Monday, August 31, 2015

Marxism or Machiavellianism? (1977)

From the October 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a familiar principle of capitalist politics that that means justify the end and so any "tactics" can be used in order to achieve political power. Machiavellianism is alive and well in 1977, and the old master of deceitfulness would be quite proud of his modern disciples in the Palace of Westminster.

Scholars have disagreed as to what Machiavelli's political intentions were. Jeffrey Pulver, writing in 1937 on what constitutes Machiavelli's contribution to political thought, answers plainly: "Nothing at all." It is true that, unlike Marx, Machiavelli did not apply himself to any revolutionary view of society and that his historical observations were less than profound; his advice to aspiring politicians, however, is a frank admission of the way in which leaders win and retain power.

All of Machiavelli's major works—The Prince, The Discourses, and the Florentine Histories—are concerned with political power: the establishment of states, the maintenance of effective governments within them and reasons for, and preventives against, their decline and fall. Unlike Plato and Thomas More they are not concerned with describing a future utopia, but with considering Renaissance Italian society as it was. He was not the first to deal with this subject: many of his contemporaries' writings dealt with
the problems of kingship—countless treatises with such titles as 'De Regime Principum', 'De Officio regis', or 'The governal of princes'—copied and recopied, translated, revised, enlarged and adapted for century after century. (S. Anglo, Machiavelli: a Dissection, p. 189.)
In short, they were writing text books for rulers on how to rule successfully, in the same way as modern advertisements offer free booklets on "How to Influence People and Become Rich". It was Machiavelli's frankness in his advice to princes which has since been seen as shocking by liberal theorists. Alberico Gentile and Garret Mattingly saw The Prince as an outrageous satire; Spinoza and Rousseau saw it as a warning against tyranny; Prezzoloni and Haydn regarded it as a shocking treatise because it attacked Christianity and defended paganism; numerous other philosophers, politicians and social theorists have demonstrated outrage against the views of Machiavelli. And all of them have one thing in common: they do not challenge Machiavelli's fundamental statement that it is virtuous to trick the majority in order to retain power, but have continued to support the capitalist system which depends on obscuring the interests of the majority to safeguard the security of the minority. Perhaps Bertrand Russell is right when he says:
Much of the conventional obloquy that attaches to [Machiavelli's] name is due to the indignation of hypocrites who hate the frank avowal of evil-doing. (History of Western Philosophy, Bk. 3, p. 491.)
The outcry over Machiavelli is, therefore, because he paints a portrait of his ideal ruler (based in fact on Cesare Borgia) which is too accurately descriptive of the way political leaders behave. How well does Laurence Arthur Burd's description of Machiavelli's ideal prince remind one of residents at Number 10, Downing Street:
He must in the first place be entirely free from emotional disturbance; he must be ready to take advantage of the existing state of things; he must be strong enough to sin boldly, if his country's welfare depends upon it; he must be shrewd enough to understand human nature in whatever form he finds it, and, overcoming evil by evil, play with the passions and impulses of men, use them as he pleases, force them to his purpose, manage them. And above all he must be thorough: a single hesitation, a single half-measure might compromise the whole result. He must depend upon himself and his own soldiers; he must abolish all mercenaries and establish a national army of his own subjects. If such a man could be found, of unflinching purpose, dead to every sentiment but the love of his country, willing to save his fatherland rather than his own soul, careless of justice or injustice, of mercy or cruelty, of honour or disgrace, he might perhaps . . . begin the regeneration of his people.
Machiavelli was not the first to argue against the established belief that the State should be run in accordance with fixed (Christian) moral principles and to propose that rulers should be guided by political and economic expediency. Pontano believed that for the good of the State (i.e. the ruling class interest) a ruler should tell lies (it will be of some comfort to modern political leaders to know that they have Pontano's permission); Patrizzi believed the same, so that people would not know if the nation was in ruin; and Platina claimed that even private citizens could forget about morality if it was for the benefit of the State. Machiavelli realized that:
If morals relate to human conduct, and men are by nature social, Christian morality cannot be a guide for normal social existence. (I. Berlin, "The Originality of Machiavelli," in Studies on Machiavelli, ed. Myron P. Gilmore) 
In this respect Machiavelli held a similar position to Marx in realizing that morality is socially determined by the needs of the ruling class, and that as society is constantly changing so is morality. The difference between Marx and Machiavelli is that whereas Marx told workers to forget moral values and view society materially, Machiavelli, as an adviser to the rising bourgeoisie of late medieval Italy, sought ways to manipulate existing moral values.

Today workers are still swallowing the morality of the capitalist class—a morality which condemns robbing banks, but encourages mass murder during war time, which censors books but shows every night news of disgusting crimes against humanity in the name of profit, which shows contempt for the workers who produce the wealth of society, and idolizes useless parasites who reap the profits of production. The Machiavellian advice that deluding the masses is the way to retain power is still cherished by political leaders throughout the world. Stalin, Nixon, Mao, Churchill, Thatcher, Powell—all successful masters of the art.

But the delusion of the working class relies upon one factor: the workers' capacity to be deluded. When the working class of all countries unite in class consciousness no attempts, either by force or political cunning, will stop the revolution for Socialism. For the establishment of Socialism lies and deceit will not be necessary. The only words which the Socialist Party of Great Britain have for the working class are simple: toss aside the morals of your masters and organize for a rational society.
Steve Coleman

"Darkness at Noon" (1932)

Book Review from the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Darkness at Noon by H. Carlisle (Jarrolds. 7s. 6d. net. 288 pages.)

The central figure in this story of mining is a miner, called "Red."

"Red" is no ordinary miner. Of great physical strength, he is much admired by his mates, chiefly because of his ability to earn double their wages; he is the champion hewer.

But "Red" is not satisfied. He hates the mines. He yearns for the "green earth above, lovely with sunshine." He longs furtively for the warm love of women but, conscious of his awkward body and simple mind, he avoids them. To escape from the mines and to satisfy the cravings of his body became the dominating purpose of his life. He conceives the idea of buying a cheap and dingy "pub" with his savings, and with it to attract a barmaid to be his wife. He succeeds. Then begins disillusion. "Red" does not leave the mines. His mercenary barmaid-wife uses her charms to prevail upon him to remain at his work until the "pub" is a success. The "pub" becomes an inn, enlarges, and engages a staff. Still "Red" remains a miner.

The threads of the story are drawn into a swift and dramatic climax. "Red," disillusioned, maddened with jealousy and doubts of his wife's fidelity, almost blinded by an eye disease contracted in the mines, murders, in the mines, a mining engineer, he suspects to be his wife's lover, strangles his wife, sets fire to the inn, and, in his mad flight from the scene, hurls himself to destruction down a disused mining shaft which his failing eyes prevented him from seeing.

The story, which sags in parts, is graphically written and with simple literary force. "Red" is read. The sanctimonious labour leader, the union official, the agitator and the Ruskin man, who are impelled into the book without essential connection with the story, are all real and can be met among any section of organised workers. It has been said that this book is socialist propaganda. It is not. One is left with the feeling that Mr. Carlisle's talents has been wasted on a sex-baffled miner.
DON. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

New Labour: forward to the past (2000)

From the February 2000 of the Socialist Standard 

Blair has claimed that this century the battle will not be between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and conservatism. But his concept of a non-socialist party of progress is a throw-back to the 19th century.

