Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Marxian socialism in New Zealand (2004)

From the November 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We continue our series on the spread of socialist ideas in other parts of the world.
New Zealand is a small country, slightly larger geographically than the United Kingdom; but, at the end of the 19th century, when socialist ideas first penetrated the country, the population was still less than two million, of whom most were workers, small-scale farmers and Maori tribespeople. Not surprisingly, political parties were, and are, small.
    
Probably the first source from which Marxist and socialist ideas and activities sprang was the New Zealand Socialist Party, founded in 1900 (or 1901 according to some accounts), and of which not a great deal is known. Although it was not, and did not claim to be, a Marxist party, there were Marxist elements in it. It had the merit of introducing to New Zealand the works of Marx, Engels and Kautsky, as well as literature from socialist parties in Britain and North America. It even distributed the writings of Daniel De Leon and Karl Liebknecht. About the same time, there were readers of the Western Clarion, the then journal of the Socialist Party of Canada, of the International Socialist Review published in the United States by Charles H. Kerr & Company, and of the Socialist Standard. Indeed, evidence of the Socialist Standard in New Zealand early last century, was the discovery, some years ago, of a bound volume of the first six years (1904-1910) of the journal in the Wellington Branch public library. On the inside of the cover is inscribed the name of the original owner and date: H. Anderson, Petone, 1911. Anderson was a long-time member of the socialist movement in New Zealand.
    
Nevertheless, most politically-minded workers in the country favoured a non-theoretical, reformist Labour Party. Surprisingly, however, it was not until 1916 that the various labour politicians, and trade union groups, actually united to form the New Zealand Labour Party. By 1919, the party had eight seats in the New Zealand Parliament.
    
But as early as 1911, there was correspondence in the Petone Chronicle in which at least one socialist writer advised socialists to write the word “Socialism” across their voting papers; and another who stated that nationalisation was not socialism. On October 21, 1912, “a number of Marxian students” met at Ranfurly Hall, Sydney Street, Petone, and formed the Petone Marxian Club. Optimistically, its first resolution passed that evening was: “That this club meet every Monday night at 8.00pm up to the day of the revolution.” At its fifth meeting, it was moved: “That this club adopt the object and principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.” The resolution was adopted without dissent. Although the Petone Marxian Club, in fact, had a limited existence (it held a total of 61 meetings), it did sow the seeds for further socialist organisation in New Zealand.
    
A few former members of the Petone Marxian Club carried on with socialist propaganda, but with the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 they encountered severe restrictions on their activity. Conscientious objectors, socialists and other opponents of the war were hounded. Communication with the Socialist parties of Canada and Great Britain was maintained with the greatest difficulty. And as the war progressed, so all socialist publications, including the Western Clarion and the Socialist Standard, were banned and suppressed. The bourgeois press was also subject to strict censorship. It was not until late in 1918 that any kind of socialist activity could get started again.
    
On December 28, 19l8, a conference of socialists was held at the Trades Hall, Christchurch, at which it was moved: “That a Socialist Party of New Zealand be formed.” An amendment was then put, and carried: “That a Marxian Association be formed.” Having formed the Association, it was agreed that it adopt the Object and Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. To obtain membership, the following pledge had to be signed: “I hereby undertake to render political support to none other than a Marxian Revolutionist, endorsed by the New Zealand Marxian Association, at all elections of candidates for public office in New Zealand.”
    
A number of those who helped found the NZMA were former members of the Socialist Party of Canada who, as opponents of the war, had fled that country. Others were mainly seamen and coalminers. Throughout 1919, the NZMA made considerable progress. Meetings were held in many towns, especially in mining centres. There were branches in Petone, Christchurch, Millerton, Huntly, Wellington, Auckland and a number of mining centres on the South Island. In 1919, the Marxian Association invited Moses Baritz, a member of the SPGB, to speak on its behalf. He caused quite a stir, and challenged the Labour Party leader to debate. From the time that he landed in New Zealand he was shadowed by the police. On January 28, 1920, Baritz was deported from the country. John McDonald, a member of the Socialist Party of Canada was also invited, in 1921, to New Zealand to speak, not by the Marxian Association, but by the Wellington branch of the newly-formed Communist Party of New Zealand. It was unlikely, however, that he knew that at the time. In Wellington, he spoke at a number of meetings. Later, he travelled to Auckland where the first controversy of his tour erupted. He was asked to speak from the platform of the local Labour Party, which he refused to do. “Jack” McDonald then moved to the West Coast, where he spoke at eleven meetings. Most were in coalmining areas. At all the meetings, McDonald advocated the ideas and object of the Socialist Party of Canada and the SPGB. This did not augur well for the Communist Party of New Zealand. By the middle of 1922, the New Zealand “Communists” were in disarray, and McDonald had left for San Francisco.
    
As elsewhere, the Bolshevik coup d’Etat had a profound effect on radicals in New Zealand. The so-called October Revolution, of which both socialists and non-socialists in New Zealand had almost no knowledge, due to press censorship and all suppression of news from Russia, generated confusion among many members of the NZMA. Sections of the organisation dropped out, and the Association became divided into “right” and “left” wings. The “leftwingers”, who were pro-Bolshevik, were dubbed “long livers”, presumably because of the way that they ended their speeches and manifestos; they demanded that the New Zealand Marxian Association affiliate to the Comintern, the Third (Comnunist) International. Although in a minority, they were supported by two executive committee members and the Association’s General Secretary, T. W. Feary. The emphatic refusal of the other members to accede to their demands was the culminating factor which caused the “long livers” to resign from the organisation. It also dealt a crippling blow to the socialist movement in New Zealand, and caused the demise of the NZMA in 1922.
    
The years 1921 to 1928 were a period of “prosperity” in New Zealand. There were jobs for the workers, and lucrative profits for the employers. From 1929 onwards, however, unemployment grew rapidly as the worldwide economic depression deepened. Throughout the years of “prosperity”, individual socialists continued to propagate their ideas. In 1930, they – together with a number of former members of the Petone Marxian Club and the New Zealand Marxian Association – formed the Socialist Party of New Zealand. Seamen members of the Socialist Party of Australia, working on New Zealand ships, played a large part in the formation of the SPNZ. The Socialist Party of New Zealand immediately adopted the Object and Declaration of Principles of the previous Marxist organisations and the SPGB.
    
Although progress was not as rapid as some had hoped, or expected, branches were organised in Auckland, Petone, Wellington and elsewhere. Outdoor speaking stations were acquired; and debates with the Communist Party and other organisations attracted good audiences. Despite tremendous difficulties, the SPNZ managed in January 1934 to produce a journal, the Socialist Review. But with worsening conditions, and increasing unemployment among its members, the Socialist Review ceased publication by June the same year. There was no money.
    
When the war broke out in 1939, the Socialist Party of New Zealand issued an anti-war statement, in which it declared:
“The Socialist Party of New Zealand declares that no interest is at stake in this conflict which justifies the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood; and it extends its fraternal greetings to workers of all countries and calls upon them to unite in the greater struggle, the struggle for the establishment of socialism, a system in which the ever-increasing poverty, misery, terror and bloodshed of capitalism shall be for ever banished from the earth.”
The SPNZ’s anti-war statement immediately attracted the attention of the Labour government’s security service. The Party was not banned, but the home of the General Secretary, Rolfe R. Everson, in Petone, was raided by the police and all his correspondence, literature and library of books were seized and taken away. The lodging house in which the overseas secretary, Peter Furey, was living was next raided by the police, although none of his literature was taken, as it was noted that although it was similar to that owned by the General Secretary, it was less in volume. Nevertheless, both Rolfe Everson and Peter Furey were warned by the government that “holding these (socialist) opinions was one thing, but expounding them could lead them to jail”. According to Everson, the raids were largely prompted by the statement in the Party’s anti-war manifesto: “that no interest is at stake which justifies the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood”. New Zealand’s Labour government thought otherwise. Everson’s literature and books were held by the police for many months and when they were finally returned, he was further warned “not to expound these (socialist) ideas from the public platform”. The members of the SPNZ were closely watched by the police, all of which created difficulties for propagating socialist ideas. The party continued to resist the war effort, and to propagate its ideas as best it could. Indeed, in 1943, it printed on “begged, borrowed and stolen” paper – which was strictly rationed – an election leaflet.
    
