Monday, January 27, 2014

Marxist ethic? (1983)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

If ethics is taken to be, on the one hand, the negation of bourgeois ideology and morality and, on the other, as the intellectual and practical anticipation of the humanist values which are to govern relations among individuals in a world community freed from today’s dominant alienating institutions (economic, political, ideological, etc.), then the work of Karl Marx may consequently be understood as an ethical act. As such, this work is one of the most important contributions to a radical transformation of mankind’s destiny: to humanity’s passage from the pre-human to the human stage, from human prehistory to history made by man.

As an ethical act, Marx’s work is based on scientific proof of the opportunity offered to mankind to choose between collective suicide, made possible by technical achievements which escape man’s rational control, and human self-realisation thanks to the reasonable use of the world’s resources and the technical advances of modern science.

As an ethical act, Marx’s teaching and practice was inspired by his view of the rapid cyclical development and expansion of the capitalist mode of production on a world scale, and thus of an increasing proletarianisation of the labouring masses, despite the immense progress in science and technics, and, finally, of mankind’s opportunity for material and intellectual emancipation. It is through a growing consciousness of this opportunity that the proletariat of the industrially developed countries was to constitute itself into political parties and “win the battle of democracy,” either legally, by universal suffrage, or by a revolutionary struggle, i.e. a general strike and the workers’ takeover of the means of production in view of self-management.

As an ethical act, Marx’s theory was offered to the most numerous and poorest class not as a definitive revelation of proletarian slavery and human emancipation but as an instrument for revolutionary self-education in the tradition of the teaching and practice of those great social reformers whose disciple Marx acknowledged to be. Marx, an insatiable reader and scholar, himself provided a definition of his intellectual and literary vocation, while admitting the limits of his theoretical originality, in this following confession to his daughter Laura: “You'll certainly fancy, my dear child, that I am very fond of books, because I trouble you with them at so unseasonable a time. But you would be quite mistaken. I am a machine condemned to devour them and then, throw them, in a changed form, on the dunghill of history” (Laura had just married Paul Lafargue and the two were spending their honeymoon in Paris; letter dated 11 April 1868, shortly after the publication of the first volume of Capital).

Marx, who was a disciple of Epicurus, Spinoza and Leibniz as well as of the French and English materialists, succeeded in constructing a world-view which he in no way considered as a new system of thought, nor as a new philosophy or a new science. He never asked that workers study Hegel’s Logic before attacking Capital. Although his master-work remained unfinished, it is perfectly understandable as a set of scientific and critical theses whose aim is to disclose “the economic law of motion of modern society” (Preface to Capital), and as a series of ethical norms and postulates derived from empirical observation of the self-emancipatory efforts and struggles of the modern slaves, the victims not of capitalists but of capital. The object of scientific analysis is the “reign of necessity”; the object of ethical vision is the “reign of liberty” (Capital. Book III, chapter 48 of the edition established by Engels).

In adhering not to any socialist or communist ideology, but to the cause of the working class and of human emancipation, Marx immediately formulated his ethical creed by affirming a “categorical imperative” that was fundamentally different from the one proposed by Kant : “The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for man, hence with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, forsaken, despicable being ...” (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 1844). After he had become a member of the Communist League and was entrusted with drawing up its charter and articles of association, Marx thought best to express the meaning of this imperative in the form of an appeal for union, similar to that which, before him, the leaders of the Chartist movement had addressed to the British workers. Marx added to it a world-wide dimension : “Workers of all land, unite!” 

This appeal of 1848 was, nearly twenty years later, to constitute the implicit conclusion to Capital as formulated in the three pages of the chapter entitled: “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation.” This chapter ends with two passages taken from the Communist Manifesto in which Marx draws a parallel between, on the one hand, the growth of poverty, oppression, slavery and degradation and, on the other, the revolt of the ever-growing working class, educated, united and organised by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production. Here we find a typical example of the double-sided reasoning, the empirical judgment of the lucid observer paired with the ethical conception of the revolutionary behaviour and emancipatory will of slaves who consciously realise their enslavement.