At the Labour Conference last October Tony Blair delivered a messianic oration. He spoke with great fervour about the fact that he and his party are on the side of progress, identifying the progressives as a vast political movement of high-minded and fair people, who believe in the future, and against the dread-hooded minions of conservatism. Or, as Peter Sellers, put it, that we must go onward in a forwards direction to the future, because time waits for no man, and onwards is the way forward to the place in which we will one day arrive. Or some such.

Blair declared that the Labour Party had thrown aside Ideology, but would stay true to its values. Quite how he thinks values and ideology are dissociable is anyone's guess, specifically since he uses ideology in its meaning as a system of ideas or creed, which is exactly what one should have thought values would mean. Then again, political speeches are not about logical intellectual rigour, nor about clarity or sense. Blair was pulling the biggest ideological dodge in the book (one much beloved by pre-Thatcher Tories) that he is being pragmatic and free from ideology doing what is "objectively" right for the national interest, while his opponents are blinded by their ideological commitments. What matters is not the substance of what is being said, but the appearance. No-one wants to think of themselves as an unreasoning fanatic, which is what ideologue is code for, nor would they wish to vote for one.

Tony Blair also deployed other, simple, logical fallacies in order to try to bolster his political position. Most notably, he baldly deployed the logical fallacy of bifurcation: the presentation of a false set of options, an exclusive either/or option when that isn't necessarily the case. In this instance he has been trying to portray the choice as being solely between a Labour government (of nice sensible progressive types) and a Tory government (full of evil lunatics who drink babies' blood, etc), insisting that the only choice for people who dislike Tory rule is to vote Labour and join his movement of lukewarm progressives.

Lukewarm progressives
Progress does have a warm, fuzzy feel to it, though. The feel of things becoming better, of rational people making sensible decisions, without being shackled by tradition or history. Progress, also, is indissolubly linked to the mindset of the industrial revolution, and the ideas that it spawned about an ever-upward increase in wealth and quality of life. Such ideas were closely linked with the Radical movement of the 19th century; and Blair and his cohorts have repeatedly linked themselves in with that 19th century Radicalism. Gordon Brown styled the labourites as "Credible Radicals", and Blair repeated the word in his speech unto inanity. Indeed, Blair stated that the 20th century had been dominated by the Tories, precisely because the Labour Party had split the moderate-progressive bloc that existed in the Liberal Party of the 19th century.

Blair seems to feel a great affinity for the 19th century radicals. A curious attitude for a moderniser to be trying to resurrect a political movement that died over 100 years ago. For much of the 19th century, Radicalism was closely linked with "middle-class" political agitation, and took place very much in the shadow of the French Revolution. Within the Liberal Party, formed officially in 1859, the Radicals were drawn from the commercial classes, with Richard Cobden and John Bright, of the famous Anti-Corn Law League, among its free-trade luminaries. At certain points of the century Radicalism had some popular support, but there was always a distinct split between its necessarily well-heeled parliamentary leaders (MPs, being unpaid, needed to have substantial private incomes) and its supporters on the ground. By the late 19th century, the Radical formed a distinct camp within the broader movement of Liberalism, and early socialists held out hopes of those Radicals coming over to their side.

The maximum programme of the Radicals was one of political reform: enlargement of the franchise, abolition of the House of Lords, the rule of law and contract, and the abolition of trade protection. The Radicals were largely committed to the market, and laissez-faire capitalism, and their programme was largely about freeing up the power of capital to exploit labour without the old social-restrictions imposed by feudal power and, as with Tony Blair, they deployed a bifurcating argument of the middle and working classes uniting against the aristocracy. Indeed, the Liberals under Gladstone (the idol of Roy Jenkins, the ideological soul-mate of Tony Blair)—who was the political leader most instrumental in bringing about the nearest thing to laissez-faire to Britain—were a disparate group, often only united in their opposition to Toryism.

What is noticeable about their programme is that it bears more than a little resemblance to that of Thatcherism—as do the values and programme set forth by Gordon Brown fighting monopolies (what greater monopoly than a nationalised industry?), fighting fraud and rip-offs, protecting people from unscrupulous bankers; in effect: trying to make the market work properly. Blair is, then right that this is entirely in keeping with the history of the Labour Party.

Branding of identical products
The clear reason for Blair's risible sophistry is that the Labour Party has become concerned that people do not feel an attachment to it. Labour are worried about the next election. The false choice of Tories or Labour is a way to try to fool voters into trooping into the ballot booths to give assent to spinach over cabbage. When there is little discernible difference over policy, then the politicians have to appeal to feeling, and attitude: we cut welfare out of "tough love", they cut welfare to be mean and spiteful. It's like the differences in branding between two almost identical soft-drinks.

The Labour politicians are worried that they may have to work hard to win the next election despite the contemptible and patronising sophistry applied by spin doctors; as the Labour Party has been stung by the low turn-out in recent elections. Their pretence that the voters are just too satisfied with them to vote holds no water—satisfied voters turned out in the 70s percent range in the fifties and sixties at by-elections.

It's clear that the reason voters are not turning out is because they think it's pointless. This is an inherent flaw of representative democracy: voters are infrequently called upon to cast a vote, which seems to be far removed from any action or result; there is no immediate reward for the vote. The voters thus feel, correctly, that their influence is slight. Traditionally this was overcome by political parties being closely attached to identifiable social groups, with the members of these groups being able to feel a part of the ongoing political process. The party represented, in one way or another, the aspirations of that group; thus they would turn out to vote with a strong feeling of involvement.

Once the political structure is unable, as now, to accommodate any semblance of reforms so as to be able to give any vent to the aspirations of more dispossessed sections of society, then politicians can no longer rely on that sort of support. They have to resort to trying to scare the electorate into supporting them, into fooling them into voting for them. They know that to keep the system functioning, they have to persuade people to turn up, and give their support for it. That is the politicians' job; since they cannot actually make or change events, they have to work hard to pretend that they can. Their function is to win and maintain public confidence. At the end of the day they are merely actors, and our modern media-driven politics could be easily called a thespocracy, rule by actors.

This is also the reasoning behind Labour's new-found devotion to local mayors: a single person contest, wherein the personality of the candidate will be all important, and which will be more of a media event. It's about trying to return public interest to a system where there are no significant policy differences.

Moderate party of obstruction
We need only look across the Atlantic to Canada or America, where the Liberals (or Democrats) did not suffer the same collapse in the 20th century as their counterparts in Britain, where they have held power for proportionately more of the century than Labour has managed, to see that no real gain is to be made by building the grand-movement of progress. Rather, such a force would be solely a pretty bulwark by which the current corrupt system is defended, a Great Moderate Party of Obstruction, to appeal to rational people who want to see change, and direct them off into the hopeless quagmire of personality politics.

So long as the press continue to look into whether Tony wants to block Ken, or how Gordon and Tony might be having a tiff, or whether Peter Mandelson has been brought back too soon, they continue to ignore the desperation of poverty, the wanton and authoritarian cruelty of the government, and ignore the unspoken iron-rule of the dogma of capital.

There is, though, hope to be drawn from Blair modernising the country back to the 1890s. It shows the real face of the Labour Party, how it is still, how it has always been: how many Labour governments have called for partnership from the unions, or have seen making the market work as the way to improve people's lives? All of them, only now this one is dropping the façade of socialism—leftists no longer have any justification whatsoever for asking us to follow these insulating sophists. Labourites who think themselves to be socialists have had their illusions thrown back in their faces with a rude wake-up call. 
                                                                                                                                                  Pik Smeet                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Horror story (1986)

Book Review from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Postman of Nagasaki by Peter Townsend (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985).

