Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Costing of The Earth (1994)

Book Review from the September 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ecology, Policy and Politics: Human Well-Being and the Natural World. by John O'Neill (Routledge. £11.99.)

This book is an attack on the philosophical basis of so-called "cost-benefit" analysis as a method for deciding whether or not some project with consequences for the environment should go ahead. Cost-benefit analysis involves giving a monetary value to the costs (e.g. loss of amenities, destruction of wildlife habitats, pollution) and benefits (e.g. some new amenity, more jobs, journey times saved).

What price the market?
The value of a landscape or habitat is calculated as what people would be prepared to pay, either directly or in terms of monetary benefits forgone, to retain it. If, in the end, the monetary value of all the benefits is greater than the monetary value of all the costs, then the project should go ahead. This in fact is how such decisions are made today.

O'Neill argues that such a method does not protect the environment as it takes people's preferences as they have been shaped by capitalism which encourages us to judge everything in terms of how much money it brings or saves us as individuals. Given this, cost-benefit analysis will always reflect the fact that most people prefer to have more money over all other considerations and often have no real choice in the matter. Much of O'Neill's book is written in the technical language of moral philosophy and so will be of interest mainly to students studying that subject. A couple of chapters, however, in respectively, "pluralism, incommensurability, judgement: (Chapter 7) and "market, household and politics" (Chapter 10), will be of wider interest.

In the first of these O'Neill argues that cost-benefit analysis is misconceived in seeking to reduce everything to a single common unit (monetary value). The anti-socialist von Mises even argued that, unless everything had a price tag, it would be impossible to make a rational choice between two alternative projects or methods of production. O'Neill replies that this is nonsense: comparisons and choices can be made on the basis of other considerations than monetary costs, as had been pointed out by the Austrian Marxist (and later logical positivist philosopher) Otto Neurath: 
"For Neurath, a socialist economy, since it was to consider the use-value of goods only, would have to be an 'economy in kind'. In such an economy, while physical statistics about energy use, material use and so on would be required, there would be no need for a single unit of comparison. Thus in 1919 he wrote in a report to the Munich Workers' Council that, in considering alternative projects: 'There are no units that can be used as the basis of a decision, neither units of money nor hours of work. One must directly judge the desirability of the two possibilities.' Such direct comparison will need to appeal to political and ethical judgements, including concern for future generations."
making informed practical judgements on the basis of past experience and general policy considerations will no doubt be what will happen in socialism. Money won't come into it, nor the insane attempt to put a price tag on everything.

In the other, final chapter, O'Neill discusses two alternative ways that have been suggested for making decisions about the environment on a non-market, non-monetary basis. The first is to restrict the operation of the market to a defined sphere, not including environmental matters. The other is to abolish the market altogether. O'Neill opts for the second, rejecting the first on the following grounds:
"within the economic sphere itself to leave the allocation of most resources to the market is incompatible with the realization of environmental goals. The market responds only yo those preferences that can be articulated through acts of buying and selling. Hence the interests of the inarticulate, both those who are contingently so - the poor - and those who are necessarily so - future generations and non-humans - cannot be adequately represented. Moreover, a competitive market economy is necessarily oriented towards growth of capital, and such an orientation is incompatible with a sustainable economy."
In other words, what O'Neill calls a "non-market order" is the only framework within which humans can organize their interaction with the rest of nature in ecologically acceptable ways.
Adam Buick

Human Nature and Morality (1959)

From the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE ETHICS OF MARXISM (3) (See Parts 1 and 2.)

After Marx died there grew up a legend that his theory of social causation was too narrowly mechanistic to provide accommodation for any sort of ethics. No doubt Marx, in combating the sentimental "moralising" of certain utopian contemporaries who called themselves "the True Socialists," had leaned so far backward as to give semblance if not substance for fathering on him views whose alleged paternity he would have disclaimed.

