Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Karl Marx in Current Criticism: The Verdict of a Generation (1913)

From the March 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Test of Time
Just thirty year have passed since the body of the great path-finder was laid to rest in the grave upon Highgate Hill. Thirty years – the life-time of a generation  – yields a fair test of the truth of the theories advanced by a thinker, and should offer an opportunity to judge a man’s work in something approaching true perspective.

I cannot attempt in these lines a comprehensive survey of the work of Karl Marx. A life of sixty-five years of stress and struggle is not to be examined in a column or two. But some of the main points in Marx’s work may be briefly yet profitably reviewed in the light of our present knowledge.

All kinds of opponents of Socialism profess to offer us something “more in keeping with the times.” But whether it by Syndicalism or Revisionism, Co-partnership or State Capitalism, each and every one of these is seen to be fallacious when tested by the scientific theories put forward by Marx.

Karl Marx is best known, perhaps, by his work Das Capital, a treatise on the production and circulation of commodities which, although  “criticised” in hundreds of volumes by professors and other leading lights of modern society, has never been refuted.

Professor Böhm-Bawerk, the Finance Minister of Austria, urged in his Marx and the Close of his System, that the labour system of value is wrong because Marx failed to take into account scarcity as a factor in fixing value! This expert economist might have seen in the first seven pages of Capital how well scarcity was allowed for. “Diamonds are of very rare oc-currence on the earth’s surface,” wrote Marx (Capital, p. 7), “and hence their discovery costs on an average a great deal of labour time. Consequently much labour is represented in small compass. . .  If we could succeed at a small expenditure of labour in converting carbon into diamonds, their value might fall below that of bricks.” By saying a thing is scarce you can only suggest that it takes a great deal more time to get than if it was plentiful.

Marx’s Awkward Question
All the economists who have blossomed forth since Marx wrote have merely revived theories that were abandoned as useless a century ago by men like Adam Smith and David Ricardo. John Stuart Mill, who pieced together portions of many economists and gave them to the world as his Principles of Political Economy, Prof. Stanley Jevons, with his “Final Utility” theory, the whole Austrian school of economists with their “Marginal Utility” notions; all these, together with the more modem “seers” like Professor Marshall, really base their economics on the old theory of  “Supply and Demand.” The value of an article, in their ides, is fixed by the difference between the supply of that class of goods and the demand for the same.

But Marx asked what fixes the value of an article when supply and demand are equal, and to this question no answer has yet been vouchsafed by the capitalist hacks.

No wonder the well-known German social reformer and critic of Marx, Prof. Werner Sombart, has to confess that “Marx’s theory of Value may perhaps be refuted, but that has not yet been done.”

A Grudging Tribute
This Berlin Professor of political economy writes thus of Marx: “There was reason enough why Marx was able to rank so high among the social philosophers of the nineteenth century and to exercise by the side of Hegel and Darwin so great an influence on the thought of our day. He combined within himself the best philosophy of history current in his time with the knowledge of the highest forms of social life. He knew his Hegel, and he knew his Western Europe, more especially France and England. He gathered all the lines of thought that had preceded from thinkers of previous ages, and was clever enough, perhaps because of his international experience, to pay but little heed to what was accidental in national development and to lay stress on what was typical in the life of society to-day.” (Socialism and the Social Movement, p. 52).

Marx, together with his great co-worker, Frederick Engels, came to the conclusion that the whole of past history since the passing of primitive communism, had been a history of class struggles. These classes – at one time chattel slave owners against the helots, later barons against burghers, now capitalists against wage-labourers – all had their roots in the changing conditions of wealth production and exchange.

The material conditions, says Marx, are the foundation upon which rise all social institutions and when material conditions change so also do the institutions of society.

In his books upon capital Marx laid bare the method of robbing the wage-labourers. He showed that out of the value created by the worker’s energies, the worker receives merely enough to barely subsist on. The surplus of the value created goes to the exploiting employer. Hence there is a conflict of interests between the wage workers and the employers. The latter try to increase the amount of surplus-value and the workers struggle unceasingly against their masters, and must do so while the employers have the power to extract this surplus over the wages paid.

Almost Like Prophecy
This class struggle is the cardinal principle of the Socialist policy. And just as it was opposed in Marx’s day, so now the class struggle theory is fought against by all those who wish to blind the toilers to their true interests. Just as it was true when Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto of the Communist Party, so now it bears the stamp of irrefutable fact. Marx showed that the progress of  modern capitalism would result in a widening of the gulf that divides the employing class from the working class. He pointed out “in words which seem to many even non-Socialists like prophecy” (wrote Professor R. T. Ely in his Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society) that wealth would concentrate into fewer bands the more the system grew.

Professor Werner Sombart, the Revisionist of Revisionists previously quoted, says on this point:–
“During the last 20 years, as we know, there has been a concentration of capital by the formation of trusts such as Marx in his boldest flights of imagination could never have dreamed of. Especially is this the case in the United States of America, where we get the best examples of these giant undertakings. According to the latest statistics, no less than 8,664 concerns which were formerly independent are now amalgamated in a few Trusts with a capital of 20,000 million dollars. Of these seven of the ‘greater’ industrial trusts contain 1,528 concerns formerly independent, and possess a capital of 2,663 million dollars. The six largest railway trusts are even better placed; they have a capital of 9,017 million dollars! ”
The truth of the class struggle has been driven home with more tragic emphasis than ever during the last few years. The wide-spread , strikes and lock-outs, the fiendish cruelty of the employers toward their rebellious slaves all over the capitalist world, has induced even capitalist authorities to “lament” the growth of “labour unrest” and of class strife.

Marx’s Magnificent Achievement
Socialism became in Marx’s hands a part of social science. The schemes of St. Simon Fourier, Cabet, and Owen were based upon abstract principles like “justice,” “truth,” and “right.” They appealed to the “moral” side of the wealthy, and hoped to see communities established in accord with their ideals. Cabet with his “Icarie”, Robert Owen with his “New Harmony” community, each thought to solve the social problem and end the social strife by his carefully planned colonies. But their failure serves as a lesson accentuating the need for science in social action instead of Utopian ideas.

Marx rescued Socialism from the hands of the Utopian and placed it upon a foundation of scientific fact. Not moral appeals, but organised political action was the way to fight the capitalists. Society, said Marx, moved not because of changing morals, but under the pressure of growing economic forces making a change in social forms inevitable.

Even such an opponent of Marx as Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald has made the admission (Socialism and Society, preface) that “Marx’s co-ordination of historical facts and explanation of historical movement from the point of view of the Hegelian left wing brought the whole theory of Socialism from the misty dreams of vague desire to the clearly defined empire of science.”

It used to be the regular custom in the party to which the above labour “leader” belongs to anathematise Marx and consign him to oblivion as a sociologist. But the place of prominence which history has tardily given Marx, the esteem which he has won in the minds of serious working men and women, have forced the I.L.P. to change their tactics and hence they cling to the name of Marx whilst outraging every principle for which Marx stood.

Mr. Keir Hardie, who derives his “economics” from Jesus Christ, says in his My Confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance: “The Labour Party practices the Marxian policy of the Class Struggle”. Such a statement, of course, is utterly false. the alliance with the most bitter enemies of the working class such as the Liberal manufacturers, for the purpose of “getting in”, is certainly part of the class struggle, but the Labour Party take sides in that struggle with the masters. Even their own members such as Philip Snowden and F.W. Jowett, have confessed to the reactionary position of their party.