In December, 1944 the Socialist Party of Australia and the Socialist Party of New Zealand managed to produce a joint journal, Socialist Comment and Review, which was printed in Australia as the Australian government relaxed its ban on newsprint. “This was a joint effort, the SPA doing the lion’s share of the work,” according to the SPNZ. The thirty four issues were distributed in New Zealand.
    
During the great waterfront lockout and bitter strike of 1951 the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Union was imprisoned. Ron Everson (brother of Rolfe and also an active member of the SPNZ), a member of the strike committee, was elected acting general secretary. It was illegal to print anything in defence of the waterside workers, and Ron Everson’s house was raided by the police looking for the copier the union was using. Almost all members of the SPNZ were active members of their respective unions. Even opponents of the SPNZ in the unions recognised that they were “the real socialists”.
    
In 1953 a small number of SPGB members who had arrived in New Zealand from the UK, settled in Wellington where they helped build up the membership of the SPNZ through holding public meetings and other forms of activity. From 1971 to 1982 the SPNZ again published its own journal, Socialist Viewpoint, and in 1971 contested its first parliamentary election. In 1975 it put up seven candidates.
    
The SPNZ which, as in Australia, later added the word “World” to its name, continued the task of advocating socialism. In the 1996 general election it again put up a candidate. A series of reprints of socialist and Marxist classics was published by Charles Fackney as “Common Ownership” publications. Currently the WSPNZ has a twice-monthly half-hour radio programme; it also has its own headquarters at Weymouth Road, in Manurewa. More details of current activities can be found on the party’s website.
Peter E. Newell

On the waterfront in Australia (2004)

From the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
We continue our series on the spread of Socialist ideas in other parts of the world. This month, the development of the Socialist Party of Australia, later the World Socialist Party (Australia)

The first self-proclaimed Socialist Party of Australia was formed, in Melbourne, in 1906. Most of its founder-members were active trade unionists. The first editor of its weekly journal, The Socialist, was Tom Mann, who had previously been a member of the British Social Democratic Federation and, later, the Independent Labour Party, before moving to New Zealand and then Australia. By the autumn of that year, it claimed a membership of 1500, of whom almost all resided in the Melbourne area.
    
In the August 1906, issue of "The Socialist", Mann outlined the party’s object and policy under the title “The Socialist Party and Political Action”. The statement was both clear and, at times, vague. It claimed that socialists believed in the necessity of working for the speedy realisation of a “socialist regime”, yet did not define what it meant by a “socialist regime”. The Socialist Party stated that its object was to “secure economic freedom for the whole community”, and that “all women and men shall have equal opportunities of sharing in wealth production and consumption, untrammelled by any restriction it is possible for a state to remove”. The Socialist Party argued that it could not support opponents of socialism, and that within the ranks of labour it was no secret that there were “some who had no knowledge of socialist principles”.
    
The Party consistently advocated the “class war”, internationalism, because “the capitalist class dominates in all countries”, the “abolition of class society” and the “modern class state”. Moreover, the Socialist Party of Australia did not officially advocate palliatives or reforms, yet it critically supported Labor Party candidates at elections, if it considered them to be “class conscious”. In the words of Mann, “it becomes our duty to work for them, and do our honest best to secure their return”. Furthermore the Party, like most other parties claiming to be socialist at that time, considered religion to be “a purely private matter”.
    
The first Socialist Party of Australia’s main form of propaganda, besides its weekly paper The Socialist, was outdoor, street-corner meetings, and this is where they soon came up against the power of the state. Time after time the police closed down party meetings and arrested its speakers, both male and female, and time after time they were fined or – in many instances – refused to pay the fines and were jailed. Nevertheless the Socialist Party speakers continued to defy the law, and ultimately they won their free-speech battles. And, later, others addressed meetings, which largely became routine, in Sydney on the Domain, the city’s “Speakers’ Corner”. In 1910, Tom Mann left Australia. The party did not go from strength to strength, however, particularly after the beginning of the World War in 1914. It had always been ambivalent towards the Labor Party despite its so-called anti-reformism, and inevitably many of its members joined it, some becoming well-known in that organisation. By 1920, Australia’s first “socialist” party had faded away. The Russian Revolution and the formation of the Communist Party did not help either.
    
On January 22 1924, however a new and very different Socialist Party of Australia was formed. It is the story of a quite remarkable group of people. They included William “Bill” Casey, William “Bill” Clarke, Jacob Johnson, Barney Kelley, Marie Stanley, Stan Willis and, from Sweden, Charles Sundberg. Casey had been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, for whom he had composed songs which were sung worldwide. He was a seaman who, before emigrating to Australia, had been a member of the SPGB. He was also an active member of the Australian Seamen’s Union, as was Barney Kelley, also a former member of the SPGB. Jack Temple was a former member of the Socialist Party of Canada. Jacob Johnson was secretary of the Sydney branch of the Seamen’s Union, and a sympathiser of the SPGB. Bill Clarke, also a seaman, was Federal Secretary of the Australian Seamen’s Union, and editor of its official journal. At its foundation in 1924, the Socialist Party of Australia, unlike the previous SPA, immediately adopted the Object and Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and became a companion party of the SPGB.
    
Also unlike the previous Socialist Party, the new SPA was opposed to all other parties, including the Labor Party:
“The Australian Labor Party, appealing to the workers and to small shopkeepers, is a reformist organisation. In spite of using socialist phrases from time to time, to allay the impatience of the more militant sections of the Trade Unions, it makes its electoral appeal on the basis of the present system, and administers that system when it gets into power.”
And of the Communist Party, the SPA claimed that:
“It is a party of reform, seizing upon every possible grievance of the workers to get members. Its programme is a hotch-potch of immediate demands dressed in militant phrases. Its final aim is the establishment of state capitalism in Australia, similar to that existing in Russia.”

Furthermore, the Socialist Party of Australia, again unlike its predecessor, had a clear-cut policy on religion; it opposed it.
    
The SPA emphasised that socialism must be international and classless; that it cannot be imposed by a small minority on an unwilling population, and that it would entail the abolition of exploitation, the wages system and buying and selling. Moreover, claimed the Socialist Party of Australia, “You can’t have socialism without socialists.”
    
As with the previous Socialist Party, the SPA was, prior to the Second World War, particularly active in the Melbourne area. Writing in the World Socialist (No. 6, Winter 1986-7), Bill Clarke recalled:
“Over the years, the Melbourne Branch of the Socialist Party of Australia had been conducting open-air meetings on street corners in Elsternwick, Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Albert Park (we just about founded the Red Square there), Brunswick, Newport and Williamstown. On Sundays, we held meetings on the Yarra Bank, lectures in the city on Sunday evenings, classes on economics, industrial history and other kindred subjects, all based on teaching workers Marxist history and philosophy.”
The Sydney branch also held outdoor meetings, including on the Domain. In 1934 the Socialist Party of Australia decided to test the Parliamentary waters. It stood Bill Clarke as the Party’s candidate, in a by-election for Port Melbourne. He was opposed by the Labor Party and the United Australian (later Liberal) Party. The outcome was Labor, 27,081 votes; the United Australian Party, 12,173; and Clarke for the SPA, 3,872 votes. This was considered to be a magnificent achievement for the Socialist Party, although it must be admitted that many of the votes must have been for Bill Clarke personally, and not for socialism. Had the SPA chosen a lesser-known member, the result would surely have been different.
    
Throughout the 1920s and 1950s the Socialist Party of Australia debated with representatives of the Labor Party, most of the leaders of the Communist Party and many other political organisations. During the latter part of the 1930s and during the Second World War relations between the SPA and the Communist Party were particularly bitter. The SPA, like its companion Parties elsewhere, opposed the war. The Party was not banned, but it found it increasingly difficult to get its message to the Australian workers who, in the main, supported the war. The Socialist Party was – due partly to paper restrictions – unable to publish its official journal, Socialist Comment, until May 1943, although a highly controversial, high-profile and presumably affluent individual, Jim Dawson, joined the Party and published a considerable amount of socialist material through his Workers’ Literature Bureau. By the end of the war however he fell out with the Socialist Party. Shortly after, the SPA published an important and influential pamphlet detailing the Party’s case entitled Socialism or Chaos.
    
