Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rewriting Marx (1993)

From the October 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are used to various Leninist regimes distorting the views of Karl Marx to try to bring some kind of spurious legitimacy to their vile social systems. A recent, almost breathtaking, example occurred in the Beijing Review (no. 34, 23-29 August). An article by one Ed Rothberg, who is apparently a professor from New York, defends the changes in the Chinese economy over the last twelve years or so as being in line with Marx's views. From a centrally-planned economy, China has changed to one where prices and wages are controlled by the market; this is allegedly all within a Socialist system, whereas in fact it is a change from state capitalism to a mix of state and private capitalism.

Rothberg's "discovery" is that a planned economy violates Marx's ideas about the best way to run a commodity-based economic system. Marx described the way that capitalism operated, with competition, profits and the law of value. But he was not concerned with recommending how to run such a system, as he knew that capitalism could not function in the interests of workers. According to Rothberg, however, Marx advocated competition as the way to develop the means of production. On this topsy-turvy logic, the economic changes in China are a successful application of Marx's economic theory.

In fact, of course, the changes do constitute a tacit admission that even a centrally-planned economy cannot escape from the economic laws that Marx discovered and cannot avoid the booms and slumps that are inherent in capitalism. And that's the point that Rothberg has curiously missed: Marx emphasised that his economic findings were specific to capitalism, and never suggested that they would apply in Socialism too. Rothberg has a damned cheek (to put it mildly) in invoking Marx's name in defence of the Chinese ruling class and the butchers of Tiananmen Square.
Paul Bennett

The Confessions of A Clyde 'Red'. (1930)

From the September 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard
The only time in my life that I have allied myself with the enemies of the workers has been since I came to the House of Commons, and that is by the order of the Labour Government. Almost every time I go into the Division Lobby I join such tried and trusted friends of the Labour Party as Lloyd George, his daughter, Sir Herbert Samuel, etc. They are keeping the Labour Party in office on condition that the workers and the Labour Party programme are deserted.
Thus writes the Labour M.P. for Shettleston ("Forward," August 2nd). He was, however, the official Labour candidate, and stood for the official Labour Party Programme. He was attacked during the election by another Labourite, Mr. C. Diamond, who has been on three occasions official Labour candidate, and who stated that he has supported the Labour Party because it is not committed to Socialism.

The Party that the Member for Shettleston—McGovern—stands for, is not out for the working class. Read his own words: -
There is no danger of chasing away the Liberal votes, as they have all joined us at Westminster. The Labour Cabinet coddle them too much to drive them away, and are more concerned about them than about the working class.
He became the official Labour Candidate—because it's the best way to get elected. "Getting in" —that's the game, even if it means going into the Lobby to vote against the programme he ran on.

The little conflict between the "wings" has now been settled at a joint meeting of the Labour Party and I.L.P., and the following terms were agreed upon: -
(1) That the I.L.P. accepts the Labour Party Annual Conference as the supreme authority of the organised political movement of the workers.
(2) That the I.L.P. wishes to remain in affiliation with the Labour Party. (Forward, Aug. 2.)
So, now Lloyg George, the I.L.P., and the Labour Party may continue their united front—in the same Lobby.

The Fall of Keir Hardie (1908)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir, I have stood by Hardie through the years. I have held him to be a man apart from the motley group of members and fakers of capitalism, to whom he has given political existence, and that he calls his Labour Party. I at one time allowed him to nominate me for membership of the National Branch, deciding that if his party was good enough for Hardie it should be good enough for me, and that if Hardie could do something with such elements I might. So I allowed myself to become a member of the Independent Labour Party, and have remained one up to within a week. I have hit out against the policy and tactics of the Party whenever I have occupied its platform, but I retained my membership simply because of my reverence for Hardie. Again and again I have contended with S.D.F. men: "Hardie is something bigger than these reform fellows. He means more than reform. He is a revolutionist—a kind of eagle among carrion crows." But since last week I admit myself beaten. I have been sold. Most of the workers are sold many times. You knock down their idol and they instantly get another. I have not been sold many times, but I admit I have been once—in Hardie.