Socialism as a Humanism
The humanistic Socialism combated by Marx, like its contemporary counterpart, was a pseudo-political trend, inspired by the literati, philosophers and pundits. Moses Hess was for a time their most representative spokesman. For the early humanists as with the latter day ones, Socialism was not a question—of by bread alone—even though bread might be included. Socialism was primarily a question of moral values. Stress was laid on brotherly love, the dignity of man, concern for the individual, etc. From such political piety, Socialism came to be defined as—"the ethics of love." Then, Socialism took the guise of contemporary humanism. Now, humanism assumes the role of contemporary Socialism.

Like many of the views Marx fought against, the arguments of the True Socialists have turned up over and over again in a variety of social situations, tricked out each time in fresh frills and flounces, as if making their first bow on the stage of world history.

Humanism the Classless Ethic
Common to all shades of this humanistic approach, right up from Hess, Grun, Bernstein, Lansbury, to the current version, is the tenet that Socialism is not basically a question of economic interests but humanitarian ideals. Not a matter for the stomach, but an affair of the heart, and that a moral revolution must be the prelude to the social revolution. Not only, argue the humanists, have men altruistic feelings, but implicit in these feelings are the ideals of Communism. All that is necessary is to encourage and help promote these altruistic tendencies, to actualise the Brotherhood of Man based on universal love.

If the true nature of man is some residual and permanent quality of the human species, then every man is at least in embryo a Communist, able, given the right social milieu to lead with others of his kind the good life. But what the right kind of social conditions necessary for this are , the humanists all through the ages have been very vague about. Again, if the essence of man is his "true nature," then this human essence transcends all social systems and classes. Landed proprietors, capitalists, peasants and wage workers, are all equally capable of actualising their "true nature" into the Communist way of life. Thus, while many humanists have called for the abolition of all classes they have done so in the name of an abstract classless ethic. While they will admit that the class struggle itself is inevitably engendered by the competitive and egotistical character of Capitalist society, they nevertheless hold that it militates against the growth of humanistic ideals by giving emphasis to men's material differences instead of stressing their human sameness. Many humanists have even talked about the necessity of prosecuting the class struggle, but how can one ask men to give up their class beliefs and disregard class interests and then call upon one class to oppose another?

Human Nature as an Historic Variable
Humanism with its apotheosis of an abstract humanity becomes a form of religious fixation. That is why its idealised concepts and phrases become bulwarks of ideological defence of reactionary interests, especially clerical ones. The so-called Catholic Socialism, with its "rights" and "duties" of an alleged classless brotherhood of men has borrowed heavily from humanistic sources. Indeed, those whose Marx in the Communist Manifesto called feudal-Socialists, cashed in on the literature of the True Socialists to use as an attack on the German bourgeoisie.

The ethical assumptions of all varieties of what is called the humanistic Socialist view is based on the fixity of human nature. They share this view with theological theorists, the difference being that the former hold that this basic human nature can be placed in such absolute categories. Both Marx and Engels held that human nature was not an absolute constant but an historic variable. In fact, Marx and Engels always insisted that the "human nature" to which humanists and the clericalists appeal, each in their different ways, cannot serve as a guide to social organisation. It is not human nature which explains society, but society which explains human nature. There is no given human nature independent of time and place. There is only an historical human nature, that is a specific expression of human nature in a definite social context. To put it more precisely to understand the nature of the human, one must understand the nature of the society in which humans live. When we adopt such a criterion we discover that there is no immutable human nature, no homogeneous pattern to which a universal appeal can be made for the justification of concrete social questions. There can be no overall moral agreement or ethical unity in a social system split by class interests and antagonisms. Inability to understand this not only leads Humanists to talk of "man as he is" or "the human as such," but they identify this abstract category with concrete man as he exists in a given society. That is why in the Communist Manifesto Marx shows how "the True Socialists" proclaimed "the German nation to be the normal nation and the German Philistine the normal mind." An illusion, one might add, shared by the so-called schools of empirical sociology.