Marx refused to “prescribe recipes (in the style of Auguste Comte?) for the cook-shops of the future” (Afterward to the second edition of Capital, 1873), just as he never claimed to have invented any new morality intended for the slaves of capital. While we may justly affirm, in Engels’s words, that Marx’s “real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat,” it is wrong to claim that “he was the first to make [this proletariat] conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation.” Through this dubious eulogy delivered at Marx’s graveside, Engels became the first bearer of Marxist ideology and thus of a new political superstition, whose principal representatives were to be Lenin and Kautsky. The British proletariat was the first to have gained consciousness of its enslavement and of the conditions for its emancipation. Marx had chosen to cooperate in the movement for the emancipation of the modern proletariat, not as a teacher, but as a disciple of the British proletariat, putting at its service not only the fruits of his studies, but also his energy as a militant. As an ethical act, this choice reduced Marx’s life to that of an intellectual pariah, with a career on the margin of official society, to that of a perpetual beggar, who depended above all on the hand-outs from his friend Engels. It was not as a teacher and founder but as a disciple and pariah that, in 1856, Marx addressed an audience of English workers, referring to the “symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman empire” in order to remind them that “they will then, certainly, not be the last in aiding the social revolution produced by that industry, a revolution which means the emancipation of their own class all over the world which is as universal as capital-rule and wages-slavery.”

Over 125 years after this appeal, in fact a veritable declaration of faith, the “symptoms of decay” have changed into the certainty of a world in decline without there appearing on the horizon the gravediggers of capital and the State. 

Can this phenomenon of decline, which seems to contradict the theses formulated by Marx in the conclusion of Capital (“The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation”), be explained with the help of his materialist conception of history, in other words using the scientific method which Marx claimed to have adopted in the course of a radical critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right? If this is the case, can we consider that “the economic law of motion of modern society” which Marx claimed to have revealed the Preface to Capital) to be precisely one of the “truths” resulting from the application of the materialist method? If the answer to both these questions is yes, are we not then obliged to admit that Marx’ s thought is opposed to any kind of ethics and that the famous “categorical imperative” was only a sally, a parody of Kantian morality? 

Does the “economic law” not demonstrate the frightening thesis according to which 
“even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural law of its movement ... it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development” (Preface, Capital).
Here is a thesis which seems to justify certain critics of Marx who take him to task for his “historicism,” for his mania for identifying social science (or the so-called human sciences) and natural science, for his ambition to observe and study human societies with the mind of a natural scientist (physicist, astronomer), for his quasi-Spinozian way of exculpating the individual and blaming the “social conditions” of which the individual remains a product, “however much he may subjectively raise himself above them” (Preface, Capital). 

It follows that neither the capitalist nor the worker is individually responsible for their destiny, since they are only “the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class interests.” So, in the end, what remains of the “categorical imperative” to overthrow the social conditions which make the workers slaves and reduce them to beasts of burden?

Marx envisages this overthrow as a long historical stage in a process of evolution which undoubtedly changes the conditions but which also changes men. Hence the “reformism” in Marx’s political theory, a consequence of his determinism which rules out the possibility of a society “skipping” over the phases of its development or “removing” their obstacles by legal enactments. This “reformism” is clearly expressed in the Communist Manifesto and in the canon of the IWMA; echoes of it can be found in Capital and in other texts where Marx envisages trade union struggles, demands concerning the shortening of the working day and factory legislation to protect the workers’ health and to promote the coercive education of “factory children,” while imposing on the capitalist mode of production, “by a coercive law in virtue of the State” (Capital, XV, 9) “the simplest appliances for maintaining cleanliness and health.” 

