Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Death of a Comrade (1934)

Obituary from the May 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Party is poorer by the death of Comrade C. Barnes. For over twenty years a member of the late Watford Branch, he seldom missed a branch meeting, and, although occasionally unemployed, he never missed paying his dues. Neither bad weather nor three miles of country roads to trudge deterred our old comrade from what he considered his duty, and one could always count on the appearance of Charlie. He was neither a "writer" not a "speaker," but he was a particularly fine specimen of an unobtrusive member. During the early part of the war he gave an unexpected exhibition of what such a member can do. When a fanatical mob besieged a party speaker and threatened to overturn the platform, Charlie, the mildest of men, rolled up his sleeves and invited them to "come on."

His early death is another of the countless tragedies associated with what is called "progress." He was a coach painter, known as one of the best in the county. (Incidentally he was an excellent landscape painter, but few knew of his work.) The invention of spray-painting led to his final dismissal. A long period of intermittent employment followed; and our comrade was a craftsman to whom inactivity was distasteful. How far this contributed to his final illness is a matter of opinion, but one can imagine the inner feelings of a highly skilled craftsman who is told at 53 that he is "too old." A ghastly commentary on our civilisation. For death there is no remedy, but our comrade's twenty years' unswerving devotion to the party was an inspiration to all who knew him, and they sadly feel his loss.
W. T. H.

Mixed Media: 'Barnsley: Working Class Culture in the Tarn', & 'Gilbert Daykin at the Cooper Gallery'

The Mixed Media Column from the November 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Barnsley: Working Class Culture in the Tarn
Barnsley's history has been dominated by the glass industry and coal mining but marked by disasters that befell the working class such as the 1838 Huskar pit disaster when 26 children were killed, and in 1866 the worst pit disaster in England at Barnsley Oaks when 361 miners were killed.

The Barnsley Museum at Barnsley Town Hall is well worth a visit and showcases Barnsley's coal mining history, with many artefacts from the class struggle that was the 1984-85 Miners' Strike such as an Orgreave police riot shield. The museum also houses the NUM Yorkshire Area North Gawber Branch banner 'from darkness into light' i.e. 'socialism' via various reforms such as nationalisation and ’employment for all’.
British cinema is represented by the 1969 Ken Loach film Kes filmed in Barnsley, based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barnsley writer Barry Hines. This working class film publicised as 'They beat him. They deprived him. They ridiculed him. They broke his heart. But they couldn't break his spirit' starred Dai Bradley, a non-professional from Barnsley. The 1996 film Brassed Off filmed in Grimethorpe near Barnsley was set during the pit closures programme of the John Major Tory government in 1992 when 31 out of 50 remaining deep mines faced closure with the loss of 31,000 jobs. In 1980-81 Grimethorpe Colliery had produced 1.2 million tonnes of coal. Barnsley is famous for Charlie Williams, the son of a Barbadian and a Barnsley girl, who was a miner and footballer at Upton colliery then joined Doncaster Rovers in 1948, and was later the first black comedian on British TV in the 1970s.
It's just like watching Brazil is an exhibition about Barnsley Football Club, founded in 1887, nicknamed the 'tykes' with a motto of 'spectemur agendo!' ('let us be seen together in action!') from Ovid'sMetamorphoses, and an emblem of a glass-blower and miner. Barnsley were FA Cup winners in 1912 but the exhibition title is from the 'cherished 1996-97 season' when Barnsley were promoted to the Premiership. In March 2014 Barnsley football supporters would unfurl an Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign banner '30 Years of Lies, No Justice, No Peace, Never Forget, Never Forgive' at the Oakwell ground. Tommy Taylor, according to John Roberts in The Team That Wouldn't Die: The Story of the Busby Babes learned his skills in Barnsley on 'the bog, a rock-hard piece of ground where local boys played in clogs, pit boots or bare feet.' Taylor worked in the pit, then aged 15 signed to Barnsley as a ground-staff boy, and in 1948 his weekly wage was £2, 8s, 1d. He was signed for a transfer fee of £29,999 to Matt Busby's Manchester United but was later killed in the 1958 Munich Air Crash aged 26.
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Gilbert Daykin at the Cooper Gallery
The Hidden Art of Barnsley at the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley highlighted the work of coal miner and painter Gilbert Daykin. Daykin was offered a bursary from the local Miners’ Welfare Committee to enable him to study part-time at Nottingham School of Art. His work was also brought to the attention of the then local MP Malcolm MacDonald, son of the Prime Minister. Daykin was invited to London and met the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and the Duchess of Portland (she 'cared for' the Nottinghamshire Miners, an example of 'the heart-burnings of the aristocrat'). Daykin would appear on the front cover of the Daily Mirror on 3 August 1931. Daykin's 1938 oil Symbolic-Miner Enslaved is heroic and evokes Renaissance paintings of Saint Sebastian. His Choke Damp is quite macabre and underlines the dangers of working underground. Markham's Ponies portrays coal miners pushing a truck of coal while his The Results of Labour is a somewhat idealized portrait which had been commissioned by the Staveley Coal and Iron Company. Daykin could never afford to give up mining and concentrate on his art, and tragically was killed in a pit accident at Warsop Main colliery on 20 December 1939.