Class Demands v. Ethical Neutrality
Contrary to what humanists believe and apparently Mr. Taylor (Is Marxism a Humanism*), all ethics can be shown to have a class bias in a class system, and further there can be no genuine class ethic unless backed by class demands. That is why on concrete social issues one cannot appeal to man as such or "the normal human." Neither is there some ethically neutral tribunal to which opposing class rights can be impartially referred.

Capitalist society consists of buyers and sellers of labour-power. The worker as a seller of labour-power cannot assert his "right" to maintain or improve his living standards via ethical appeal or moral law. He can only seek to enforce his right through active organisation with others of his kind. Nor is the Capitalist under a moral obligation to waive or even remit in any way the unpaid labour of the worker—profit—back in the form of increased wages. Not only has the Capitalist a legal right to profit in the category of unpaid labour, but from his standpoint a moral right as well. Behind this moral right stands custom, tradition, religion, the classless ethic—and the State. As Marx points out in Capital, "There is here, therefore, an antimony, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchange. Between equal rights, force decides."   

In a society such as Capitalism based on a permanent class conflict with its subsidiary conflicts, national and racial, there can be no genuine appeal to a neutral ethics. That is why Marx never invoked, Humanity, Justuce, Mercy, etc., as agencies for solving social struggle. For the same reason he rejected the abstract classless morality of Kant and Christ. Morality for Marx is not eternal or natural but active and social. Morality to be genuinely effective must be based on men's needs and in a class society on class needs. It is true that ethical ideals, like truth, duty, honour, the rights of men, etc., acquire a seeming eternal form, for all men profess to strive for these things. But social analysis shows while the forms of these ideals are the same, the nature of these ideals differ from social epoch to social epoch and from class to class. So if the question is posed whose truth? Whose duty? What rights of men? one will find in the answer a class standpoint. Crack the shell of a classless absolute ethic hard enough and the kernel of a class interest will be found. Marxist ethics do not invoke "Truth," "Duty," "Altruism," they demand a state of affairs where these things have a different content from the existing ruling morality. Marxist demands are then from the standpoint of the working population, a class demand and this incorporate a class ethic. It is the real needs of the working class which constitute the watershed of its class morality. Humility or self assertion, unselfishness or selfishness are themselves neither virtuous nor vicious. It is the actual social situation and the human needs of men which provide them with their truly moral quality. While the classless as well as conventional ethics might see the demands of the working class as a form of selfish assertion, it is only by such assertion that this class can secure for itself a decent existence and develop the possibilities for its own emancipation. To neglect the struggle which thus involves on the grounds of unselfishness and concern for other class individuals, weakens the moral content of its own demands and could only lead to servile, degrading and inhuman conditions for the vast majority.

For that reason the demand for the abolition of classes can only be a class demand, whose objective, because there are no other classes left to exploit, carries with it the demand for a classless humanity. Because it is a concrete class demand, engendered by a specific social situation, and capable of realisation, it carries with it the moral quality of the truly human. For the working class to be concerned to the exclusion of its own interests with the souls of its "enemies" is itself a policy of despair and its ultimate logic the perpetuation of a soulless system. That is why we reject the classless ethic of religious theory and the school of bourgeois morality with its intuitive ethics based on the private individual. In effect such moral views turn out to be a disguised defence of the status quo. Nor do we accept the monastic conception that men in order to achieve Socialism must first become saints if for no other reason having become saints it will not be necessary for them to achieve Socialism.

In the final article we shall seek to show that although the Marxist ethic is frankly a class ethic rooted in the character of social development it attains the stature of a humanism whose aims and ideas are loftier and more enduring than any current humanist model.
Ted Wilmott

"Don't talk to him" — the Militant Way (1988)

From the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

It's a breezy but bright March Saturday afternoon in Swansea's pedestrian precinct. We find our usual Standard selling pitch occupied by Militant supporters. But there's plenty of room for us to set up our placards a few yards away. The Militants look at us as we shout our wares. There are four or five of them and they're all young — say 15 to 19. As well as selling their paper, they're giving out leaflets and collecting money for a demonstration of the 'Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign' (YTURC) on the Monday.

