Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Lunacy of Left-Wing Nationalism (1988)

From the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

We all expect Tories to be flag-waving fools. The political Right rejoices in the lunacy of nationalistic fervour, with sick demonstrations of patriotic enthusiasm used as a means of whipping up workers' support for the pernicious belief that we who do not own the nation's wealth have an identity of interest with those who do. Not for nothing did Thatcher build a reputation of iron out of the corpses who littered the South Atlantic in the Falklands war.

Nationalism is at the top of the list of political illusions used to blind capitalism's victims: the workers of the world.

Of nations, Marx and Engels wrote that:

The Communists are . . . reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. (The Communist Manifesto, 1848)

Workers own no country, so why should we care which section of the class of thieves owns which national portion of the world? Workers have a world to win, not nations to fight for.

Not everyone who has called themselves Marxists or socialists has followed such simple logic. Too often in history workers have been urged to concern themselves with the interests of nations - to fight to defend one against the other, or to establish new ones.

In Ireland the cause of nationalism was advanced not only by rabid anti-socialists like Arthur Griffiths (the founder of Sinn Fein whose contempt for trade unions was notorious) and Padraig Pearce (who rejoiced at the heroism of Irish workers who were slaughtered in the trenches of the First World War), but by men calling themselves socialists, such as James Connolly. He contended that religious faith and nationalist politics were compatible with the objective of establishing socialism. The creation of the Irish Republic has demonstrated all too clearly that a nation run by priests and armed by police and soldiers little different from the British variety is no step forward for the working class. All that Connolly's mistaken association of the concepts of nationalism and socialism has done has been to add to the confusion in working-class minds about what socialists really stand for. In practical terms, it has served to alienate the non-Roman Catholic, non-nationalistic Irish workers (many of them active in the trade unions) from anything they imagine to be socialist politics.

Zionist nationalism had its share of leftist confusionists in its early days — people who imagined that the establishment of an independent Jewish state would provide not only a refuge from the threat of racist persecution but a territory in which a new socialist order would emerge. In his book, From Class To Nation, David Ben Gurion wrote optimistically that

Socialist Zionism means a full Zionism. . .This is a sort of Zionism which will not be content with redeeming only a part of the people, but aims at the complete redemption of all the people of Israel; this is a sort of Zionism which envisages the Land of Israel as a homeland not only for a few privileged and wealthy but wants it to be a homeland for every Jew who returns there - a homeland that equally provides for all her children, revives them, makes them into citizens and redeems all of them without discrimination.

Ben Gurion was later to become Prime Minister of the Israeli state. Things did not turn out as those who saw Zionism as a step forward to socialism had thought it would. It is very easy to say, before a nation has been established, that it will not only be a homeland for the "privileged and wealthy". But under capitalism, in which Israel exists, countries belong to the minority class who own their resources and for all the talk of equality Israel is a country of brutal contradictions between affluence for a few and poverty for many. The almost racist assumption in the above quotation explains much that has happened since. If Israel is to be a homeland for the Jews, then what is to happen to those not invited into the new land of supposed equality? The answer is to be found all too evidently in the recent brutalities committed by the Israeli state on the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israel is not unique in its anti¬social military savagery: all capitalist nations act that way — they usually call it "national defence". But those who advocated the creation of such a state in the name of socialism have much to answer for. There is no shortage of disillusioned left-wing Zionists in Israel today who will have to make up their minds whether to support nationalism or its ceaseless enemy - socialism.

In the Guardian on 21 December 1987, Dafydd Elis Thomas, the Plaid Cymru MP for Merionydd Nant Conway, urged English leftists to develop a new kind of English nationalism to supersede what he regards as the aggressive nationalism of the Thatcher government. He contends that this would lead to a new, different kind of patriotism to which English "socialists" (he means supporters of state capitalism) could appeal in the working class. The hard fact is that nationalism cannot be de-odorised or made to look pretty. The Labour Party in the early 1980s made great play of how their non-nuclear defence policy was connected to a more morally pure, humane conception of British nationalism. By 1987, when Kinnock and his team were desperate to sell their policies for running the system to the capitalist-minded voters, Kinnock was making great play of the fact that only under a Labour government, with increased defence spending and even more ferocious conventional weapons than the Tories are willing to invest in, will Britain be Great. The pornographic Labour election material with the Union Jack on the front summed up the folly of believing that you can mix policies for patriotism with any of the ideas of world unity which only socialists put. Indeed, Kinnock even offered in his speech at the Labour Party conference to die for "his" country. According to some political commentators, the 1987 election result was not a bad suicide attempt.