Edward VII by the grace of the god Capital, and, in obedience to its will, that he might secure for it some sort of a basis to contract a further loan with Russia, was deputed to go and kow-tow with the bloody Czar.

Hardie had an opportunity to bring home to the House of Commons the horrors of Russia, and to fix them upon the Czar, backed by his "black hundred."

And Hardie got up his case well. Oh, yes, the facts were all right and the rhetoric also. Not for one moment do I think that I could have marshalled the facts as well, or have painted the pictures as vividly. He gave them the thousands that have rotted in Russian prisons during the last two years; he gave them the thousands that have been butchered by the emissaries of the "black hundred." And he brought the whole of the atrocities hone to the Czar telling the "House" how the Czar had thanked the "black hundred" for murdering wholesale the people of Russia, under the cry that they were Jews, and adorning himself and his child with the badge of their order as a token of his appreciation of their services to Russia. Then Hardie was called upon by the Deputy-Speaker to withdraw.

Well, with such a case, with such an array of facts, themselves completely pointing the charge, one would have thought that the mere human instrument, called upon to belie himself and deny them would have refused with quiet scorn, and have surrendered himself to any consequences.

But Hardie did not do this. He lost touch with the murdered in Russia, and the thousands groaning in its prisons. He commenced melodramatic word-play with the politician, Emmett. He ducked and edged and quibbled, and allowed horrible facts to be smothered in a play of words between himself and the Deputy-Speaker. And then when the latter insisted that the charge be withdrawn, Hardie withdrew the charge so far as it referred to the Czar and his Government.

Like Dan 'Connell, like Fergus O'Connor, like John Burns and a host of others—spouters, orators, fine rhetoricians, but not fighters, not revolutionists—so Hardie, when an opportunity arrived demanding that he should translate his speech into a bit of action, failed.

So Hardie has gone with the rest of them. The Socialist Movement has learnt that it must never trust him to use any great opportunity. Some of the papers had it that after "Artful Dodger" Asquith decided that he had bottled Hardie, he turned his face to his followers with a sardonic smile which said, "How's that for diplomacy?"

But had Asquith's man meant business, he might have retrieved his position even here, and the Whig lawyer might have had another unpleasant illustration of the fact that he who laughs last laughs best.

Had Hardie meant business, he might have proceeded with his speech, after the passage-at-arms with the Deputy-Speaker, he might have filled the ears of the "House" with the horrors of Russia; he might have piled fact upon fact proving what he had said, and then concluded: "the Russian Government is an autocracy, the Czar is a despot, and with these facts before me I say that the monstrous activities that I have laid before the "House" are the direct expression of the will of the Czar and his infamous Councillors, that he alone is responsible, being autocrat and despot, and I refuse to withdraw the charge." Then "Artful Dodger" Asquith would have smiled quite another smile.

But Hardie didn't mean business—and why? Was it his Parliamentary screw; or fear of not getting a seat in another Parliament, or fear of disrupting further that strange motley he calls the Labour Party, or what? It matters not. Once more some little political mote got into the popular leader's eye and blurred his vision as to the great matter for which he was pleading.

Then there was Grayson. He tells the people he wanted to say something. Why didn't he say it? Some of the papers say he was upon his feet before Henderson. Some of them say that the Deputy-Speaker called Grayson. Anyway, the pair got the floor pretty much together. Why did not Grayson proceed without it in the least recognising the existence of the man who had a compact with the Liberals to shut up the debate at a given time, or of it became in any way dangerous? Grayson may tell the mob outside, who have never been into the House of Commons, that he was prevented, but this will not go down with any man who has been into the Commons, and who knows that it requires a combination of circumstances rather more forceful than the ones of this debate to prevent a man in dead earnest from having his say in a hole like the House of Commons.