Some forty years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is easier to objectively assess the circumstances in which those actions took place. Townsend reminds the reader of the individual caught up in such circumstances and provides a vivid account of the life of Sumiteru Taniguchi who was a sixteen-year-old postman delivering letters in Nagasaki at the time the bomb was dropped. Townsend's intention in writing this biography is to suggest that "if the deterrent is ever used, it will be the end of us and our planet". It represents a moral plea on behalf of one man as a symbol of the many who suffered. At the same time it provides a useful, brief history of Japan's involvement in the Second World War and catalogues the atrocities perpetrated by that nation in the course of its attempted expansion in Asia.

Townsend's work is a reminder of the contempt with which working people are treated and how this is epitomised during a war. His analysis of the circumstances leading up to the two nuclear attacks is one in which the majority of the population are pawns in a game played by detached leaders:
such were the men who debated the vital issue, war or peace — the elect and the all-powerful in whose hands lay the fate of the ordinary people, young Sumiteru among them, boys and girls and all the rest as innocent as he. The trouble with the top men was that they saw the people whose destiny they sought to shape as an anonymous mass or a bunch of statistics.
Sumiteru is a victim of the propaganda of the education system, of a government which refused to acknowledge the inevitable defeat to which it was being subjected and, for Townsend particularly, the callous indifference to the Japanese people exhibited by President Truman. Even before the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki it ought to be remembered that Japan had been subjected to horrendous aerial bombardment. Nagoya was bombed after an earthquake. General Curtis Le May had initiated a programme of napalm attacks because of the dispersed private workshops that marked the nature of Japan's industry:
Le May despatched, on the night of 9 March, over 300 B29s. Their orders were to set fire to the heart of Tokyo, where, in houses made of wood and paper, there lived, until that awful night, a quarter of a million low-paid workers. By dawn, 130,000 of them with their families lay strewn about the city in heaps of charred, unrecognisable corpses.
Similar attacks were also carried out on Kobe and Osaka. Japan was a defeated nation. Its steel and chemical industries were on the verge of collapse and it was running desperately short of oil and food. Truman's advisors had misgivings about the atomic bomb and that included Secretary for war, Harold Stimson, and General Eisenhower, Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces in Europe, but according to Townsend "Truman made the dropping of the atomic bomb a certainty—as indeed he had always intended".

The second part of this work concentrates on the plight of Sumiteru. It is not for the squeamish, as Townsend spares no detail including for instance Sumiteru "lying in a sea of pus" as a result of the hatching of maggots from the eggs laid by flies in the raw flesh of his back. He also catalogues the prejudices exhibited against the atomic bomb victims by the Japanese, who feared the consequences of the radiation to which the victims had been subjected as well as being appalled by their physical injuries. Similarly the US occupation authorities imposed heavy censorship as regards the death and destruction wrought by the new weapon, although references to the weapon as being of unprecedented power were welcomed. There was also suppression of details concerning the medical treatment of the victims. This was particularly applicable to Japanese doctors and scientists. Since then a fuller picture has emerged. Those exposed to radiation were found to have a greater susceptibility to leukemia, cancer of the thyroid was five times more common, lung cancer was twice as common, breast cancer four times higher than the national average and the young were vulnerable to cancer of the salivary glands. Added to this were such effects as an increase in eye cataracts among victims and an increase in still births and birth deformities among those pregnant at the time of the explosions.

Townsend argues that "the magnitude of destruction amounted, as no other weapon has ever achieved, to genocide as well as sociocide, ecocide and biocide—in brief, the negation of life" and that may well be correct. But it is the circumstances that gave rise to the use of that weapon that must be examined. The atomic bomb represents an atrocious addition to capitalism's panoply of weapons. The willingness to use that weapon, and the way in which it was used, highlights the total indifference with which human beings are treated during war and that only highlights the way in which the vast majority of people are treated in capitalism generally. There is a tendency to simplify and Townsend quotes Sumeritu as seeing the world as being "divided by political ideologies and the lust of a few men — and women — for power". It is the conflict arising out of the competitive nature of capitalism that legitimises the activities of world leaders who act out the logical consequences of that system. We can be horrified and disgusted by those actions and even morally repelled but nonetheless they must be seen as an outcome of capitalism. In that respect our outrage ought not to be directed solely at the weapons or the leaders but against the system of society which would contemplate, let alone use, such weapons. Sumiteru is the victim of a society in which he is expendable in the conflicting interests within the capitalist system. He is a witness to the extent to which the system us prepared to defend itself.
Philip Bentley 

Imperialism (1981)

Book Review from the March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism by Bill Warren, Verso, £3.95

It is not difficult to see why this book has been the subject of a virtual conspiracy of silence in left wing circles since it challenges one of their deep-rooted prejudices: anti-imperialism. Warren argues that, far from keeping the underdeveloped countries underdeveloped imperialism, in paving the way for the development of capitalism, has precisely provided the framework for their modernisation and development.

Warren confuses "socialism" with state capitalism and claims to be a Marxist; in fact his argument with his left wing colleagues is merely about which form of capitalism—private or state—is best for the underdeveloped countries. Clearly not an argument in which we are called upon to take sides.

We must take issue, however, with Warren on one key point and, perhaps surprisingly, come to the defence of Lenin. Warren criticises Lenin's pamphlet Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism not only for its faulty economic analysis (which we do too) but also for arguing that capitalism had become, by about the end of the 19th century, "reactionary" in the sense of having fulfilled its historical role of developing the means of production.

Warren argues in effect that capitalism still had, and still has a progressive role to play. Hence his defence of imperialism as the "pioneer of capitalism". He is here taking up the same position as Marx, who considered that in his day capitalism had a progressive economic and political role to play; he even accepted that colonialism (he never used the word "imperialism") in spreading capitalism beyond Europe had a progressive aspect.

But within a generation of Marx's death in 1883 capitalism can be said to have fulfilled its progressive role in the sense of having become the dominant world system and of having built up, in the world-wide productive system capable of turning out abundance for all, the materialist basis for a socialist world. This was what Social Democratic thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin were trying, however confusedly, to convey when they talk of "imperialism". This is not a word we generally use ourselves since it can suggest that what is bad is not capitalism itself but only its "imperialist" excesses, but the basic idea that, by around the turn of the century, capitalism had become reactionary is one we accept. Lenin, incidentally, was not consistent here: while accepting that capitalism had become reactionary in the developed capitalist countries, he still claimed that it had a progressive role to play in Asia, Latin America and Africa. But capitalism is a world system and when it became reactionary it became so for the whole world.

In trying to argue that capitalism/imperialism still has a progressive role to play Warren is quite wrong. Certainly, as he shows, capitalism is still developing the means of production but this development is in the form of the accumulation of capital, and the attendant problems and miseries this form brings. It is no longer necessary since socialism, the next stage in social evolution, has ling been materially and technically possible.
Adam Buick

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tolstoy 'Impossibilist' (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

As against those professing Socialists who endeavour to secure the kudos and advertisement attaching to the identification with their position of individuals who have, by diverse methods, attained to prominence in the public eye, we are concerned that the message we bring to the working-class shall be assessed on its own merits. Just as we, knowing its harmfulness as well as its futility, are opposed to the endeavour to obtain support for Socialism by tactics of compromise and the propagation of something less than Socialism, so we are opposed to the endeavour to create for Socialism a standing of greater "respectability" by covering it with the glamour of great names—whether of monarchical countesses or mystic counts. Hence the publication in another column of the letter from Tolstoy.