Of course, when it comes to providing the really lunatic policies, one might step back from the likes of Kinnock and the Welsh Nats and read the absurdities which abound in the circles of the "theoretically sophisticated" Leninists. The Leninist contention is that in all wars "small nations" must be supported against larger, oppressive ones. We recall how in 1982 the crazy Revolutionary Communist Party urged workers to suppport fascist-run Argentina in its military battle against Britain. Not to be undone by the RCP, the ultra-confused Socialist Workers' Party set its leading theoretician, Alex Callinicos (a name to watch in the circles of especially misguided Leninists) to work out a policy on the Iran-Iraq war. The Socialist Party policy is simple: like in all wars within capitalism we warn workers against taking the side of one capitalist gang against another. But the Ayatollah Khomeni will be delighted to learn that luck has come his way: the SWP has decided that
We have no choice but to support the Khomeni regime against the US and its allies. (Socialist Worker, 28 November, 1987)
The article goes on to state that, although the SWP is in favour of Iranian workers opposing the Khomeni regime while fighting for it, "there will be instances when it is wrong to strike". (For example, when strikes will affect the war effort). So Iranian workers, oppressed by one of the most monstrous dictatorships in the modern world, living under the misery of religious totalitarianism, conscripted almost at childhood to die in a pointless war, are now told by the official interpreters of the creed of Lenin that "socialists" must support Iran in its war. Keep laughing, dear reader, or you might just start to weep.
Steve Coleman

Economic Causes of the Great War (1964)

From the August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

HALF a century has passed since the beginning of the FirstWorld War. In August, 1914, the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain issued a manifesto — "The War, and the Socialist Position."

It was discussed and agreed before being issued but the discussion was not at all about the question whether the war should be supported or opposed but about the details of the wording. The Party's attitude to war between capitalist governments did not need to be discussed; it had been decided years before at the formation of the Party. It was implicit in the Declaration of Principles which was adopted when the Party was formed and has remained unchanged, in particular in Clause 6, which reads: —

. . . the machinery of government including the armed forces of the nation, exists only lo conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers. . .

The Manifesto therefore took the form of re-affirming Socialist principles including the principle on which rests the Socialist attitude to war.

It opened with the declaration: —

Whereas the capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the questions of the control of trade routes and the world's markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political ignorance and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their masters' quarrel.

Later on it declared that: —

as the workers' interests are not bound up in the struggle for markets wherein their masters may dispose of the wealth they have stolen from them (the workers), but in the struggle to end the system under which they are robbed, they are not concerned with the present European struggle . . .

In this Manifesto the Socialist Party of Great Britain was restating three principles which are fundamental to the Socialist case — that war is not an accidental interruption of the peaceful operations of capitalism but is inherent in the structure of the system itself; that the interest of the workers in all parts of the world is to stand together against the governments of capitalism; and that the only way to end war is to end capitalism.

In the world of 1914 the great majority of the organisations which called themselves Socialist did not accept these three principles. They did not accept that it is capitalism itself which necessarily produces the conflicts over markets, trade routes, raw material sources, etc., which engender war. Along with the naive belief that war could be " humanised " by the banning of particularly destructive weapons they thought that war could be eliminated through international agencies appealing in the name of law, humanity or religion. Adding to the confusion there was one school of thought which relied on proving to the capitalists that "war does not pay," and another — we have it still — which envisaged an international agency having armed forces to preserve peace by waging war on war-making governments.

In August, 1914, when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was issuing its Manifesto most of the so-called Socialist parties were declaring their support for their respective governments.

Because they did not accept that capitalism was the cause of the war they readily succumbed to the excuses for the war offered to them by their respective governments. In Britain it was the defence of Belgium and France against the megalomania of the German Kaiser and German Militarism, and later, "the war to end war "; or the war for democracy. In Germany it was defence against Russian autocracy and Russian "barbarism." Although all of these parties, in the second International to which they belonged, had long seen the threat coming and had even formally declared their opposition to it at the Basle conference in 1912, most of them put loyalty to "their country " first, when the war actually came. Their lip-service to internationalism had never possessed the solid Socialist basis of recognising the mutual interest of all workers against capitalism and its governments everywhere.

Those who reject the Socialist contention that the root of modern war is in capitalism have to seek other explanations. These fall into several groups — the innate aggressiveness of human nature; the acts of wicked men or their rulers; economic causes other than capitalist ones; the strength of nationalist or religious feeling; and the conflicts of ideologies.

The human nature explanation of modern war is an irrelevance. It is true that individuals along with the capacity to live peacably side by side and to show humanity and compassion, will in appropriate circumstances engage in quarrels and violence. (The "appropriate circumstances" often being features of the competitive struggle inside capitalism). But when it comes to preparation for war it is always the governments which have to set out deliberately by lying propaganda to stir up hatred of whoever happens at the time to be "the enemy," and so little do the aggressive instincts of the mass of the population cause them to rush into war that almost all of the governments in the 1914 war (and subsequent wars) had to use conscription to drag the unwilling heroes into the battle line.