As a revolutionary thinker, Marx had to struggle throughout his whole career for “bourgeois” reforms since liberal democracy means the triumph of the freedom of conscience, association and organisation which alone can allow the proletariat to educate itself and to prepare itself for revolution and so for the abolition of capitalism. It is only then that they will be in a position to act in the spirit of the “categorical imperative,” in other words of the ethic which following other reformers Marx placed at the centre of his work. Until the “historic” moment of the revolution, the slaves are only able to “short and lessen the birth-pangs” .
Maximilien Rubel
Paris
(Author of "Marx Without Myth" with M. Manale)


REPLY
If all Rubel means by the words ethics and ethical is that the establishment of socialism ("a classless, stateless and moneyless society" as Rubel puts it in the Introduction to his Marx Without Myth) is not something that will come about automatically as a result of some economic or historical forces operating independently of human will, but rather can only be a deliberate choice, or act of will, on the part of the "most numerous and poorest class" in capitalist society, then we would not quarrel with him. We, too, do not regard socialism as being mechanically inevitable but as something that can only  come about as a result of a conscious dcision by the wage and salary earning majority.

But we would not use the word ethical to make this point. In fact we would have a strong objection to doing so as this word, at least in English, is so closely associated with parsons and other moral preachers that it inevitably gives rise to the impression that those who use it are appealing to some abstract, eternal morality. But socialism is not a moral issue in this sense; it s a class issue. It is first and foremost the solution to the very material problems of the majority class in society, not the realisation of some abstract moral or ethical principles. In this connection it is interesting to note that Marx himself never described his "teaching and practice" as an "ethical act" and even less as an "ethical creed".

We agree that Engels went too far in the passage from his speech at Marx's graveside in which he said that Marx was the first to make the working class conscious of the conditions for their emancipation. Of course he wasn't. No one was, as this is something that workers learn as a result of their experiences as an exploited class under capitalism and, as Rubel correctly points out, it was from the working class movement (Chartists, trade unionists) that Marx himself first learned about the class struggle and socialism. But then speeches made at funerals are not meant to be taken too literally. To blow this statement up so as to make Engels "the first bearer of Marxist ideology and thus of a new political superstition" is to be extremely unfair to Engels. No more than Marx did he use the word "Marxism". In fact it was Engels who recorded for posterity Marx's famous statement, "One thing is certain, that I am no Marxist" (Engels letter to Bernstein, 2-3 November 1882).

It is true that we ourselves do use the word Marxism but this is not in the sense of a "new systems of thought", a "new philosophy" or a "new science" invented by a genius called Karl Marx, but simply to indicate that we acknowledge that Marx was a socialist in the same sense that we are and that we accept in general his method of analysing society, history and economics. We of course fully agree that the "Marxism" of Russia, China and the like (and also that of the various Leninist groups and grouplets) is a political superstition, an ideology designed to disguise the fact that these countries, far from being socialist, are also capitalist and class-divided.

We take it that the last paragraph is intended as a direct criticism of our opposition to a socialist party advocating reforms. Marx advocated reforms, says Rubel, implying (we suppose) that we ought to as well. This is a rather curious position for someone who has spent a lifetime denouncing the making of Marx's views into a dogma to take up! Logically he might have been expected to hold that socialists should base their policy today on an examination of today's circumstances and not on what one particular nineteenth century socialist may or may not have said or done. In any event this is the position we take up.

It is true that, as Rubel states, Marx did support trade union action over wages and hours of work, factory laws to protect the health and safety of workers, and political democracy. Let us take these subjects one by one and see exactly what our position on them is.

Trade Unionism: Our members are, as individuals, members of existing trade unions and work within them alongside their fellow workers to resist downward pressures on wages and working conditions and, when circumstances permit, to improve them. Like Marx we urge workers not to exaggerate these defensive actions but to strive for the abolition of the wages system.

Factory legislation: This is the one type of reform which a minority of socialist MPs could consider voting for. For we are not opposed to social reforms under capitalism as such: if they really do protect the safety and health of workers or promote their education they ought to be accepted, What we are opposed to is a socialist party seeking support on the basis of promises to achieve such reforms. This is why we do not advocate reforms, desirable as some of them might be. We freely recognise that our position here differs from that of Marx, but then Marx did not experience what happens when a party tries to combine advocating socialism and advocating reforms: it attracts support mainly for its reform programme and eventually ends up being a mere party of capitalist reform. The evolution of the German Social Democratic Party before the first world war is a case in point.