The SPA enjoyed something of a resurgence in the 1980s when it revived publishing Socialist Comment. However, in 1962 the Communist Party of Australia had split into two factions over the Sino-Soviet split, one (the pro-Moscow wing) taking the name “Socialist Party of Australia”. The Australian Party therefore decided to change its name to “World Socialist Party of Australia”. The situation is further confused by the fact that, with the demise of the pro-Moscow “Communists”, the name “Socialist Party of Australia” was picked up by a Trotskyist group. So anyone seeing a pamphlet published by the Socialist Party of Australia should be careful to check what they might be buying, since over the last hundred years at least four different parties, with quite different policies, have used this name.
    
At the moment there are only individual socialists active in different parts of Australia.
Peter E. Newell

Monday, December 30, 2013

Marxian education in the United States (2004)

From the July 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We continue our series on the spread of socialist ideas in other parts of the world.
A “Socialist Party of America” was first formed in 1901 following a split with Daniel De Leon’s Socialist Labor Party. It did not have as its objective – its sole objective – the establishment of socialism but instead was basically a left-wing, social democratic, reformist party with, in the early years of the last century, hundreds of thousands of members and supporters. The First World War profoundly shocked the SPA, with at least some of its members questioning its policies, tactics and objectives. In particular, as early as 1915, the SPA, particularly in Michigan – the centre of the American auto industry – came under the influence of anti-war Marxist elements.

In 1915 SPGB member Moses Baritz moved to Detroit where he soon began to hold lectures and meetings in Duffield Hall. Many who attended were members of the Socialist Party of America, while others were members of the Socialist Party of Canada who had settled in Detroit, partly to get jobs in the auto industry, but also to escape any possible army draft back home. A Marxist “Study Circle” was formed.

By 1916, Baritz had moved on, but before he left Adolph Kohn – another member of the SPGB – came to Detroit. Members of the “Study Circle” began to argue that a new, anti-reformist party separate from the SPA should be organised. Others, such as leading left-wing members of the SPA in Detroit like John Keracher and Dennis Batt, were at first sympathetic, but they felt that Marxists should remain in the SPA for the time being, and swing it towards socialism. The formation of a new socialist party was premature, they claimed.

However, at the urging of Adolph Kohn and Wilfred Gribble, a small group decided to organise separately. At a meeting in Detroit on July 7 1916, the Socialist Party of the United States was launched. At the meeting, 19 members of the Detroit local of the SPA resigned from that party. The SPUS was unable to make contact with other like-minded groups elsewhere in America and, at its formation, had only 43 members. Nevertheless, it decided to continue. Lawrence Beardsley wrote its anti-war manifesto, Gribble became the organiser and Bill Davenport was elected general secretary. The Socialist Party of the United States adopted the Object and Declaration of Principles of the SPGB.

At the end of August, the SPUS sent its manifesto to the author, Jack London, and on September 21, just eight weeks before he died, he replied to the party:
“Please read my resignation from the Socialist Party,  and find that I resigned for the same reasons that impel you to form this new party . . . I congratulate you and wish you well on your adventure. I am not bitter. I am only sad that within itself the proletariat seems to perpetuate the seeds of its proletariat.”
Probably the most enthusiastic recruit to the new party was a former member of the Socialist Party of America, Isaac Rabinowich (or Comrade Rab as he was affectionately called), whose mother and father were revolutionary socialists in Russia before he was born in 1893. In 1921, “Rab” moved from Detroit to Boston.

For a while, Marxist and socialist influences were strong in Michigan. The group around John Keracher founded a journal, The Proletarian (later, Proletarian News), in August 1918, which in fact adopted the object and principles of the SPGB. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party of the United States was informed by the SPA that it had copyrighted the name “Socialist Party” and that the SPUS could not use it. The SPUS, therefore, renamed itself the Workers’ Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS). The Keracher group, which had become pro-Bolshevik, was expelled from the SPA in May, 1919. Together with a number of other former SPA factions, it assisted in forming the Communist Party. But within a year, Keracher’s Michigan group was expelled from the Communist Party charged with “Menshevism”, as they did not believe that a socialist revolution was imminent in the United States. And whilst they continued to support Bolshevism, they also denied that socialism had been established in Russia. Six months later, they formed the Proletarian Party, which did not advocate reforms. John Keracher was the author of a number of easy-to-read basic pamphlets mainly on Marxian economics, but also How the Gods were Made, which has recently been republished by the SPGB. The Proletarian Party finally disappeared in 1971. The Workers’ Socialist Party felt that it was unfortunate that it was not able to save “these otherwise valuable socialists” from their “infatuation” with Bolshevism. Unfortunately, Marxist and socialist influences declined in Michigan after about 1925.

New York had always been a hot-bed of radicalism; and, during the first three decades of the last century, the Socialist Party of America had thousands of supporters in the city. The SPC and the SPGB were also well-known there. Moses Baritz had addressed large crowds on Coney Island. During the First World War, members of both the SPC and the SPGB arrived in New York, and on January 25 1921, they founded the Socialist Educational Society. During the 1920s, their activities resulted in them becoming an increasingly influential local of the Workers’ Socialist Party. They republished the SPGB’s pamphlet, Socialism and Religion and in 1929 the New York local of the WSPUS began to publish the party’s first official journal, The Socialist.

Almost alone, after moving from Detroit to Boston, “Rab” worked tirelessly for socialism in that city. It was not wasted effort. Indeed:
“During the Depression years the membership grew until it became the largest and most active group within the WSP. In fact, outside of the Communist Party, Boston Local of the WSP was without doubt the most active and widely-known organisation professing to Marxism in New England” (W. Jerome, Western Socialist, No. 4, 1966)
During the 1930s, the Boston Local held outdoor and indoor meetings, debates and economics classes six days or evenings a week. The WSP, however, made little headway elsewhere in the United States, although locals were founded in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 1947 the Workers’ Socialist Party changed its name to World Socialist Party because it was being confused with the Socialist Workers’ Party, a Trotskyist organisation. The change also emphasised the WSP’s internationalism and world outlook. In 1939 the Western Socialist had been moved from Canada to Boston, and, subtitled “The Journal of Scientific Socialism in the Western Hemisphere”, for the next forty years was the joint publication of the SPC and the WSPUS.

At the beginning of the 1950s, the World Socialist Party of the United States entered a period of decline, partly due to a lengthy post-war period of relative prosperity for the working class in America, and partly due to the “anti-red” hysteria of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Of the situation, Jerome comments:
“Dissenters who voiced social criticism were suspected of indirectly assisting the enemy, that is, they were all but guilty of treason. Threats of social ostracism, loss of jobs and government persecution silenced most critics who had any large audience.”
Internal controversies broke out in the WSP, and a number of members resigned from the party. In 1950 the headquarters was transferred from Boston to Detroit, where it remained for some years before returning to Boston. The World Socialist Party of the United States had a difficult task of attempting to pick up the pieces. Nevertheless, it continued the work of propagating socialism in a hostile environment and, thanks to the coming of the internet, is enjoying something of a revival. Its journal is now called World Socialist Review which can be found, with other material, on its website.
Peter E. Newell


The Poverty of Popper (1995)

From the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bryan Magee's biography of Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, described him as "the most formidable living critic of Marxism". He died last year but his reputation lingers on. He was born in Vienna and after the First World War became friendly with a group of philosophers known as the Vienna Circle. This school founded Logical Positivism, based on the principle that all meaningful statements must be verifiable, but Popper disagreed and went on to formulate his own demarcation between science and non-science. He argued that the test of a scientific theory is not whether it can be verified, since no amount of observations can confirm it, but that it is open to being falsified by experience; a theory is scientific if it fits the facts and is capable of being proved wrong. In The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) Popper claimed that Marxism is not a scientific theory since it cannot be falsified, or else when it was falsified its supporters shifted their ground to protect their theory.

Popper was a Cold War warrior. His attack on Marxism was based in the experience of the Communist Party, here and in Russia. Popper concluded that the totalitarian nature of the Communist Party in action in Russia showed that Marx's theories were totalitarian, rather than the more plausible conclusion that the Communist Party's claim to be Marxist is false. The Socialist Party has not shifted its ground and we invite inspection of our record to see the validity of Marxism. For instance, the Socialist Party claimed after the Second World War that the post-war boom couldn't be sustained, that Keynesian economics wouldn't prevent a slump and that capitalism would seek a way out of a slump by attacking the working class. At the time such a prediction could be seen as being very risky (risk was something Popper thought very important to science) but has been more than borne out by experience.