The argument that wars arise from economic but not capitalist causes, rests on the fact that long before capitalism came into being, or in places where capitalism did not exist, food shortage caused migrations and consequent wars, or caused wars among tribes in adjacent areas. But this situation has little bearing on the wars between capitalist powers in the modern world. It gives no explanation for the 1914 or 1939 wars, any more than it does for the long years of cold war between the American and Russian groups. The Powers involved in the 1914 war were not faced with inability to produce enough. All of them had for years been increasing their output of all kinds of commodities. Their worry was not over production but over the sale of what they produced.

The belief that modern wars are caused by nationalist or religious differences merely obscures the facts. What happens is that when capitalist rivalries have produced clashes in which governments consider going to war, the governments then calculatedly exploit nationalist and religious prejudices in order to popularise the war and cover up the real causes. Nations and the national religions are themselves products of capitalism as Louis Boudin showed in his Socialism and War (lectures given early in the 1914 war), it was the rise of capitalism in place of the feudalism of the middle ages which necessitated the division of Europe into separate national states. "Capitalism needed larger economic units for its development. The small groups therefore began to coalesce and amalgamate into larger units which would permit the larger economic life which is the characteristic of the new era ": —

Thus arose the modern European nations, each with its own language and separate and distinct social, political and economic life : England, France, Spain, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, Italy and Germany.

This development also needed and brought about the separation of the national religious organisations through the Reformation.

The other so-called ideological causes of war fare just as badly when lined up with the facts. British propaganda in 1914 made much of German "militarism"— this was argued also by leaders of the Labour Party — but halfway through the war conscription, the major feature of "militarism " was introduced in this country and, of course, Britain's European allies all had conscript armies. Another ideological charge against Germany was her brutal treatment of populations in her African colonies; but Britain's ally Belgium had an even worse record in Africa, and the British capitalist record in their colonies was equally open to charges.

There remains the argument that wars are caused by the acts of individuals, including individual rulers. It is still possible, fifty years after, for an article in the Sunday Telegraph (28/6/64) to start off: — "Two bullets that killed the Austrian Heir at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, started the holocaust of World War I," And books are still being published about the degree of personal responsibility of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II for the first World War.

Professor Pigou writing soon after the first World War, in his Political Economy of War, dismissed the Sarajevo incident as being the occasion not the cause of the war. It may have been "the match to the powder magazine. The real fundamental causes are there that lie behind the assembling of the powder."

The Times Literary Supplement (26/3/64) reviewing two books on the supposed personal responsibility of the Kaiser, pointed out that in effect Germany long before Sarajevo had been in what would now be called a "cold war," the stage of preparations for the eventual fighting war of 1914.

An article in the Socialist Standard in September, 1914, on the same theme, showed that for years before 1914 the British and French governments had been building up their forces and arranging for the disposition of their navies to meet the counter preparations of the German government.

The origins of that war lay in the fact that the nineteenth century industrial military and naval predominance of British and French capitalism was being challenged by the rapid expansion of Germany. As German industry grew, German production and exports were catching up and the German navy had grown to a size and striking power comparable with the British.

After the German annexation of the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871, the way was opened for the link-up of Lorraine ore with Westphalian coal, and Germany's pig-iron production soon jumped ahead. In 1870-74 it was 1,800,000 tons a year against Britain's 6,400,000, but by 1908 German production was far ahead. The same was true of steel and the German mercantile shipping fleet was being rapidly expanded.

A warning had been given by the Commission on the Depression of Trade in its Report as early as 1886 about German competition in world markets : —

A reference to the reports from abroad will show that in every quarter of the world the perseverance and enterprise of the Germans are making themselves felt. In actual production of commodities we have now few, if any, advantages over them, and in a knowledge of the markets of the world, a desire to accommodate themselves to local tastes or idiosyncrasies, a determination to obtain a footing wherever they can and a tenacity in maintaining it, they appear to be gaining ground upon us.

An area of acute conflict was in the field of colonies. Britain and France, along with Belgium, had been first in this field, Britain in India and Asia and all of them in Africa. Germany, the late comer, seeking to enter and expand in Africa, more and more threatened the future of those who were there first and had taken most of the more profitable areas. When Germany showed in 1911, by sending a gunboat to Agadir, that she intended to get a foothold in Morocco, Mr. Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, at once reacted with a speech threatening war. This incident had the effect of bringing French and British capitalism nearer together in mutual self-protection.

One of the more dramatic forms of the conflict was the German plan for a Berlin to Bagdad railway, a counter-blast to the British scheme of the Cape to Cairo line. The German plan involved pushing Russian influence out of the Balkans, cutting Russia off from the Mediterranean by control of the Dardenelles, and opening up a way for Germany to expand towards the Persian Gulf and India.

The 1914 war did not start overnight through an assassin's bullets; it was the outcome of years of conflicting capitalist interests.
Edgar Hardcastle

Capitalism as a world system

From the Summer 1986 issue of the World Socialist

Capitalism is basically an economic system, one in which production is oriented towards the accumulation of capital out of monetary profits realised on the market, the source of these profits being the unpaid labour of those who produce the goods that are sold. Production for a market, the accumulation of wealth having a monetary value, and even the exploitation of wage-labour had existed since ancient times but as more or less isolated practices rather than as a complete economic system. It was only in the 16th century that what Marx called "the capitalist era" began with the emergence of the world market, i. e., a pattern of trade and a division of labour involving a number of different countries and geographical areas.