Marx’s whole life was guided by the principle of “No Compromise”. Because of his refusal to truckle to the rulers of Germany he was hunted down and put on trial for sedition. Paper after paper was suppressed, and in their effort to crush “the terrible Marx”, the German powers even incited the French and Belgian Governments to thrust him from their shores. But how different did the leader of the British Labour Party get treated!

Karl Marx was persecuted with all the force of the law, but Mr. Macdonald is especially invited to lunch with the German Emperor, an invitation which he gladly accepted.

Doesn’t this alone show how false to the toilers’ interest is this Labour Party? Defiance, not deference to capitalism, was Marx’s motto, and he always opposed any flirting with the enemies of the Red Flag. In the early days of the International he strenuously fought against the attempts of Charles Bradlaugh to enter the organisation, because even then Bradlaugh was showing signs of joining hands with the Liberals.

Marx’s exposure of the Liberal Labour leader George Howell brings home his hatred of those who acted as decoys for the masters. He did not hesitate in 1875 to oppose the union of the followers of Lassalle with the Workingmen’s Party of Germany at Gotha, even though he lost many friends thereby. The Lassalleans were Utopians, and desired to inscribe on the Unity programme State Co-operation in Industry as the policy of the party. The trenchant attack of Marx remains a beacon for the toilers to-day, when men talk of “Socialist unity”, but want us to sacrifice our Socialism in order to become “united”.

Now and again the reactionary “leaders of Labour” to-day admit the soundness of Marx’s revolutionary policy. For instance, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald says in Socialism and Society (page 9):–
“We seem to have reached the maximum improvement which the present system can yield. Further ameliorative efforts of a purely reforming character can produce little fruit”.
The main theory of the Labour leaders at present is for a legal minimum wage. Talking of his late wife’s advocacy of this nostrum Mr. R. Macdonald tells us (“Margaret Ethel McDonald: a Memoir”): “Once she said with a whimsical smile: ‘when the last Wages Board will have given its last decision, we shall still have to go upon the housetops and shout with Marx ‘Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains’”.

Marx laboured to keep the working class upon the right road to their salvation. Amidst deepest poverty, hunted across frontiers, turned out of doors because of failure to find the rent, refused work even as a manual labourer, the mighty proletarian thinker never wavered from the work of his life. The story of his struggles has never been fully told, but the glimpses we get of his life are sufficient to stimulate us to the fullest extent to prosecute the work of educating our fellows in Socialism with the material he placed ready to our hands, and organising them for its realisation on the basis which he so clearly indicated.
Adolph Kohn

What about art? (2004)

From the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the perennial questions asked of socialists are some concerning the likely attitude to art in socialism. For example, how would Socialist society treat any artistic elite, and who would have access to famous works? Names like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are likely to figure in such questions.
    
The appreciation of works of art today can be tempered by what they would fetch in the sale room, at which time they take the form of commodities. The identity of the artist is then of greater moment than the aesthetic appeal of a work. If a painting is reassigned by specialists as being the work of a studio assistant its value can be totally undermined. Museums house interesting and beautiful works (and some to hurry past), not all of them on display. Or we can see pictures and antique furnishings displayed in the grand surroundings of some stately home, all serving as a reminder that ownership of ‘great’ works of art has long been the prerogative of the rich and powerful. It was for example no accident that the wealthy city states of Northern Italy were also influential artistic centres, and the setting for the Renaissance. In fact in all the regions where there was financial prosperity through trade, and “wealthy entrepreneurs to purchase”, important artists were to be found.

Renaissance Italy
It was a time of expansion in trade and banking, including credit facilities. What Lisa Jardine refers to as the “dawning of a high culture of commodities” meant that those who prospered from their banking and trading activities, like the Medici family, were able to indulge in conspicuous consumption (Worldly Goods, p. 124). Art works were part of this display of wealth and position. Objects appear in paintings, including those with religious themes, which reflect the luxurious lifestyles of the patrons and their families. Both patrons and artists were inspired by the revival of interest in classical art and in science and learning.
    
Dignitaries from church and state commissioned buildings, sculpture and paintings from masters which were then designed in their workshops. Artists, painters and sculptors learned their trade in the workshops of an established master, often a goldsmith. Taken on as apprentices to provide cheap labour, or because they were paying for their tuition, they would begin with cleaning and preparation of materials and in due course progress to assisting with commissioned works. The master might leave his assistants to finish a work, or might finish a work that had been started by others. Artists could also attend at the workshops of other masters. It is likely that Leonardo da Vinci, as well as the workshop of Verrocchio, also attended at that of Antonio and Piero Pollaiuollo who “flayed cadavers to study the anatomy and function of the muscles” (Leonardo The Artist and the Man, Serge Bramly, p. 98). Piero was at the forefront in the use of sketching to capture aspects of the human figure. This peculiarly Florentine development in the use of drawing “was the basis for a new understanding of the human figure”.  Leonardo benefited from the development and carried it forward, “in his hands it became a major tool of exploration of the human figure . . . and many other subjects” (Man and the Renaissance, Andrew Martindale, p.47).
    
Individual artists made ‘extraordinary imaginative leaps’, but genius did not just drop from the sky. Michelangelo may have had sudden inspiration about how to fulfil the commission in the Sistine Chapel, but as a youth he had served a three-year apprenticeship in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio before turning to the study of the great masters of the past, including Greek and Roman sculptors. His drawings reflect his considerable ability as a sculptor, as well as his study of human anatomy which, like that of Leonardo da Vinci, included the dissection of bodies. Once a breakthrough had been made, such as the working out of linear perspective or in the way materials could be used, it would be emulated by other artists and pupils. A clarification of some of the sources for the discoveries and inventions credited to Leonardo showed that he had “precursors and masters whose thoughts he pursued or revived” (Serge Bramly, Introduction, p.11)
    
If the Renaissance was a time of a flowering in the arts, what might we expect of the period following the establishment of common ownership and democratic control of the earth and its resources?

Socialism 
We do not claim perfection for a socialist world, only that it will be possible to first clear up the mess left by capitalism, and then to deal with new challenges as they arise by the unfettered application of human knowledge, imagination and ingenuity. Socialism is not just about providing for material needs, it is a whole life proposition. Consider the situation where all production is solely for use, with leisure and entertainment no longer industries, but simply activities necessary to human well-being; work and recreation not as now separate parts of life but viewed as an integrated whole. The need to be creative, to expend mental and physical energies, which is part of our identity as human beings, could be fulfilled by different aspects of work and leisure according to individual choice. People living in free association will be able to choose the kind of contribution they wish to make to the common good, undertaking study and training as necessary.
    
Clearly it would not do if too many chose to make an artistic contribution to the exclusion of the more practical occupations. But it is likely that relatively few would choose to undertake artistic work only. Socialism can only happen if the majority of the working class make the conscious decision to implement it; implicit in this decision is a willingness to co-operate in order to fulfil the totality of needs.
    
The idea of an elite in artistic achievement is in line with the ethos of capitalism that the inequality in society is there because human beings are unequal. We would not expect everyone to have identical aptitudes, tastes and skills, but where the social aim is human happiness individuals will be able to discover just what their abilities are and to realise their full potential as human beings. The way will be open for a far greater involvement in art, and for the blossoming of all kinds of talent, with the achievement of excellence perhaps being considered as normal. The idea of an elite could be turned on its head.
    
Still there will be some whose work in art and architecture, as in other fields, earn the extra esteem of the community. It is worth remembering that artists did not always attach great importance to individual recognition. Artists have not always put signatures on their work. The names of the masters responsible for the sculptures of Chartres, Strasbourg and Naumburg are not known. “No doubt they were appreciated in their time, but they gave the honour to the cathedral in which they worked” (The Story of Art, E. H. Grombrich, p. 205).
    