Political democracy: Here we fully agree with Rubel (and Marx) that this "means the triumph of the freedom of conscience, association and organisation which alone can allow the proletariat to educate itself and to prepare itself for the revolution, and so for the abolition of capitalism". The working class in the nineteenth century were right to fight for this in Britain and elsewhere and Marx was right to encourage and join in the workers' struggle for an effective universal suffrage. Similarly today the workers in state-capitalist dictatorships like Poland and Russia are justified in making the same demands. The existence of political democracy is very important for socialists and for the working class generally, as it provides a means for propagating socialist ideas and for establishing socialism peaceably.

We know that Rubel only speaks of Marx's "reformism" in inverted commas but there is still an ambiguity in his position. For he talks of the overthrow of capitalism being "a long historical stage" and seems to imply that social reforms are necessary and desirable as a way of "shortening and lessening the birth-pangs" of this stage. It is true that there is "a long historical stage" involved in the overthrow of capitalism but this is going on now: it is more or less gradual evolution of the majority socialist understanding necessary before socialism can be established.

Reforms don't come into this, or rather don't any more since for Marx the reforms he supported were merely necessary to create the preconditions (a reasonably healthy and educated working class, freedom of speech and association, universal suffrage) for this evolution, preconditions which have long existed in most of the developed capitalist countries. Today in fact reforms are necessary for the smooth running of capitalism and so are advocated by all political parties, even those which openly support capitalism.

If all Rubel means is that as long as there is no majority in favour of socialism all workers can do is to seek the best they can out of capitalism then we would agree. We however would see this as essentially involving only trade union and trade union type activity. We suspect that Rubel might see this as also involving voting for reformist parties and candidates, to which we would be very much opposed.
EDITORS

Co-ops Again (2014)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite the capture of the Co-operative Bank by hedge funds and the exposure as hypocrisy of its claim to be more ‘ethical’ than other banks, there are still those who stubbornly argue think that co-operative enterprises could be a viable alternative to capitalism. Supporters of capitalism, however, have a more realistic view of co-operatives and what they can and cannot do within capitalism.

One of the arguments put forward in favour of co-operatives is their democratic management structure. They certainly are more democratic than any normal capitalist enterprise which are anything but this. The moment an employee enters the doors of the office or the gates of the factory where they work they cease to be ‘free citizens’ with a right to vote and become subjects who have to carry out the orders of the unelected managers who are running the business on behalf of its owners.

Under capitalism, however, not being undemocratic is a handicap for an enterprise. Even a nominally democratic structure hinders the emergence of the type of ruthless top executive needed to engage in the struggle with rivals with any chance of success.

This was spelled out clearly in an editorial in the business section of the  Daily Telegraph (20 November) commenting on the Co-operative Bank and the Co-operative Group generally:
‘Its democratic structure, with a Byzantine relationship between area committees, regional boards and the group board, was held up as a paragon of virtue. It was, as has been proved, a recipe for disaster … It is difficult to imagine any corporation of this magnitude being governed by archaic governance standards more suited to a village charity than an organisation with its sites on major expansion.’
Like it or not, it’s true. The sort of decisions that the top executives of an enterprise engaged in the competitive struggle for profits have to take are impeded if they are subject to any degree of democratic control. A democratically-run enterprise just wouldn’t survive in the capitalist jungle. If you want to compete with the other beasts in the jungle you’ve got to behave like one of them.

This has been candidly recognised by the president of the much-touted Mondragón co-operative group (one of whose flagship enterprises has since gone under), Txemia Gisasola, when he told Miles Johnson the Financial Times (21 March):
‘We receive visitors from many companies and many countries, and some come here with a magical idea of what Mondragón is. This is not magic. We are in this market, competing in the capitalist world, and the only difference is how we do things and why we do things. We have to be competitive, we have to be efficient, we have to have quality in our products and give satisfaction to our clients, and we have to be profitable. In that sense we are no different from anyone else.’
This does mean that there is no place at all for co-operatives within capitalism. There are some niches for a few of them, but they can never spread to take over the whole economy as their more romantic supporters envisage. As the Times put it (18 June), ‘co-operatives are a model for a few companies, but not for an entire economy.’ Co-operatives are in fact not at all an alternative to capitalism, just one form of capitalist enterprise and a not very efficient one at that.