Seven miles from Barnsley is the old pit village of Goldthorpe where in 1984 during the Miners' Strike two teenage brothers Paul and Darren Holmes were killed while collecting coal when an embankment collapsed. In April 2013 an effigy of Thatcher was burned to celebrate her funeral. Since Goldthorpe colliery closed in 1994 the village has 'died' and the Goldthorpe and Highgate NUM Club is subtitled 'Lest We Forget' those from the 'great class war' that was the 1980s Miners' Strike. At NUM headquarters in Barnsley there is a monument commissioned by NUM Yorkshire Area, sculpted by Graham Ibbeson in 1992, and unveiled by Arthur Scargill, President of the NUM in July 1993 which portrays a miner, his wife, young daughter and a babe in arms, and says 'In memory of those who have lost their lives in supporting their union in times of struggle.'
Lenin was of the opinion that 'the field of art in particular should be imbued with the spirit of the class struggle being waged by the proletariat' which Barnsley culture could be said to demonstrate but tragically the Barnsley working class does not 'constitute itself as a class for itself' (Marx) as the area still elects four Labour MPs.
Steve Clayton

Bolshevism: Past and Present (1934)

Book Review from the January 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some Historical Debunking

Die Geschichte des Bolschevismus (Rohwolt Verlag, Berlin, 1932). The History of Bolshevism, by Arthur Rosenberg, should appear any day in English. The author, who was up to Hitler's rise to power, a professor of history at the University of Berlin, and from 1920 to 1927 a member of the Communist Party of Germany, a member of the central committee of of that Party, and a member f the executive committee of the Communist International, states that he does not wish to present the viewpoint of any party or group, or retail scandal to Russian inner court politics, but that he aims to set forth an objective account and study of the beginnings, past tendencies and present direction of Bolshevism as a social phenomenon. The book is a striking confirmation of the stand taken by the Socialist Party of Great Britain on the Russian upheaval and the historic role of the Bolsheviki. as such, the translated "History" will sow consternation, and possibly also understanding among the various uncritical utopian - radical elements that, from 1918 to date, have been flirting with acts and slogans that they did not try too hard to analyse.

The book begins with a study of the historic elements of Marxist thought. The writer points out that in the course of the second half of the 19th century the organised working-class movement of Europe passed through two stages, each possessing a distinct theoretic programme.

The declared aim of the first was the completion, by the proletariat, of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, with Socialism as the ultimate goal. Here the workers found themselves under the leadership of small groups of professional revolutionists who hailed from the ranks of the radical bourgeois intellectuals. This stage is typified by Marx and Engels of 1848, and, because of the similarity of local social circumstances, by the Russian Bolshevism in the 20th century.

In the second stage, the Western European workers had so far developed that they directed themselves in their own organisations. In spite of the theoretic growth of Marx and the implication of his later writings, the revolutionary aim was set aside, and the workers' political organisations adopted as their programme the betterment of their lot within the framework of the capitalist society they lived in. This forms the period of the Second International.

When the development of the labour movement is traced in an historically logical progression, declares the author, one reaches a third stage and a new political attitude. This attitude marks the completion of the Marxian programme for the future. Here the working class is fully aware of its fitness to lead itself, and, no longer satisfied with the promise of having its condition bettered within the framework of capitalist society, wants to attain power. This is no longer to be a radical-democratic revolution, as in the first stage, but a Socialist revolution, which is to change capitalist property to the common property of society. In this revolution, the workers will not be the led instrument of a party directorate, but will act unaided, in accordance with their class understanding.