In former times it was the fashionable young men who made the Grand Tour, perhaps accompanied by a water colour artist, now many with more modest means are able to travel and see architectural wonders and gaze upon the vault in the Sistine Chapel, though it is probably from books and television programmes that many ‘great’ art works have become more familiar. Recognising that most people would see his Pearblossom Hwy (1986) in the form of a poster – the work is 10ft across – David Hockney printed 5,000 copies for an exhibition, taking great care with the production of the poster (That’s the way I see it, David Hockney, 1993, p. 115).
    
A world of common ownership will not make it more difficult to enjoy works of art. Museums could still have a useful role in this, and computer-generated copies could be made available. There will be no special kudos attached to the ‘possession’ of items. The idea of what constitutes great art can change through time, though some works continue to have an appeal long after the age which produced them. Those who live in a time when the sole purpose of art is to enrich life will be able to judge the art works produced in previous eras from an enhanced perspective.
    
The story of art, which is as old as Homo sapiens, will continue to unfold, and will no doubt include achievements which equal and even surpass those of the great artists of the past.  Developments in the choice of materials, in styles of building, and in the choice of subject matter for sculpture and painting are for that future to discover. If problems concerning attitudes to art should arise they will be of a kind that a society of equals will be very capable of resolving.
Pat Deutz

Capitalism . . . The Sick Society (1995)

From the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Hardly a week passes now without capitalism giving rise to some event - real, fictional or imaginery - which generates a debate about violence - though, as usual, the system itself is rarely indicted.
The Mail on Sunday called it "The sick face of British fashion" when Wayne Hemingway, the millionaire who runs the fashion house, Red or Dead, had two fashion models fighting on the catwalk, another brandishing a bloody kitchen knife, and another licking blood from the edge of scissors.

Hemingway defended his show on the grounds that he was making a statement about "the future prospects for the world if we continue to abuse the environment and allow the French to carry on nuclear testing".

He's making money
No such defences are offered for explicitly violent films such as Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs or recent gory episodes of the British television series, Cracker, or an increasing torrent of novels and comic books dealing with gruesome murder, rape and torture. All of these have been produced as entertainment—to give pleasure—and to make a profit. In this fashionable splurge of fictional violence, Hemingway's claim that he is expressing a social conscience sounds a bit specious when he is making so much money.

It is the fact that such cruelty and destructiveness appears to be gratuitous, so pornographic, that gives religious evangelists the opportunity to talk loudly of wickedness and the work of the devil in our irreligious modern society. In one sense, they are partly right. Long-standing moral prohibitions against a wide range of activities from gambling to unusual sexual gratifications certainly have been pushed aside in the name of freedom in the past few years.

In theory, capitalism today is a much more tolerant society than it used to be, but in fact the level of intolerance between individuals has increased alarmingly. In some ways we have more liberty than our parents and grandparents, but that liberty has turned into licentiousness on numerous occasions, as the tabloid papers lose no opportunity to report. For reasons like this, freedom and tolerance are ridiculed and condemned by the "law and order" enthusiasts. "Right wing" politicians attack the proposals of "left wing" reformers as being naive or unrealistic. As with the religious evangelists, the hard-line conservatives have more truth on their side than their opponents.

It is true that in twentieth century capitalism liberties are frequently abused and generosity is exploited. It is true that peace and prosperity for everyone is a utopian illusion within this society. However, this says nothing about freedom and tolerance themselves. What it does throw harsh light upon is the fundamental nature of the society we live in. The very structure and day-to-day management of capitalism is designed to prevent to prevent peace and prosperity for everyone from coming about. Whatever capitalism may say about itself, liberty, equality and fraternity are not the values it develops.

The power of the capitalist class in Britain, as elsewhere, was established by bloody revolution and and violence. The sort of society this produces is therefore one of oppression and exploitation. The working class is ruled, not only by law, police, prisons and armed forces, but by its dependence upon working for the capitalist class and upon the amount of money workers receive in wages and salaries. Because money controls freedom.

Bottled anger
But money also hides the oppressors. With a money system and a market in which everything is for sale, the homeless and destitute cannot point to anyone who is denying them somewhere to live or a share in the mountains of goods on sale.

The unemployed can feel inadequate when they are rejected in the labour market. And those of us who are lucky enough to escape the extremes of poverty which pervades capitalist society can only feel frustrated and stultified at having to spend the whole of our active lives working hard just to stay alive.

All these aspects of our oppression and exploitation produce anger. The more irrational the situation—such as unemployment for some and overwork for others, or sleeping in cardboard boxes only yards away from the most opulent hotels—the greater the anger.

Capitalist society demands that we should "bottle it up" and suffer in silence, be subdued and ashamed if we are destitute. For those who hold this point of view, the smashing of windows in bus shelters and telephone kiosks is seen as "mindless violence". The battering of old ladies in the street or the, often fatal, street fights outside pubs and clubs are regarded as the work of delinquents who need violent treatment in boot camps or prisons to cure them. The fact is that these criminals have already grown up immersed in violence. More violence will not change them.

There is a direct correlation between poverty and the committing of violent crime by juveniles. And the crucible in which such behaviour is smelted is the nuclear family. The commonest pattern is for the low-paid or unemployed rather his frustration and anger through violence towards his wife in front of the children, and for both parents to nag and thrash the children irritably and inconsistently.

One-parent families
One-parent families have an even worse record of producing violent youngsters—but only when they are also poor. Then they are usually even poorer than poor two-parent families. Robert Thompson, one of Jamie Bulger's killers, came from a poor, violent, one-parent home. His mother once knocked a man down with a single punch in her local pub.

It is in the family, also, that our sexual behaviour and feelings are moulded. Like the tendency to be violent, aberrant sexual behaviour, once established, tends to persist throughout life. If sexual feelings have been associated repeatedly with experience of shame or violence or any other strong influence, these experiences remain tangled together for that individual.

Sexual urges are almost impossibly strong for most healthy young people to suppress. When the sex drive is mixed up with childhood feelings of humiliation and adult experiences of economic oppression it is not a good basis for a caring sexual relationship. When it is the experience daily for human beings to be thrown on the social scrap heap like discarded commodities, it is hard to prevent that attitude from leaking into personal relationships.

Rape, sadism, gratuitous violence and sexual murder are not inexplicable exceptions in an otherwise harmonious society. They are behavioural patterns which are consistent with our war-torn, crime-ridden, ruthless competitive, class-dominated, social system. The pornography of sex and violence is selling so well in films and books and videotapes because the innate violence at the heart of capitalist society permeates every aspect of our lives. It explains us to ourselves in exaggerated terms. It is the mythology of our times.
Ron Cook




Obituary: E. C. Kersley (1976)

Obituary from the May 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ted Kersley died on March 18th after a short acute illness. He was in his 88th year. A number of members and ex-members of the party attended his funeral at Harlow cemetery on a grey and chilly afternoon, March 25th.

His career was remarkable. He had little formal education, and spent some of his early years in an orphanage. Before he was twelve years old he was at work, supplementing the meagre family income. A conscientious objector on Socialist grounds when war broke out in 1914 when war broke out in 1914, he was rejected and sent into the army. In France he owed his life to his wits, employment as a regimental cook, and a relative disregard for military obligations and procedure. After his discharge he became a dealer and "runner" in the art trade. A tribute to him and his achievement in this filed appeared in The Times of March 31st. Perhaps the most glowing acknowledgment of all those he was accorded must be that in the late Sir Arthur Elton's edition of Klingender's Art and the Industrial Revolution.