One of them, a girl of 16 or 17, comes up and asks what our journal is. I start explaining to her that we see socialism as a moneyless, free access society without buying or selling and without private or state ownership — unlike Militant who argue for state ownership of the main industries. She interrupts me firmly but politely to tell me I've got it wrong about Militant and they stand for different kinds of ownership divided up among different groups of people, but admits she can't quite remember the details of that division.

So far, so good. An interesting, peaceful discussion. But suddenly it turns ugly. I'd already noticed that one of the Militant group, a tall, fidgety lad of 18 or 19, has been casting hostile glances towards us. Now he can't suppress his anger and he strides over. "Don't talk to him", he orders the girl.

I'm taken aback, and so is she. I recover fairly quickly. "She can do what she likes", I say. "You're not her master." "F. . .  off", he says, by now looking full of hate and ready for violence. Another of his group comes up to flank him, a small fellow, but agitated and just as threatening. "You're mad", the first one goes on. "That's a high level of debate", I respond, not finding anything better to say. I turn back to the girl, who's looking confused and embarrassed, and tell her she should do exactly what she likes and that the really important thing is to think for herself. She sort of apologises and says she's got to carry on collecting money as they need to raise £20 for a minibus on Monday.

It dies down and we get back to our selling. Someone I know from a local left-wing group comes past and I tell him what's happened. He's not surprised. YTURC is a Militant-organised campaign, and he knows the boy — Paul's his name. Paul used to be with them, now he's moved to Militant and he's having a pretty bad time. He'd got up on a dinner table in the refectory of the local college where he was studying and shouted" "Everybody on strike tomorrow". For his trouble he got expelled. This, I suppose, helped to explain his frustrated, almost disturbed behaviour.

But it didn't end there. We took a break and went for a cup of tea downstairs in the Co-op. One of our group saw Paul come down to have a look round but paid no attention. He should have done, because when we got back upstairs in the street, the Militant were gone and our advertising placards were gone too — three sturdy boards with posters stuck to them. Hard to believe they'd stoop to nicking our placards, but they had.

I was sorry we hadn't got hold of one of their leaflets to find out where their demonstration was being held on Monday. When I eventually found out it was too late. Monday's evening paper told me that it had been held outside the Conservative club and that Paul was in the thick of it again — shouting and swearing, so the report said.

End of story? Not quite. Three of us went back the following Saturday morning when we knew Militant usually sell. We had the vague hope they'd be using our boards. They weren't. I bought a Militant from one of their local leading lights, Alec Thraves, and I told him what had happened the previous week. He said he was surprised and that wasn't their way. He said he would look into it. Them we saw the small flanking lad from the previous Saturday and we went up to him. When I said we wanted to talk about the missing boards, he became agitated again and raised his voice. "Don't you accuse me of stealing", he shouted. "If you're calling me a thief, go and call the police." "We're not accusing you, we just want to talk to you . . ." But having apparently pleaded guilty by his behaviour, he'd backed away at speed and had got to the cover of his other sellers. What did Alec Thraves think? "I'll find out about it", he said. If he did, he's not told us.

I read the Militant newspaper when I got home and read about their proposed "division of ownership". I'm not surprised the girl didn't remember the details—it's extremely complicated. But what, I remarked to John, a fellow Standard seller that afternoon, would happen to us if Militant did have their way and the Pauls and co. of this world had the whip hand? Would we be tolerated — or silenced — when we continued to oppose all forms of state and private ownership and advocated instead complete common ownership of all the earth's resources and products?