The effect on the countries involved of producing for this market, or for export, was to subordinate the production of wealth within their frontiers to a new logic, that of re-investing profits so as to continually improve the methods of production as a way to remain competitive in the struggle to realise further profits. As a result profound changes were brought about in the economic, and therefore also in the social and political, structures of these countries amounting to the introduction of a new economic system.

Right from the start capitalism has been an international system, not only as a matter of historical fact but also because if it had not been so it would never have developed. The countries concerned would not have been subject to an external pressure—which they were ultimately unable to resist—to apply the new economic logic of capital accumulation and production for monetary profit and the new economic system would not have come into being.

Capitalism is the economic mechanism which comes into operation as a coercive external force acting on economic decision-makers when wealth is produced for sale, not simply on any market, but on the world market. Its history is the history of the development of the world market economy from its origins in Europe in the 16th century to its present situation, achieved by the end of the 19th century, of a truly world system embracing not only a number of different countries and geographical areas but all countries and all geographical areas.

This means there is not, and never has been, such a thing as a "national economy". That this latter exists is an illusion arising out of the fact that, politically, the countries and areas involved in producing for the world market have been divided into states which have always sought to interfere with the operation of that market. Capitalism is not a collection of national capitalist economies existing side by side but a single world economy functioning as such of which the "economies" of the separate states are merely integral parts, even to the extent of playing different functional roles (industrial producers, raw material producers, agricultural producers, etc.) within the system.

Collection of armed States
It should not be thought that capitalism is a purely economic system, just an economic mechanism of the accumulation of capital out of monetary profits. It is also a collection of armed states with clashing economic interests. These states use their coercive powers to interfere in the operation of the world market with a view to distorting it in favour of profit-seeking enterprises operating from within their frontiers. Although no state has ever been strong enough to completely control the world market, there have always been some sufficiently strong to distort it, at least temporarily, in their favour. Even though purely economic considerations—cost of production in relation to price, etc.—are in the end the determining factor, the intervention of states, both by economic means such as tariffs, customs duties, bounties and monopolies, and by the threat and the use of physical force, has thus always been a subsidiary factor in the distribution of world profits.

Since coercive intervention can to a certain extent affect the world division of profits, all states have an interest in being as strong as possible both internally and vis-à-vis the exterior. This is why there has been a historical trend under capitalism for strong centralised states to emerge and assert themselves internationally and for all states to arm themselves with the most up-to-date and destructive weapons they can afford:
"Within a world-economy, the state structures function as ways for particular groups to affect and distort the functioning of the market. The stronger the state machinery, the more its ability to distort the world market in favour of the interests it represents" (I. Wallerstein, The Capitalist World-Economy, p.  61).

"State machineries have interfered with the workings of the world market from the inception of capitalism. Moreover, the states have formed, developed, and militarized themselves each in relation to the others, seeking thus to channel the division of surplus value. In consequence, all state structures have grown progressively stronger over time absolutely, although the relative differences between core and peripheral areas have probably remained the same or even increased" (p. 274).

States do not accumulate these arms just to strengthen their bargaining position in the continual struggle with other states for a share of world profits. The arms are there to be used in the last resort, so that war too is built-in to the economic mechanism of capitalism. In fact all the wars that have taken place since the 16th century have been "trade wars" in the sense that they have been about the control of markets, raw material sources, trade routes, investment outlets, and strategic points to protect or acquire these.

Imperialism, inherent feature of capitalism
The final phase of capitalism's coming to embrace the whole world geographically in the second half of the 19th century took the form of a scramble for colonies in Africa and the Pacific Ocean. By the time this was over virtually the whole land surface of the planet was occupied by one or other of the stronger capitalist states. This led to a recognition that capitalism was a world system and was not just a collection of nationally-existing capitalisms, a recognition expressed, for all their errors, in such works as Rosa Luxemburg's The Accumulation of Capital, Bukharin's World Economy and Imperialism, and Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. The term that came into use to describe this new development was "imperialism".

Lenin argued that imperialism was "the highest stage of capitalism". But if imperialism is defined as being the tendency for capitalist states to use force for economic ends (to acquire or protect markets, raw material sources, trade routes, or investment outlets) then, as just seen, this has been a feature of the capitalist system since its beginning in the 16th century. In fact  all states are imperialist in this sense, even weak ones that are themselves the victims of other, stronger states.