Tolstoy's disclaimer may come as an awkward pronouncement to those notoriety-mongers who, having claimed to be Socialists, have claimed Count Tolstoy for their supporter and widely advertised the connection. Tolstoy, of course, is simply a Christist who has failed to understand—because perhaps he never studied—the materialist basis to human thought and activity and who thinks that human loves and hates can be divorced from material conditions when, of course, it is precisely the material motive—the desire for material improvement and the methods of realising it—that brought men into association, into groups and tribes and nations, an association that has given birth to, and moulded, their thoughts and aspirations, their loves and and hates and fears.

Generally speaking, man's capacity to love his neighbour will depend upon the economic relationship of both. It is sheer fatuity to expect one to love the other when they are mutually engaged in a grim struggle for the wherewithal to live, a struggle that the conditions governing industry forces upon them. A man may understand that industrial conditions render it impossible for his fellow to do other than battle with him for bread, but he cannot love unless it is possible to conceive of a love that finds expression in a fight in no respect dissimilar from the fight between men who hate and hate whole-heartedly. The law of self preservation impels the fight and the lesson is soon learnt that the victory is to the best hater rather than the best lover. It is quite possible that the participants in the struggle may prefer to love each other, but they will understand if they give heed to the Socialist that the only way by which love can be made possible is through the removal of the conditions that necessitate hate. They must first of all remove the conditions that set them at each other's throat. Tolstoy has laid hold of the wrong end of the problem, and it is because his gospel can only have mischievous effects upon the endeavours we are making to organise the working-class upon the basis of class interests, that we take the opportunity this letter affords to make it clear, upon his own showing, that he is outside the Socialist movement at the same time that we echo the quaintly worded regret of our Japanese comrades that "Tolstoy is yet in error as to Socialism and the solution of social problems just in the same way as the common shallow people do."

Literary Curiosities. No. 2 - Tolstoy on Socialism (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Reprinted from "The Chokugen" (the plain speaker), the organ of the Socialist Party of Japan)

Toula, Yasnaya Poliana.

Dear friend IsooAbe (Editor, the Chokugen).

It was a great pleasure for me to receive your letter and your paper, with the English article. I thank you heartily for both.

Though I never doubted that there are in Japan a great many reasonable, moral and religeous men who are opposed to the horrible crime of war, which is now perpetrated by both betrayed and stupefied nations, I was very glad to get the proof of it.

It is a great joy for me to know that I have friends and co-workers in Japan, with which I can be in friendly intercourse.

Wishing to be quite sincere with you, as I wish to be with every esteemed friend, I must tell you that I do not approve of socialism and am sorry to know that the most spiritually advanced part of your—so clever and energetic—people has taken from Europe the very feeble, illusory and fallacious theory of socialism, which in Europe is beginning to be abandoned.

Socialism has for its aim the satisfaction of the meanest part of human nature, his material well-being and by the means it proposes, can never attain them.

The true well-being of humanity is spiritual i.e. moral and includes the material well-being. And this higher goal can be attained only by religeous i.e moral perfection of all the units which composes nations and humanity.

By religeon I understand the reasonably belief in a (general for all humanity) law of God, which practically is exposed in the precept of loving every man and doing to every body what one wishes to be done to you.

I know that this method seems to be less expedient than socialism and other frail theories, but it is the sole true one. And all the efforts we make in trying to realise false—and not realising their aim—theories only hinder as to employ true means to attain the degree of happiness of mankind and of every individual which is proper to our times.

Excuse for the liberty I take to discuss your creed, and for my bad English and believe me to be your friend.
LEO TOLSTOY


Fifty Years Mark-Time (1950)

Book Review from the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Francis Williams, one-time Editor of the Daily Herald, has written a history of the Labour Party. "Fifty Years' March, The Rise of the Labour Party", published by Odhams Press, Ltd. We suspect that Mr. Williams wrote with a distemper brush. He has certainly given the Labour Party an unblemished white-washing. The main theme of this history is summed up by Mr. Attlee in the foreword to the book. He says:-
"It is a story very characteristic of Britain, showing the triumph of reasonableness and practicability over doctrinaire impossibilism."
Mr. Williams insists that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party, claiming that after years of endeavour by the Independent Labour Party, the Fabian Society and the Clarion Scouts, it finally became a Socialist Party when it was re-organised by Arthur Henderson following the war of 1914-18. He says that the programme contained in "Labour and the New Social Order" put the seal on its Socialist character. But Mr. Williams does not give us even an attempt at a definition of Socialism. He writes on various pages of Christian Socialists, Marxist Socialists, Guild Socialists, reformists who were Socialists, industrial actionists who were Socialists, in fact, all sorts of different Socialists until we are forced to wonder if the word Socialism has any meaning at all for Mr. Williams.

Here, according to Mr. Williams, is Keir Hardie's brand of Socialism : —
"Only if men were moved, he believed, by the warm hearted, idealistic gospel of Socialism could there be created a new social order . . . " (page 13.)
The author quotes Bruce Glasier : —
. . . "It is from the prophets, apostles and saints, the religious mystics and heretics, rather than from statesmen, economists and political reformers, that the socialist movement derives its examples and ideals . . . Socialism means not only the Socialisation of wealth, not only the Socialisation of the means of production and distribution, but of our lives, our hearts—ourselves . . . " (page 105.)
That Mr. Williams tells us, "was the spirit that made the early I.L.P.". That spirit, he continues, "when harnessed to the intellectual integrity of the Fabians and the practical idealism and economic experience of the trade unions" made the Labour Party. Well, we knew that there was something wrong with the Labour Party, but we did not know that it was that.

Of Ramsay MacDonald, a man who, we are told on page 169, was suspected by trade unionists of being too Socialist, we learn that "he was a Socialist of a peculiarly philosophical and inactive—indeed one might say non-political—kind. His Socialism was not based on an understanding of the economic forces at work in society. He had little knowledge of economics . . . What made him a Socialist was a romanticized conception of natural history, acquired during his early biological studies and transformed without amendment to the political struggle" (pages 198-199).

Later in the book, the author quotes with approval from Robert Blatchford: "We can't have Socialism without Socialists" and, Mr. Williams says: " . . . that was the true answer . . . " Having read in his book of the different brands of "Socialism" expounded by Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, Robert Blatchford, Victor Grayson, Tom Mann, J. H. Thomas, Philip Snowden and a shoal of others including the Communism of John Wyclif, we are left astounded that the author can quote that short passage from Blatchford and continue to call the Labour Party a Socialist Party.

One thing the author does make clear, although possibly without intending to do so. That is, that the founders of the Labour Party wanted to build a political Party with a substantial numerical strength and they were quite prepared to sacrifice their respective "Socialist" principles at the altar of a large membership. He tells that most of the prominent early workers in the Labour Party were far-seeing enough to build an organisation with numerical and financial strength and a firm foundation of mass support. He proceeds to show us throughout the pages of the book, how the so called Socialists of the Labour Party have had to compromise, twist, wriggle, turn, betray and mis-lead the non-Socialist mass support in order to hold it together. And after studying that sort of thing for years, seeing the struggle between the mass support and the leadership, the desertions, the betrayals, the collapses, and the failure to prevent the evils of capitalism, Mr. Williams still thinks that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party. He still has not learned that the strength of a working-class Party lies not just in its numbers but in its understanding of its objective and its determination to achieve it.