Anyhow, the debate upon the King's visit to Russia has been fruitful of much good to the English workers. It has smashed some more idols for some of us. It has shown us that the Labour Party is not independent at all, that it does make alliances with the Liberal Party to shut up debates when they become over verile. All this is education.

If the English Government would only try Russian methods on our spouters ever so little it would still further educate. But British capitalists are too wise for this. You mustn't frighten the popular idols of the people. Prospects of prison, disability, or banishment would turn most of these swans to geese. This would let people see too much. Disillusionment would set in fast. Therefore our Edward by the grace of Grab, going to one of Russia may say: "Behold I show thee a more excellent way to rule thy people. Do not murder and torture and crush in that old-fashioned way. Bamboozle thy people instead. Let them spout and have offices, and generally play the game, and soon you will find them so docile that, should any of their strong words annoy, you shall but threaten them with the least of these other things, so find them eager to withdraw.  Tut, tut, man, the father who has a child well broken in doesn't require to be always using the stick. He only requires now and then to show it, and this is more than sufficient."

But they do tell me that in Russia the people have gone beyond this spouting and office-holding and political game-playing, and refuse to have it at any price. They say that they have sighted the slavery underneath it all, and prefer prison banishment and death to it. And if this is so I don't know what Edward can say to Nicholas that will matter much. It seems to me that the same game played by both, with a people of this sort, must be nearly up. There are men and women in Russia of another sort than our Graysons and Hardies.
Yours, etc.,
John Tamlyn 

The slump in the nineteen-thirties (1978)

Book Review from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In The Slump (John Stevenson and Chris Cook. Jonathan Cape 348 Pages £8.95) the authors took a new look at "society and politics during the depression". They pose such questions as: "How depressed were the depressed areas? What, if anything, did the hunger marches achieve? Why were both the communists and fascists confined to the sidelines of British politics? Why did the electors vote as they did? Why was there no revolution in Britain?"

With its illustrations and numerous statistical tables it makes an interesting and useful survey, though some of the conclusions are open to question.

In answer to the belief that it was a decade of universal and unrelieved decline in living standards they show that after unemployment dropped by about a million from the 2½ million of 1932, and helped by the fall of prices, especially of food, there was "appreciable rise in the standard of comfort and welfare" of working-class families in regular employment. The persistently heavy employment was concentrated in certain areas and certain industries.

They tell the story of the MacDonald Government which entered office in 1929, pledged to conquer unemployment and restore "prosperity", only to be brought down by an unforeseen world depression which pushed unemployment up from something over a million to a peak of 3 million. But why were they so single-minded as to believe that they could operate capitalism without unemployment and periodical depressions? The Minister dealing with unemployment was J. H. Thomas, the railwaymen's leader. He stated that they "were going to do what they could to reduce unemployment while accepting the present order of society" (Daily Herald 6 July 1929). He complained afterwards that he took on the job because the economist, Josiah Stamp, had assured him that unemployment was on its way down! In the Socialist Standard (June 1929) we foresaw the failure of the Labour Government to reduce unemployment.

The Minister in the Labour Cabinet appointed to assist J. H. Thomas was Sir Oswald Mosley. He tried in vain to induce Thomas and the Cabinet to adopt a "bolder" policy, and the authors believe that mass unemployment could have been solved but for "the attitudes" of the Labour Cabinet. By this they mean that the Cabinet had not then adopted the "full employment" policy of J. M. Keynes. "Keynesian ideas still lay outside the view of most politicians, although Lloyd George and Mosley were prepared to implement policies along these lines".

The authors fail to notice that since 1945 we have had Cabinets which have all accepted Keynes, but this did not prevent mass unemployment — over 1,600,000 registered unemployed in 1977, with another estimated 250,000 not on the register.

In the Chapter "The Revolution That Never Was" the authors tell us that there was a very widespread belief in the nineteen-thirties that mass unemployment threatened a breakdown of the political system and the end of capitalism itself. "For Marxists, the great depression was clearly the 'final crisis' of capitalism".