Rocard versus Rocard (1988)

From the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who once wrote:
How can we imagine a possible socialist revolution in France? What do we know? We know that a mere electoral victory, limited to the exercise of universal suffrage, is useless to bring it about. We know that we are not in a situation, where it is possible to imagine, even in the long term, an armed insurrection, and this is true of England too. The whole idea is stupid. Therefore, we know that the main battleground is the strike, the social struggle, the class struggle.
Answer: Michel Rocard, the current Prime Minister of France. The passage is from an interview he gave in 1971 when leader of a small leftwing breakaway party that aimed "to free the workers from capitalist exploitation" and denounced the Communist Party for being too moderate.

The interview in question, incidentally, was given to The Spokesman, organ of the Institute for Workers Control in Britain, who republished it in 1974 as a pamphlet under the title Michel Rocard Speaks, thus illustrating that he was once the darling of the left in Britain as well as in France. Nor can Rocard dismiss the views he then expressed as an error of youth since, being born in 1930, he was in his forties at the time. 

Rocard had been a founder member of the Parti Socialist Unifié (PSU) in 1960 and from 1967 to 1974 was its National Secretary. In the 1969 presidential elections he stood as a self-styled "revolutionary" candidate obtaining 3.6 per cent of the vote, but he did win a famous by-election the same year to become the PSU's lone MP. In fact, to many, the PSU—the rough equivalent in British terms of the ILP in the 1930s—was Rocard and Rocard was the PSU.

Needless to say his views have changed somewhat since he left the PSU to join Mitterand's PS in 1975, where he soon emerged as the leader of its openly pro-capitalist wing. In 1971 he had proclaimed that the class struggle was the way forward. In 1985 he was complaining:
The final project of socialism still remains for too many socialists a vision limited to the class struggle. It is a question of destroying the bourgeoisie, i.e. the class that holds capital. The idea of a compromise made with the holders of capital remains considered a class betrayal (Libération, 22 May, 1985).
He had changed his views too about the limitations of universal suffrage under capitalism. Whereas in 1971 he had declared:
In the electoral field, the bourgeoisie always has the cards stacked in its favour.  
and
Democracy . . . will only become possible when we have got rid of the power of capital
in 1985 he was declaring:
You don't seek to destroy the bourgeoisie in a pluralist society with universal suffrage. Since, fortunately, the machine gun is not the instrument for settling conflicts in civil society and for this reason there is no longer the physical destruction of the other side, the perspective should no longer be economic destruction either. 
Rocard - 1971 proclaimed:
We must aim at self-management, that is, the management of factories by the workers themselves . . . Workers' control can only be imposed in strikes where the balance of forces is overwhelming, that is to say, where the unity of the workers is strongest.
 For Rocard - 1985, however, 
An economy only functions well if it is competitive. The enterprise must be recognised as a productive unit and not simply a battlefield.
Having repudiated his past in this way, Rocard became a suitable candidate for top political office and there us even talk of him becoming Mitterand's successor as President. Now that he is Prime Minister—under the last Mitterand PS government he was only given the post of Minister of Agriculture—he will be able to exercise to the full his desire "to make compromises with the holders of capital" since this is precisely what governing within the framework of capitalism means, and has to mean. The last thing the workers in France can expect him to do is to free them from capitalist exploitation, as he promised them when he was in the PSU, and the only class struggle he'll be waging will be for the bourgeoisie against the workers.

Although the PSU employed language of revolution—talking about ending capitalist exploitation, overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie, waging the class struggle—Rocard never showed any understanding of what socialism is. His vision of "socialism" was always limited to an idealised version of the sort of workers-managed market economy that Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia under Dubček were supposed to be moving towards.

In fact, in a book written in 1972, Questions à l'Etat socialists, he went out of his way to repudiate the idea that money should or even could be abolished, writing of "two tenacious myths" circulating on the subject. The first, he wrote, was that money should be replaced by labour-time vouchers (a silly idea we agree) while "the other tenacious myth concerning money aims at its total disappearance in the framework of a fully distributive economy".