The first few chapters of the book present an interesting story of the early struggles of the workers in this country and of the efforts leading up to the foundation of the Labour Party, although the author betrays his prejudice when he writes of men like Hyndman and Karl Marx. Altogether the book is very readable providing the reader does not get as confused as the author as to what Socialism really is. If this book can be read in conjunction with the SOCIALIST STANDARD for the years that are covered it makes instructive and interesting reading.
W. Waters

POINTS FOR PATRIOTS. (1917)

From the March 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard
Breathes there a man with soul so dead —
   Some modern slave at factory gate
Who never to himself hath said,
   In cynic bitterness and hate:
"This is my own, my native land" 
Breathes there a man with soul so dead —
   A numbered hand in a factory hell
Who never to himself hath said,
   When hurried to toil by the factory bell:
"This is my own, my native land"? 
Breathes there a man with soul so dead
   Mocked by flaunted wealth and power
Who never to himself hath said,
   As he sold himself for sixpence an hour:
"This is my own, my native land"?
F. 

The Warmakers (1999)

From the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

A TV documentary series, "The Century," with Peter Jennings, shown recently in Britain on the History Channel, reviewed some of the most significant aspects of the 20th century. One segment, on the development of the atom bomb, made a point well worth stopping to think about.

Late in the Second World War, the generals and the politicians made a tactical decision with chilling implications: they switched from striking at military targets (without regard for the "collateral damage" this might inflict on civilians) to the deliberate, premeditated mass murder of civilian populations. They were able to make this switch, which they did quietly and without fanfare, because TNT-based weapons technology—delivery vehicles included—had evolved so rapidly under the lash of war. As one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project put it, with the atom bomb the government's interest shifted from simply making a new weapon for winning the war to making a new weapon. Having gained the ability to manufacture and deploy large numbers of bombs quickly and efficiently, the government began to go in for destroying not merely military targets but the economic infrastructure on which weapons manufacture and deployment was based—indifferent to the fact that this meant targeting ordinary non-combatant populations for annihilation.

Winning the war was the justifying obsession where TNT bomb technology was concerned. But the interest in developing a weapon of unprecedented destructive capabilities—initially by the scientists themselves, so horrified by the Nazi war machine, who proposed it as a "humane" alternative to a war of incredibly vast destruction—set up a drive to test it under battlefield conditions. If you could use something so powerful, why should you not use it? The generals and the politicians had become so blunted to the emotional impact of directing a process of mass murder that the human implications of this radically new tactical emphasis escaped them: some involved in the Project reported having "misgivings," but their vacillations were easily neutralized.

Only Leo Szilard actively went on the offensive, campaigning against the new weapon as an error of judgment on the part of the scientists; but the government, having accepted the initiative of the scientists, wrapped in its humanitarian rationale, stonily turned them out when they did protest. Truman, along with his generals, was already moving so fast that it was quite impossible for the protesters to catch up with them, and the decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima raced arrogantly ahead on the assumption that what the protesters had to say regarding policy did not matter politically or militarily. And very few of them turned against the Project or their connections with the government's war effort. Edward Teller, in fact, even went on to invent that great pseudo-scientific monstrosity, the hydrogen bomb, "800 times more powerful than the atomic bomb" which had so appalled its own creators.

The only possible use weapons of such numerically huge destructive ability could have was to terroristically murder (or threaten to murder) enormous numbers of people—still, of course, on a military justification. The convenient tactical switch of emphasis had become a strategy expressing the highest degree of insanity. All of it had become possible because the process of technological development had gotten so thoroughly socialized that the designers and users of bomb technology could almost innocently devise weapons of mass destruction entirely in the absence of exposure to the latter's effects. In ancient times, generals and politicians practising the "art" of war had had firsthand experience of its impact; turning the human imagination to inventing better weapons, evil though it was, at least registered a direct, emotional sense of awareness. The monsters who clawed their way to the top in Imperial Rome nevertheless retained some basic sense of humanity in their behavior, if only because it was still not yet technologically possible to go off the deep end.

With the Second World War, however, the separation between warmakers and civilians had become a sort of proscenium arch made of steel, complete with war rooms and theatres of combat. Emotionally, the warmakers showed that ruling classes had finally lost the ability to relate to the effects of their own efforts. Since almost no wars in history have ever been decided on by the people who were called on to fight them, this represented a radical step forward in the emotional implosion lived daily by warring élites: their peculiar occupational hazard. These élites could no longer relate humanly and emotionally to their targets. With the Manhattan Project, war stopped being hell for those who decided to have a war fought by other people, to whom they gave orders; with the result that the outcome of global thermonuclear war would at last show the world there really was a Hell after all: the planet Earth. The blunting emotional impact of mass murder had finally attained schizophrenic proportions in the minds of the warmakers.

Thus, the capitalist class of today, corrupted as they are by this emotional sickness, have acquired an absolute and terrible decision-making power that autocrats and emperors could once only have dreamed of even as the relative numbers of the warmakers among them have dwindled to extraordinarily tiny proportions. Capitalist intelligence has entered a world that no longer recognises its own origins in human intelligence, with which human beings are naturally endowed to promote the survival of our species. But the capitalist class will only recognise those fragments of that larger intelligence as long as these support their power or promise to extend their advantage. Since capitalists in general all have this warmaking sickness that only "breaks out" in the highest circles, where it assumes such forms as the military-industrial complex, we humans down here below can expect to find no security in their adopting responsible policies on warmaking.

War is the problem, and capitalism promotes—encourages—the situations that result in war. We do not need capitalism, but we do need to protect ourselves from their unsanitary habits by bringing the world back into line with ordinary human emotions. The only solution to war is a system of society that people control, one in which élites cannot appear. The only way to lay the foundations for this is to eliminate the twin contagions of capital and wage labor, on which the whole structure of capitalist élitism has come to rest.
Ron Elbert

The Passing Show Column (1963)

The Passing Show Column from the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Wilson on class
In a recent interview published in the Observer, Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour Party, made some extraordinary statements. Among other things he said:
“The Labour Party must represent the whole country. If you mean what class do I think I am—well, what is the answer? Elementary school, Oxford common room, what does it add up to? There are millions of people—trained, skilled, professional—for whom these phrases about class are becoming more and more meaningless. The white coat, the growing technological character of modern industry is making some of the old battlegrounds unreal.”
Wilson apparently thinks that if a worker can speak grammatically, or do a skilled job, he is no longer a worker. It seems that in some unexplained way the worker can, in Wilson's view, become a capitalist by taking English lessons at night school. What a maze of unreality must surround a man who thinks that wearing a white coat instead of overalls alters a man's class position in society. And the statement that "the Labour Party must represent the whole country "' is merely ridiculous when put against the fact of the vast chasm which yawns between the ten per cent, of haves and the ninety per cent, of have-nots.

There are no prizes for the answer to Wilson's question about what class in society he is in. In fact, the answer is here—if he has enough property to live without working, he is a member of the upper class; if not, he is a worker. There are also no prizes for the answer to this question—in whose class interest is Wilson working? With his talk about "representing the whole country" and his denial that the class struggle even exists, the answer is crystal clear: Wilson is working in the interest of the capitalist class.

Too much
Earlier in the same series, Wilson actually committed himself to the following remarks:

“Quite honestly, I've never read Das Kapital. I got only as far as page two— that's where the footnote is nearly a page long, I felt that two sentences of main text and a page of footnote were too much.”

This is despite his own claim that "economics became his field."