The conditions requisite for the third stage are: first, an extraordinary advance in the development of capitalism; second, the approximate destruction of the middle layers found between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, so that all tactics of alliance on the part of the proletariat, on a national democratic basis, become superfluous; lastly, the overwhelming majority of the exploited must find themselves in conscious opposition to the small minority of the capitalist exploiters. That is, the third stage calls for the revolutionary education of the proletariat, who, by their own strength, through their own will and self-discipline, are to win power and build a new world.

The European working class of the World War generation had not yet reached the height of the third stage. The theoretic protagonists of this political attitude, as Rosa Luxembourg in Germany, Gorter in Holland, and scattered small groups in other parts of Europe, has a limited following. At the same time, the theorists of the second stage were leading all the existing large Labour Parties. Among them were two distinct groups. The revisionists, led by Bernstein, recognised that the only practical object of the "Labour" Parties of the Second International was reform inside of capitalist society. They called for open programmatic revision. Opposed to them were the "radicals" as Kautsky, Bebel, etc., then in charge of the International, who, though content with a practically reformist programme, objected to having open political compromise "written down in the books."

All three tendencies, including the two sub-divisions of the second, found adaptations in Russia. Echoing either the "revisionism" or "radicalism" of the German Social Democracy, the Menshevists proposed the abolition of Czardom and the institution of Western liberal political institutions that would allow the free capitalist development of Russia. The majority group, the Bolsheviki, had a programme that was, excepting for special organisational details, a very modest and somewhat distorted copy of the the measures proposed by Marx and Engels in the second chapter of the Manifesto of 1848. This programme was to be applied through what lenin called the "democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants," which was to have a democratic coalition-government guise, but was to be guided by a hand-picked party directorate. This supervised partnership of the workers and peasants was going to deal with the growing Russian capitalism organised in a national syndicate of industrialists (the Corporate State!) and wait for the Socialist revolution that would in time take place in the industrially advanced Western Europe.

The theories of Luxembourg and Gorter—representing the third stage of Marxist thought—found a response in Russia in the voice of the precocious Trotsky, who opposed the Bolshevik plan of a dictatorship by a small circle of leaders over the workers which was made necessary by Lenin's programme of a coalition of the Russian proletariat with the peasantry. He held that soon after coming to power the idyll of the democratic dictatorship over Russian capitalism would be marred by trouble with the syndicated capitalists on the one hand, and by the struggle between the two partners in the dictatorship, on the other. Trotsky conceded that in a backward agrarian country such as Russia the Socialist workers could not get a majority against the peasants. The salvation of a proletarian move in Russia therefore lay in a revolution in Western Europe. "The Socialist workers' revolution can only survive, if it spreads; it dies, if limited to our country."

The judgement of history on Trotsky, comments the author, will be made doubly difficult, inasmuch as in 1917 he formally took sides with the Bolsheviks who, in the fervour of the unhinged world situation, and roused by their own national victory, adopted, and for a time called their own, the Luxembourg and Gorter lingo of the "permanent and spreading World Revolution." In 1927 came the unavoidable reaction and break. The national needs of Russia brought the Bolsheviks back to their original programme. Trotsky's claim that he represents true Bolshevism (and genuine Leninism) in opposition to the present leadership of the Russian state, can, therefore, bear no authority for objective historic analysis.

The existence of the Bolshevik group within the Second International was made possible by the Russians' belief in the similarity of their own programme and organisation to the German Social Democracy. Indeed before 1914, Lenin recognised the inner circle of the German party as a sort of party directorate. He was a supporter of the "radical" section of the Social Democracy. The personal hate with which Lenin pursued Kautsky after 1914 cannot be explained, indicates the author, merely by their difference of opinion in regards to the degree and manner of opposing the war. "Thus hates only he who had loved too much." So did Lenin revenge himself for having followed and honoured Kautsky for 20 years.

