Thursday, June 18, 2015

Marxism and Humanism (1959)

Book Review from the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Marxism a Humanism? By Charles Taylor, ULR, 1s.

(See Part 2 here.)

This pamphlet by an editor of Universities and Left Review starts so many hares running that one wondered whether in the end it would turn out to be a kind of wild goose chase. We cannot say that in the pursuit, we have all Mr. Taylor's hares in the bag, but we did manage to catch one or two remarkable specimens.

To begin at the end. Mr. Taylor's conclusions are that as a humanism, Marxism is inadequate. A true humanism, he says, must regard men as ends in themselves, never as means to an end. On the question of end and means he believes Marx's position to be ambivalent. Marx's primary concern, he argues, "was the smashing of Capitalist relations." From this a Socialist society would then be built up and only when this was done would Socialist man or truly human relations, emerge. This is the classic Communist formula for the "proletarian revolution."

Given then the assumptions of an over-riding political authority—an elite—to put all this into effect, he continues, might not the ruling authority in pursuit of this end, be tempted to subordinate everything, including men, towards its attainment? Might not a state of affairs come about in such a situation where the maxim prevails — "the end justifies the means"? And might his not mean that men themselves could become merely a means to an end, which in turn brings about an end different from the one originally intended. Marx, thinks  Mr. Taylor, never resolved this conflict between ends and means which involves a contradiction between Marxist practice and Marxist ethics.

This, we believe, boils down the essence of Mr. Taylor's vague and diffuse treatment of the subject.

"The Revolution Betrayed"
Mr. Taylor offers Soviet Russia as the classic example of where this sort of thing happened. His Marxist motif has the orchestral background of—"The revolution betrayed." It seems we are asked to believe that what took place in Russia in 1917 and the projects put through by the Bolsheviks, would have met with Marx's approval. Mr. Taylor assures us that there are elements of Marxism in Stalinism and further these "elements" provide the latter with a theoretical justification.

Finally, Mr. Taylor believes that Marxism fails as a humanism because of its insistence on class loyalties. Thus generates hostility towards those who do not share them and leads to the dictum that those who are not with us are against us. In this way, he argues, barriers arise between different sets of men. He urges that we must strive to enter into full human relationships with all men, irrespective of differences of outlook, attitudes and presumably interests. Unless we are able to do this, he thinks, no worthwhile social future is possible.

His own recipe for true humanism consists of the time honoured ingredients, universal good will, brotherly love and the fullest expression of the individual. These are the ethical foundations for building the New Jerusalem. For the class ethics of Marxism he offers the classless ethics of Christ and Kant.

Over a century ago there came into being an order of a kind of Socialist monkhood whereby it was proposed by example, incantation and prayer to chant the way to the promised land. In this year of grace we seem to be witnessing its revival.

We cannot, of course, accept the assumption that a Socialist society was in process of being built up in Russia. Our views on what took place in Russia are too well known to require a detailed exposition here. What we can say is that when Lenin as early as 1921 blurted out that "State Capitalism exists in Russia," he blurted out the truth. When he added "State Capitalism in the interest of the working class is Socialism," he blurted out the clumsy but classic lie of all labour apologists. State Capitalism, it was in Lenin's time, in Stalin's time and State Capitalism it still is.

The Alienation of Labour
Mr. Taylor tells us that Marx at least wanted to abolish a state of affairs which has brought about what he, Marx, called "the alienation of labour" or to state it another way, the excessive division of labour which is an integral feature of the extant productive system. A division of labour which has such crippling effects on the working capacities of men and their productive potentialities and which disintegrates human personalities by transmutation into a single function and imposes on labour an exclusive activity. That is true. Above all things Marx and Engels insisted that this system with its division of labour must be replaced by a social organisation where there will be "no exclusive circle of activity and where it will be possible to engage in a many-sided productive activity and to do one thing today and another tomorrow." So important is this question of the alienation of labour to the assumptions of Marxist ethics that we propose to deal with it more fully in the next issue.

What we can say here is that of the "alienation of labour" is the hall mark of Capitalist production, then "re-unification of labour" will be the characteristic of Socialist production. It was, however, the task of Lenin and Stalin via the instrumentality of the dictatorship to accentuate and accelerate this alienation of labour; to attempt to develop at breakneck speed the division of labour essential to Capitalist production. Not to integrate the human personality in the productive process, but to disintegrate it. Lenin's formula for the alienation of labour was the ironic equation, American efficiency plus electrification—Socialism.