Mr. Wilson was apparently in such a haze that he could not distinguish page two from page fifty-two, or the beginning of a chapter from the end of it. The first footnotes in Das Kapital which might reduce the main text to this extent are the ones that concern Ricardo, at the end of chapter one, on commodities. In the edition nearest to hand (William Glaisher, London, 1909) these footnotes begin at page fifty-two. In no conceivable edition could they come on page two.

But what a pity that Wilson was not able to overcome the tremendous hurdle presented to his comprehension by some rather long footnotes (he was, after all, only an Oxford lecturer on economics). He might have learned that there is more to a man's position in society than the colour of the coat he wears. He might even have learned that there are two classes in society—an owning class and a working class. One feels that he might not have survived the shock.

Fruits of victory
Colonial "freedom fighters," leaders of "independence movements," run so true to form as soon as their countries have achieved their "independence" that it becomes almost farcical. Once they themselves are in power, once the native capitalist class has ousted the imperialists, their tune always changes immediately and abruptly. They always make the same speech to warn all the suckers who supported  the "independence movements," thinking it would make a radical change, that the workers' position will be exactly what it was before; only the nationality of the exploiters has changed.

Jomo Kenyatta is the latest to make this speech (The Times, 29/5/63):
We are not going to compromise our independence by begging for assistance. The Government will make it quite clear that our progress, our hopes, our ambitions will be fulfilled only if we have hard work from every citizen.
So now the struggle is over, we've all fought hard, victory has been won: and your reward is—a lot more hard work, and don't you forget it.

And yet the workers all over the world still go on falling for these confidence tricks.


It's easy for some
Two small girls, one none, the other twelve, are "to share in a 25,000,000 development scheme in Hampstead, London. The investment has been given to them by their father, 42-year-old property man Mr. Peter Robins (Sunday Express, 28/4/63). By the time the girls are respectively nineteen and sixteen, they should have an income of about 10,000 per year each.

The way to get into the capitalist class, the capitalist class tell us, is to work hard and save. But the capitalists themselves always seem to start off by being capitalists. It's certainly a lot quicker when Daddy gives you such a lovely start, isn't it?
Alwyn Edgar

No Profits, No Growth (2013)

The Cooking the Books Column from the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
Growth –the accumulation of capital –is what capitalism is all about. There can be a debate about whether this growth is a good (increasing society’s ability to produce and so, in theory, to eliminate poverty and deprivation) or a bad thing (damaging the environment and depleting resources because of the unplanned way it happens), but this is rather academic as it’s going to happen anyway. Or not. Growth under capitalism is not a straight line but more like the blade of a saw with peaks and troughs. At the moment the economy is in a trough, with production 4 percent below the last peak in 2008.
Governments know enough about capitalism to realise that the way-out of the current situation for them is ‘growth’. This would lead not only to increased consumption and a fall in unemployment but also to a rise in government revenue from taxation and so ease its debt problem. Which is why the Coalition has adopted a ‘growth strategy’. But growth is not something governments can control.
Growth comes about by profits being re-invested in expanding production and productive capacity, and so depends on profits being made. The flip side is that if profits are not being made there can be no growth. In fact, growth stops precisely because it has become unprofitable to produce at the same level as previously. Which is what happened in 2008.
Growth won’t resume until it again becomes profitable, as the government has found out by the failure of one of its policies – encouraging private investment in infrastructure projects. Philip Lachowycz, of Fathom Consulting, noted in the Times (26 November):
‘The main plan has been to kick start investment for around 500 proposed infrastructure projects with pension fund capital worth £20bn. So far the proposals have completely failed to take-off. The government has been unable to encourage the private sector to invest in new roads, housing or anything else for that matter. Official data show that infrastructure spending is down 11 percent from a year ago and the government has raised less than £1bn.’
The CBI demanded that the government insure capitalist firms against any losses from this but the government has refused so the private investment has not materialised (so much for the much-vaunted ‘risk-taking’ that capitalist apologists trot out to justify profits). But, says Lachowycz,:
‘There is a simpler explanation –the chronically low rate of return. At Fathom Consulting we calculate that the real rate of return on all fixed capital expenditure has collapsed in recent years and stands at only 0.5 per cent. For infrastructure specifically, it is lower still, and may even be negative.’
On their website accompanying the article is a graph of the ‘real rate of return on fixed capital investment’ from 1988 to 2012, showing a fall from 4 percent in 2007 to 0.5 percent today. But it is not only the return on investment in fixed capital that is too low:
‘OK, but surely everybody agrees that the UK has a severe shortage of housing and should now embark on a major house building programme? Not us. For housing specifically, we find that the rate of return is deeply negative, as house prices remain significantly overvalued relative to income.’
What a condemnation of capitalism this rather cynical but eminently realistic comment represents! People need houses, hospitals, schools and other amenities but they are not going to get them because the ‘rate of return’ is too low or negative. Time to get rid of the profit system.

The Death of Trotsky (1940)

From the September 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Through the attack of an assassin Leon Trotsky is dead. The Press reports that the attack was made in Trotsky's own home, the assailant having wormed his way into the aged revolutionary's friendship through many visits to his home in Mexico.

Thus the murderer avoided the usual search which the guards of Trotsky's person carry out in the case of all visitors, and so managed to conceal a small axe, with which the attack was made. Trotsky's dying words were to accuse the Russian Secret Police of the crime.

So ends the amazing career of one of the outstanding men of to-day. Trotsky (his real name was Bronstein) was the son of a well-to-do Jewish farmer in the Russian Ukraine. In early youth, whilst he was yet studying at High School in Odessa, he became an active member of the Russian Revolutionary Movement, whose fundamental aim was the overthrow of Czarist Autocracy. So far he was merely expressing the general need and feeling of Russian intellectuals, teachers, civil servants and such like, whose scandalously low pay added fuel to their intellectual abhorrence of a medieval despotism.

Soon, however, the character of the Russian Revolutionary Movement changed completely. The doctrines of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, interpreted and disseminated in Russia by theoreticians like Plekhanov, Struve and Axelrod in the first place, swept aside the curious mixture of destructive Nihilism and Western Liberalism so typically represented by the Party known as “Narodnaya Volya" (People's Will).

To understand the apparent contradiction of the spread of Marxism among "intellectuals" in a country so agrarian and backward as Russia, it would be necessary to go deeply into the subject, but perhaps one of the most important, certainly the immediate factor, was the absence of a strong, coherent capitalist class who could have directed the opposition to Feudal restrictions along orthodox capitalist lines.

Instead, the ferment was organised and led by “intellectuals," who took their cue from the most advanced social science which Europe then had (and still has) to offer.

In his own life-story, Trotsky tells us of the enthusiasm with which he plunged into Socialist study and the light which then suffused even the darkest and most perplexing problems.

It is curious, therefore, that a man so gifted as a writer as Trotsky undoubtedly was, has left little, if any, literary trace of his Marxist education. This is in contrast to men like Lenin, Martov, Riazanov, Bukharin and many other Russians, who have given us ample proof of their familiarity with the theoretical system of Marx.

After spending some time in Russian prisons and Siberian exile, years of hardship and suffering which left their mark on Trotsky's health, he managed to escape only to be arrested again as one of the ringleaders of the revolt at Petrograd in 1905.

Escaping once more, he left Russia and spent the intervening years until the Bolshevik uprising in October, 1917, in various European countries and, finally, the United States.

During this time he was continually in touch with the exiles who were planning revolt, and he played an important role in the deliberations of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, although he was then only a young man in the twenties.

