Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An A to Z of Marxism (V to Z)

NOTE TO THE READER: This text was written in the 1980s. Hence, suggested further reading is rooted in books of that period. Parts of this text was originally published in the now defunct Irish magazine, Socialist View, in the late 1980s.

This dictionary is intended as a reference-companion for the socialist. It is aimed particularly at the newcomer to the socialist movement who may be unfamiliar with socialist terminology.

Our approach has been to combine brevity with clarity, as far as possible, with cross-referencing and a guide to further reading at the end of most entries.We have been selective.

We have concentrated on those words and ideas that are relevant to the case for socialism. In addition, there are many biographical entries of individuals and organisations of interest to the socialist movement. The inclusion of any of these should not necessarily be understood as an endorsement of their ideas and practices. Likewise, many entries have suggestions for further reading but the views expressed in these books are not necessarily the same as those of the socialist movement.

It will be obvious that there are some errors, omissions and unworthy inclusions. We make no claim to comprehensive, final and definitive truth. This dictionary can and should be better. We therefore invite suggestions and constructive criticisms for use in future editions of this dictionary.

A to E can be accessed here.
F to J can be accessed here.
K to O can be accessed here.
P to R can be accessed here.
S to U can be accessed here.

Value. Commodities are the products of human labour in an exchange economy and it is this which give them their value. Value is a social relation that expresses itself in exchange as exchange value. Value is measured by socially necessary labour-time; price is the monetary expression of value. (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)
Mohun, S., Debates in Value Theory, 1994.

Vanguard. In the Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels wrote of the communists' understanding of 'the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate results of the proletarian movement', which they conceived as 'the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority'.
This is to be contrasted with Lenin's view. Although there is more than one version of the party to be found in Lenin's writings, all of them envisage a centralised vanguard leading the working class. In his What is to be Done? (1902), Lenin argued that class-consciousness had to be brought to the workers 'from without' by professional revolutionaries organised as a vanguard, as a body capable of leading the working class to 'socialism'. Because workers on their own can only develop trade union consciousness, on this view, self-emancipation is impossible. (See also BOLSHEVISM; LEADERSHIP; LENINISM.)

Violence. A new world society of democratic voluntary co-operation can only be established by democratic voluntary co-operation. By its very description, such a society cannot be imposed nor could people be led into it. Unlike Leninist and other left-wing groups who advocate violence because they rely on minority support, socialists rely on the legitimacy conferred by majority understanding, support and participation. And this is why it is reasonable to suppose that this process will be peaceful. However, socialists are not pacifists. Should an anti-democratic minority try to impose its will on a majority-expressed decision for socialism then the majority can defend themselves with force, if necessary. (See also DEMOCRACY.)

Wages. A wage or a salary is the price of the human commodity labour power, the capacity to work. Because the workers are compelled to work for their employers for a duration of time, being exploited, the wages system is literally a form of slavery and the working class are wage slaves. (See also EXPLOITTION; LABOUR POWER.)

War. Capitalism is the cause of the rivalries that led to war in the modern world. In general, these struggles between states and within states are over property. Specifically, it is competition over markets, sources of raw materials, energy supplies, trade routes, exploitable populations and areas of strategic importance. Within each state in the world there is a conflict of interests over social priorities. But all over the world there are conflicts of interest between states which lead to war when other means fail.
Of course wars took place in class societies before capitalism existed. These wars, however, can generally be attributed to the absolute shortages of the past. In our own age the problem is a different one. Now the means exist for producing enough to supply the needs of all. With international capitalism, however, we have the problem of artificial scarcity created by the capitalist form of production. Social production takes place for profit, not directly for human need. It is this global system of competitive accumulation that creates the rivalry that leads to war. (See also VIOLENCE.)

Webb, Beatrice (1858-1943) and Sidney (1859-1947). As prominent members of the Fabian Society both were involved in the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (1900) which, in 1906, became the Labour Party. In 1918 the Labour Party adopted a constitution (rejected in 1995) which was mostly written by Sidney. More well-known in their own time for their researches in social and economic history, the main intellectual influence on Beatrice came from Herbert Spencer, whereas Sidney was more influenced by Jeremy Bentham.
They both had a very poor opinion of the working class. Beatrice wrote:
We do not have faith in the "average sensual man", we do not believe that he can do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think that he can prescribe the remedies… We wish to introduce the professional expert (Our Partnership, 1948).