Social Revolution
In their attitude to the role and function of the working class, Marx and Engels were worlds apart from Lenin and Stalin. Marx and Engels declared that the social revolution could only be the self-conscious movement of the self-conscious majority. Lenin believed that it would be directed by "the green table intellectuals." Marx said, "to fit the workers for their historic task of inaugurating the new society would require years of patient educational work." Lenin on the other hand stated that "If we wait for the people to understand Socialism we shall wait a thousand years." Engels tell us, "Marx and I rely on the intellectual maturity of the working class to achieve their emancipation." Lenin, on the contrary asserted, "the proletariat can never advance beyond a trade union consciousness."

It is true Marx in the Gotha programme talked about the lower and higher phases of Communist society. Of the latter, Engels tells us, "a really human morality which transcends class antagonism and their legacy in thought becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class contradictions but has even forgotten them in practical life," and there is nothing wrong with this view. Both Marx and Engels looked forward to the expediting of a state of affairs, where "the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labour and the antithesis between intellectual and manual labour had vanished" and where "labour had become not merely a means to live but the primary necessity of life itself."

What a tragic travesty has the so-called Socialist revolution in Russia made of Marx and Engels conception—of the truly human condition of the species. Once long ago Lenin in his more indulgent moods, spoke of "the withering away of the state in a Socialist society." It is not the state which has withered away in Russia—only the concept has withered.

Marx and Engels were uncompromising equalitarians. "From each according to his capacity to each according to his needs" remains the greatest ethical contribution to the humanistic ideal. Not only did they share the humanitarian ideals of the great Utopians of the past, they did more, they joined Utopia to science.

Soviet "Equalitarianism"
Lenin and certainly not Stalin were never unqualified equalitarians. It is true Lenin in the early days of the revolution laid down in principle that no State official should receive a higher income than the average wage of a competent worker. But even so, Lenin was also concerned with the fact that he did not want to see the newly formed State apparatus degenerate into a kind of bureaucracy which he was apprehensive about.

Actually the demand for a much more drastic equalitarianism came "from below," a demand which Lenin resisted. It was under the New Economic Policy introduced by Lenin that inequality of remuneration became more marked and under Stalin's "Socialist" regime these inequalities became even more glaring than those of Western Capitalism. It was finally left to Stalin a few years later to denounce equalitarianism as "a petty bourgeois deviation" and a crime against the State. After that the mass of workers were indoctrinated into the belief that inequality of remuneration was a fundamental Socialist principle.

Little wonder that the aging Fabians, Mr. and Mrs. Webb, set the seal of Fabian approval on Russia in their work, "Soviet Communism" and Bernard Shaw declared Lenin's N.E.P. "to be the carrying out of Fabian policy."

We will not apologise for spending so long a time in discussing the antithetical differences between Marx and Engels and the Soviet ideologists who spoke in their names. Because Mr. Taylor has taken to task what he believes to be the contradictions involved in the Marxist ethics and its inadequacy as a humanism and has at least in part sought empirical demonstration of his theme in Soviet practices, we felt it necessary to clear the ground for assessing his reasons for the failure of Marxism to achieve a true humanistic level. For that reason we shall in the next issue attempt to show that although the Marxist ethic is a class ethic it in no way conflicts with the aims and ideals it sets out to achieve—the truly human society or socialised humanity.
Ted Wilmott



After eight (1978)

Film Review from the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Alain Tanner's Jonah who will be 25 in the year 2000 centres around eight people, all of whose names begin with the letters "Ma"—presumably a reference to May 1968, which in another sense is that the film is really about.

Max is a Trotskyist, and for him everything since 1968 has been an anti-climax. He is brought back into political activity when he finds out about a scheme by some bankers to force some farmers off their land and later sell it at a huge profit. Max persuades the farmers not to sell, and thereby becomes friends with two of them, Marguerite and Marcel.

Although the film is not clear about this, it seems that this act of resistance to the profiteering businessmen is successful. But attempts by the other characters to behave differently—however slightly—from the way that society expects them to all come to nothing. Marie works at a check-out in a supermarket: she undercharges customers who can't afford to pay for all their purchases, but gets sent to prison. Marco is a history teacher and tries, with the help of some of the other characters, to teach his students about crises and inflation — and is sacked for his pains. Mathieu organizes his own school for the farmers' children, until he is eventually stopped by Marguerite, who tells him that she employs him to shift manure not to teach her children (she already pays taxes for that purpose, she says). The only character who achieves some kind of contentment is Madeleine who deceives herself in religious mysticism.