The other leg of Popper's criticism of Marxism stood on a mis-quotation in his book The Poverty of Historicism (1957). Popper attacked the notion that there are laws of human development, and that these laws enable us to predict the future course of human history, and he quoted from Marx's Capital, where the aim is "to lay bare the economic law of motion of human society". Marx, however, actually wrote that his aim was to lay bare the economic laws of motion of "modern society" - capitalism. The economic law of capitalism, Marx's law of value, is in fact quite specific to capitalism and it enables the Socialist Party to make the kind of predictions indicated above. Marx's theory of social development, the materialist conception of history, is a method for interpreting history with a view to taking informed political action  by the working class. It does not claim to predict the future course of human history: it is a guide to the present.

Whatever may have been his merits as a philosopher of science, it is clear that his grasp of Marxism was extremely poor, though par for the course in academic circles. May his criticisms of Marxism rest in peace.
Lew 




Impossibilism in Canada (Part 2) (2004)

From the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The second, and concluding, article on socialist ideas and organisation in Canada. Next month we move on to the United States
On August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany. The Great War had begun. Two days later, the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Canada issued its Manifesto to the Workers of Canada. It stated that, in the modern world, wars have their origin in the disputes of the international capitalist class “for markets in which to dispose of the stolen products of labour”, and that the anticipated struggle would be of no real interest to the international working class. The Manifesto ended with Marx’s words: “Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains: You have a World to gain”. Many of the Party’s members suffered repression for their opposition to the war in general and conscription in particular. The only war that the Socialist Party of Canada supported was the class war.

The war caused considerable problems for the SPC. The repression did not destroy the Party, but it seriously weakened it. The so-called October Revolution, the Bolshevik coup d'état did not help either. As elsewhere, the workers in Canada did not really know what was happening in Russia. Officially, the SPC, and most of its propagandists, were aware that  a socialist revolution had not occurred in Russia, and that such a revolution was not possible. However, a quite considerable number of its (largely younger) members enthused over and, at least for a time, supported Bolshevism. Ultimately, some of them joined the Communist Party. Other members of the SPC were in favour of the party affiliating to the Communist International, the Comintern; but, as with the Second International previously, the Socialist Party of Canada refused to join. Furthermore, the party’s journal, the Western Clarion, was banned by the government in November 1918. The ban was not lifted until January, 1920. By this time, many members of the SPC were scattered all over Canada, as well as the United States and Australasia. Even travelling orator Charlie Lestor returned to England for a while.

The General Strike in Winnipeg, in May 1919, also had a traumatic effect on the Socialist Party of Canada. The strike began with the building and metal trades’ employers refusing to negotiate with the workers. By May 15, more than 25,000 men and women were on strike. Within a few days, thousands of workers throughout western Canada came out in sympathy The SPC as such was not responsible for the strike, although it supported the workers, and many of its members were actively involved and five of the eight jailed members of the strike committee – George Armstrong, Richard Bray, Richard Johns, Bill Pritchard and Robert Russell – were also members of the Socialist Party. Many members of the SPC, including Armstrong, Johns and Pritchard, were instrumental in forming, the same year, the anti-craft union,  One Big Union.

Nevertheless, as Jim Milne wrote in his unpublished History of the Socialist Party of Canada, “the Party had taken a battering”. Indeed, by 1922, its many enemies had largely destroyed the SPC. With the beginning of the postwar slump and the emergence of mass unemployment, most Canadian workers looked to reformist parties for their “salvation”. The Western Clarion ceased publication in July 1925. And the same year, the SPC also ceased to exist as a properly-organised political party. It seemed to be the end of the road for the socialist movement in Canada. But not quite.

A number of groups of former members of the old Socialist Party continued to meet; a “Proletarian Club” came into being in Vancouver, and a “Science Study Club” in Winnipeg. And in June, 1931 a number of former members of the SPC, including George Armstrong, and Alex Sheppard who had been living in Chicago, came together in Winnipeg and formed, or re-formed depending on various viewpoints, the Socialist Party of Canada. After some discussion, they decided to adopt the object and declaration of principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, rather than the old Platform as they felt that it was a better statement. The Party soon rented a hall, and started holding public meetings.

In Vancouver, in 1932, the Independent Labor Party, a reformist organisation, decided to change its name to the Socialist Party of Canada, despite the fact that it was aware of the existence of the genuine Socialist Party of Canada, based in Winnipeg. Because of its name, some ex-members of the original SPC decided to join the bogus Socialist party, as “entrist” revolutionaries. After a while the revolutionary group persuaded a majority of the Vancouver local of the spurious SPC to secede and become the Vancouver local of the Winnipeg-based Socialist Party of Canada. They even managed to take over the hall and furniture of the bogus SPC which, some time later, founded the British Columbia section of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and, much later, the New Democratic Party of Canada.

In October, 1933 the Socialist Party of Canada began publishing its official journal, the Western Socialist. Throughout the 1930s, the SPC came into conflict with the Communist Party, many of whose members attempted to attack and break up Socialist Party meetings, and it clarified its analysis of the Soviet Union as being not socialist or communist, but a dictatorial form of state capitalism.

In September 1939 war again broke out in Europe. As with the SPC in the first world war, the Socialist Party of Canada opposed the second. On September 3 1939, the day that Britain declared war on Germany, the Dominion Executive Committee published its manifesto “on the war”, in which it quoted clauses one, two, three and six of its principles, and then stated, as in 1914, that:
“The Socialist Party of Canada further declares that no interest is at stake in this conflict which justifies the shedding of a single drop of working class blood, and it extends its fraternal greetings to the workers of all countries and calls upon them to unite in the greater struggle for the establishment of socialism, a system of society in which the ever-increasing poverty, misery, terror and bloodshed of capitalism shall be forever banished from the earth.”
As the SPC heard rumours that the Canadian government intended to suppress the Western Socialist, it decided to move the journal to Boston in the United States, where it continued to be published throughout the war, In June, 1941, however, the Canadian government’s press censors banned the Western Socialist from the country because of anti-war statements in a number of articles.

Writing around 1969 in his History of the Socialist Party of Canada, Milne concluded:
“The party has carried on with the message of socialism through the years, exploring all avenues in spreading its views. Meetings indoors and outdoors have been held. Radio talks have been arranged. On rare occasions it has managed to be on television. It has contested elections, funds permitting, in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria. It has steadily circulated the Socialist Standard and Western Socialist and published, including a sixth edition of the Manifesto of the SPC, the name changed to The Socialist Manifesto. It has also published many leaflets, a series of these during 1957 and 1959 being produced in hundreds of thousands . . . In recent years the head office was moved from Winnipeg to Victoria.”
Since then the Socialist Party of Canada has had its ups and downs, including the formation in the 1960s of a short-lived, breakaway World Socialist Party of Canada. Between 1968 and 1984 the SPC again published its own journal, Fulcrum, and in 1973 began the publication of a journal in French, Socialisme Mondial, 13 issues of which were produced in Montréal until 1980 when publication was transferred to Europe. The SPC’s current journal is Imagine (viewable on line)
Peter E. Newell


Impossibilism in Canada (2004)

From the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month we begin a series of articles on socialist ideas and organisation in other parts of the English-speaking world
The first political party in Canada claiming to be socialist was the Socialist Labor Party, an offshoot of the Socialist Labor Party of America. The Canadian SLP was formed in 1896 and was thoroughly reformist, as was a breakaway United Socialist Labor Party of British Columbia, founded in 1899. During 1898, former members of the SLP, together with supporters of  John Ruskin’s “Christian Socialists” and a number of Canadian Fabians, founded the Canadian Socialist League. It soon made rapid progress; but it was a loose federation of locals (branches) and, like the SLP, was a reformist organisation.

In the summer of 1901, members of the Canadian Socialist League, together with some former SLPers, founded the Socialist Party of British Columbia. Its Platform contained a long list of reforms and palliatives. In 1902, a Socialist Party of Manitoba was formed; and in 1905, a Socialist Party of Ontario too. Both advocated reforms, as did a Socialist Party of the Yukon founded some time later.