He joined the Party in 1910, and must therefore have been the oldest surviving member of that vintage. We do not remember him as the holder of long office, as a public speaker or writer — though no-one who heard them will forget his inimitable lectures on his chosen subject illustrated with original material. But there will be few of his time who do not remember him. He was always around — when something was to be done, to take the chair, to put up notices, at elections, at public meetings. In later years after an illness he lost his old energy, but his interest never wavered. He took a generous view of the Party's case — though he suffered no dilution or attrition — because he brought a many-sided attitude to it. Controversy never rankled with him, though he could be vehement in disagreement. One can say of Ted that the Party, its principles, its Marxism informed all his activities. Yet he was one of those for whom the party's views was not merely a statement touching capitalism, its cause and cure, but more profoundly on his life a philosophy and purpose. Many will recall the radio programme "The Art Trade Runner" which was widely regarded as a classic of broadcasting. In it, Ted insisted on declaring himself a lifelong revolutionary Socialist. The Times obituary contained no reference to his Socialism, showing that if some aspects of a man's life are recognizable by the Establishment others are not.

We share our regrets at his passing with Nancy his wife, who participated in the hard work and struggles of earlier days, and is still a member of the Party.
C.D.


Is the Marxian theory of history still relevant? (1984)

From the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like Marx, we take the view that human existence is social existence which changes as an historical process. This is the very broad base from which we set out to explain human activity both now and in the past. Such a process of change owes its continuity to the fact that each decision and action sets the social stage for succeeding decisions and actions. Thus the nature of the problems we face now rests importantly on the decisions and actions taken by past generations.

In our own time we are involved with these problems and also thereby with the potential conditions of society to come. Within the actions that we advocate now exists the promise of a better future or its opposite — continuing disaster. Therefore at no time is the past completely dead; it lives on in thought and action and contributes, as a unified structure of past, present and future, to the way we function now.

It is in this way that socialist understand present day problems in the light of history. In respect of present day problems it is useful to ask three questions, the answers to which are critically important. 

They are:
  1. Why is it that as a society we do not do the things we say we want to do?
  2. if we are not doing these things, what are we actually doing?
  3. By what process of history did we arrive in this position?
The given aspirations of this century have been peace and material security, and this assumes that our society is concerned with the material well-being and happiness of the whole community. But the very fact that the claims of political manifestoes have not basically changed over 100 years is evidence that we have not been able to do the things we say we want to do. The social problems of poverty still exist, the threat of annihilation in war is greater than a century ago, and the population bears a harrowing burden of stress.

An obvious feature of our society is that we live with a continuing gap between the aspirations, and the reality, of life. What, then, are we actually doing, and how did we come to be in this mess? The Materialist Conception of History provides a method of enquiry which leads directly to the most significant facts. It puts forward the proposition that to understand a society—how it works, what its problems are, and the key factors behind its development—there are basic aspects which must be examined.

Most importantly, we have to understand how society sustains its material existence. We have to answer the question — how does this society produce and distribute its wealth, who gets what and how do they get it? This means that we must identify the productive relationships of society — the particular classes have different interests in relation to each other about production and the ownership of productive apparatus and resources. Of crucial importance is the question of who controls the centres of decision making, which under capitalism is the state machinery and the forces of power which ensure that decisions are carried out. Also important are the external relationships of society in respect of other political groupings; geographical factors; its ideas and history. The combination of all these factors will reveal the inner tensions and conflicts of interest which exist between classes.

There are two main parts to Marxian theory which are dependent on each other. These are the Labour Theory of Value and the Materialist Conception of History. The Labour Theory of value sets out the economic laws which regulate commodity production under capitalism. The Materialist Conception of History places the productive relationships of commodity production, wage labour and capital in the setting of history.

In what way does Marxian theory answer our original question — why can't we do the things we say we want to do? The question makes definite assumptions about our society; it assumes that we should provide for peace, material security and happiness. But clarification of the nature of capitalism in the light of the important questions that Marxism asks reveals that peace, material security and happiness are unrealistic expectations. They are at odds with the real objectives of capitalism. It is impossible to find a direct link between productive relationships, the economic and social organisation of capitalism, and human needs.

The most important decisions that society makes are those about the production and distribution of goods and the provision of services, but under capitalism these are not primarily concerned with human needs. We find that the motive initiating production is profit. The reason why capitalism does not provide material security is that it is dominated by the profit motive, which is hostile to material security.

Marx was careful to point out that this profit motive made no particular comment on the individual or group of capitalists who make this kind of decision. The profit motive is part of the definite economic laws of commodity production which cannot be ignored at will. Unlimited unprofitable production is impossible; capitalist production as a whole must be profitable.

As a social form of wealth the commodity, obeying the laws of value in an exchange economy, is of recent historical appearance. It is produced for sale on the market and its distribution is limited to those who are able and willing to buy it. Its sale on the market is the realisation of the object of its production which is profit and therefore the commodity is an anti-social form of wealth because it serves privileged class interest.

But Marx drew our attention to the act that what makes the commodity as socially nasty as it is, is not something inherited in the physical form of the commodity itself. This was entirely due to the particular  productive relationship between people which, under capitalism, is the class relationship between wage labour and capital; the capitalists and the workers. The capitalist class own the means of production and resources and on this basis buy the labour power of workers for wages or salaries. By exploiting this labour power, they accumulate capital and maintain their class domination of society.

This relationship of wage labour and capital did not suddenly appear out of the historical blue. It was preceded by such different historical forms as serf and feudal overlord and slave and slave owner. We know that societies previous to slave societies included group privileges arising from division of labour and that these were incipient class divisions. Before this we know in palaeolithic tribalism a primitive equality with little or no division of labour.

These have been different patterns of social productive relationships and from these historical origins society is now based world wide on the wage labour — capital relationship. Commodity production begins with an exchange of the worker's labour power for wages and exploitation takes place because when put to work by the capitalist, the workers produce values over and above the value of their own wages. This surplus value is realised in money form when commodities are sold on the market, which is then available for recirculation as accumulated capital. Thus commodity production is locked into a circular system of exchange and governed by profit and the class accumulation of capital.

Under capitalism wage labour time is a commodity, bought and sold on the labour market. As with all commodities it is split between usefulness and exchange value. In pre-capitalist societies labour was not split in this way and only the usefulness of labour was brought into play. Every society must live by the products of useful labour, but under capitalist production the usefulness of labour is subordinate to its exchange value. This is to say that under capitalism the usefulness of labour can only be activated within a viable economic exchange between labour time and capital. What we mean by viable is profitable from the capitalist's point of view.

This split between labour in its use form and labour in its value form and the constraints of profit and class interest which limit the use of labour tells us a great deal about the contradictions of capitalism. There is no other credible theory available which clarifies, for example, the fact that millions are unemployed while the world desperately needs more goods and services. Marxian theory clarifies the reasons why capitalism can neither solve its problems nor work in the interests of the whole community. It clarifies persistent protest and continuing disillusion. The subordination of useful labour to the wage labour-capital relationship is the surrender of human needs to profit and class interests. All the protests of our time are the protests of useful labour screaming to be released from its domination by capital. In the world of thought and consciousness this split between usefulness and exchange manifests itself as a confusion of identity. We are exchange values yearning to be socially useful and pretending most of the time that we are. This is the economic basis for our loss of connection between thought and the reality of our experience.

Marxism and Determinism
It is often argued that Marxism is a theory of economic determinism which diminishes the importance of ideas and decision making. There can be no doubt that under capitalist society the production and distribution of commodities is regulated by the laws of value and the effects of these laws cannot be set aside merely by political good intention within the framework of capitalism.