So at one level the film shows the pointlessness of individual tinkerings with the social set-up. But what it doesn't do, at least not directly, is to indicate any positive solution. True, there are a few references to class struggle (but also quotes from Rousseau about man being "everywhere in chains"). The background of inflation is emphasized at the beginning and the end of the film, while Marcel is concerned with ecology, especially the preservation of rare species of animals. But the pervading influence of 1968 suggests that this is what is held up as a model to follow. In fact, the events of May of that year were in sense revolutionary, just an instance of popular working-class action on the industrial front, aimed at wage increases.

Mathilde is pregnant with the Jonah of the film's title. The film contains some well observed scenes and in places is very funny but a major weakness is that nothing is said to point the way towards marking the year 2000 (or—let's be optimistic—well before then) one in which the frustrated dreams of its characters are no longer necessary.
Paul Bennett


Rosa Luxemburg (1991)

Book Review from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rosa Luxemburg. By Wendy Forrest. (Hamish Hamilton. £6.99)

New on the shelves of the children's section in the local public library, one of a series "In Her Own Time", is this book on Rosa Luxemburg. Contrary to the perceived correct behaviour for women of her time, Luxemburg did not wait at home for a husband and children to look after, but campaigned for socialism, was imprisoned and finally murdered. The book is a breath of sanity among the usual mind-bending and cobwebbed Never Never Land found on children's bookshelves. It is especially encouraging to see children introduced to Luxemburg's definition of the cause of war, so relevant today: "The fight against militarism cannot be separated from the socialist class war as a whole . . . Wars between capitalist states are as a rule the result of their rivalry for world markets . . . Wars are therefore inherent in the nature of capitalism; they will only cease when capitalism is abolished".
Eva Goodman 

Who's Spreading Confusion? (2015)

Letters to the Editors from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dear Editors
I wish I could say thank you for your review of my book The 1% and the Rest of Us (May Socialist Standard). But I can say thanks for bothering to read the book. So thanks.
I'm sorry, however, that you are extremely misguided and it is people like you who fail to do proper research that keeps up the confusion around money and the problems faced by the working classes of this world. How we produce money in our society and how it is allocated is of incredible consequence for inequality and the future of the planet (e.g. what we invest in like energy/food/shelter etc). Your review gives me little hope that this one day might be addressed based on evidence rather than conjecture.
Not only does Martin Wolf of the Financial Times recognize that banks create money out of thin air but so too does Positive Money (I wonder whether you even visited their site or read their literature) among many others who have bothered to actually do research rather than pontificate out of conjecture on the web.
Moreover, I wrote my book in late 2013 early 2014, which Zed's production team did not get out until this year. What we have known for a while thanks to various statements, leaks and logic, has now been empirically confirmed and published in the peer reviewed journal: the International Review of Financial Analysis in late 2014 (when my book was already in press, hence it is not cited). It is written by Richard A. Werner from the London School of Economics which you may or may not be familiar with.
As it turns out, banks do indeed create money out of thin air when they make a loan. It appears as an asset on their balance sheet and a (deposit) liability for the borrower. No reserves are checked with the central bank and money does not move from a saver to a borrower.
I doubt you have seen or heard of the article or probably care given your penchant for Biblical Marxism and love of this 19th century economic religion.
So, given the evidence (of which you martial [sic] absolutely none) the bad news is that your review is bad . . . really bad. In an honest world, after you've actually considered the evidence you'd retract your review, or at least amend it. But following the Church of Marx and blind faith might be easier for you.
I just wish you'd stop spreading confusion. 
Cheers mate,
Tim Di Muzio, Editor, RECASP, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Inquiry and Humanities
University of Wollongong, Australia.
________________________________________
Reply: 
We are well aware of the theory put forward by Richard Werner and discussed it in, for instance, the October 2012 Socialist Standard. Incidentally he is not ‘from the London School of Economics’ except that he once studied there. We also know of Positive Money and have in fact debated against them (video recording here).
You appear to be unaware that there are two rival theories which claim that ‘banks can create money out of thin air’. One, favoured by Martin Wolf and Positive Money among others, that it is only the whole banking system including the central bank that can do this. The other, favoured by Richard Werner and wilder currency cranks generally, is that an individual bank can do this, and have done so since banks first came into existence. We don't agree with using the term 'out of thin air' as it is confusing and opens the door to all sorts of currency crank ideas.
The empirical study you direct us to (of a small savings bank in Germany) by Werner is entitled 'Can banks individually create money out of nothing – The theories and the empirical evidence', to which he replies:
'This study establishes for the empirically that banks individually create money out of nothing. The money supply is created as ‘fairy dust’ by the banks individually, "out of thin air".' (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057521914001070)
In fact it doesn't show this, but merely that when a bank makes a loan those in charge of granting it do not check that the bank has the money in its reserves. This may well be the case for individual loans, but it doesn't go on to examine what then happens afterwards. The March 2014 issue of the Bank of England Quarterly Review provides an answer, as well as confirming our view that banks don’t make profits by simply creating money from nowhere and charging interest on it:
‘A bank’s business model relies on receiving a higher interest rate on the loans (or other assets) than the rate it pays out on its deposits (or other liabilities). (...) The commercial bank uses the difference, or spread, between the expected return on their assets and liabilities to cover its operating costs and to make profits (…) In order to make extra loans, an individual bank will typically have to lower its loan rates relative to its competitors to induce households and companies to borrow more. And once it has made the loan it may well ‘lose’ the deposits it has created to those competing banks. Both of these factors affect the profitability of making a loan for an individual bank and influence how much borrowing takes place. (...) therefore try to attract or retain additional liabilities to accompany their new loans. In practice other banks would also be making new loans and creating new deposits, so one way they can do this is to try and attract some of those newly created deposits. In a competitive banking sector, that may involve increasing the rate they offer to households on their savings accounts. (…) Alternatively, a bank can borrow from other banks or attract other forms of liabilities, at least temporarily. But whether through deposits or other liabilities, the bank would need to make sure it was attracting and retaining some kind of funds in order to keep expanding lending.’
In his study Werner doesn't appear to have asked the managers of the small German savings bank he studied whether they felt they could go on indefinitely creating 'fairy dust' loans of €200,000.
Nor does he state what happened to the bank’s balance sheet when he repaid the loan they granted him as part of the experiment (as presumably he did).
It is repeating currency crank theories and advocating banking and monetary reform that is spreading confusion. The solution to the problems facing the wage and salary working class the world over is not Monetary Reform. It lies in making the means of wealth production commonly owned by all, which would make banks and money redundant. – Editors.