Any state, given the chance, will use force to try to help profit-seeking enterprises operating from within its frontiers acquire as large a share of world profits as possible. Indeed, to help home enterprises (whether private or state) in this way is precisely the specific role that states have to play in the capitalist world economy. Under capitalism strong states have always tended to dominate weaker states and weak states will always try to dominate states that are weaker still. In this sense, then, imperialism of the type seen in the second half of the 19th century when the United States and the strongest states of Europe used force to acquire protected markets, sources of raw materials and investment outlets was nothing new. It did not merit the description of "highest stage of capitalism" since this sort of behaviour by states had been a feature of capitalism in all its stages.

Having said this, there is a sense in which the scramble that took place in the last part of the 19th century did lead to a new "stage" of capitalism. It led, as noted, to the final subordination of the whole planet to one or other capitalist power; in other words, to capitalism's coming to completely dominate the globe.

This meant that, from then on, there were no new raw material sources or investment outlets to be conquered. From this time on, all that could happen was that these areas could be re-allocated amongst the various competing states. Despite his error about imperialism being the highest stage of capitalism, Lenin expressed this point rather well in his pamphlet. Writing in 1916 about the period 1876-1900, he noted:
" . . . the characteristic feature of the period under review is the final partition of the globe—final, not in the sense that a repartition is impossible; on the contrary, repartitions are possible and inevitable—but in the sense that the colonial policy of the capitalist countries has completed the seizure of the unoccupied territories of our planet. For the first time the world is completely divided up, so that in the future only redivision is possible, i. e., territories can only pass from one 'owner' to another, instead of passing as ownerless territory to an 'owner'" (chapter VI).
Hence Lenin's more or less acceptable conclusion, in the preface he wrote to his pamphlet in 1920 that "the war of 1914-18 was imperialistic (that is, an annexationist, predatory, plunderous war) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies, 'spheres of influence' of finance capital, etc".

The era of world wars
Wars in this new era of complete capitalist domination of the world—at least those between the major capitalist states—could only be wars over the redivision of colonial territories and spheres of influences, or rather of the markets, raw material sources, trade routes, investment  outlets and strategic points to protect these that colonies and spheres of influence represent.

In fact, the two world wars that took place in the 20th century while being, like all other wars that have occurred since capitalism came into existence, trade or business wars over markets were also wars to change or preserve an existing carve-up of the world between the leading capitalist states. Thus, an important aspect of the first world war was the attempt by Imperial Germany to upset, by force of arms, the then existing imperialist division of the world which benefited in particular Britain and France. Similarly, the second world war was an attempt by Germany and Japan to re-divide the world in their interest at the expense of the United States, Britain and France.

Naturally, in such wars, it is the challenging powers that have to take the initiative and so appear as the "aggressors", but only those completely taken in by the propaganda of the victorious powers (and of course the winners also win the right to impose their version of history) will believe that it was just Germany that was responsible for the first and second world wars. An objective examination of the situation will show that, apart from their "trade" aspects, these two wars were wars (on the one side) to try to change the existing imperialist carve-up of the world and (on the other side) to preserve it. What was responsible for these wars was the whole world system of capitalism with its competitive struggle for profits and its collection of competing armed states. No one state, or politician, or people can be blamed for these wars; they were the result of the "normal" functioning of the capitalist world system.

Ironically these wars did change the existing world carve-up even though, on both occasions, the challengers were beaten off. The first world war resulted in the US emerging as the leading world capitalist power at the expense of Britain and France. The second world war confirmed this and saw the emergence of state capitalist Russia as the No 2 capitalist world power (in military, though not in economic, terms) with its own huge sphere of influence, with Britain and France being definitively relegated to second rank status.

Between 1945 (as agreed that year at Yalta by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill) and 1990 the world was divided into two imperialist spheres of influence, the US sphere and the Russian sphere. In the end the US beat off the Russian challenge without a world war; there were only a continuous series of localised wars on the margins of the two spheres of influence. Given the dominant and dominating position of the US in the world, it was Russia that as the challenger played the role of "aggressor", but world tension and the threat of nuclear war could not be laid at the door of one state, its leaders or its people; they resulted, and still result, from the very nature of capitalism as an economic system involving a competitive struggle for profits in which armed states as well as profit-seeking enterprises (whether private or state) participate.

Anti-imperialism as ideology
When Lenin wrote his pamphlet on imperialism in 1916 he was then merely a leader of one of the factions of the Russian Social Democratic movement and the views he expressed in it, including the errors, were those that were held by many other critics of imperialism at the time. When, however, he wrote the preface to the French and German editions in 1920 his personal position had changed: he was now writing as the Prime Minister of a state (state capitalist Russia) whose economic interest it was to upset the imperialist re-division of the world that had resulted from the first world war. This change is reflected in the content of the preface as when he wrote
"Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of 'advanced' countries. And this 'booty' is shared between two or three powerful marauders armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain and Japan), who involve the whole world in their war over the sharing of their booty".
"Capitalism has now singled out a handful (less than one-tenth of the inhabitants of the globe; less than one-fifth at a most 'generous' and liberal calculation) of exceptionally rich and powerful states which plunder the whole world simply by 'clipping coupons'".
While it is true that "the overwhelming majority of the population of the world" are exploited, it is not true to say that their exploiters are "a handful of exceptionally rich and powerful states". If this were the case, then the conclusion to be drawn would be that the people of the world should unite against this handful of states and their ruling classes (rather than against all states and all ruling classes), and this of course was the conclusion Lenin wanted drawn.