The authors obviously do not know that in February 1932 the Socialist Party of Great Britain published a pamphlet setting out the Marxist point of view, with the title Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse.

They go to some trouble to minimise the extent of the Labour Party defeat at the 1931 General Election, though the fact is that if in 1931 they had got the same percentage of votes as in 1929, of an electorate increased by more than a million, their vote, which was actually 6,650,000, would have been nearly been nearly 8½ million.

The authors explain the 14½ million votes given to the "national" government as being due to "the massive middle class" vote having gone that way, while "the working class" vote largely remained with the Labour Party. This merely confuses the real situation. The overwhelming proportion of the electorate were wage and salary earners, that is working-class, and they constituted at least a big majority of the 14½ million votes given to the Tories and their allies.

The authors carry this confusion about 'middle-class' voters into their attempt to explain the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, thus obscuring the fact that when, in democratic elections in July 1932, the Nazis became the largest party, with 13½ million votes, at least several millions were working class voters, including many who had formerly voted for the Social Democrats.
Edgar Hardcastle 

Holding Forth (1977)

Book Review from the June 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Speakers' Corner: An Anthology. Kropotkin's Lighthouse Publications, £1.75. Illus.

The most remarkable thing about Hyde Park is that meetings and speakers still proliferate there. Up to the traffic and television explosions of the early nineteen-fifties, crowds went to parks and listened every Sunday. Finsbury Park, Victoria Park, Clapham Common, Platt Fields in Manchester and numerous others where audiences can no longer be found; but Hyde Park, despite surgery fifteen years ago, carries on. Tourists flock there, Londoners go - largely because, as is not the case with most of the so-called "means of communication", communication actually takes place.

The speakers today are alleged to be not so good as in the past, and it is probably true. Proficiency at outdoor speaking requires much practice, and that is harder to get than it was twenty-five years ago and more. Yet opportunities are arising afresh now, with the creation of shopping precincts and traffic-free areas in cities. The next decade may see a new generation of speakers to rival some of those mentioned in this book.

It is a collection of pieces about Hyde Park. Items from the history of assemblies there; the park regulations; extracts from writings by Bonar Thompson, a professional speaker who entertained audiences for many years; piousness by Lord Soper; and an article from the 70th anniversary of the SOCIALIST STANDARD. The compiler, Jim Huggon, is an anarchist speaker in Hyde Park and the foreword is by one of his predecessors, Philip Sansom. It is not the former's fault that the latter is an essay in dreadful self-esteem.

For habitu├ęs of the park this is an interesting wide-ranging book which does not attempt to analyze but communicates the feeling of the place.
Robert Barltrop

Marx and Lenin's views contrasted (2001)

From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Lenin stood for state capitalism and argued that socialist democracy is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person. Was Lenin a Marxist?
Marx and his co-worker, Engels, consistently argued that socialism (or communism, they used the terms interchangeably) could only evolve out of the political and economic circumstances created by a fully developed capitalism. In other words, production would have to be expanded within capitalism to a point where the potential existed to allow for "each [to take] according to their needs". In turn, this objective condition would have created the basis for a socialist-conscious majority willing to contribute their physical and mental skills voluntarily in the production and distribution of society's needs.
With the extension of the suffrage, Marx claimed (in 1872) that the workers might now achieve power in the leading countries of capitalism by peaceful means. Given the fact that socialism will be based on the widest possible human co-operation, it need hardly be said that Marx consistently emphasised that its achievement had to be the work of a majority.
Again, given their understanding of the nature of socialist society, Marx and Engels saw socialism essentially in world terms: a global alternative to the system of global capitalism.
In the very first sentence of his monumental work, Capital, Marx wrote that "the wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as a vast accumulation of commodities". He then went on to define the nature of a commodity in economic terms as an item of real or imagined wealth produced for sale on the market with a view to profit.
Marx claimed the wages system was the quintessential instrument of capitalist exploitation of the working class. He urged workers to remove from their banners the conservative slogan of "A fair day's pay for a fair day's work" and to inscribe instead "Abolition of the wages system!" Throughout his writings, he repeats in different form the admonition that "wage labour and capital are two sides of the same coin".
Marx considered that nationalisation could be a means of accelerating the development of capitalism but did not support nationalisation as such. On the contrary, he argued that the more the state became involved in taking over areas of production, the more it became the national capitalist.
Marx saw the state as the "executive committee" of a ruling class. In a socialist society, he affirmed, the state, as the government of people, would give way to a simple, democratic "administration of things".
Marx's vision of a socialist society can be fairly summed up as a world-wide system of social organisation based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by, and in the interests of, the whole community.
In other words, a universal classless, wageless and moneyless society wherein human beings would voluntarily contribute in accordance with their mental and/or physical abilities to the production and distribution of the needs of their society and in which everyone would have free and equal access to their needs.
Lenin's distortions