This matter touches on the question "why can we not do what we say we want to do?" The Labour Party, for example, has always put itself forward as being against unemployment and has always claimed to be able to solve this problem. But in practice every Labour government has left office with more unemployment than when they took office. In 1974 when the last Labour government took office the unemployed stood at over 600,000 and when they left in 1979 the number was 1,300,000. Similarly during the 1979 election the Conservatives said that they would reduce the unemployment figures, but in fact they have double since that time.

Unemployment reflects the pattern of capitalist trade and this cannot be controlled by governments. Here then we have a social problem, arising from commodity production, which is an example of economic forces which cannot be controlled and therefore appear to be independent of human will. However, it is entirely wrong to to assume from this experience, that we are confronted with a social position about which we have no choice or ultimate control. Obviously, while the workers support capitalism and fail to act on a realistic understanding of the cause of the problem, then it will continue.

Unemployment, together with many other problems, is inevitable under capitalism. But this is not to say that we cannot think and act decisively about problems. What is demonstrated is the value of Marxian theory, that on the basis of certain economic premises certain consequences will follow. No Labour government, nor any other, could run capitalism without a reserve of unemployed workers.

Marxian theory, therefore does not diminish the importance of thought and human responsibility: it emphasises these things. Whether we like it or not, and whether we recognise it or not, the lessons of Marxist theory are present in every social conflict and every argument about what we can or cannot do.
Pieter Lawrence


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Bailiffs (1997)

A Short Story from the January 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

When I was about twelve years old the bailiffs came to our house. While everyone was out they let themselves in the front door by a key which hung down inside the letterbox on a piece of string, carried out two worn-out old armchairs, a shabby old sofa with the springs poking through the cushions and a wobbly dining-room table and chairs, loaded them all onto a van and drove off. On our return from visiting a neighbour my mother and I found an empty living room.

I knew nothing whatsoever about bailiffs and so instantly thought we had been burgled, but my child's mind could not at first take in what anyone would want with such old rubbish. Even now so many years later I can picture the furniture, the old armchair I curled up in to read my books, the sofa my younger brother and I used as a trampoline when our Dad wasn't at home, the table we sat up to for meals or to play games of draughts and ludo, and I still cannot imagine the kind of men who would be prepared to do such a thing. Were they fathers themselves? Were they so much in need of a job that they would willingly, without heart or conscience, without one kind thought for us, take all the comforts we possessed? Nowadays of course I know that they would; I know that the system divides workers, encourages us to think ill of each other, to compete with each other, to blame the unemployed for their predicament, to disparage the homeless and the poor. Indeed now there is a telephone line so that all we need to do if we know some unhappy soul who is seen to leave the house too early in the morning to  be unemployed is to make a phone call and suggest that he or she is picking up a little extra in order to supplement their dole. So yes, why shouldn't the bailiffs have come to our house and nicked all we had? This was 1946 mind! So what;s changed?

The bailiffs came to our house because my mother could not find the money for the last few monthly instalments on the furniture. She had almost finished the payments which was why our few precious sticks were so well worn, but during those last few months my younger brother and I had need of clothes and shoes. Not that my Mum would have expected the bailiffs to work that one out. After all they were only doing their job! So my mother put her face in her hands and wept. Normally she should have sat down to do this but as there were no chairs this gesture lost some of its usual power to disturb me. She said "I wrote and told them about it, they knew."

Meanwhile I wondered if the bailiffs would look like Hollywood gangsters, but when I was unwise enough to express this view aloud my mother said I was being "very silly". Then I remembered that I had left my Richard Crompton book, William The Anarchist, under one of the cushions on one of the chairs, and so our loss became even more acute for me. It was a library book and I was intimidated by the assistants at our local library; they looked very strict and I constantly felt that if I did not bend to their authority then they may expel me from membership and I would fail to fulfill my ambition to read every single book in the junior section by the time I was fifteen.

Later my father came home from work and we sat on the floor to eat our stew. Dad believed his children should know why such a thing had happened, so he talked about the "nature of capitalism" which explanation few of us grasped and my mother pointed out that Karl Marx wasn't going to pay the bills, was he? For some reason this remark caused much hilarity between my four brothers and in next to no time they were all trying to outdo one another with their witticisms. As a little girl I was anxious to know about the "nature of capitalism: so didn't think my brothers were very funny. Altogether it was a strange evening; Mum gloomy, Dad thoughtful, and me still worrying about my book.

The next morning a table appeared as if from nowhere on our garden path. In the afternoon three bandy-legged chairs arrived outside our front gate. And of all things a pot of home-made jam was deposited on our front doorstep. An even more battered sofa than the one the bailiffs had taken was offered to us by a woman at number twelve. "Thought you could make use of it" was all she said.

My brothers and I helped Dad haul the "gifts" into the house and arrange them in the living room. We tried out the chairs and bounced on the sofa. My mother said it was very kind of the neighbours, but I watched my father leave the room and go out into the back garden.

He was pretending to do some weeding. "It's a bit like socialism, isn't it, Dad?" I asked. He was sniffing (exactly the way I did when I was crying privately). He kept his head averted but just the same he put an arm around my shoulder. "Not quite, Liz, but it'll do for now" he said.
Heather Ball

Monday, December 29, 2014

Trapped in a Blind Alley (1973)

Book Review from the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

World Crisis: Essays in Revolutionary Socialism by John Palmer and Nigel Harris. Hutchinson. £2.25

This book is a collection of essays by prominent members of the group known as International Socialism. The basic argument of the book is summed up by Duncan Hallas in the final essay, "The Way Forward."
Basically the case rests on the analysis of the world crisis . . . and particularly on the thesis that, in the changing conditions of capitalism, reformist policies will be less and less able to provide these partial solutions to the problems confronting the working-class that they have been able to provide in the decades since the Second World War.
In other words, the road to reform is closed; the capitalist class can no longer afford to grant the improvement in working-class conditions which it had done in the past. Does this mean, then, that IS do not include reforms in their programme, and base their support on the sole issue of establishing Socialism? Of course that would be expecting too much. Duncam Hallas, in the same essay, states clearly that "the development of a programme (includes) a detailed statement of partial and transitional aims." And the book is scattered with phrases like "connecting the concrete issues that workers face with a generalised perspective." (Higgins and Palmer, Introduction).

Why, therefore, does IS put forward demands for reforms when they believe rightly or wrongly, that these demands cannot be met, instead of putting forward  a demand for Socialism? The answer is, of course, that they believe that it is only by being led up the garden path of reforms and smashed against the brick wall of capitalism that the workers will learn "through their own experience" that capitalism cannot give them what they want. Of course we would accept that socialist ideas arise from the struggles engaged in under capitalism by the working class, but the idea of making "impossible demands" shows a definite contempt for the working-class and their ability to understand socialism.

Predictably enough, another false idea expressed was that of violent insurrection. Paul Foot devoted his energies to an analysis of "Parliamentary Socialism," concluding that democracy is all a sham and that the French workers had shown the way in May, 1968. One of his main mistakes was in assuming Parliament and the vote are inherently reformist, and that revolution must mean a bloodbath on the streets. He states, for example, that the Independent Labour Party "lost its socialist impetus through the insistence on Parliamentary priorities," and that the Communist Party had degenerated since the 1930's when it had "sustained itself . . . by a revolutionary attitude towards Parliament."

This line of argument shows a great deal of confusion. The vote can be used to maintain capitalism, to achieve certain reforms, to destroy democracy (as in the case of Nazi Germany) or to achieve Socialism, depending on the consciousness of the working-class. There is therefore no such thing as a "revolutionary attitude towards Parliament." The ILP, of course, never had a "socialist impetus."