His attempt to demonstrate the impossibility of replacing buying and selling as a means of distributing consumer goods—a reference to some experiment in Cuba when Che Guevera was still around—was pathetic, but it is interesting to note that a Prime Minister of a leading capitalist country has had to confront this idea. A lot more are going to have to in the future.
Adam Buick

The Criminal Justice Act: The Icing on the Cake (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few issues in recent years have caused as much confusion as the Criminal Justice Bill (now the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). The deranged hangers and floggers of the Tory right believe it will curb crime. The reformers of the left claim that it destroys "democratic rights" to picket, to assemble and to demonstrate. This is fantasy, no such legal rights existed in the first place.

Just look at some of the powers the police already had.

Police powers
In 1978 the Labour government's Criminal Law Act introduced the statuary offence of conspiracy, defined as an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime. No crime need actually be committed for a conspiracy to have taken place, only an agreement to commit a crime. The Act does not define what constitutes an "agreement" and in practice evidence that the accused had a common aim is sufficient to imply that an agreement has been made. There need only be one accused, incidentally, as a single person can be charged with "conspiracy with persons unknown". Effectively, then, anyone can be arrested at any time if they are suspected of having agreed to commit a crime, even if the person(s) with whom the agreement is alleged to have been made are unidentified and the crime itself has not even been committed.

In addition to this, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 gives police officers power to stop and search persons or vehicles if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that they will find stolen or prohibited articles. The same Act bestows upon JPs the authority to grant a warrant to enter and search premises if they are satisfied that the officer who made the application has reasonable grounds for believing that a serious arrestable offence  has been committed and that there are materials relevant to the investigation and prosecution inside. What exactly constitute "reasonable grounds" is left unclear. "Serious arrestable offence", a central concept in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, is defined as one which has led, its intended to lead or is likely to lead to any of the following consequences: serious harm to the security of the State, public disorder, serious interference with the administration of justice, death, serious injury, or substantial financial loss/gain. Just as under the Criminal Law Act it is the police who can decide what constitutes an agreement to commit a crime, so under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act it is the police who decide the intention and likely consequences. These "discretionary powers" made police powers of arrest and entry virtually unlimited even where no crime has been committed, and this was before the Criminal Justice Act became law.

The Public Order Act of 1986 requires that written notice be given to the police of any proposed marches and demonstrations. If the senior police officer reasonably believes that a march or demonstration may result in serious public disorder, damage to property, disruption to the community, or that it has been organised for the purpose of intimidation, he may "give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the procession such conditions as appear to him necessary to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation" (S. 12. 1b); the wording of the Act suggests that conditions may be imposed even after the march as begun.

If the senior police officer reasonably believes that powers under section 12 are insufficient for the prevention of any of the above he apply to the district council, for an order banning the march which may be granted with the consent of the Secretary of State.

Section 14 grants similar powers to the senior police officer in relation to public assemblies (e.g. picket lines, rallies and outdoor meetings, etc), though not to the extent of outright bans. The "senior police officer", incidentally, is defined as "the most senior in rank present at the scene" (S. 14. 2a), the implication being that even a single police constable present at a public assembly (defined as 20 or more people in a public place), and who reasonably believes it to be causing a disruption, may impose on those taking part in it such conditions as appear to him or her necessary to prevent further disruption. In other words the police already had the power to break up a public meeting. It should be clear that even before the advent of the Criminal Justice Act the "democratic rights" the reformists speak of existed no more in law than they did in reality. Strikers at Orgreave and Wapping, travellers at the Beanfield and protesters at the anti-poll tax march in London, all found their "democratic rights" to picket, assemble and demonstrate instantly terminated on the arbitrary whim of police and bureaucracy without the Criminal Justice Act.

While it might be pointed out that the Act extends the power to impose banning orders on processions to cover public assemblies and introduces a new power to impose a five-mile exclusion zone on any place subject to a banning order, it is no less true that police and local authorities have already used bans and exclusion zones to prevent public gatherings on numerous occasions, even without the explicit statutory power to do so—at Summer Solstice gatherings at Stonehenge, for example—and exclusion zones have been used to prevent travellers reaching the Glastonbury festival.