Post-Czarist Russia was a backward poorly developed and largely feudal country where the industrial proletariat was a relatively small minority. To suggest that Russia could undergo a socialist revolution (as Lenin did in 1917) is a complete denial of the Marxist view of history. Indeed, following the news of the Bolshevik coup, the Socialist Standard (official organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain) wrote:

"Is this huge mass of people, numbering about 160 million and spread over eight and a half million of square miles, ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the north, the struggling peasant proprietors of the south, the agricultural wage slaves of the Central Provinces and the wage slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity for, and equipped with the knowledge requisite for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life? Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place or an economic change immensely more rapidly than history has ever recorded, the answer is 'NO!'"(August 1918).
Lenin persistently rejected the view that the working class was capable of achieving socialism without leaders. He argued that trade union consciousness represented the peak of working class consciousness. Socialism, he affirmed, would be achieved by a band of revolutionaries at the head of a discontented but non-socialist-conscious working class. The Bolshevik "revolution" was a classic example of Leninist thinking; in fact it was a coup d'├ętat carried out by professional revolutionaries and based on the populist slogan, "Peace, Land and Bread". Socialism was not on offer, nor could it have been.
It is true that Lenin and his Bolsheviks wrongly thought their Russian coup would spark off similar revolts in Western Europe and, especially, in Germany. Not only was this a monumental political error, but it was based on Lenin's erroneous perception of socialism and his belief that his distorted conceptions could be imposed on the working class of Western Europe which was, generally, better politically organised and more sophisticated than the people of Russia.
Probably for practical purposes – since no other course was open to them – Lenin and his Bolsheviks could not accept the Marxian view that commodity production was an identifying feature of capitalism. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power, the production of wealth in the form of commodities was the only option open to the misnamed Communist Party. Commodity production continued and was an accepted feature of life in "communist" Russia, just as it is today following the demise of state-capitalism in the Russian empire.
Back in 1905 Stalin, in a pamphlet (Socialism or Anarchism), argued the Marxian view that "future society would be . . . wageless . . . classless . . . moneyless", etc. In power the Bolsheviks proliferated the wages system making it an accepted feature of Russian life. Wage differentials, too, were frequently greater than those obtaining in western society. Surplus value, from which the capitalist class derives its income in the form of profit, rent and interest became the basis of the bloated lifestyles of the bureaucracy. A contrasting feature of state-capitalism and "private" capitalism is that, in the latter, the beneficiaries of the exploitation of labour derive their wealth and privilege from the direct ownership of capital whereas, in the former, wealth and privilege were the benefits of political power.
There is a wide chasm between the views of Marx and those of Lenin in their understanding of the nature of socialism, of how it would be achieved and of the manner of its administration. Marx sees socialism as the abolition of ownership (implied in the term "common ownership"). His vision is a stateless, classless and moneyless society which, by its nature, could only come to fruition when a conscious majority wanted it and wherein the affairs of the human family would be democratically administered. A form of social organisation in which people would voluntarily contribute their skills and abilities in exchange for the freedom of living in a society that guarantees their needs and wherein the poverty, repression and violence of capitalism would have no place.