And the so-called "Fall of the Second International," so warmly dramatised by Lenin, the author sees as no fall at all, but as the logical victory of the "revisionists" over the muddled "radicals" inside the Social Democracy. Contradicting Lenin, he indicates that the degree of militant opposition to the war shown by the various "Socialist" parties had little connection with the "revisionism" or "radiclaism" of their programmes. Bernstein was a more militant war objector than Kautsky. The reformist "Socialist Party of Italy" did, it is true, show out-and-out opposition to having Italy enter the war on the side of the Triple Alliance in 1914; but on anti-revolutionary grounds—sympathy with the Entente. The "Labour" parties formed small minorities and could not have taken effective steps against the war, as was shown by the Bolsheviks' own helplessness in the Russia of 1914.

On the 22nd of January, 1917, in Switzerland, Lenin stated at a public meeting that "We of the older generation will possibly not live to see the battles of the coming revolution." His programme still provided for a workers' revolution in Western Europe—this relegated in the manner of Kautsky to the dim future—but it spoke of an early Russian uprising, which was to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution under the supervision of a workers' and peasants' coalition government.

Later, the same year, when he was already in Russia. he cast aside the old Bolshevik plan of a peasants' and workers' dictatorship—that is, a "populist" and "Socialist" coalition government—and spoke of seizing power in Russia to aid an imminent Western European proletarian revolution. Here he met opposition in his own Bolshevik group.

The most numerous party of the moment, the peasant-populist "Socialist Revolutionaries," wanted to control the government of the country as a "loyal opposition," having adopted the Menshevik position of 1905. In accordance with their programme, the spontaneous Soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers were to be the organs of democratic control that to be exercised over the new government till the convening of the constitutional assembly, which was then to take over the job of supervising the reconstruction of Russia.

In Switzerland, in 1917, Lenin, who had doubted the historic use of the Soviet in 1905, made the sudden discovery that the popular Russian council was the typical State form of the coming "Socialist revolution." He declared that the Soviet was Marx's State form, in which the armed people are the police and army, and in which functionaries are controlled directly by the people—resembling in this respect the medieval city states and the direct democracy of the early American settlements. (The author points out that the current Soviet system, as developed from 1918 on, popularly bears the name of the Russian institution of 1905 and 1917, but is entirely distinct from it.)

Lenin's slogan of "All power to the Soviets!" was tantamount at first to the establishment of a revolutionary-democratic coalition, as the Bolsheviks were still in the minority in the Soviets. It meant giving power to the masses, as the Soviets of 1917 were more or less the spontaneous organs of representation built by the masses themselves. Privately, however, Lenin had not given up the idea of a dictatorship by a centralised party. His theses called for a break with the Allied Governments, the non-support by the Soviets (the actual holder of State power), of the provisional government, the confiscation of the large estates, the regulation and taxation of large industry, but not the "institution of Socialism." The masses wanted land, peace and bread. He was ready to assume power.

The opposition of the majority of the old Bolsheviks to the "rearmed" Lenin was embodied in Kamenev's analysis of the situation: a Socialist workers' party gaining power can only have as its programme a Socialist revolution; this, in a predominately agricultural country, was to be considered adventurous in the light of orthodox Bolsheviks' teachings. Trotsky's estimate of the situation paralleled Kamenev's, but he thought he saw the possibility of a Socialist revolution in Western Europe. He thought he saw in Lenin's changed outlook adherence to his own "internationalist" ideas, and, in this comedy of wishes and mistakes, Lenin found in Trotsky, who had now joined the Bolshevik organisation, support against his own comrades.

The author's appraisal is that the "rearmed" Bolsheviks did not make the october revolution, but that they saved the popular revolution of 1917 by leading the completion of the victory of the masses. (According to Trotsky's testimony, it was the Military Committee of the Soviets, and not the Central Executive of the Bolshevik group, that engineered the actual gesture of the insurrection.) If Lenin and Trotsky had run aground in October, no democratic development would have come but the anarchy and chaos of popular fury, which might have ended in pogroms and white terror. At 5 minutes to 12, so to speak, they proclaimed the uprising, giving the impression of a sudden occurrence taking place at their command. By heeding the will of the masses, neo-Bolshevism won the authority to lead Russia further.