As a leading member of the government of a state not included in the "handful" he was appealing to all other excluded states, and their subjects—"proletarian states" as Mussolini, whose state was in a similar position, once called them—to rise up and in effect re-divide the world into new spheres of influence. But this would not have ended the exploitation of the world's population; it would merely have changed the way in which the proceeds of that exploitation—the booty, as Lenin aptly called it—were shared out amongst the states into which the world was divided, i. e., amongst their respective capitalist classes. In other words, "anti-imperialism" was being used by the ruling group in an up-and-coming but still excluded state to try to assert its right to a place in the sun. State capitalist Russia was eventually to achieve this, under Lenin's successor, Stalin, after the second world war.

The same theory that the whole population of the world is exploited by a handful of imperialist states was propagated by state capitalist China in the Mao era, and for the same reason. The rulers of China have since dropped this theory, having adopted the alternative strategy of "if you can't beat them, join them" to try to enter the club of world dominating powers, but the cynical use of this theory by the Maoist regime did have an interesting side-effect.

Since it bears a certain resemblance to reality—the vast majority of the world's population is exploited, the world is dominated by a handful of rich and powerful states, the solution does lie in a world revolution leading to the establishment of a new world society—this theory did provide a basis for a re-statement of the theory of capitalism as a single world system rather than as a collection of national capitalisms existing side by side. This "world-system" approach was adopted by a whole school of writers such as Immanuel Wallerstein, André Gunder Frank and Samir Amin even if they didn't completely free themselves from the Third Word v Handful of Imperialist Powers illusion. Wallerstein in particular had some very pertinent things to say. 

The world system approach leads to a recognition of the theoretical and practical impossibility of establishing "socialism in one country", indeed of any one country in any way escaping from capitalism on its own. As Wallerstein has written of past and existing so-called socialist (in reality state capitalist) countries:
"The fact that all enterprises are nationalized in these countries does not make the participation of these enterprises in the world-economy one that does not conform to the mode of operation of a capitalist market system: seeking increased efficiency of production in order to realize a maximum price on sales, thus achieving a more favorable allocation of the surplus of the world-economy" (The Capitalist World-Economy, p. 34).

"The capitalist system is composed of owners who sell for profit. The fact that an owner is a group of individuals rather than a single person makes no essential difference. This has long been recognized for joint-stock companies. It must now be recognized for sovereign states. A state which collectively owns all the means of production is merely a collective capitalist firm as long as it remains—as all such states are, in fact, presently compelled to remain—a participant in the market of the capitalist world-economy. No doubt such a 'firm'  may have different modalities of internal division of profit, but this does not change its essential role  vis-à-vis others operating in the world market" (pp. 68-69).

"The nationalization or socialization of all productive enterprises within the bounds of a nation-state is not and theoretically cannot be a sufficient defining condition of a socialist system, even if the whole nation thinks of socialism as its objective. As long as these nations remain part of a capitalist world-economy, they continue to produce for this world market on the basis of the same principles as any other producer. Even if  every nation in the world were to permit only state ownership of the means of production, the world-system would still be a capitalist system, although doubtless the political parameters would be very different from what they presently are" (pp. 73-74).

If Wallerstein had been consistent he would have dropped his support for Third World movements seeking to establish what he admitted could only have been state capitalism (Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, PLO, etc) and have urged the exploited and oppressed people of all countries to strive for world socialism as, quite literally and without exaggeration, the only way out.

World socialism, the only alternative
The existence of capitalism as a world economic system means that there are no national solutions to the problems it causes. States, or rather the more powerful ones among them, can indeed distort the world market in their favour and so acquire, at the expense of other states, a greater share of world profits for their enterprises (whether private or state) than would otherwise occur. But, as no one state is strong enough to control the whole world market economy, such distortions can never be permanent, and the governments of all states are in the end compelled to submit to world market forces and give priority to capital accumulation, competitiveness and profitability over fully meeting people's needs in such fields as housing, health, education and the environment.

The solution to the problem of war and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that would kill millions and millions of human beings can, even more obviously, only be found on a world scale. Because of capitalism's nature as a world system involving a competitive struggle for profits in which the armed might of a state, whether or not it is actually used, can be a subsidiary factor for success, disarmament is impossible within the framework of capitalism and "disarmament conferences" are just a cruel joke. But not only is disarmament, even partial or step by step, impossible under capitalism, the tendency is in the opposite direction: towards increasing armament not just by super-powers but by all states. This will go on as long as capitalism lasts, involving a greater and greater waste of resources while over half the world's population are not even properly fed, let alone having their other needs met. This is the only future the capitalist world system has to offer humanity.