Law and Order
It is with regard to travellers and their (alleged) freedoms that much of the concern about the Criminal Justice Act has arisen, but again existing legislation already makes these freedoms illusory. Under the Caravan Sites Act of 1968 designated local authorities have the power to order trespassers to leave land, while under section 39 of the 1986 Public Order Act the police may order those who trespass or damage property with vehicles to move on and arrest them if they fail to comply. The Criminal Justice Act extends the Public Order Act's reference to "damage" to include "damage to land", defined as widely as to include walking across a field, and extends the powers of the 1968 Caravan Sites Act to all local authorities but no longer requires that those concerned actually be trespassers in that there need not be any request from the landowner to leave; absence of consent is enough. Should the "trespassers" be there with the landowner's permission then the landowner can be charged with offences relating to unlicensed caravan sites under an earlier (1960) Caravan Sites Act.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act is an attempt by a weak and unpopular government to mobilise its supporters against what appears to be a resurgent Labour Party. We need hardly point out that much of the Tories' support comes from bigots whose tolerance level is akin to that of the Tonton Macoutes and who would more than welcome the restoration of public floggings and executions for the most trivial offences. They are, as ever, complaining that "crime"—basically anything they don't approve of—is on the increase, and so are demanding a good dose of "law and order" (i.e. state-managed persecution), which the Labour Party have promised to give them.

The Criminal Justice Act is intended to counter this by reasserting the Tories' traditional role as the "Party of Law and Order". It consists of a lot of tough talk but introduces little if anything that is new, merely tightening up existing legislation and legalising policing actions that were previously of a somewhat dubious legality. Nevertheless, the bait has been swallowed by all concerned; the right have rallied to the Act as the new symbol of law and order while the left have mobilised to oppose it, providing the right with an instant enemy to unite. Thus the Labour Party are outmanoeuvred; unable to oppose the Act for fear of being portrayed as "soft on crime", they are unable to support it either for fear of alienating their left camp-followers.

What democracy?
Just as the reactionaries of the right claim to be guardians of "law and order", so the reformists of the left pose as the defenders of "liberty and democracy". Despite all the left's radical rhetoric and militant posturing the campaign to prevent the Criminal Justice Bill becoming law was a pathetic failure and, in the extremely unlikely event that the second round of this crusade succeeds in getting the Criminal Justice Act repealed, then the same powers conferred by it can quite easily be brought back onto the statute book by a series of quiet backdoor amendments to the various Acts referred to above. And even if this doesn't happen it won't prevent such powers being used because, as noted, they were already being used anyway.

The reformists seem oblivious to the fact that for democracy to be defended it must exist in the first place. Democracy means literally "the people rule" (demoskratos). Unless qualified (and democracy qualified is no democracy at all) "the people" must be taken to mean every single living human being without distinction of age, sex, "race", etc; and what they rule is everything—every single aspect of their community existence. That no such state of affairs prevails within capitalism need hardly be emphasised. The political reality of capitalism is class conflict between those who work but do not own and those who own but do not work. For the most part it is the owning class who have the upper hand in this conflict by virtue of their control of the state apparatus, via their representatives in Parliament, by which they can physically force the working class to submit to their rule.

Actual physical force, however, is generally unnecessary; the owning class's representatives issue directives in the appropriate form and make known the punishments that await those who fail to comply (this is what is meant by "law and order"). As part of this process they present these directives as being in the interests of the whole of society, an illusion reinforced by the fact that the representatives if the owning class are elected to Parliament by universal suffrage. This is the extent of capitalism's claim to be democratic: that we may give our endorsement to one party of capitalism's hirelings over another and in so doing give our consent to whatever these people do while in office.

This is not real democracy. This can only exist where is no ruling class and no repressive state apparatus, where the whole community, rather than a parasitic clique, have control over society's productive and distributive resources enabling each individual to have free access to the goods and services they need to live. It will never be achieved by engaging in futile campaigns to repeal pieces of legislation that are nothing more than the legal expression of the state's already existing arbitrary powers, powers derived from the support given to corrupt capitalist politicians in elections, which, ironically, the reformists persistently urge us to do.
Ian Simpson