Given the rejection of Parliament, the only alternative IS seem able to offer is syndicalism. Paul Foot writes of the need of the workers "to seize the factories and offices". Tony Cliff says the shop stewards are "the pillars on which any real revolutionary socialist policy must be" (T. Cliff, "The Class Struggle in Britain"). Such beliefs are extremely dangerous—any attempt by IS or any other group to institute "seizure" of the means of production would be suppressed by the State, no doubt at the expense of a good deal of working-class blood; IS would discover, through their own experience, where the real power lies in society.

It would be mistaken to believe that there is nothing of value in this book. Though most of the contributors seem to be trapped in a blind alley, Nigel Harris in part of his essay "Imperialism Today," comes very close to the correct socialist position. In his analysis of armed struggle in backward countries he states:
Marxism is irrelevant to success in guerrilla warfare . . . Marxism dissolves into pre-Marxist populist socialism, the closest analogies to which occur in Narodnik  thought in Tsarist Russia.
He concedes that revolutions in such circumstances are made by small minorities relying on élan and slogans, and that Fidel Castro, for example, was a radical liberal rather than a socialist. Harris therefore comes very close to our position, that groups such as the Vietcong are the equivalent of nineteenth-century bourgeois revolutionaries, seeking only to establish capitalism. We give them no support, but for Nigel Harris the dilemma remains—why does his organization give them "unconditional support"? In his fifty-page essay, he gives no answer at all, except for the pious remark that "socialists instinctively feel a warm sympathy for those struggling for national independence."

Inevitably, there are constant references throughout the book to Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Nowhere is it explained, however, why a revolution which took place fifty-five years ago in a backward, pre-industrial country in which a decaying feudal regime collapsed under the strain of war has any relevance to conditions in Britain or any advanced capitalist country to-day. All the other standard IS ideas crop up regularly—the false Lenin theory of imperialism, the equally false crypto-Keynesian theory of the "permanent economy," the peculiar obsession with productivity deals. When all is said and done, however, the IS gap still looks to the Labour Party for its philosophy. It was fitting, therefore, that Duncan Hallas, on the last page of the book, should state that "there are still genuine socialists active in the Labour Party". Needless to say, he did not name any.
B.M. 


The People You Meet No. 3 — Just a Housewife (1950)

From the January 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

She came to the doorstep and eyed me with mixed suspicion and anger—anger because I had interrupted her housework and suspicion because she knew I had something to sell. Before the war five or six men called every day selling everything from toothbrushes to vacuum cleaners, cash down or on the never-never; now they are re-appearing.

:Good morning," I ventured, and received a hard get-to-the-point look. Quickly I gabbled that I represented the S.P.G.B., that I had called to acquaint her with the organisation and ultimately to sell her a copy of the STANDARD.

"Politics!" she snapped, "they're the old man's business, and he's out." He wasn't. He was in the garden chopping wood. Household tasks were far more important.

"But surely you are concerned with the problems of war, poverty and unemployment?"

That struck a chord. She wiped her hands on her pinafore and showed some interest. "Things are better to-day than they ever were," she claimed. "You're young. You don't remember." And then she told this story.

In short, she was brought up in one of those grim industrial areas that cluster around Manchester. The eldest of several kids she cared for the rest while her mother was at the mill. "It was cheaper for them to employ women," she explained. Her father just languished till he joined the Army and was killed in 1914. "I was lucky," she said. "My chap came back and we were married in 1919." For a few years luck was with them and they managed to keep a home together and produce four children. Eventually, early in 1931, he fell out of work. The dole, the Means Test, the bun house—and then they decided to try their luck in the south. It was just the same down here. They sold more and more of their furniture and wares. "I had a breakdown—the old man grew sullen and miserable and young Johnnie went into a sanatorium for nearly three years." But as time went on work grew more plentiful till in 1939 he started at K------s. "And he's been there ever since."

"I don't know much about politics," she reaffirmed "but it seems to me that Labour has done better after this war than the others did after the last one."

I pointed out that the favourable conditions of the labour market since the war was not due to the good work of a Labour Government but due to the existence of ready markets; that already it was becoming difficult for the capitalist, in face of American competition, to sell his goods: that unemployment figures were steadily rising; that a slump is almost inevitable.

It didn't sink in. Living from day to day had set her thinking the same way. Women! It is not enough to leave these matters to the old man. Politically, he is as ignorant as you are.

Your experiences are as vivid as his. When you see the shops full and your purses empty, when, in spite of your efforts, you see your kids suffer from undernourishment, when your sons are called off to war, ask yourself the reason why. Examine the world in which you live. Who knows, you may even set the old man on the right road.
RONALD.

The American Conventions (1964)

Editorial from the July 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The two big American parties are now about to hold the Conventions—the Republicans at San Francisco this month, the Democrats at Atlantic City in August—which will select their candidates for the Presidential election in November.

The Conventions' job is to pick the man who will pull in the most votes for his party; as such, they are themselves part of the election campaign. They usually wear a public face of enthusiastic confidence, expressed in fatuously massive banners, frenzied parades around the hall and similar ballyhoo. But behind this facade, in guarded rooms, the reality is grimly faced and tense bargaining often goes on, as the delegations trade their support in exchange for pledges of political patronage.

The Democratic Convention promises to be a triumphantly straightforward affair, a formal endorsement of President Johnson as their man. Johnson has so far demonstrated that he has most of the faculties which capitalism's leaders normally require — physical toughness, political skill, ruthlessness, a flair for publicity and what we can very loosely call a little bit of luck.

Since he took over in November last, Johnson has built himself onto one of the biggest vote winners his party has ever had: the public opinion polls consistently give him the support of about three-quarters of the American electorate. If there were any argument about his nomination, this fact would clinch it. There is no reason to suppose that at Atlantic City next month the banners will wave, the button badges will be worn, the cheer leaders will carol, for anyone other than Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Republicans are in different straits. Not for over twenty years have they selected a candidate who did not stand for what are called "liberal" policies—a measure of state insurance, medical aid and so on. This was why nobody took Senator Barry Goldwater seriously when he was announced, some months ago, that he was in the race for the nomination.

But Goldwater, like Kennedy in 1960, has demonstrated that an initially doubtful candidate can break down the forces against him by proving his ability to attract votes in primary elections. While his opponents in the Republican Party have been divided among themselves, the Senator has been systematically amassing delegates' votes.

He goes to San Francisco as the favourites. Of the men who are expected to stand against him, Rockefeller has shown that he has not got the requisite voting pull. The big opposition to Goldwater may therefore come from one of the men who, although they have yet to intervene in any force, would probably dearly like the nomination: Nixon, Scranton, Lodge.

It will be a tough fight, for the Senator's bandwagon is now rolling briskly along. His policies may strike some people as inane and irresponsible but a great many others approve them. Goldwater's victory in California came after his famous indiscreet advocacy of the use of nuclear weapons in Indo-China - and even after he made things worse by appearing to be confused over exactly what he had said.

The industrial areas may dislike his opposition to unemployment and sickness insurance but millions of other Americans support him on this, because they think that such schemes undermine what they are pleased to call their self-reliance. Goldwater gives the impression that he would like to see the United States lose interest in Europe: this is an idea not unfavourably received by the American electorate. The Economist of 6th June last speculated: " . . . even President Johnson might be pressed to cover his right flank by saying things that created the same impression."

All this could mean that Goldwater is not such a vote-loser as some of his party think. At the moment, so certain does their defeat seem to be, that they have little to lose, and Goldwater has been the only man up to now who has shown that he knows how to get down to the grass roots of ignorance.