When the split in this organisation took place at a conference in London in 1903, Trotsky took an individual stand.

It is not true that he was a Menshevik, for, although he, like the Mensheviks, opposed Lenin's plan for an organisation of revolutionary conspirators to be controlled by a dictatorship in the centre, his fundamental views differed from both factions.

Trotsky himself made it clear that he did not consider the controversy important enough to warrant a split, and continued to work with both groups in an attempt to re-establish unity.

But whereas both factions were agreed that the coming Russian Revolution would be essentially capitalist and that Russia would consequently have to pass through an era of capitalist democracy, Trotsky was alone in proclaiming that the overthrow of Czardom could be accomplished by the Russian movement alone, which could maintain itself in power and so cut out completely the period of capitalist transition.

This point of view he elaborated into a theory called "Permanent Revolution."

The basic points of this theory rest on the assumption that power could be held by Socialists in Russia long enough to enable the workers of the more advanced Western countries, helped, of course, by their Russian comrades, to introduce Socialism. Then the material backwardness of Russia could be overcome through the united efforts of a Socialist Europe.

None of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin, accepted this view until after the seizure of power in October, 1917.

This theory is still the kernel of "Trotskyism," and from the S.P.G.B. standpoint that kernel is rotten with error.

Lenin himself had to admit that their hopes for a Socialist revolution in the West had been frustrated, but he and Trotsky blamed this on bad and treacherous leadership.

What the Bolsheviks did not grasp, then any more than their would-be imitators can do to-day, is the need for an understanding of Socialism by a majority of the working-class. This understanding alone would make leadership, good or bad, impossible.

But Trotsky who himself failed to grasp all the implications of Socialism, continued to nourish these illusions to the end.

Hence his bitter opposition to Stalin, whom he accuses of having betrayed the "Socialist" Revolution in Russia.

Trotsky's role in the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was second only to that of Lenin. This fact is generally recognised, except by the hide-bound followers of the present Russian Dictatorship.

His talent for military organisation and strategy helped to save the Bolsheviks from being defeated by the armies of the Czarist generals and the half-hearted intervention of the Allies.

This was often asserted by Lenin and, at the time, admitted by Stalin.

But Trotsky did not achieve this military success without ruthless discipline, a ruthlessness which showed itself again in his suppression of the revolt of the sailors at Kronstadt.

When charged by Kautsky with using methods of terrorism, Trotsky replied with a defence justifying the means by the end, as if the two could ever be separated.

Socialism, the pinnacle of human development, can never be achieved by methods that are themselves reactionary and anti-human; it is more than the irony of his logic that Trotsky himself should have met his end in such a violent manner.

How can the fall of Trotsky be explained?

Trotsky himself ascribes it to the chicanery of Stalin and his associates, but this explanation is both shallow and misleading.

Fundamentally, Trotsky fell from power because his theory of Permanent Revolution and his consequent insistence on continued revolutionary agitation abroad would have cut off all technical aid from the Western world, and so made any attempt at industrial development more difficult in Russia.

Another important factor was Trotsky's standing in the party clique which ruled the country. For although his military successes had probably made him the most popular man with the Russian masses, the Bolshevik party-machine, controlled by the secretary, Stalin, regarded him as an interloper. As already explained, Trotsky had maintained an individual stand until the October upheaval, therefore his hold on the Bolshevik party was not strong and was finally broken by the Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev clique.

The last two have since been legally murdered by their former associate; in this way Stalin has attained a personal power unequalled by any Czar.

Trotsky's misunderstanding was further exemplified by his contradictory attitude towards the Soviet Union. Bitterly hostile towards the regime, yet he urged that should Russia be involved in war, it would be the duty of all workers, inside or outside Russia, to fight in “defence” of that country, whilst at the same time working for the overthrow of Stalin.

This inconsistency he defended on the grounds that the Russian economic system, i.e., state control, was essentially working-class, and apparently required only a change in its political administration to perfect it for working-class needs.

This error is bound up with Trotsky's confusion between State-capitalism and Socialism, evidence of which can be found in his writings.

Trotsky's personal qualities are of minor interests to Socialists. As a political pamphleteer he was outstanding and he was also a first-class orator. But unless the world-proletariat can harness such gifts to serve the struggle for Socialism, they will be wasted and even harmful to workers' interests, although, and as in the case of Leon Trotsky, there is no doubt that his whole life was sincerely dedicated to their cause.
Sid Rubin

Lessons from the American Elections (1929)

From the January 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

The results of the elections for President make interesting reading. The Communists, masquerading as the Workers' Party, had a programme of immediate demands or reforms running into considerably over 100 and calculated to sweep the country. They polled 40,000 votes, or less than half the membership they claimed when they began in 1919 and before they adapted their name and programme to appeal to the masses.

The Socialist Labour Party polled 21,000 votes, against 30,000 four years ago. Their periodicals were full of "Electionitis," although the S.L.P. believes that "only the trade unions can set on foot the true political of labor," a claim which they have fathered on to Karl Marx, but can't find where and when he said such a thing.

With a party like the S.L.P. claiming that religion is a private matter, in a country chock full of belief in spooks they should have polled a heavy vote. The Socialist Party of America received about 250,000 votes, or about one-quarter of what they received when they ran Debs for President. With a long reform programme appealing to Labour as well as to "all classes," they can't stop their vote from falling.

To trim their sails a little more, the Socialist Party of America have recently decided to eliminate from the application for membership form, all references to "class struggle," "Capitalist Class," and "collective ownership," and replace this with a sentence affirming belief in independent political action.

These bodies with popular appeals and reform programmes are continually asserting that their method is one calculated to get the masses with them, but as these Election results show, the policy of dangling political carrots in front of the workers fails.

In America, Al Smith, the Democratic Candidate, was able to offer all kinds of captivating reform  promises, and with a fair chance of election. So Al Smith got all the reform votes.

If the Socialist Party of America had preached Socialism and got votes for Socialism, neither Republican nor Democrat could have enticed their votes away.
Adolph Kohn

Friday, August 28, 2015

They all go the same way home (1950)

From the January 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

After 14 years of Labour government in New Zealand and eight years in Australia, the general elections in November and December saw those Labour governments rejected by the voters who had earlier put them into power. Some of the political commentators in this country have been speculating about the effect those results may have on the forthcoming General Election here.

They suggest that the British workers may be influenced to vote against the Labour Party because of what has happened in New Zealand and Australia. It is a fallacious view. If the Labour Government here had been able to make a success of its efforts to run capitalism in a manner pleasing to the workers they would not be influenced at all by what has happened on the other side of the globe. It may be that the British Labour Government will next year be returned to power for another five years, though the Labour Ministers are clearly resigned to suffering some loss of votes and seats. What we can say with complete confidence is that sometime or other, either at the 1950 elections or later on, the workers in Britain will turn out the Labour Government. The now lengthening history of Labour governments in many parts of the world shows that they are merely the alternative that the electors choose when they have become tired, sick or resentful of Liberal or Tory government. Just as 19th century Britain witnessed the game of political ins and outs, with never any fundamental change in the position of the working-class, so the 20th century gives us the same game but with the Labour Party in place of one of the older Parties.

Labour Party supporters are often amazed that this should happen. After Labour governments had introduced so much legislation and so many seemingly important changes how can the workers be so blind and ungrateful as to turn their Labour Party friends out of office? That is how it appears to Labour Party members.