The five "revolutionary-democratic" proposals—the economic programme of victorious Bolshevism—were the nationalisation of the banks, the nationalisation or government regulation of the biggest capitalist monopolies (sugar, oil, coal and metal), the obligatory syndicalisation of industrial concerns, the obligatory membership of the population in consumers' co-operative societies, and the dissolution of merchant combines. This programme took a stand against the abolition of private property, and promised easier credits for the smaller capitalists. All in all, it was a programme aiming at the completion of a capitalist revolution in the 20th century. But already, as Kamenev had feared and Trotsky had promised, more advanced elements urged more. The total disorganisation of the productive process in the country made an attempt at economic enterprise by the State imperative. The unbalanced political situation following the War held out the false hope of a revolution in the West. The Bolsheviks were, against their own plans, obliged to reach forward to State ownership, and they adopted Trotsky's consequence, that the Russian Revolution could only be saved by a proletarian revolution in Western Europe. It was, to use Lenin's paraphrase, only the prologue for the near World Revolution. From 1918 to 1920, all the Bolshevik leaders were, for the "spreading," or say "permanent," revolution, and the Communist International was a busy and hard-working organisation.

But already reality was asserting itself. The author traces in two incomparable chapters the rise, under the influence of the national economic needs of Russia, of a third period in Bolshevism, that of so-called "Socialism in Russia alone," the national Russian Bolshevism of our day, which he finds much closer to the limited Russian programme of 1917 than to the international realignment of 1918.

The Bolsheviki, he concludes, are the executors of the testament of Peter the Great. To them has fallen the historic task of solving the backwardness of Russia. They are accomplishing this through the institution and development of State capitalism. Since 1917 Russia has been advancing, while the Communist International has been withered away. Bolshevism, which was progressive for Russia of the Czars, was found reactionary for industrial West Europe, where the capitalist revolution had long ago been completed and peasants were not the majority of the population.

The heroism of the Russian workers in the years of 1917-1920 has roused abroad the impression that Bolshevism was a form of the proletarian world revolution. A great number of European workers wanted to attain power in union with the Bolsheviki. Rosa Luxemburg and the Dutchman Gorter recognised the bourgeois character and what they described as the Jacobinery of Bolshevism, and they promptly disowned it. Many European workers and "intellectuals," however—the majority of whom the author classifies as "utopian radicals" as opposed to the grouping of Marxists—fancied that the Russian Revolution was a Socialist act, and wanted to follow the Bolshevist leadership, which, having "rearmed" itself with an internationalist programme, had retrieved the name "Communist" and formed the Third International. But events showed the impossibility of such leadership by an agrarian State. So that, little by little, the Russian State and its foreign working-class supporters separated. The theory of "Socialism in one country" is merely the reflection of this separation. The isolated, national Russian Bolshevism is not even in the position to lead the national movements of the Asiatic peoples, as was shown in the case of China in 1927-27, let alone a revolution in the West.

The shadow of the great Russian Revolution still drags along a section of the international working class. Bolshevism, however, no longer wields an active influence among the workers of the world. The historic task of the Bolsheviki, says the author, was an immortal task, but the international capitalists are no longer afraid of Bolshevism. They have reason for fearing an international working-class movement. With that, however, affirms the author, Bolshevism is not identical.

Interesting is the discussion of the Soviet as an historic institution. The Russian popular council, an organ of expression for the spontaneous will of the masses, is foreign to Bolshevik theory, states the author. Having personally opposed the Soviet, in 1917 Lenin used the slogan "All power to the Soviets!"—when the popular, democratic Soviets were the real holders of power—in order to win the directorate and later to instal his own State apparatus, i.e., the rule of a small disciplined minority of professional political workers over the great mass. The Bolsheviks came to employ the Soviets as the decorative symbol of their rule. And, such is the irony of history, that the term "Soviet," which in 1905 and 1917 stood for crude but the most radical democracy imaginable, has become known, through Bolshevist symbolism, as the name for the very opposite of democracy.