Lenin's simple definition of socialism is set out in his The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It (September 1917): "Socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the whole people". Lenin knew that he was introducing a new definition of socialism here which was not to be found in Marx but claimed that there were two stages after capitalism: socialism (his new definition) and communism (what Marxists had always understood by socialism: a stateless, classless, moneyless, wageless society). However, so new was this definition that other Bolshevik publications of the same period still argued that "socialism is the highest form of social organisation that mankind can achieve".
Marx would obviously have concurred with the latter claim but, as has been shown, would have rejected completely the suggestion that socialism had anything to do with nationalisation or that it could be established over the heads of the working class.
Obviously Lenin was being consistent with his "nationalisation" theory when, in Left-Wing Childishness (May 1918) he proclaimed the need for state capitalism. It is true, of course, that the situation in Russia left the Bolsheviks no alternative to the development of capitalism under the aegis of the state. The fact is, however, that the concept of state capitalism is wholly consistent with Lenin's misunderstanding of the nature of socialism. State capitalism achieved a permanent place in the Russian economy and Communist Party propaganda exported it as being consistent with the views of Marx.
The contrast between Marx and Lenin is demonstrated most strikingly in Lenin's view of the nature and role of the state. Whereas Marx saw the state as a feature of class society that would be used by a politically-conscious working class to bring about the transfer of power and then be abolished, Lenin saw the state as a permanent and vital part of what he perceived as socialism, relegating Marx's abolition of the state to the dim and distant future in communism while in the meantime the state had to be strengthened. The Russian state and its coercive arms became a huge, brutal dictatorship under Lenin, who set the scene for the entry of the dictator, Stalin.
That Lenin approved of dictatorship, even that of a single person, was spelt out clearly in a speech he made (On Economic Reconstruction) on the 31 March 1920:
"Now we are repeating what was approved by the Central EC two years ago . . . Namely, that the Soviet Socialist Democracy (sic!) is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person; that the will of a class is at best realised by a Dictator who sometimes will accomplish more by himself and is frequently more needed" (Lenin: Collected Works, Vol. 17, p. 89. First Russian Edition).
This statement alone should be enough to convince any impartial student of Marxism that there was no meeting of minds between Marx and Lenin.
Russia, after the Bolshevik coup and the establishment of state capitalism became a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship. The fact that that its new ruling class exploited the working class through its political power instead of economic power meant that the workers were denied the protection of independent organisations such as trade unions or political organisations.
The western media, particularly oblivious to the implications of communism even as defined sometimes in their dictionaries, frequently drew attention to the poverty of the Russian workers. Conversely, and correctly, it also drew attention to the privileged and opulent lifestyles of the "communist" bosses. The same media, apparently without any sense of contradiction, was telling the public in the western world what the "Communist"-controlled media were telling workers in the Russian empire: that Russia represented the Marxian concept of a "classless" society.
The litmus test of the existence of "communism" for western journalists was recognition of the claim, by a state or a political party, that is was either "socialist" or "communist". Similar claims by such states and parties to be "democratic" was never given the slightest credibility. It might be argued that those who rejected the "democratic" claim knew a little about democracy whereas they appear to know nothing whatsoever about socialism.
The contradiction between the views of Marx and Lenin set out above relate to fundamental issues. Inevitably, however, they formed the basis for numerous other conflicts of opinion between Marxism and Leninism. In the light of these basic contradictions, it is absurd and dishonest to claim that there is any compatibility between Marx's concept of a free, democratic socialist society and the brutal state capitalism espoused by Lenin. Journalists, especially, should be in no doubt about the interests they serve when they promulgate the lie that Marxism or socialism exists anywhere in the world.
Richard Montague