Early in 1902 (it may even have been late in 1901), members of the Socialist Party of British Columbia, mainly from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, who objected to the SPBC’s reform platform, resigned and, shortly after, formed the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada. Its members included Eugene T. Kingsley (a former member of the Socialist Labor Party of America who had fallen out with Daniel De Leon), Parker Williams, and James Pritchard (a former member of the British Social Democratic Federation who had, at one time, worked in the Ermen and Engels textile mill). The Revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada was different from all the other aforementioned parties: its sole object was the abolition of capitalism and the wages system - and no immediate demands or reforms. On December 1, 1902, a writ for a by-election was issued for North Nanaimo. Parker Williams contested on behalf of the RSP on an anti-reformist platform, He received 155 votes against 263 for the Conservative candidate. Some old-time Canadian socialists have claimed that Parker Williams was the world’s first revolutionary socialist parliamentary candidate, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada the world’s first genuine anti-reformist, “Impossibilist” political party. It probably had about 60 members.


The Vancouver local of the SPC, circa 1913

During the latter part of 1902, members of the SPBC and the RSP came together to discuss the re-merger of the two parties, a new constitution, the scrapping of the SPBC’s reformist policy, and the adoption of a new, anti-reformist Platform. A convention of the new united Socialist Party of British Columbia, held on September 8, 1903, confirmed this action in a resolution, carried unanimously, that the party “absolutely opposed” the introduction of palliatives or immediate demands, and stood “firmly upon the one issue of the abolition of the present system of wage slavery for all political organisation”. A new Platform was drawn up which stated that labour produces all wealth; that the capitalists own the means of production, and are the masters; that as long as the capitalists remain in possession of the reins of government, the state will be used to defend their property; that the interest of the working class lies in freeing itself from capitalist exploitation by the abolition of the wages system, and that there is an irrepressible conflict, a class struggle, between the capitalist and the worker. The Socialist Party of British Columbia, therefore, called upon all workers to organise under its banner “with the object of conquering the public powers for the purpose of setting up and enforcing the economic program of the working class”. The SPBC called upon the workers to establish “as speedily as possible production for use instead of profit”. The Western Clarion of October 8, 1903, claimed that the SPBC “stands upon the clearest and most uncompromising platform in the world”. This was more than six months before the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Between the beginning of 1903 and the latter part of 1904, there was considerable pressure, mainly by the socialist parties of central and eastern Canada, to form an all-Dominion Socialist Party. The Socialist Party of British Columbia was less enthusiastic, however, as it had increased in size and influence; it also had three of its members elected to the British Columbia Legislature. Nevertheless, at the beginning of 1905 all the various parties united into one Socialist Party of Canada and, despite the obvious reformism of at least two of them, the new party accepted the anti-reformist Platform of the former Socialist Party of British Columbia. But the SPC had created problems for itself.

For more than a decade, the problem of reform versus revolution bedevilled the Socialist Party of Canada. The party was a revolutionary, “Impossibilist”, organisation, yet had many social democratic reformers within its ranks. Over the years, however, the majority of them either resigned or were expelled from the SPC. The Socialist Party of Canada’s official view on unions appeared to be monolithic, but in fact it contained a fairly broad range of views. The official SPC policy was that unions were products of capitalism, struggling against its inevitable effects. Some members were particularly critical of the American-controlled craft unions which dominated the labour movement at the beginning of the last century. Nevertheless, almost all members of the SPC were also members of unions and some became prominent union leaders.

Most immigrants to Canada came from Europe but as early as 1880 there were Asian workers in Canada, mainly in British Columbia and the west of the country. Hostility towards them occurred almost immediately, and there were riots against them for two decades. Many trade unionists objected to Asian workers, as they generally were prepared to accept lower wages than European workers. Reactions by members of the Socialist Party were mixed. The reformers and social democrats tended to be anti-Asian and racist; the revolutionaries, the “Impossibilists”, were generally anti-racist and argued that all workers, from Europe and Asia, were “all slaves together”. In April 1911 the Socialist Standard publicly dissociated itself from the anti-Asian stand taken by some SPC members:
“The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not identical with the Socialist Party of Canada. We are not sufficiently informed to be in a position to discuss in detail the action of their members on local Governing bodies, but remembering that the interests of the workers are the same the world over, we do not hesitate to condemn such actions as the advocacy, by members of the Socialist Party of Canada, of the exclusion of our Asiatic fellow-workers from British Columbia”.
As the reformists either resigned, or were expelled, from the SPC, the party was then able to declare unequivocally that it looked upon all workers equally, irrespective of their origins.

Some members of the Socialist Party of Canada, particularly former supporters of East and Central European social democratic parties, proposed that the SPC affiliate to the “International Socialist Bureau”, that is the Second International. The SPC, however, refused to affiliate, stating that the ISB admitted to membership non-socialist bodies such as the British Labour Party. The SPC never joined the Second International, which collapsed at the beginning of the war in 1914.

Socialists in Canada soon found themselves persecuted by the state. As early as 1903 the police prevented members of the Socialist Party of Manitoba from holding meetings in Winnipeg. In 1908, in Toronto, the police used clubs “in brutal Russian Cossack style”, to break up Socialist Party meetings. The party declared its “determination to fight for the right of free speech on the Toronto streets”. Meetings in Vancouver were broken up by the police. SPC and IWW speakers were arrested for refusing to move and a number were jailed for refusing to pay fines. The Salvation Army, however, was not subject to such harassment.

By 1911, the Socialist Party of Canada had rid itself of many social democrats and reformists, but a number of members in Toronto, influenced by a member of the SPGB living in the city at the time, Moses Baritz, did not consider that the SPC had moved away from reformism, in that part of Canada, fast enough. The entire Toronto local, therefore, resigned from the SPC and formed the Socialist Party of North America, which adopted the object and declaration of principles of the SPGB. The SPNA, however, did not grow and it dissolved after a few years with its members, or at least some of them, rejoining the Socialist Party of Canada, feeling that their original differences with the party did not justify a separate socialist party in Canada. In 1915  the SPC officially adopted the SPGB’s Socialism and Religion pamphlet as its own policy on religion.

(Next month: developments in Canada after the War broke out in 1914)
Peter E. Newell

Between the lines: Neil Kinnock and Tomorrow's 'Socialism' (1994)

The Between The Lines Column from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tomorrow's world
BBC2 has given former Labour leader Neil Kinnock an opportunity to expound his views on socialism in a two-part series shown on February 5th and 12th.

In Tomorrow's Socialism—jointly written by Kinnock and political commentator Peter Kellner—an attempt was made to assess the relative success and failures of allegedly socialist movements both in Britain and abroad. This was on the basis that the key tp understanding the problems of today partly lies in an intelligent understanding of the past.

To this end Kinnock began with the undoubtedly correct statement that the very idea that socialism has had its day is strongly associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The failure of the Soviet system was amply illustrated by a visit to a Russian city still suffering the effects of state capitalism. It was cast permanently under a cloud of thick black smoke belched out by factories producing low-quality goods for wage-slaves who could afford little better. Conditions were grim indeed, and Kinnock concluded that the "Soviet" system had been a disaster whose totalitarianism and notorious inefficiency had sullied the name of socialism.

Hard labour
After rightly dismissing the USSR as a viable model of socialism, Kinnock then turned his attention to the reformist parties of the Western industrial nations such as the British Labour Party and the German SPD. Kinnock claimed that their record in power was much more successful. The statist interventionism was based on a certain pragmatism rather than on "ideology" and they had, by working "in partnership" with the market, contributed to the overall well-being of the working class in a way that the Leninists had only dreamed of.

What Kinnock didn't address was why, if these parties had run affairs to the general benefit of the working class, as he claimed, did they lose so many elections? Are the workers simply ungrateful swine? Or is it the case, perhaps, that workers' memories are rather better than Kinnock's?

Kinnock maintained that his own "life chances" had been drastically enhanced by the actions of past Labour governments. What he didn't mention was that he spent most of his formative years under the Conservatives, or more importantly, why the "life chance" he spoke of, such as a university education, grew apace during the entire post-war era across the industrialized countries, whether they had a Labour government or not, due to the particular requirements of developed capitalism for a more skilled workforce. Neither did he explain how the "life chances" of the working class were enhanced by Labour's development of the British atom bomb, or its support for the Korean and Vietnam wars.

While Kinnock claimed success for Labour in the past, he realizes changes are now necessary. Convincingly Kinnock explained why much of Labour's earlier economic programme, based on state planning and nationalization, is now obsolete. He argued that the inter-connectedness of world production and the growth of multi-national corporations had rendered Clause IV of the Labour constitution meaningless. What was needed was a new direction to meet today's changed situation.