Welfare state. In 1942 the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services by Sir William Beveridge was published to widespread acclaim. All the main political parties hailed the Report as the basis for a restructured and improved social provision for the working class after the war against Germany had been won. The Socialist Party analysed the purpose and nature of the Beveridge proposals in a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. This pamphlet quoted the Tory MP Quentin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) and his advice on the necessity of social reform within capitalism - 'if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution' - and suggested that the Beveridge recommendations were best judged in the light of the wave of working class discontent which followed the 1914-18 war, which the capitalist class and their political representatives feared might be repeated.
The actual content of the Report and the proposals it put forward for social reform were, as the Times put it, 'moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence' (2 December 1942). In large part the reforms aimed at providing an efficient working framework for the replacement of the unbalanced and disparate system of poor relief previously in existence in Britain. In fact a familiar claim of Beveridge at the time was that his proposals would be cheaper to administer than the previous arrangements. As he put it in his Report:
Social insurance and the allied services, as they exist today, are conducted by a complex of disconnected administrative organs, proceeding on different principles, doing invaluable service but at a cost in money and trouble and anomalous treatment of identical problems for which there is no justification (page 6, emphasis added).
Many of Beveridge's proposals were already effectively in force for a significant number of workers, but the Report recommended the introduction of a unified, comprehensive and contributory scheme to cover loss of employment, disablement, sickness and old age. An enlargement of medical benefits and treatments was proposed, as was a plan for non-contributory allowances to be paid by the state to parents with dependent children.
This latter scheme was criticised in another Socialist Party pamphlet called Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis, which demonstrated how Beveridge's proposed Family Allowances would be of principal benefit to the employing class, not the wage and salary earners. This scheme would allow employers to make across-the-board wage reductions as wages had previously had to take account of the entire cost of the maintenance and reproduction of workers and their families, even though the majority of workers at the time had no dependent children to provide for. The Family Allowances plan was a scheme based on targeting provision on those workers actually with children. Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis explained:
wages must provide not only an existence for the worker himself, but also enable him to rear future generations of wage workers to take his place. It is quite logical therefore from a capitalist point of view to raise objection to a condition which in a large number of cases provides wages "adequate" to maintain children for those who in fact possess no children.
In outlining the case for universal state benefits and health care, the Beveridge Report was undoubtedly of some benefit to sections of the working class who, for one reason or another, had found themselves outside the existing scheme of provision. But as the case of Family Allowances demonstrated some of the gains for the working class were more apparent than real.
As the Socialist Party was able to predict, the recommendations of Beveridge and, for that matter, the modifications that have been made to the various branches of the welfare state in the past 50 years, have not succeeded in solving the poverty problem. Particularly since the end of the post-war boom in the late 1960s (the 'golden age' of capitalism?), the problems of poverty and income inequality have accelerated. The health services and social security have to be paid for ultimately out of the profits of the capitalist class, generally via taxation (the burden of which in the last analysis falls on the bosses) or borrowing. In an increasingly competitive and crisis-ridden global economy, the welfare state becomes a luxury they cannot afford. (See also REFORMISM.)
Thane, P., The Foundations of the Welfare State, 1982.

Workers' councils. Advocated by some left-wingers as the means to fight capitalism, overthrow it, and establish and administer socialist society. Workers' councils, comprised of delegates from workplaces to co-ordinate the struggle, are to be distinguished from Works' Councils. The latter are currently being sponsored by the European Union, as a means to 'industrial democracy', by encouraging workers to be more competitive and productive in conjunction with their bosses. (See also DEMOCRACY.)
Bricaner, S., Pannekoek and the Workers' Councils, 1978.

Working class. All those who are excluded from the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution and depend for their existence on wages and salaries or incomes derived from them. In Britain this is over 90% of the population, the remainder being mostly the capitalist class - those who live on unearned income derived from their ownership of land and invested capital.
As shorthand, Socialists sometimes refer to the working class as wage slaves or wage and salary earners. This, however, is a way of bringing out the importance of wage labour for capitalism, and is not a value judgement by Socialists on the worth or importance of the people involved. The life-blood of this system is the pumping of surplus value out of wage labour. But in fact employees constitute only about half the total number of the working class. Of necessity, there are many roles within the working class that are needed to facilitate the reproduction cycle of labour power, such as schoolchildren, housewives, pensioners and so on. The whole working class is involved in creating, maintaining and reproducing labour power. For the benefit of the capitalist class. (See also CAPITALIST CLASS; CLASS.)
Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class, 1968.

Zero growth. Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is waste, pollution, environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist's dream of a sustainable 'zero growth' within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream.
However, on the new basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use, socialist society will be able to sustain a stable and sympathetic relationship with nature. After clearing up the mess left by capitalism and a possible initial increase in production to eliminate poverty, production can be expected to settle down and level off at a level sufficient to provide for human and environmental needs. (See also ECOLOGY; NEEDS; SOCIALISM.)
Pepper, D., Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction, 1996.