It is all a myth. The more capitalism is changed in detail the more it remains at base the same—a system resting on the exploitation of the working class. It is true that, for electioneering purposes, the politicians have to pretend that there is a fundamental gulf between the Parties, hence the pretence that in New Zealand, Australia and Britain the fight is one between capitalism and Socialism. Just the same pretence was made when the contending Parties were Liberal and Tory, yet during war or at a time of acute economic crisis Liberal, Tory and Labour Parties find no difficulty in reconciling their differences in order to form coalition governments.

We are told by Conservatives in this country that the issue in Australia was for and against the continuance of "Socialism". There was no Socialism in Australia and no intention of introducing it. A less glaringly inaccurate description is that provided by Mr. Menzies, the new Australian Prime Minister. He says "the election was fought on the question of freeing the people from an all-powerful State—Nationalisation has taken it on the chin" (Sunday Express, 11.12.49). What Mr. Menzies calls freeing the people from an all-powerful State simply means such things as the promise of the new Government to end petrol-rationing and other controls carried on from the war: but as The Times points out: — "Actually this form of rationing has nothing to do with Socialist doctrine, but is necessary, at any rate in the view of the outgoing Government, to protect dollar reserves" (Times, 2.12.49). It is just as much a distortion to claim that the defeat of the Australian Labour Government means that nationalisation has been knocked out. Nationalisation has nothing to do with Socialism and no government in Australia or Britain which continues capitalism will undo nationalisation. All that is involved between them is whether to apply nationalisation a little more or a little less. In the election the Australian Labour Party went out of its way to assure the electors that its own proposal to nationalise the private banks was now a dead issue because of a legal decision which showed that it would require constitutional to bring it into effect. On the other side Mr. Menzies declared, just as did his Labour opponents, "that if any utility were not being conducted efficiently in the public interest, or were exploiting the public, it should be nationalised" (Economist, 10.12.49).

On the issue of the so-called "social services" the Labour Party asked the workers to vote for them for what has already been done, while the Conservatives slipped in with a promise to give the children's allowance to the first child instead of restricting it to the other children as is done at present.

One of the significant features of the election was the heavy defeat of the Labour Party in Queensland and its loss of votes in New South Wales, both of them former Labour strongholds, and New South Wales a largely industrial State containing much of the coal industry. What undoubtedly helped to produce this anti-Labour vote was the way the Labour Government behaved in the strike on the Queensland nationalised railways in 1948, and in the coal strike in 1949. In both disputes the authorities obtained emergency powers to deal with the strikes and there were bitter clashes between the police and the strikers. Thus does history repeat itself; for it was a similar savage struggle with strikers on the railways and in the sugar industry that preceded the electoral defeat of the Queensland Labour Government in 1929.

On that occasion, a trade union journal in Australia (The Worker, Brisbane, 7.9.1927) made the revealing comment: —"The impression is getting abroad that it is not possible for a Labour government to govern in a capitalist state, but that seems to be absurd." Here we have the crux of the matter. A Labour Government can certainly govern in a capitalist State, but it can only do so in much the same way as any other Party trying to run capitalism. In the last resort it must use the forces of State to break strikes and force the workers into submission because if it doesn't capitalism will relapse into chaos.

The only road of escape from this dilemma is to get rid of capitalism and introduce Socialism and that is a task for which the Labour Parties have no mandate. It is a task for the workers of the world and it cannot be begun until they understand and want Socialism and organise politically to bring it about.
Edgar Hardcastle 

Socialism before reformism (1983)

From the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many objections to the case for socialism are rooted in the argument that, while a social system based on common ownership of the means of production and distribution with free access to wealth is highly desirable, something must be done now about the problems which afflict the human race.

This argument, which on the face of it has much merit, for the problems of capitalism are urgent and horrific, makes a number of concessions to the socialist case. It agrees that capitalism cannot satisfy the needs of its people, that it must continually throw up wars, poverty, famine and the like. It concedes that the customary political parties do little to alleviate the situation; it does not raise any objections that socialism is somehow at odds with "human nature", that people are naturally so divisive, aggressive and greedy that a co-operative society could not survive. It does not waste time in questioning whether a moneyless, classless society is practicable. It accepts that what are now everyday blights on our lives simply will not exist when we have socialism.

But such concessions, though important, are not conclusive to the reformists. Millions dies each year, needlessly, in famines; the world's power blocs possess an obscenely high level of destructiveness, enough to kill each one of us again and again; in this country alone there are millions living in slums, or homeless, or in the direst poverty. Such problems—and there are many others—say the reformists, must take priority over any efforts to revolutionise society. We must act now to get rid of the bomb, to organise food supplies to the famine victims, allow special state benefits to the needy. When we have cleared up these matters it will be time to turn our minds to socialism.

The reformist argument then spells out, often in impressive detail, the current social troubles. It tells us, with the help of graphs, tables, statistics, about the scope of these and their effects on people's lives. Thus CND has a wealth of knowledge about the numbers of nuclear weapons in existence, their destructive power, the area which one bomb could wipe out, how many it would kill at once, how many it would leave suffering a slower, more agonising death, how it would cripple millions of survivors with radiation diseases. As an indictment, an encouragement to question why a modern society should devote such effort to destroying itself, it is impressive and valuable.

From that type of indictment the reformists proceed to an assumption that the problem can be eliminated by applying some piecemeal remedy to it. CND is sure that nuclear weapons can be abolished simply by persuading the government in this country to do just that, on its own. Oxfam workers are convinced that food shortages can be dealt with by rushing supplies of the stuff to the areas which are suffering from famine. It needs, runs the reformist argument, no more fundamental action than that.

In fact, in terms of logical argument, there is a massive, unbridgeable chasm between the indictment and the policies which the reformists put forward as the solution. There is no evidence to support the assumption — for it is no more than that — that capitalism's sickness can be cured by taking each symptom separately without any reference to the cause and to the fact that all the symptoms spring from a common basis.

In the case of CND, despite over a quarter of a century of marches, demonstrations, sit-downs, terms of imprisonment, the weapons are still there, growing worse and more threatening as they proliferate across the world. We live less securely now than we did when CND first came into being. This applies also to the other issues we have here discussed; the most sanguine of reformists can offer no hope that they are diminishing in intensity. Indeed, such is their grip on our lives that the reformist campaigns cannot relax in the assurance of success; all the time they must keep up the pressure and start new protests, each making the same claims as their discredited and exhausted predecessors.

The unbridgeable chasm bars the way because the reformists are following the wrong route. An effective indictment of social problems should lead to an analysis of them and then to their cause. Nuclear weapons spring from the fact of modern war, which is directly attributable to the basic nature of capitalism. A similar approach to the other problems will point to the conclusion that they also have the same root cause. And from there it is a small, irresistible step to the final argument, that only by abolishing capitalism will we rid the world of its problems.

But abolishing capitalism is not the end of it; as human society must continue, what is to replace the system of class ownership of the means of life, of war, famine, poverty, avoidable disease, insecurity? The only other basis possible is the opposite of private ownership — it is communal ownership of the means of production and distribution and their democratic control by the entire human race. That is socialism.

An examination of capitalism, then, leads by a series of logical steps to the conclusion that socialism is the next, necessary, step in social evolution. Capitalism is critically sick and there is need for urgent treatment. The human race need not continue to suffer the nuclear threat, or endure famine and poverty and we must act at once on that knowledge. Only socialism will answer human needs; only socialism will enable us to build a world which allows the people to live co-operatively, in abundance and freedom and to contribute to the limits of their abilities.

The priority is socialism.