That's something it would be nice if Paul and Alec thought about. I'll try and get this issue of the Standard to them so that they can.
Howard Moss

American Noahs (1982)

TV Review from the August 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those who keep lists of the terrors the future might bring (as if the suffering of the present were not enough), it seems a new prospect has arisen: nuclear war, followed by the survival only of some vicious Christians.

We live in a time of rapid social change; contradictions inherent in the present form of society make social revolution even more urgent. As in previous such periods of heightened class conflict and questioning of old prejudices, there is a polarisation of ideas. On the one hand, the force for creative production, democracy and the removal of the barrier of private property; and on the other, the desperate and conservative reaction against it. One manifestation of this desperation, the American Survivalists, was the subject of a documentary on BBC 1 on 29 June.

The Survivalist movement consists of some two million Americans who fear some impending disaster and are taking steps to arm themselves against this often vague threat. Generally higher-paid workers or capitalists — white, patriotic and Christian — they speak of the threat of nuclear war, earthquakes, social breakdown, riots, marauders and the "coming hard times". What unites the Survivalists is the religious idea that the relations formed between humans in society are beyond our control. For them, war and conflict cannot be dealt with by conscious, democratic co-operation, but must be "accepted" and prepared for. Like CND, the Survivalists have not recognised that war and poverty are direct consequences of the capitalist social system, so that they struggle in vain with the effects while leaving the cause intact. Unlike CND, however, some Survivalists have a moral preference for, rather than against, nuclear war.

Kurt Saxon, for example, writer of many "survival" manuals, stated in an interview:
We have over eighty million social dependents and if I could press a button and they would all be gone, then everything gets straightened out; but I can't find the button . . . the culling is coming.
An army general who runs courses in self-defence and fire-arms use at 3000 dollars per course, spoke of the "have-nots preying on the haves":
Our country depends on individuals, and yet there are a lot of socialists, communists, all which I class as idiots . . . there are more idiots in the world than there are non-idiots.
How, then, do these people propose to survive the coming "hard times"? By asking why the interests of "haves" and "have-nots" do not harmonise, or considering the possibilites of human co-operation? No, as Christians they stand by the holy writ of Romans, chapter 13, and oppose socialism. One of their bookshops stocks a "source book" called How To Kill, Volumes 1-5. (What would happen of the imaginary assailant had also read this?) One isolated group of armed Christians hiding in the hills pray to "God" to teach them how to hate, and one of the fresh recruits told how his real fear was not so much of nuclear destruction, but of destruction of the nuclear family:
When homosexuality is on open view and not hidden anymore, you know it's getting bad. When witchcraft and communism is everywhere you know it's getting bad.
Survivalism has become a market with a turnover of billions of dollars. But this is clearly a reflection of the wider class divide between poverty and property, and of the increasing war and violence arising out of the development of world capitalism generally. One man had gone to live with just his immediate family, in total isolation. He was trying to cut himself off from the complications of life in modern America, and moaned that
The situation where people want things is happening now. If they can't get it one way or another they'll get it another way.
But there is no need to try to run way from living together as part of society, to become cut off from all of the potential benefits of modern technology. The power struggle between the two classes is inherent in capitalism, not in human society itself. Future society can function without classes and property. One of the instructors in the secret military training school for "survival" urged his pupils to remember that there had never been peace "since the world began" because people fight, for example, over jobs. But before the advent of private property people did live in peace, and the competitive struggle over jobs is itself an integral feature of the capitalist market system.

These Christians taking up arms against the "threat" of communism and chaos believe that "God" has called them together and that it is their duty to "survive", however many infidels they may have to kill. Such a philosophy might suit the last ruling class in history, threatened on its last legs by social sanity breaking out across the world. But in reality, as soon as a majority are willing democratically to reject class rule, all the guns and prayers in the world cannot hold them back.
Clifford Slapper

Labour's sorry story (1997)

Book Review from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Rape of Socialism by Donovan Pedelty (Prometheus Press 1997. £13.95)

This is an important book. Not on account of its length, of nearly five hundred pages although if Pedelty had left any gaps there would be a rush of nit-pickers to point out that there, precisely, were the holes in his argument. Instead he protects his flanks with an elegant run-through to how we got to where we are from where we were.