Back to the future
Kinnock labelled his recipe for socialist renewal "ethical socialism". In attempting to define what he meant by this term he mouthed some platitudes about the market and "sound responsibility" and listed a series of re-hashed policy proposals on "earmarked taxation" and of "worker directors" that even Bill Clinton or David Owen could feel comfortable with.

The abiding impression given by this tame stuff was that if this is the future for socialism, then its future is as black as the clouds over Russian factories. While Kinnock seems to have well understood why yesterday's capitalism became today's capitalism, and how the Left became isolated and confused as the world changed around it, his vision of "Tomorrow's Socialism" amounts to little more than capitalism with a human face, giving an impression of fairness where none really exists. In truth, Kinnock's vision is little different from sad John Major's dream of warm beer and village cricket on a Sunday afternoon. It is capitalism without its rough edges, capitalism without crime and unemployment, war and famine, a rose-tinted and soft-focus view of a society that breeds social discontent like its going out of fashion. Not Tomorrow's Socialism at all, in fact, but a politician's dream of today's dreary old capitalism where the life chances of the many are, as always, subordinated to the privileges of the few.
DAP


Paul Foot and the vote (2005)

The Greasy Pole Column from the September 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paul Foot who died last year was always a readable journalist. He was also a member of the Trotskyist SWP. When he died he was working on a book about the vote, a curious subject, it might be thought, for the political testament of a member of an organisation which favours armed insurrection and mass strikes rather than the vote as the way to gain control of political power. Called The Vote, How it was Won and How it was undermined, it is basically about the tension between Democracy (as universal suffrage) and Property (as accumulated wealth).

During the English civil war a famous debate, presided over by Cromwell, took place in the church at Putney, in London, where the issue was thrashed out amongst representatives of all ranks in the parliamentary army, of the ordinary soldiers as well as of the officers and the high command. Soldiers who were Levellers argued that the vote should be given to every man (or at least to every man who was not a servant or on the Poor Law; there was some ambiguity on this point). They were opposed by Commissary-General Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law, who argued that only those who had a real stake in the country by virtue of being owners of land should have the right to vote, i.e. to decide what laws were made, what taxes were levied, etc. It fell to an officer with the appropriate name of Colonel Rich to spell out what might happen if men with little or no property were given the vote:
“It may happen, that the majority may by law, not in confusion, destroy property; there may be a law enacted, that there shall be equality of goods and estate”.
This remained the standard argument against democracy until the end of the 19th century. Both Gladstone and Disraeli were declared opponents of democracy, and in fact in Europe democracy was seen, by both its opponents and supporters as a revolutionary demand. Marx himself hoped that, with the universal male suffrage that the Chartists demanded, what Colonel Rich had feared would come about. “Universal suffrage is the equivalent of political power for the working class of England”, he wrote in August 1852 in an article in the New York Tribune quoted by Foot. “Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class”.

After the Second and Third Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884, the majority of electors in Britain came from the working class, even though only about 30 percent of the adult population had the vote (no women and only 60 percent of men). This remained the situation until after the first world war, when the vote was extended to men over 21 and women over 30. Universal suffrage did not come until 1928 when the vote was given to women too at 21.

The extension of the vote did partially realise Colonel Rich’s fear and Karl Marx’s hope in that it did lead to the formation and rise of the Labour Party as a “working class party” with as one of its aims a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the working class. But this didn’t happen. The second part of Foot’s book is devoted to explaining why Democracy did not lead to any significant inroads into the rights of Property, in other words, why Labour failed.

One thing he had neglected in his account of “how the vote was won” was the extent to which an extension of the vote increasingly became a necessity as capitalism developed and as the administrative work of the capitalist state, at local as well as national level, grew and became more complex. It was clear that some, in fact most, of this work would have to be done by persons who were neither aristocrats nor capitalists. The working class had to be got involved in the administration of capitalism. To do this they had to be brought “within the constitution” by being given full citizenship rights, as represented by having the vote. The more far-seeing of the supporters of capitalism realised this; some actively campaigned for it even in Chartist times. The bourgeois-democratic republic (or constitutional monarchy) is in fact the ideal political form for the rule of the capitalist class.

However, just because universal suffrage and formal democratic control of the machinery of government was in the overall interest of the capitalist class as a whole didn’t mean that this was going to come about automatically. As Foot points out, it had to be struggled for. Both the First Reform Act of 1832 (which extended the franchise to the “middle class”) and the Second Reform Act (which extended it to most urban workers) were accompanied by riots and demonstrations by workers that persuaded the House of Lords not to use its veto. In between, as Foot recounts, the Chartists demonstrated and rioted and even stage some armed uprisings to try to achieve universal male suffrage, unsuccessfully as it turned out, but with the aim of transferring political power to the working class.

When it comes to the second part of the book (“how the vote was undermined”), Foot seems to be suggesting that Labour failed because its leaders, when in government, weren’t determined enough in their use of parliament to bring about, in the words of the Labour Party’s manifesto for the 1974 general election manifesto, “a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power in favour of working people and their families” (yes, believe it or not, that what’s they actually were promising as recently as that). This, despite the fact that his own descriptions of what happened to the various Labour governments - “bankers’ ramp” in 1931, “sterling crises” in 1947 and 1949, “gnomes of Zurich” for Wilson in the 1960s, and “IMF conditions” for Callaghan in the 1970s - bring out the fact that capitalism is a world system and that no government of one country, however determined, can isolate the economy from the workings and pressures of the world market.

It might be thought that Foot as a Trotskyist (he was in the SWP) would have realised that “socialism in one country” is impossible. But, although Trotsky did proclaim this, it didn’t mean that he thought nothing could be done in one country; if a vanguard was ruthless and determined enough it could, he argued, establish a “Workers State”, based on nationalisation and planning, i.e. that “state capitalism in one country” was possible.

It is what had happened in Russia and Foot gives the impression that the Labour Party could have done the same in Britain if only its leaders had been prepared to stand up to the gnomes of Zurich and other international capitalists. Actually, as a Trotskyist, Foot doesn’t believe this, as it is the Trotskyist view that the sort of full-scale state capitalism that Foot thinks the Labour Party should have bold enough to have pressed on towards can only be established after a successful armed insurrection led by a Trotskyist vanguard (“There is no parliamentary road”, says “What the SWP Stands For”). It is thus rather odd that Foot should have chosen to write a book about The Vote at all since for him the vote is only of relatively minor significance, serving merely as a potential means of access to a tribunal from which to spread Trotskyist views (“At most parliamentary activity can be used to make propaganda against the present system”).

This is quite a different perspective to that of the more clear-sighted Chartists - and Marx who was influenced by them - that universal suffrage, once achieved, could be used as a means of winning control of political power so that, in the words of Colonel Rich in 1647, “the majority may by law, not in confusion, destroy property”.
Adam Buick

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Democratic Idea (1966)

From the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Thirties was a period of intense and turbulent political controversy. As the world edged its way towards war, controversy grew fiercer and more violent. At no time since the French Revolution had political theory been so widely used to explain world events. Economic rivalries and nationalist pretensions were increasingly overlooked as Communist, Fascist or Democratic became terms of praise or abuse, according to which side one was on. As each milestone — Abyssinia, Spain, Munich — was passed, the issues seemed to crystallise into the simple proposition — Democracy versus Dictatorship.

The previous decade had seen the rise of Fascism. Fascist theorists extolled the virtues of dictatorship and derided democracy, while clever propagandists poured out these ideas in a never-ending stream, over the new medium — radio. Democracy was blamed for the miseries of the depression, and for the bitterness that was felt, understandably enough, by the veterans of the last world war. Democracy, they claimed, was decadent and the cause of once great nations falling into decay. Fascism was to be the cleansing fire that would consume the dross, and herald a great new age. Dictatorship became synonymous with Fascism, and democracy with Anti-Fascism.

This brought in some strange recruits to the cause of freedom. Heading the motley crew were the Communist Party, previously noted for their slavish devotion to that highly autocratic state Russia. When at last the storm broke it was "Democracy" and not "King and Country" for which the workers were urged to fight.

This leads to the question, What is democracy? What are its origins? How long has it existed?