If he does get the nomination he will probably be supported, by the customary cynical balancing act, with a "liberal" candidate for the Vice-Presidency. This would be designed to take the edge of Goldwater's more wild views so that he could gather votes from a wider circle, in the same way that Johnson's Southern origins were supposed to compensate for Kennedy's New England brashness.

On this score again, the Democrats do not have the same problem as their opponents. Johnson is so much all things to all men, he fits in so well in the business of universal vote-gathering, that he has no electoral edge to take off. He needs nobody to balance him; the post of Vice-President is, therefore, probably at his disposal exclusively.

Whoever fights it out in November, the election will be the usual depressing affair. The American voters will give their verdict on all the familiar issues of reform and futility, ignoring the real issue—Capitalism or Socialism—which faces them all the time.

When the banners have been put away, when the ticker tape has been swept up, when the drum majorettes are resting their aching legs, and when the next President is settled in the White House, Capitalism will grind on, spreading confusion and despair on all sides.


Backwaters of History (1953)

From the September 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The five men were silhouetted against the bright, grey, morning sky as they walked steadily, in single file, with spades and shovels on their shoulders, up the gentle slope of the hillside. They halted and gathered in the group, talking, gesticulating, looking around and pointing. Then they walked away in a different direction and were lost to sight behind the hill.

It was the first day of April in the year 1649. The five men were quite ordinary humble artisans or labourers, living in the village of Cobham, in Surrey. Only one of them had any reputation outside the locality in which they lived; William Everard had been cashiered from the army—from Oliver Cromwell's army—and was known for his religious zeal. Stewer and Colten were well known locally but the other two had so little fame that their names have not been handed down to us. 

On the lower slopes of St. George's Hill, on the side by Camp Close, the men spent the day digging, breaking the soil into a fine tilth and sowing parsnips, carrots and beans, When their work was finished they gathered  up their tools and made their way back to their homes. That simple day's work had far-reaching results and qualified the five men for honourable mention in every worth-while history of the working class.

The following Monday they were back at their digging in the same place, accompanied by nine or ten new recruits. By Friday the group was over thirty strong. On Saturday they went to Kingston-on-Thames to furnish themselves with seed corn and they arranged to have ploughs for their future work.

On the 16th of April, Henry Sanders of Walton-on-Thames, a local landowner, reported these doings to the Council of State. The Council of State instructed the commander-in-chief of the army, General Fairfax, to send a force of horse troops to Cobham to dispel this "Disorderly and tumultuous" assembly whilst it was still a beginning and before more dangerous consequences grew.

The men of Cobham, together with others who had followed their example at near-by Walton-on-Thames, offered no resistance to the soldiers. They were pacifists. They were arrested and the leaders, Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard, were taken before Cromwell and Fairfax at Whitehall. They stood before the Lord General with their hats on, claiming that he was but their fellow man.

They stated that for many years the people had lived under oppression and tyranny. The remedy was to cultivate the wastelands, the common land and the parks, everyone working and living communally. They did not intend to touch any private land or to break any fence or enclosure, only to till the common and untilled land.

Another local landowner, a Mr. Drake, summonsed them and they were tried by a jury of local wealthy freeholders at Kingston Court in August, 1649. They were not allowed to defend themselves and were all fined £10 each. Their cattle were injured by hired ruffians. A Puritan preacher was sent to Cobham to stir the local population against them. The few huts that they had erected were pulled down, their spades and hoes were cut to pieces, the land they had dug and sown was torn and trampled so that no corn could grow, the men themselves were maltreated.

For over a year the settlement at Cobham persisted. Propagandists were sent out to other parts of the country and another settlement was commenced at Wellingborough and some support was found in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. But the support was slight and after a year of digging and a year of persecution the movement died out in early 1651.

The members of this movement called themselves the "True Levellers" but because of their experiment at Cobham and elsewhere they became better known as "The Diggers." The prime motivator of the movement, Gerrard Winstanley, was a cloth manufacturer. He continued his activities after the Digger movement had faded out and during the last years of his life he was a member of 'The Society of Friends," better known as "The Quakers," which had been founded by George Fox in 1652. A number of other members of the Digger movement likewise joined the Quakers, and continued to suffer for their beliefs.

During the 16th century and the early part of the 17th the early merchant capitalists in England had been gaining in numbers, wealth and political power. Their struggle against their feudal class enemies culminated in open hostilities between themselves, entrenched in the Parliament, and the Feudal Aristocracy lined up behind the Monarchy. Both sides resorted to armed force, and the Parliamentary troops under Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Fairfax and Henry Ireton finally triumphed over the Royal forces under King Charles I and Prince Rupert. The king was beheaded without having abdicated, as evidence that it was the monarchy and all it stood for that was defeated and not merely the king.

The wealthy capitalists raised their troops from amongst the small merchants and artisans of the towns and from the ranks of the small working class of those days. To ensure support from these social elements they were fed on propaganda for religious and political freedom. In the Parliamentary army, amongst the small merchant and artisan element, there grew up a movement known as "The Levellers" which demanded a political freedom in excess of what the wealthier capitalists were prepared to admit. An extreme section of the Leveller movement, supported mainly by agricultural workers and calling itself the "True Levellers" demanded a form of utopian communism. The digging experiment was an attempt at propaganda-by-deed by this extreme element.

In an age of pamphleteering, Winstanley and other diggers supplied many pamphlets. Their writings are cloaked in religious phrases for it was a time of religious fervour. Yet they saw clearly that there could be no real freedom whilst there was private property.
"True freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth  . . . A man had better to have no body than to have no food for it . . . True freedom lies in the free enjoyment of the earth."
(Winstanley. The Law of Freedom.)
They recognised the real function of religion as propounded by the church.
"While men are gazing up to heaven, imagining after a happiness or fearing a hell after they are dead, their eyes are put out, that they see not what is their birthrights, and what is to be done by them here on earth while they are living . . . And indeed the subtle clergy do know that if they can but charm the people . . . to look after riches, heaven and glory when they are dead, that then they shall easily be the inheritors of the earth and have the deceived people to be their servants. This . . . was not the doctrine of Christ."
(Winstanley. The Law of Freedom.) 
They saw the real cause of war and, vaguely, of class struggles.
"property and single interest divides the people of a land and the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere."
(Winstanley. The True Levellers' Standard Advanced).
". . . Rich men receive all they have from the labourer's hand and what they give, they give away other men's labours, not their own"
(Winstanley. The Law of Freedom.)
There are many writings to show the kind of society the Diggers aimed to establish. Just one quotation will suffice.
"Shall we have lawyers?
"There is no need for them, for there is to be no buying and selling; neither any need to expound laws; for the bare letter of the law shall be both judge and lawyer, trying every man's actions. And seeing we shall have successive Parliaments every year, there will be rules made for every action a man can do."
(Winstanley. The Law of Freedom.) 
Four of the Diggers' foremost persecutors were Members of Parliament who had been expelled by Cromwell for their Royalist sympathies. But they were still secure in their land ownership and were back in Parliament. Cromwell and those he represented were showing that, as far as they were concerned, the revolution had gone far enough. They held political power and they were prepared to use it to suppress their erstwhile supporters more ruthlessly than they had suppressed their former class enemies. In fact, they were prepared to compromise and ally with their former enemies to subdue the aspirations of their extremist followers.