The first hundred pages deal with the Conservative Party and where it came from, right up to the hijacking at the beginning of the 1970s by a cabal of largely lumpenbourgeois elements (lower "middle class" to you, dear).

His account of the party's origins is detached and free of bombast, however cynical and scoundrelly his subjects were. They are here, the Salisburies and the Churchills, Burke and Bagehot, Peel and Disraeli. Those of us who are not historians are led through the minuets and gavottes of the ruling  élites in lucid style. We learn that the Conservative Party never trafficked in ideology or was ever much taken with ideas. What it was about was always power. Promise anything, get elected, and do what you want. A week is a long time in politics.

Parliament never did deal much in policies or ideas and the Tories have never had any—with the exception of Thatcher's and that was pinched.

The scenario, with Labour getting the message and pinching the Tories' idea, i.e.e. not to have any idea, has caused anguish and confusion in Lord North Street. The Gentlemen's Party, devoted to "property and paternalism" had been taken over by the offspring of small traders and professionals who had to grammar school and thence to Oxbridge, and the public school lot were elbowed aside. The new lot were just as keen on getting some property but were not so worried about paternalism.

The other four-fifths, and more important part, of the book deals with the Labour Party and its background, but particularly and in detail with its post-World War II history. For those who lived through the period, it is salutary to be reminded of the follies and buffooneries, the clowns and the arseholes who strutted their Andy Warhol "fifteen minutes of fame". For those who weren't around, the book is a valuable corrective to the official version in helping them to make sense of our little bit of the world.

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy. We are not alone and Pedelty is the proof of it. Despite his scholarship, he is no Marxist (and neither was Marx, of course). He is coming in from a totally different direction. His inspiration is Kropotkin. But unlike some anarchists, he is not lairy of the slog of trying to find out just how the rip-off takes place, and he does it without the brain-deadening and thought-excluding pseudo-Marxist jargon that often accompanies otherwise worthy efforts.

Pedelty's evidence makes uncomfortable reading for apologists of all the major parties. Tories were responsible for as many reforms as Labour. They drafted the Education Act, making higher education a possibility for the proles. They had anticipated the Welfare State in the late 1930s, and the groundwork was supplied by William Beveridge, a Liberal. They were all for consensus just as Whigs and Tories had been a hundred years earlier, and he quotes Hazlitt: "rival stagecoaches splashing each other with mud but travelling by the same road to the same destination".

And from those same Whigs (whose laissez-faire creed was exhumed by Thatcher and Co.) to the Labour Party of our time, none of them wanted to allow the people control over their own lives. From Bagehot, who feared that competing before the swinish multitude for support might cause Whigs and Tories to lose control over them, to Labour's stage-managing of its conference so as to keep out unwelcome voices, a lid has been kept over things.

Pedelty's conclusions, entitled Hope Deferred, are that while Labour might abandon all commitment to pseudo-socialism "without serious damage; it cannot without dishonour desert the cause of social justice". But if political power excludes the possibility of social justice, what then? If a market economy (controlled or free), depends upon unemployment (the reserve army), and relative scarcity (otherwise glut and collapse), not to mention other integral features like war preparation (the continuation of diplomacy by other means) and crime (the most efficient way of pursuing self-interest), how can we hope for social justice?

Thus surely is what it is all about. A system is a system is a system. not a group of unrelated particles. They function as a unit or not at all. Systems have their built-in homeostasis, their self-guiding mechanism, their negative feedback, like the ball-valve on my lavatory flush or the thermostat on the radiator. Interfere with them and you will be flooded or the boiler could blow up.