INLA feud—gangsters big and small (1988)

From the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

A feud between the factions of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) has ended in death for many and will undoubtedly see the same end for many more. To the bystander, the whole episode seems a bit confusing as it is difficult to understand why those with apparently the same political objectives devote their time to murdering each other. The fact is that this feud has nothing to do with politics. This is not a disagreement over differing political principles or tactics; this is a gangland feud about control over the spoils of protection rackets and other gangland activities.

There has never been any doubt that paramilitary organisations have been up to their necks in racketeering since they became powerful and intimidating forces in their communities. They act as a self-appointed police force, dishing out punishments like kneecapping to young people considered by them to be involved in anti-social behaviour. The IRA and UVF are not strangers to the back entry courtroom where the "soldiers of liberation" become jury, judge and executioner over some young fellow who broke into a shop without their permission. In contrast, they ensure that where racketeering does take place, it is done under their control and with the organisation creaming off the benefits.

The INLA had simply brought this to its natural conclusion and had become much more a Mafiosa than a so-called political army. Of course they are content in the notion that their robbing and protection racketeering is for the needs of the movement, an illusion which the leadership is happy to perpetuate. It was only when the division of the spoils became a problem, that they started to blow each other's heads off, each in an attempt to intimidate the other faction. Their style of execution is similar to that of a wild west film where the gunfighter walks into a bar, shoots the victim in the head and cooly walks out again. Men who shared cells together in person are now on opposing sides, both with loaded guns and both intent on killing the other.

To add insult to injury these sad people have the gall to call themselves socialists. There is no need to waste space in this journal explaining to our readers that these anti-working class "heroes" are simply Irish nationalists, bent on "convincing" any opposition through the barrel of a gun. They have nothing to do with the principles of democratic socialism.

One important observation must be made about this feud. It's easy enough to dismiss it as a crowd of self-interested gangsters going around murdering each other, but what is the difference in what they are doing and what the forces of the State do? When governments "fall out" over trade routes or areas of strategic interest they are simply arguing over who is going to administer the robbery of the working class in a particular area — through the swindling economics of capitalism. The fact that the conflicting sides in these feuds wear nicely tailored uniforms and fly expensive war planes does not make it any less a feud. Dropping a bomb on a city, killing thousands of innocent people only differs from the INLA feud in that it is done on a bigger scale. 

The INLA are only amateur copycats of the lessons taught by Big Brother — the State. When the factions of the INLA disagree as to who is going to put the screws on a couple of shop-keepers, they shoot each other until one side wins. When the government of one country falls into irreconcilable dispute with the government of another country over who is going to put the "screws" on the workers, then they send in their armies, gullible workers, trained and paid to kill, to slaughter each other until one side wins.
(Reprinted from Socialist View — World Socialist Party of Ireland)