The lesson is clear. If the problems currently facing humanity are to be solved, the capitalist world economy must go. The only alternative to it is another world system, one geared to serving human interests in which the resources of the Earth would become the common heritage of all the people of the planet, so that they could be used to fully satisfy the material and cultural requirements of the whole population of the world. Such a socialist society would be, like capitalism, a world system functioning as such and not a collection of separate socialist societies existing on a national scale. Similarly, the action to establish such a world socialist society can only be a world-wide social revolution and not a series of "national" socialist revolutions.
Adam Buick

Obituary: Bill Casey - Socialist Pioneer

From the November-December 1949 issue of The Western Socialist


Your many readers will regret to hear of the loss of a pioneer of the Socialist Movement in Australia. There have been many pioneers in the Socialist Movement and the Old World has been rich in them; but down her in Australia, we have not been so fortunate. On the 19th. Oct. last, Bill Casey died in the Brisbane General Hospital.

Bill Casey, who hailed from Manchester, arrived in Australia some years before World War I. Almost immediately he became involved in industrial activities and participated in some of the most historical disputes recorded in this country. Ever on the move, he spent much of his time in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. During the First War he played a leading part in Queensland industrial affairs and was active in the strikes on the Cane fields and the Meat Industry. On more than one occasion he had to run the gauntlet of Labor Party Police, who spurred on by Labor Governments, dealt ruthlessly with those who championed the workers cause.

Job conscious Union officials and Big Businessmen on one occasion urged his deportation from the local township because of his union activities. When war-time Labor Prime Minister, Wm, Morris Hughes, tried to enforce conscription in 1916, anyone who opposed the move was branded “traitor”, “Seditionist” or “I.W.W.” But the anti-conscription campaign grew and the Labor Party split on the issue. The chief opponents were the “Wobblies” (I.W.W.) and their supporters. Casey, who had experienced the persecution of the I.W.W. in America, threw himself into the fight and became one of the most active and enthusiastic members of the Anti-Conscription Army. When we point out that the anti-conscription campaign left an indelible mark on the history of Australia, it will be easier to understand the significance of our reference to in this obituary.

In those days, much of the I.W.W. propaganda took the form of parodying of popular songs. To the tunes I.W.W. rhymsters would fit words ridiculing and satirising their opponents. Most meetings opened up with “Doxology”
“Praise Boss when morning work-bells chime,
  Praise him for bits of over-time,
  Praise him whose wars we love to fight,
  Praise Him. Fat Leech and Parasite,
                                                         Oh Hell”.
Meetings would be held up awaiting some subtle satire from Casey on the topic of the day. Couriers would run from the press, with literally red-hot jingles copies of which were passed round the audiences who lustily chorused the latest ditty, much to the discomfiture of “Law and Order”. So popular did they become that friend and foe alike eagerly awaited the latest lampoon. Politicians shrunk from his satire but ever many of them, years afterwards, openly boasted acquaintanceship with “Bill Casey.”

Back To Sea
Returning to sea, Casey played a big part in the Seaman’s strike of 1919. Just about this time he chummed up with Jack Temple who had recently arrived from Scotland after some years in Canada. Temple who had been active in the S. P. of Canada and had some connection with the S.P.G.B. played a big part in weaning Casey from the I.W.W. viewpoint. It may be pointed out that though Casey had leanings towards the “Wobblies” he was not a member although he was generally regarded as such.

Very soon Casey was expounding the S.P.G.B. position and as the Bolsheviks had just gained control in Russia, he lost no time in analysing the position. Probably aided by articles in the “S.S.”, he became a caustic critic of the “Neo-Communists.” He was delegate to represent the Seamen at an International T. U. Conference in Moscow. This, being one of the earliest “Missions to Moscow” was beset with difficulties all the way. Passports were forged; passages were “stowing away,” Dutch, German, Polish and Russian frontiers had to be “hopped.” Guides were often un-reliable; “go-betweens” were often in the pay of both sides; sometimes both had to be discarded until bona-fides were definitely established, a delicate job under the conditions then prevailing on the continent.

The ultimate arrival in Moscow, after much suffering, danger and perseverance, was hailed as a masterpiece of undercover work. Once at the gates of the Kremlin, most delegates became insufferable Bolshevik “Yes-men” whereas Casey and his co-delegate, Barney Kelly (another adherent of the S.P.G.B.) soberly tried to obtain a truthful estimate of the position. A few days sojourn in Moscow drew the following observations from Casey: “Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy; the people were entirely lacking in a sense of time. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war-communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet”. These observations were greeted with disgust and dismay by the other delegates.

However, before they left Moscow, Lenin introduced his “New Economic Policy” which, in essence, provided for the very things which Casey opined was needed to stabilize the Russian economy. In contrast to their hostile reception of Casey’s prognostications, the “yes-men” cheered and echoed Lenin’s belated pronouncements.