But Pedelty knows all this. We all know there is a paradox. Systems can only change all-of-a-piece because what we are talking about is not things but the relations between them. So what do we do meanwhile? Life must go on, life will go on because of what we are, human beings, and we will defend our corner as best we can. But if we try to square the circle, to make the system behave other than how it can behave, we shall repeat the tragicomedy of Labour during the last hundred years.

Pedelty goes back for an answer to earlier figures who saw more clearly that trying to reform the system or introduce some follow-my-leader solutions were doomed from the start, and concludes that we must choose: "Fighting on to reignite, regenerate, repropagate, those brave ideals dreamed by the utopian heralds of a new society."
Ken Smith

Lenin and the State (1972)

From the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

In one of the many disputes between revolutionaries in Russia before 1917, Trotsky, before he himself became a Bolshevik, likened Lenin to Robespierre, a comparison which was to be borne out after the October Revolution. Trotsky, as leader of the Red Army, became the potential Bonaparte in the eyes of the Bolshevik Party bureaucrats.

The similarities between the French and Russian revolutions have not escaped anti-Marxist writers. For example, Carew Hunt in his book The Theory and Practice of Communism comments:
We find such men as Robespierre and St. Just using the same arguments to defend their actions as Lenin and Stalin were to employ a century and a quarter later.
In writing this, Carew Hunt thought he was making a profound criticism of Socialism. In actual fact, it is of no great surprise to Socialists that the ideologies of the two revolutions should be similar, since in both feudalism was swept away and political power was captured by a group determined to industrialize the country. The Bolsheviks, despite their socialist pretensions, could do no more than carry out the same function as the French bourgeoisie had done. in the absence of such a class in Russia.

There is, in fact, a striking resemblance between the ideas of Lenin and of the 18th century French philosopher, J. J. Rousseau. Rousseau's central idea was the "general will", that is the true interest of the entire people. The general will was not necessarily the will of the majority, but incorporated the will of the whole people, whether they recognised it or not, and was represented by an impersonal entity, the State, which was entitled to use violence if necessary in order to force the people to be free, if they refused to recognise the general will. Coercion was not really coercion, since it was carried out in the best interest of the coerced. 

The idea was taken up by the Jacobins, the extreme revolutionary group which seized power in 1792. Although previously they had urged popular violence, they now found it used against them and had to justify the use of repression. They decided that, although the people were naturally good, they were not dealing with the people in their natural state, but as they had been corrupted by the ancien régime.  The true interest of the people was represented by the Robespierrist Jacobins, if only the people were enlightened enough to recognise it.

For "the people", Lenin substituted "the proletariat", which was hardly appropriate since 90 per cent of Russians were peasants. However, this did not worry Lenin since he decided the working class was incapable of progressing beyond a trade-union consciousness and that the revolution would have to be carried out in its name by an élite of professional revolutionaries, the "vanguard party". Once this had been accepted, there was nothing left of Marx's statement that "the emancipation of the working class itself", as some of Lenin's opponents pointed out at the time.

It is, of course, quite legitimate to say that the socialist party represents the true interest of the working class; Marx had said the party represents "the most advanced and resolute section of the working class". Such a statement is a tautology as long as the mass of workers accept capitalism. But Lenin went much further than this. In his State and Revolution, written during 1917, he declared that the Party must seize power by force and hold on even in the face of resistance from the workers it claims to represent. In other words, "dictatorship of the proletariat" meant little more than the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party.

And so it was done. The Bolsheviks captured power in October 1917. When, in January 1918, an election was held for a Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks found themselves in a minority and reacted by using troops to disperse the Assembly. When workers showed their hostility to the régime, the Bolsheviks had no hesitation in using the utmost brutality to suppress them, as at Kronstadt in 1921.

It is perfectly clear that Lenin's ideas are of no more relevance for the task of achieving Socialism than are Rousseau's, Rousseau's "general will" meant little more than the will of the leaders. Lenin's "proletarian dictatorship" meant rule by a clique of Party members. Both were ideologies used for the triumph of capitalism in different historical circumstances.
Brendan Mee