A somewhat similar alteration, he points out, transpired in the case of the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat." The Marxian phrase, as found in the "Criticism of the Gotha Programme" and "Civil War in France," denotes the dictatorship of the proletarian majority over the minority of capitalists, and is identical with majority rule. The Bolshevik State-form is the dictatorship of a party or a party apparatus over the proletariat and the rest of the population. Prophetically, Rosa Luxembourg wrote from her prison in 1918:—
"With the suppression of political life in the entire country must also the gradual destruction of the Soviets. Without universal franchise, the liberty of the Press and assembly and the unhampered struggle of opinion, the life of every public institution withers away, and bureaucracy alone remains as the active element. This law is never contradicted. Little by little will your public life be lulled to sleep. A dozen party leaders, full of inexhaustive energy and boundless idealism, will direct and govern. From time to time, a picked section of the workers will be invited to the meetings. There they will applaud the leaders' speeches and say 'Yes' to prepared resolutions. In other words, you will have the rule of a clique—not the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, i.e., a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, a dictatorship in the manner of the Jacobins."
Gersom,
Workers' Socialist Party (U.S.A.).


Addendum
The March 1934 Socialist Standard carried the following correction:
"Owing to a misapprehension it was incorrectly stated in the January SOCIALIST STANDARD that the writer of the article "Bolshevism, Past and Present" is a member of the Workers Socialist Party, U.S.A."

Why reform a rotten system? (1999)