Back in Australia, he submitted his report to Tom Walsh (then a leading Communist and foundation member of the Australian Communist Party), General President of the Australian Seamen’s Union. Walsh rejected the report and refused to publish it on the ground that it criticized the Bolsheviks and the Russian system. After spending some time in Melbourne, Casey proceeded to Sydney where he again crossed swords with Walsh who, carrying out the policy of the C.P. was endeavouring to get the Seamen to affiliate with the A.L.P. (Australian Labor Party) from which body the Seamen had seceded because of the anti-working class role of Labor Governments and politicians during the Seamen’s strike of 1917 and 1919.

With Jacob Johnson (Assist. Sec’y. Sydney Branch of the Seamen’s Union) and a handful of supporters, Casey pursued the fight against affiliation with the Labor Party. This fight continued up to 1925 when an un-expected walk-out of British Seamen, who left their ships tied up on the Australian coast, over-shadowed the affiliation dispute. Incidental to the British Seamen’s strike, both Walsh and Johnson were arrested, brought before a tribunal set up under special legislation, and sentenced to deportation from Australia. We knew, at the time, that Walsh wanted to be deported and was to be given a job in England with Havelock Wilson. Casey worked unceasingly to prevent the deportation. Those who were associated with Casey believe that his activities on behalf of Johnson were the most brilliant of his career. An appeal was made to the High Court of Australia. He marshalled facts, ferreted information, countered the sabotage of Government henchmen, suggested successful points of law, and finally his subtle optimism triumphed. Dr. Evatt, one of Johnson’s counsel, (now Attorney General and ex-president of U.N.O.) unstintedly praised Casey’s remarkable accomplishments. Many barristers have openly acknowledged him to be “the cleverest lay-man they ever met.” The High Court held the Tribunal’s decision to deport to be ‘ultra vires’: Walsh and Johnson were released from the Naval prison on Garden Island where they had been held while awaiting deportation.

Following the release and the settlement of the British Seamen’s strike, the fight around affiliation with the Labor Party again assumed an important place in the Seamen’s Union. Finally Walsh’s move was defeated and he was deposed from his position as G. P. Later a high officer of the N.S.F.U. visited Australia and reported that Havelock Wilson had sent over £3,000 to help Walsh in the fight against Johnson and Casey. In justice to this official, let it be said that on hearing the facts of the case, he urged that no more money be sent from the English Seamen’s Union for this purpose.

During these periods, Casey consistently carried on Socialist propaganda. He debated almost every “leader” in the Communist Party. He represented the S.P. of A. in debates with the Henry George League, the Labor Party, the Communist Party, Currency Experts, and host of others. He trounced Individualist A.D. Kay who after losing his seat in Parliament and on the Meat Board, went to England to be given later, a job by Churchill during the last war. Casey conducted Speakers’ Classes, Economic classes, open air and indoor meetings for the S.P.A. Prior to the formation of the S.P.A., he, together with Moses Baritz struck terror into the hearts of the professional “revolutionaries” of the C. P.

The anecdotes about them would fill a book; Moses, bombastic, merciless, ruthlessly capable in expounding the Socialist position; Casey, puckish, simple, unsurpassed as a teacher of young fellows, flashing with satire and armed with a power of mental penetration that pierced the armor of the most hide-bound opponent of Socialism.

For many years he held official positions in the Seamen’s Union. He was Secretary of the Brisbane Branch when he died. For many years he found it difficult to get jobs on ships. Victimised, he battled around on scanty food, a few beers and a bit of tobacco. Long speels of unemployment meant more time for Socialist activities. He never went short while his friends had a few bob. His knowledge of philosophy, economics, political and industrial history was amazing and his uncanny ability to interpret industrial awards, surmount legal difficulties with regard to the Merchant Shipping Act, The Australian Navigation Act and the various Compensation Acts, redounded to the benefit of his ship-mates. He was known as the Seaman Philosopher. So much, and yet so little, of that side of his life.

Personally, Casey was the finest friend ever a man could wish for. His loyalty to friends and principles was universally acknowledged. A little, broad-shouldered fellow, quietly spoken, with impish grin, happy and humming some simple Old-country folk song. It was a pleasure to be in his company. Ever ready to quaff a pot. A lover of children, he was always the butt of their frolicking at some friend’s family gathering. He was popular in the truest sense of the word. His friendship never wavered.

Now Casey is gone and comrades, all over the world, will regret his passing. He died of cancer. The working class has lost a champion; the Socialist Party has lost a great pioneer in Australia. A fellow member of the S.P.A. gave the final address at his cremation; a sad task but a privileged one. Casey’s life was devoted to the life of establishing a new social order. For while the sands were running out, in a recent letter to the writer, after describing his suffering, he concluded thus:
“I wish nothing better to anybody than good health, except a better system in which to enjoy it”.
The memory of Bill Casey will sustain us in our future struggles.
W. J. C. (Sydney)