Political theorists have divided democracy into three types, and like most classifications these are useful as a basis for discussion. The divisions are Direct Democracy, Representative Democracy and Constitutional or Liberal Democracy. The first, Direct Democracy, is as the name implies, one in which the right to make political decisions is exercised by the entire body of citizens by the majority vote.

The second, Representative Democracy, sometimes referred to as the "Convention System of Government," is the one in which citizens exercise their rights not in person but through representatives. These are chosen by the people and are directly responsible to them.

The third, Constitutional Democracy, is by far the most important, as this is the only one in operation on a large scale and is what most people think of as democracy. It is a form of government where there is universal suffrage, but where the powers of the majority are exercised through an existing constitutional framework — Parliamentary or Presidential. In this system restraints are designed to guarantee minority rights such as freedom of speech or of assembly, of religion or the press, but where the government once elected is not easily removed.

There has in the post-war world arisen a fourth and rather twisted version — the People's Democracy. It has been claimed, quite reasonably, that the economic inequalities that are inseparable from Capitalism make a mockery of democracy in practice, whatever may be claimed in theory. Developing from this idea, the theory was advanced that only economic equality would bring real democracy. When at the end of the last war the victors split and a new line-up appeared, both sides had to claim democracy. Russia and China, both harsh and quite open dictatorships, used the above theory to claim that countries whose inhabitants have neither political freedom nor economic equality were democracies. The term Democratic Republic has become a bad joke. Such a perversion need not detain us overlong.

Direct Democracy is believed by modern anthropologists to have been common practice in primitive societies, and to go back to prehistoric times. When, however, these societies developed into larger and complex states this tended to be replaced by more authoritarian government. Western political tradition, with its background in the Classics, looked back to the Greek City States as the origin of Democracy. In the fifth century B.C. many Greek City States practised Direct Democracy, with all their citizens taking a direct part in the affairs of the city. The term citizens did not, however, include women or slaves. This must be seen rather as a survival from the past, than the beginnings of the modern world.

The Greeks did not develop any form of representative democracy, which alone could have ensured their survival as a large, centrally organised state. Direct democracy obviously was impossible, with limited communications. By the fourth century B.C. this City democracy had declined and with the coming of Macedonian and later Roman domination all trace of democracy disappeared. Plato and Aristotle defined democracy as one of the systems of government, but did not think very much of it.

Direct democracy was to appeal again in the early days of America, particularly with the New England Town Meetings. In these, all citizens owning property attended in person and voted.

Representative democracy has never been established on any large scale, but proposals based on the theory of direct representation have formed the basis of many movements for Constitutional reform. As a result of this, modifications to existing constitutions in line with these theories have often taken place. Most Parliamentary or Presidential countries have bits of the theory worked into their constitutions. Switzerland is a notable example. One of the most famous of these movements was the Progressivist Movement in America. Two of the electoral reforms this movement helped to establish were the Direct Primary

Election used in some States, which takes away the nomination of party candidates from conventions and gives it to the voters, in a special election held in advance of the main election. There is also the Direct election of Senators. Prior to this, Senators had been chosen by State legislatures. Referendums and plebiscites are other methods by which the electorate vote direct on a particular issue.

There are countries, particularly in Latin America, with semi-dictatorships, which have elaborate constitutions based on Direct Representation. If these were observed the states concerned would be Representative Democracies, but they are largely a dead letter.

So a history of Democracy is largely a history of the Constitutional variety and the first thing to note is that it is modern. Furthermore, it is dependent on a literate population. Throughout history, throughout the succeeding systems of Slavery, Feudalism and now Capitalism, the types of government have been many, ranging from despotism to oligarchy; but Monarchist or Republican, none have been democratic. Modern democracy exists within a framework of ancient institutions, but these institutions were never democratic until recently. So a history of Parliaments, of Regional or City Councils, is not a history of democracy.

In fact, in most countries complete adult suffrage belongs only to this century. Some states such as Switzerland still do not allow women to vote.

The fact that the existing machinery of government was used and adapted to democratic ends has led to confusion. Such events as the founding of Parliament or the Signing of Magna Carta have been regarded as steps on the road to democracy. Nothing would have surprised or shocked Simon de Montfort more than the idea that he was a founder of democracy.

Ideas about the "rule of law", restrictions on the power of the monarch or the "rights and freedoms of the citizens" have been discussed for centuries. But none of the participants in debate equated freedom with the right to vote.

The English Civil War was not fought to establish democracy, but the war and the ideas it unleashed gave rise to a movement called the Levellers. One of the many demands that the Levellers made was a demand for manhood suffrage. This alone made them revolutionary, regardless of any other ideas they held. The whole idea was outrageous to the 17th century. General Ireton summed up the fears of the ruling classes when he claimed that political democracy would lead to economic democracy. This fear has not yet been realised.

Not until the 18th and 19th centuries did political theorists begin to advocate even limited democracy as a cure for the world's ills. Not until then did popular movements like the Chartists begin to demand universal suffrage.

So when the Fascists attacked democracy they were, in fact, attacking something of quite recent origin. This was part of their appeal. Many of the people who gave support to Fascism believed that they were returning to some kind of strong paternalism, like the oligarchies of the early 19th century. These they saw through the usual eyes of nostalgia and endowed with qualities they had not possessed.

They did not realise that Fascist dictatorships with their mass political organisations, their plebiscites to feel the pulse of the public and their reliance on proletarian support, were in themselves modern.
Les Dale

Direct Action (1999)

From the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fly posters pasted up in Norwich invited members of the public to a Direct Action Forum. Stair, a comrade, asked me if I was interested in going along. I wasn't. But something told me I should get out there and become au fait with what people are thinking, though what people are thinking I often find perturbing. I had done it all over the years and now found it heart-sinking to know that there are still people who believe that cutting wires on perimeter fences and swinging about in the branches of trees is going to change anything. From experience I knew that one-day participants in these activities would grow weary of what they were doing and look for a job, return to their studies or take up a career. I recalled the nights spent in my house in London many years ago talking animatedly with friends about the class struggle. I was not to know then that some of those very same people would, in later years, go on to become MPs, trade union officials or have other establishment careers. For them the class struggle became a distant memory.

By the time we arrived at the pub where the meeting was to be held about forty people had already gathered. By 8.30 the small meeting room was filled to over-capacity with sixty, maybe seventy, eager, bright-eyed young people raring to go. I admit to a stab of regret that the word "socialism" would not have had half the appeal for those present as the words "direct action" obviously had.

The suggestion was made that we should break up into smaller groups to discuss what kind of action we would be interested in taking. I must confess that at this point I was feeling a distinct disinclination to join in this discussion. In fact the only direct action I could imagine myself taking was that of getting the hell out of it and going home. But Stair was enjoying himself. He kicked off by giving the group a short account of his own political history which was half as long as mine but which contained some of the same ingredients. He requested other members of the group to do the same. Like Stair they were young but they did not easily use the word "capitalism". They wanted to get involved, they said. They had social consciences and knew there was much wrong with society. The car culture, chemical factories, nuclear weapons, genetically modified foods and cycle lanes were among the subjects the direct actionists got excited about. One man announced that he intended to set up a peace camp in Norwich. They said "Nice one" and "Yeah!" to show him he had support in this. No-one thought to ask where in Norwich or even why. Giving some very good examples of why he thought the way he did Stair explained to the group that direct action was a misdirection of energy.

His analyses of the contradictions intrinsic in direct action did not go down very well. Mouths sagged open in disbelief, protests rose from fevered lips and (hopeless, this) psychological deafness set in. "But we've got to do something," they cried. We told them they could become socialists. Their psychological deafness increased.

When we regrouped the spokesperson for our group reported back to the main body of the meeting that there were people in his group who saw no point in direct action. Here Stair interjected with "You're just pissing about with capitalism." There was a puzzled silence but no-one took him up on this. And then it was business as usual.