Winstanley expresses the situation well:
"While this kingly power reigned in one man called Charles, all sorts of people complained of oppression . . . Thereupon you that were the gentry, when you were assembled in Parliament, you called upon the poor common people to come and help you . . . That top bough is lopped off the tree of Tyranny, and the kingly power in that one particular is cast out. But alas, oppression is a great tree still, and keeps off the sun of freedom from the poor commons still."
(Winstanley. A New Year's Gift for the Parliament and Army.)
Winstanley, in his writings, as in the few writings of other Diggers, realises the need to propagate his ideas and to gain support for them from a majority of the people. But none of them challenged the political supremacy of the wealthy capitalists. Instead they appealed for a change of heart. The more wily of the capitalists recognised at the outset the need to capture and hold political power to ensure the domination of their class over society. With the political machine in their hands their opponents on all sides were powerless.

The capitalist class still recognises that, and clings to political power tenaciously. It will continue to impose its will on society until the working class deprives it of that power and proceeds to remodel society in keeping with working class interests.
W. Waters.


Recommended books for students: -
M. Beer. A History of British Socialism. Part I Section 5.
C. Hill and E. Dell. The Good Old Cause. Part 12.
M. James. Materialist Interpretations. Essay in "The English Revolution," Edited by C. Hill.
H. Holorenshaw. The Levellers and the English Revolution.
E. Dell. Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers. Essay in "The Modern Quarterly," Spring 1949.
E. Bernstein. Cromwell and Communism.
Berens. The Digger Movement in the Days of Commonwealth.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The People You Meet No. 2 — Punchy (1949)

From the December 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

He came into the meeting, took one look at the speaker and threatened to knock his b——y head off. Seeing me selling literature, he assured me of a likewise fate. Normally I should have been scared stiff. but we all know Punchy. About six times a year his battered face grimaced at the speaker and his glassy eyes glistened at the prospect of a fight.

At one time he was a promising young boxer. He was naturally well built and the years he had spent in the rough streets of dockland in the years that followed the First World War had taught him to use his fists. They had also taught him that in this world a man is judged not by what he is, but by what he is worth. So when he left school, with neither education nor trade, he sought a fortune with the skill of his fists.

Round the booths as a free lance he picked up a pound here, thirty bob there till he was eventually taken up by a manager. Visions of championships rose before his eyes—Southern Counties, British, European, and who knows, even the World! "But first we've got to build you up," they told him. So once, twice, three times a week he climbed into the ring to punch hell out of declining veterans. The flattery, the cajolery and most of all the money, kept him going. He did eventually reach the top—the top of the bill at many back-street boxing halls up and down the country. There for a while he reigned but there were times when his sight grew blurred; bells rang in his ears. Defeats on points became knock-outs. The rot had set in. On the road down he became the human punchbag which carried other youngsters to the top. Gradually his fights grew less and less and only whiskey kept him going, till he completed his tour and returned, physically injured and mentally scarred, to the gutter from which he came.

Now, as veteran of more than 400 bouts, he lives from day to day, sweeping the arena, selling programmes, and scrounging fags and beer from those who recall his former "greatness."

Sport! —a word which symbolises the human being at play for mental stimulation and physical satisfaction. Where is the sport here with young men being punched into insensibility for a few shillings to satisfy the warped desires of their fellow-workers and make a pile for the promoters? Where is the sport where the player is goaded beyond his capacity by fear of poverty?

Not only is this in the field of boxing. In every sport the professional is gradually squeezing out the amateur—and even the amateur must play to the gallery for support. The field of football affords an example of this transition. Just like every other worker the player is exploited to an ever-increasing degree, and the better he is, the more of an attraction he becomes the more he is bound in his peculiar form of slavery.

Sport is the medium by which men and women display their skill, the co-ordination of mind and muscle, but to be fully appreciated it must be spontaneous and joyful. In a system of society where all goods and services, including the service of entertainment, are produced for sale and profit, the greater an athlete becomes, greater is the pressure exerted upon him by the businessman. Sport gives way to viciousness and cunning.

Punchy cannot be saved. The most he can hope for is the chance to spend the rest of his days in kind hands, well fed and cared for. But it is in our hands to save others, and in doing so to save ourselves, for this, revolting as it may be, is only one of the minor anomalies of capitalism. The answer to them all lies in the establishment of Socialism, a system of society that will make life itself a sport and a pleasure.
RONALD. 

No War But The Class War!

Book Review from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
No War But The Class War! Libertarian Anti-Militarism Then and Now. Edited by Anna Key. Kate Sharpley Library. 2003.
Some purchasers of this short, 20-page pamphlet might find it a bit of a con since, though it opposes militarism, it does not oppose violence. Far from it. It praises violence and advocates this as the way to confront the State. We ourselves are not pacifists, but we always make it clear that we think that Socialists should only contemplate resorting to violence reluctantly and as a last resort should an anti-socialist minority attempt to prevent by violent means the implementation of the democratically-expressed will of a majority for socialism. So you will find no glorification of violence—such as the talk of “armed joy” by the sick individual who wrote this pamphlet's last contribution—in our literature.
The items in this collection of anti-militarist leaflets and articles start from an appeal to conscript soldiers in Spain in 1896 not to go and fight in Cuba to a leaflet against the recent war in Afghanistan. The contrast between the early and the later ones is striking, with the early ones coming from the heart in contrast to the more intellectual later ones. Not that the message in the earlier ones is that coherent or, frankly, sensible.
There are two contributions from the pre-WWI French anti-militarist militant, Gustave Hervé, who wrote a book called Leur Patrie (in English “Their Country”, but whose English version is called My Country Right or Wrong). One starts off well enough, excellently in fact:
“For anybody who is not satisfied with words, or anybody who wants to forget for a moment the fantastic definitions of the Country which have been taught him at school, a Country is a group of men living under the same laws; because they themselves or their ancestors have been brought willingly or by force, more often by force, to obey the same sovereign, the same government. Patriotism groups men according to their land of origin, as decided by the vicissitudes of history; within every country, thanks to the patriotic link, rich and poor unite against the foreigner. Socialism groups men, poor against rich, class against class, without taking into account the differences of race and language, and over and above the frontiers traced by history”.
But it then goes on to advocate, as the working-class response to the outbreak of war, an armed uprising to attempt to overthrow capitalist rule: “Insurrection rather than War!”
The early SPGB (since we were founded in 1904) was aware of Hervé views and commented on this particular slogan in the July 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard:
“Certainly no one country's exploiters are so superior to the rest that the workers should sacrifice themselves in defending them; but it is equally certain that if the proletarians were to rise in armed revolt against their rulers immediately on the outbreak of war, while the master class controlled the armed forces of the nation, and while the workers were yet unable and unready to assume control of Society, they would be courting a shambles that would make war peace by contrast.”
“Since, therefore, Hervé's statement implies that the workers even though they are not in a position to successfully emancipate themselves should nevertheless sacrifice themselves in a fruitless and bloody attempt to do so on the outbreak of war, it is necessary to dissent from that position of his declaration.”
“The particularly anti-militarist propaganda of Hervé has undeniably an educational value, and to that extent it is to be welcomed.”
It has to be added that, when the first world slaughter did break out in August 1914, Hervé rushed to join the French army to defend “their Country”, a fact referred to (but without naming him) in the next following article in the pamphlet: “the same man who had once proclaimed 'insurrection rather than war' now exhorts his comrades to defend the 'civilization' of the exploiters”.
Hervé later became a fascist. He wasn't the only pre-WWI anti-militarist militant to take this road, the most notorious being Mussolini. The publishers of this pamphlet, with its talk of “armed joy” and “transforming life arm in hand”, might like to ponder whether the glorification of non-state violence is not in the fascist rather than the “libertarian” tradition.
There's not much wrong with the slogan “No War but the Class War”. But there's a lot wrong with “No War but Civil War” which is how this pamphlet interprets it.
Adam Buick