of the workers in armed preparedness or the resort to armed risings. Marx knew that under the new conditions such risings would inevitably lead to crushing repression, the crippling of the workers' movement, and the possible abrogation for a time of the hard- won and politically invaluable suffrage rights.

In 1895 Engels, at the end of his fruitful life, wrote an introduction to Marx's old work, "The Class Struggles in France," and in it he summed up the lessons he and Marx had learned on this question of working class tactics during decades of economic, and political evolution. A few extracts are quoted below, but the reader should on no account miss reading the enlightening essay in full. Engels wrote:-

With this successful utilisation of the general franchise an entirely new method of the proletarian struggle had come into being and had been quickly built up. It was found that the State institutions, wherein the rule of the bourgeoisie is organised, did furnish further opportunities by means of which the working class can oppose these same institutions . . . And so it came, about that bourgeoisie and Government feared far more the legal than the illegal action of the workers' party, more the successes of the elections than those of rebellion.

After showing in some detail how the newer developments in the art of warfare had rendered successful insurrection against the state forces impossible - and what would he have thought of those of to-day? - Engels continues:-

If we are not so foolish as to please them by allowing ourselves to be led into street fights, there remains nothing for them save to be broken to pieces upon this fatal legality.

Of all this, Hook says not a word. He raises strong objections to the view expressed by Marx as early as 1872, that "there are certain countries, such as the United States and England, in which the workers may hope to secure their ends by peaceful means." (Quoted by Steckloff, "History of the First International," p.240.) He calls it a "joker" that Engels qualified this by saying that Marx "never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling class to submit, without a 'pro-slavery rebellion,' to this peaceful and legal revolution." ("Capital," I, xiv, Glaisher Ed.) The "joker," however, is on Hook, for it is obvious that by "pro-slavery rebellion" is meant one against the victorious workers and the state forces they controlled - which has no bearing as to the method of first winning such control. In his effort to show how for once Marx erred in making this exception in the cases of England and America, Hook emphasises the numerous times in English history, from Cromwell on, that the government meted out violent repression, instancing Peterloo, Egypt, Ireland and India. What irrelevant argument! Who knew the brutality of the rule of the English capitalists better than Marx? But he also knew that even they cannot do exactly as they like, and he evidently believed that, faced by a powerfully organised and politically educated working class, victorious at the polls, the capitalists wou1d be forced to re1inquish the state power.

As for America, Hook asks: "Was it likely that in a country in which feeble and I 'constitutional' attempts to abolish chattel slavery had called forth the most violent civil war of the nineteenth century, the abolition of wage-slavery could be effected by moral suasion?" (p. 295.) He overlooks the fact that the planters of the south and the capitalists of the north were separated geographically, and had separate State government and forces, and secondly, that the cause of the war was not "abolition" but "secession" Why, by the way, does he not instance the abolition of slavery in the British colonies, which was done constitutionally and almost without resistance? The reference to "moral suasion" is beside the point, for the Socialist case for parliamentary action does not rest on that at all but on the fact that a working class majority grounded in Socialism will constitute an irresistible political force.

At this point Hook wins the sympathy of his reader, when, after asking, "What led Marx and Engels into the error of qualifying their general position as they did?" he admits, with evident pain, that, "after toying with several hypotheses, the author frankly confesses that he does not know." (p. 296.) May I suggest to him that he turn again to the afore-mentioned Introduction by Engels and not only read it, for a casual reference (p.31) - giving, however, no glimpse of its embarrassing contents – suggests he has already done this, but mark, learn and inwardly digest it. After which there may be no further need to toy with any more hypotheses. But - one never can tell.

As a trump card, our author warns us that: "The Socialists captured a legal majority of the Finnish Parliament in 1918. Before they could put through their programme, they were drowned in rivers of blood by an armed counter-revolution." (p.290.) As an illegitimate argument this would be hard to beat. He omits to mention that Finland was and is a predominantly agrarian country, quite unripe for Socialism, that consequently the so-called Socialists were not Socialists at all but only reformers, and were far from having a genuinely Socialist majority behind them, and that the violent suppression was chiefly accomplished by German regiments specially brought over to do the job at the request of the Finnish ruling class – in other words, not by the state forces of Finland but by those of another and more powerful state.

We have never held, as a matter of fact, that a merely formal majority at the polls under no matter what circumstances, will give the workers power to achieve Socialism. We have always emphasised that such a majority must be educated in the essentials of Socialist principles and have a party democratically organised and disciplined. It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will be decisive. In our Declaration of Principles we stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this. The attitude of fetishism which the communists show towards "violence," their advocacy of street warfare against overwhelming odds, and their efforts to build up a party on mere desperation and unintelligent discontent only serves to make more difficult the Socialist education and organisation of the workers.

As a Socialist I can only conclude that Hook's book is going to contribute further to the misunderstanding of Karl Marx, however much some of his material on Marxian philosophy and Historical Materialism may enlighten the worker-student who is already fairly well grounded. Hook fails to give us a really satisfactory exposition of Marxian theories in relation to the problems .of to-day, largely through falling under the spell of the new dispensation from Moscow. He has missed his mark.
R. W. HOUSLEY. (Workers' Socialist Party, U.S.A.)