From the February 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Many think that reform is positive, but why should Socialists divert their energies to repair and patch up a system they want to end altogether?
"Campaigning for reforms is a distracting and diversionary waste of time," I declaimed, to the massed ranks of blank uncomprehending Socialist Worker Students at one of their campus meetings, "that mostly will attract people interested in reforms, and not Socialists!". I had as usual, to fill up the abject spaces in time due to the lack of debate, spoken too much—or so I presumed by the scowling cat's-arse face of the most grungy (and therefore dedicated and friendless) Trotskyist in the room. "Bollocks," he eventually said. I had gone too far, I had attacked the sacred cow, I was a heretic.
I must have been speaking Dutch that night, for it was plain that no-one in the room was understanding the least word I said. I was incomprehensible. "But, but," said the deputy dedicated Trotskyist, "we need reforms, we need to fight for higher wages, against factory closures, we need to keep the Tories out"—all said with the same matter of factness and certitude as statements like "gravity is" or "the Earth is flat". I was fascinated to note not one mention of things like nationalisation, union recognition laws, nor capital regulation tariffs, clearly such little matters do not occupy the activists' time (although they each form a part of the SWP's amazing "Action Plan" against the economic crisis). I then, however, went on to point out, presumably in Ancient Hebrew, that higher wages were not what I understood by the word reforms, whilst the latter list were nothing else. The looks of incomprehension (and contempt) grew. I sat down, and made my peace, and suffered the interminable summing up by their speaker.
Such is the triumph of the spirit of reformism that it presents itself to its adherents as if a natural law, an obviousness, a natural thing that must be done. There could be no questioning of the principle of fighting for reforms, no exploration as to their efficacy or need. Politicians' logic prevails:
1. Capitalism is terrible.
2. We must do something.
3. Reforms are something.
4. Therefore we must enact reforms.
Reforms are beyond question, apparently.
It is a tribute to the ideology of the possible that Labour penny-snatchers can pass themselves off as radical allies of the poor, when in fact they are their willing and servile oppressors, gradgrinding through their careers. It is a tribute to "reform" that it has come to take on a wholly positive meaning, as if any reform of a system is inherently good. Such are the fruits of one hundred years' deleterious perseverance.
The average Labourite can of course claim that they are just working to improve the lives of working folk. They do not question the property and market systems, they accept them as a natural fact, and thus work within them. Our fine feathered Trotskyists, however, have no such excuse. They claim to be fighting for Socialism, for an end to property and the madness of the market, so how can they justify fighting for reforms predicated upon just such a pernicious system?
When I asked, I was met with two responses. The first was half-way reasonable—the working class must fight to defend itself under capitalism, and to improve its lot and avoid poverty. Fair enough, and of course it must; that's the whole point of the class war, but that is hardly a revolutionary platform; because the working class is engaged in such a struggle every day, every pay cheque is an act of class war. Further, any defence of the working class or gains for the working class must be won by ourselves, for ourselves, because we cannot expect the capitalist state to administer affairs for our benefit. Changing laws does not help the working class, because they are only a change on paper. Only a real social change can aid the working class. Everything else is just window dressing.
Reform-minded
But, "Aha!" they cried, "there is another, more important reason for fighting for reforms, we must help workers gain the confidence to effect a revolution". I stroked the feeble wisps of hair on my chin that some wags have named a beard, and thought this through, as they filled in the details:
1. The working class has a reformist consciousness.
2. It is the duty of the Revolutionary Party to be where the masses are.
3. Therefore, to be with the mass of the working class, we must advocate reforms.
Further:
1. The working class is only reformist minded.
2. Winning reformist battles will give the working class confidence.
3. So that, therefore, they will go on to have a socialist revolution.
I swear, this is the argument that they have put to me. What none of them has ever relayed to me, was exactly how the jump from reform-mindedness to socialist consciousness would come about. There are three basic models for how this may come about:
1. The working class will learn from its struggles, and will eventually come to realise that assuming power is the only way to meet its ends.
2. That the working class will realise, through the failure of reforms to meet its needs, the futility of reformism and capitalism, and will overthrow it.
3. That the working class will come to trust the Party that leads them to victory, and come a social crisis they will follow it to revolution.
The first relies upon a notion of the inherently revolutionary nature of the working class (a popular Leninism), and that through the class struggle this inherently revolutionary character will show itself. After the best part of a century it hasn't, so I think it safe to say it doesn't exist.
The second reason is flawed because it shows no reason why, due to the failure of reform, the workers should turn to socialism. Why, since it was people calling themselves socialists who advocated that reform, don't they turn against it, or even to fascism? However, given that that is precisely what Lenin advocates in Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder we can assume that the loyal Leninists of the SWP leadership have this idea thoroughly in mind.
Just as likely is that they will have number three in mind as well. Since they want to be leading the revolution, they will have to find a way for themselves to become leaders. "The revolution is made by the minority" (Trotsky said so, so it must be true) and the way for the minority to become a good little bunch of leaders is to show that they are the successful ones.
Under the model of revolution presented by the Trotskyists this can be the only way I can see the working class could come to socialist consciousness. This, then, explains their dubious point about needing to "be" where the mass of the working class is. Being a poor ignorant fool, I always wondered about quite why a revolutionary party should change its mind to be with the masses, rather than trying to get folk to change their minds and be with it. They do not want folk to change their minds, merely to become followers. Their efforts are not geared towards changing minds, or raising revolutionary class consciousness. The problem is that the central committee doesn't tell the sloggers on the ground this, because, just perhaps, our enthusiastic cat-arse faced friend might just object to being manipulated, just maybe.
Capitalist ideology
Fighting for reforms is to fail in the duty of socialists to demystify and dispel capitalist ideology. This is important to note: capitalism is in the end an ideology; everything it does, all of its workings, all of it is a human product, constructed in the minds of humans, and obeyed because it presents itself as the natural law, as the real world, and the realm of the possible. Money itself is the example par excellence of ideology at work; it is a sign, an idea, used to cover up the contradictions in property society. Money presents itself as the natural and only way of dealing with property relations, and as a socially neutral object, and not as a way of controlling poverty and inequality in favour of a small minority, which it really is.
To fail to reveal the ideology, to de-mystify and explain it, means to remain within it. To work with workers under the influence of the ideology of capitalism, to attempt to use the ideology to lead them, in the end means that you will find yourself replicating the ideology, obeying its demands, and replicating the social structures of dominance and obedience that it helps build. As such this amounts to a heinous flaw in Leninist politics. However, the Leninists claim, the workers are not capable of seeing through ideology; only they are, the minority, and so they must work this way. This is why, in the end, they are doomed to recreate capitalism.
For so-called socialists to fight for reforms then is to fail as socialists, to become enmeshed within the working of capitalism. Can the SWP's action plan work? Wouldn't raising the taxes necessary to nationalise all failing industries at a time of reduced profits just exacerbate the crisis? Or is that what they want? Whatever way, fighting for reforms effectively becomes a way of retaining leaders and leadership, of running away from the more difficult and radical task of changing minds.
A Trotskyist friend of mine showed me a petition of people who had voted Labour, but who now were sick of them, and of how these people were coming to the SWP. Had any of these people changed their mind? Were any of them now more revolutionary? Or had the SWP just filled in a space left by the Labour Party, and effectively changed nothing. Politicians' logic—the urge to "do something"—must be resisted. Doing something is no good, we need to do the right thing. We need to campaign for socialism.
Pik Smeet