After the meeting Stair was optimistic. He said he felt we may have sown a few seeds. The thought uppermost in my mind was that I would be loath to attend any other direct action forums in the future. The spectacle of all those youthful faces aglow with enthusiasm for something so tenuous caused me to experience an emotion akin to sorrow. All that wonderful energy going into little more than thumbing noses at capitalism. What a shame.
Heather Ball

Why the Daily Mail Hates Karl Marx (1998)

From the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only the most isolated and politically ignorant could have failed to notice the campaign launched recently to defame Karl Marx and discredit the Marxist viewpoint on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Communist Manifesto.
Hardly a newspaper or magazine failed to join in the collective rubbishing of Marx, the Marxian world view and the possibility of a socialist alternative to the market economy. Radio and TV were at it too. Newsnight was among several programmes contributing fairly lengthy pieces while Talk Radio primed Peter Hitchensred-baiter supreme at the Daily Express—to denigrate Marx in an hour-long programme one afternoon, though his particular excesses were reined-in by an invited interviewee from the Socialist Standard and many of the subsequent callers.
Simple Simon
Possibly the worst episode in this whole sorry campaign was the publication by the Daily Mail on 7 May of an article by one of its regular buffoons, columnist Simon Heffer. Entitled "Obscenity of Celebrating This Man`s Anniversary", this was an article which did not bother with the usual niceties of argumentation and logical analysis or concern itself with such trivialities as facts and figures. It was, instead, one of the most puerile attempts to discredit the working class movement, its history and political development, that there has been in Britain for a long time. In it Heffer accused Marx of being responsible for mass murder, famine, persecution and dictatorshipand that's just for starters. Never one to understate his case, Heffer claimed that Marx was a man "who has caused more misery, bloodshed, death and ruination on our planet than anyone else in history" likening him to Hitler, but worse.
To take the most serious accusationthat of mass murderHeffer makes this charge in the almost certain knowledge that Marx never personally killed anyone, did not personally advocate killing anyone and never occupied any position whereby he was able (or willing) to order systematic murder, like say Hitler or Stalin. Moreover, this crude accusation comes from a journalist who takes his coin from a newspaper which openly supported Hitler and his cosh-wielding friends in the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s. Unsurprisingly, given this level of argumentation, he goes on to call the defenders of Marxism "hypocrites".
In his article Heffer labels Marx "an atrocious man". Accusing him of almost everything short of eating babies, he contends that Marx "plunged his family into poverty and near-starvation while devoting himself to his writings". Though the truthunsurprisinglyis rather more complicated than this, how this accusation can be squared with Heffer's adulation for people like Keith Joseph and Enoch Powell, who were not exactly renowned for their warmth, generosity and personal devotion to others, is difficult to see. But, to take Heifer's sneering tone, he is a Christian and of course Jesus never let his personal convictions or over-weaning sense of his own self-importance impinge on the material well-being of those closest to him . . .
Economical with the truth
Heffer's foolhardiness in this article knows no bounds. Even journalists with the tightest of deadlines to meet know that one of the golden rules is always to check statements and sources before going to print. Not so Heffer. For how else can one account for the following statement:
" . . . his conviction that there was only so much wealth, and that the rich could only enrich themselves at the expense of the poor—was understandable in Marx. He was, after all, one who entirely misunderstood economics. He would not believe that the size of the cake, as well as the size of the slices cut from it, could continue to grow. As a result of this he advocated the persecution of those who controlled the means of production: the capitalists."
There is, to use the old aphorism, so much wrong with this statement it is difficult to know where to start with it. Fundamentally, it is not Marx who "entirely misunderstood economics", it is Heffer. Marx never said anything so daft as the size of the capitalist cake could not grow, and none of the many standard modern economics textbooks that otherwise give little credence to Marx would be as slipshod to say that he did. On the contrary, Marx spent much of his time examining the dynamics of how capitalism grows in practice over the long-term through the accumulation of ever vaster amounts of capital.
Effectively, Heffer has it the wrong way aroundit is not a fixed amount of wealth production in capitalism which forces the rich to exploit the poor if they are to get richer still, it is the rich's exploitation of the poor which provides the very basis for the expansion of capital and therefore of the size of the cake itself. If the rich (the capitalists to be precise) didn't exploit the poor (the workers), or simply weren't able to for some reason, then there really would be no growth of the system, no accumulation of capital. One of Marx's crucial discoveries in the field of political economy was that the working class of wage and salary earners gets paid less than the value of the goods it creates, the difference being a surplus value which accrues to the owning class in the form of ground rent, interest and profit. If capitalists are to successfully compete against their rivals in the market a large proportion of this surplus value generally needs to be re-invested in new and more efficient techniques of production, thereby leading to a long-term expansion in the overall productive capability of society. If there is no exploitation of the working class to produce surplus value, there can be no new investment in production and further expansion of the system. There can be no capitalist growth without working class exploitation.
Heffer is also incorrect when he then goes on to infer that in the market economy opposed by Marx "all prosperity trickles down to improve everybody's lot". Again this is such a ludicrous statement that few defenders of capitalism would now dare utter it. They are no doubt awareunlike Hefferthat while the world capitalist system continues to sporadically grow and while the top one percent of the world's population continues to grow ever richer, the poorest on this planet are poorer than ever (indeed, about half of the countries in the world have seen their GNPs fall this decade whether they be free-market based nations or rigidly state-controlled ones). While Heffer poses as the considerate humanitarian he might care to fly to the Sudan to tell the starving millions the good news that Dixons now have a 21 percent share of their market, with profits up again, and that it will all be trickling their way shortly.
An aunt called Sally
It is evident that Heffer wrote this piece on Marx having read little or nothing by him, though in this he is not alone among those pundits who have an opinion on everything but knowledge of very little. If he did get to grips with reading Marx (or even motivate himself enough to read one of the half-decent books about Marx and his views) he might then be in a position to realise that, far from being an economic ignoramus, Marx correctly outlined:
  • the boom-slump cycle endemic to capitalism and how no government interventionhowever benignwould be able to prevent it;
  • how the market economy would eventually spread its tentacles into every aspect of human life, conquering the entire planet in the process;
  • how an excess issue by governments of paper currency beyond that required by additional value production is the real cause of inflation;
  • class division and the modern development of a world economy where the division between the richest and the poorest is the widest in human history;
  • the growth of a colossal credit-based financial apparatus that, as time goes on, becomes increasingly isolated from the realities of the wealth production process on which it depends.
Heffer was ignorant to this and much else besides (although the term 'ignorance' here may be taken to imply a certain innocence, which in this context would be mistaken). His only motive was to ridicule Marx and rubbish the method of understanding the world he bequeathed to the working class as irrelevant at best and downright dangerous at worst. Hence, like most of the knee-jerk attacks on Marx which have populated the media, Heffer's piece could not resist associating Marx and Marxism with virtually every hideous dictatorship created this century. Without any justification whatsoever, Heffer claimed that Marx wanted to eliminate liberty and is content just like all the other shoddy scholars throughout history, to damn a theory on the basis of the deeds of those who later claimed to uphold it without asking himself whether they actually did uphold it or not. Heffer would never dream of doing this with Christianity (or Conservatism for that matter) but Marxism is apparently fair game and therefore gets damned by association with every tin-pot dictator this side of the Khmer Rouge.
Workers' gain
Throughout the bitter and difficult struggle of the working class against capitalism, the workers have made a number of serious and identifiable gains. Some of these have been economic, others more political in nature, including those relating to the organisation and outlook of the working class. The method of understanding society and social change left by Marx and Engels is one of the most important of these. Without the theoretical tools left by Marxism the working class is bereft of a comprehensive understanding of the market system, class division and why capitalism must be overthrown in a democratic socialist revolution. It is precisely for this reason that it is so feared by the ruling class and their representatives and why, periodically, so much effort is expended on denigrating it. The recent campaigns surrounding the 150th anniversary of theCommunist Manifesto have been but a part of this entire process.
If anyone doubts the prescience of the Marxian analysis and views this defence of it as mere hyperbole, consider the following passages from the Manifesto about the development of world capitalism and the ruling capitalist class:
"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation . . . It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image."
And yet:
"Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."
In a world of uncontrollable global economic crises, permanent warfare, rampaging environmental destruction, unprecedented income inequality, social dislocation and delinquency, who can in all seriousness say that Marx was fundamentally wrong? And if his identification of the problems of the modern world and their trajectory is so accurateespecially for 150 years agohis proposed solution for them must surely command attention too. That, of course, is a different story, though one elaborated in the pages of this journal often enough and yet still some way up the steep learning curve now confronting the likes of Simon Heffer and those others still to come to terms with the fact that ignorance and abuse are never a defence for long against accurate and coherent analysis. That this is unlikely to stop the Daily Mail and its ilk is more of a reflection of their own self-serving, anti-working class viewpoint than of the alleged "evil" of a long-dead German philosopher with a funny beard and a penchant for libraries.
Dave Perrin