Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Myth of Red Clydeside - Part 2 (1976)

From the June 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 1 can be read here.

The Clyde Workers' Committee resistance was broken after government intervention in Glasgow. In January 1916, workers at Beardmore's (whose strong representation in the CWC proved to be a maverick one) accepted a dilution scheme contrary to the CWC policy. Next month, the suppression of the CWC's paper, three associated arrests, a dispute at Beardmore's over the working of the dilution agreement, and subsequent strikes on these issues provided the opportunity for the removal of those identified as the trouble-makers. Eventually, seven were jailed and a further ten deported to other parts of Britain.

The Government's attack revealed disunity and a lack of resolve within the CWC and they went down without much of a fight. It was basically a weak organization. Like all so-called "rank-and-file" groups, the most significant thing about them was that they embraced less of the rank and file than the parent unions. Unable to gain any support from them, the place where their particular concerns were most relevant, they were never likely to do anything more substantial. Mindless of this, they challenged a government with dictatorial powers and were slapped down.

Till late 1917 the truncated CWC was subdued, taking no part in the engineers' struggle as it developed in England. In the same year, the political climate on Clydeside began to change. The liberation of the prisoners and deportees, the turmoil in Russia and the growing war-weariness all combined to raise the temperature. The CWC revived and in January 1918 stated opposition to the war. However, no action was ever taken to support this. Possibly, they had realized by this time that David only beats Goliath in fairy tales.

After the war's end, unemployment began to grow. The idea had also been developing that the time was ripe for cutting the working week. Inevitably, the two issues became linked with the aim of cutting hours to reduce unemployment. Early in 1919, local union officials and shop stewards met with Glasgow Trades Council and eventually resolved to issue a call for a general strike in support of a 40-hour week.

The strike began on January 27th with mixed success. There was a wide response from shipbuilding and engineering but power and transport, two prime targets, continued. After a few days, 100,000 were claimed to be out. Contact with the authorities began on the 29th when a deputation asked the Lord Provost of Glasgow to put the strikers' demands to the government. This he did, but not in the way that the strikers intended. He wired to London representing the strike as an unconstitutional threat and indicated that the strikers' request was an ultimatum. This was partly true, as the mass picket had been introduced to "induce" recalcitrant workers to come out. The government decided to hold fire in the absence of a more obvious challenge but to make the preparations to enable quick military intervention if necessary. Mindful of similar discontent in Belfast and recent events in Russia and Germany, they were prepared to take no chances.

Oblivious to these developments, the strikers returned on the 31st to hear the reply to the Provost's telegram. While a deputation went to see the Provost, trouble broke out among the thousands outside in George Square. A tramcar trying to pass through the throng was stopped and police drew batons to try to clear a way. Violence then spread throughout the Square and the Riot Act was read. Although there were allegations of plots by both sides no proof of any premeditation was produced.

By morning, troops were on guard in the city and six tanks were being held in reserve. Attempts were now made to spread the strike but the most hopeful effort was averted by the government. Power workers in London threatened to black-out the city but after the wartime Defence of the Realm Act was invoked to make the strike illegal, the Electrical Trades Union backed down. Within another week the strike was over.

The strike failed to go outside the West of Scotland and had failed to become general within that area. The need for mass pickets was proof of the lack of support from many workers, and any "induced" to strike were hardly likely to be reliable.

The end of the strike was claimed to be a tactical retreat to organize a better effort, but the movement died. The most significant political outcome of the period was the election to parliament in 1923 of 10 ILP members from the 15 Glasgow constituencies. The Labour Party has dominated politics in the area ever since. Others joined the new Communist Party, and that has also remained relatively strong in the area. From then on, energies were concentrated on the mainstream of British politics, and the idea of Clydeside as a maverick area within the nation was largely dead. Against this trend was MacLean. He formed the nationalist Scottish Workers' Republican Party which withered away after his death in 1923.

The most notable thing about the period was the parochialism of the activities. They were always centred on Clydeside and mainly in the engineering industry. However, they faced a capitalist class organized nationally and proved no match. This lesson seems to have been realized by the end of the 40-hours strike.

As a possible revolutionary movement, the Clydesiders were non-starters. Apart from the occasional pronouncement, nearly all their actions were in support of purely industrial aims. The exception was the rent strike. As the government had no real opposition to their aims, however, the achievement was not great.

The events of early 1916 and early 1919 show that the power of the state must be treated very seriously. Capitalist democracy, paltry though it may be by Socialist standards, is well enough organized to defeat any minority. Just as important, on the same basis it is possible for a revolutionary majority to gain control of political power. However, this is not enough. Capitalism is organized on a world scale operating through national units and, thus, any serious challenge to this order of society must follow the same pattern. This is an enormous task but it is the only one that fits the measure of the Socialist aim.
Con Friel


Economic illusionists (1999)

Book Review from January 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Economics and Reality by Tony Lawson, Routledge 1997

The "Social Sciences" are in a mess and a few workers within the various subjects know it. The public in general has lost interest, and those engaged in the Natural Sciences are either incredulous or contemptuous—John Gribbin, a physicist, says the expression "social sciences" is an oxymoron, a self-contradiction.

Few people in Europe take psychology seriously any more. Bernard Crick says books on political science are unpublishable; nobody knows what sociology, a bastard half Latin half Greek word, means, and Paul Ormerod wrote in The Death of Economics that his life's work has turned out to be worthless.

Meanwhile a whale named Karl Marx has surfaced in the most unlikely pages of the New Yorker, the Financial Times and the Observer amid claims that he is the only one who has ever made sense of the whole mess.

Tony Lawson, a Cambridge mathematician turned economist analyses in this book why the "mainstream experts" have failed to provide an explanation of what is wrong with the world and, as a consequence, what to do about it. He begins with methodology.

Their procedure, he says, is simply "deductive". Reasoning from premisses which are either not disclosed, or when they are, simply do not fit any world that we recognise—they assume a world full of greedy, aggressive loners, squabbling over "scarce means", they end up with a rag-bag of isolated scenarios and anecdotes. Their world is one of atomic events, of isolated phenomena, unrelated to each other. Then, because this does not supply an explanation, many of them move into "econometrics" i.e. algebraic mumbo-jumbo, or computer modelling, GIGO—Garbage In Garbage Out. You can't get out of a machine what you did not put in.

All of the procedures (algorithms) of mathematics and logic are tautologies, or equations, and you can't have unequal equations. They can't tell us anything about the world but they can help to straighten out our thinking.

Tony Lawson's analysis of economists' failure to explain events is that they do not look below the surface for patterns, structures, processes, which are as real and verifiable through their effects as physical things are. Isolated events, individuals, things, have no explanatory power. He points out further that their attempts to use the criteria of physics and chemistry, of the "if x then y" variety, simply collapses human behaviour into that of the non-living world: "Given the open nature of human action—the fact that each person could have acted otherwise—the social structure can only ever be present in an open system"

As a consequence, economic "laws" cannot explain human behaviour mechanically. All living things share some degree of autonomy. And it is in their failure to recognise this that their problems lie, rather than in the conclusions that they draw from them.

The behaviour of humans in society is not unpredictable, but it has to be done appropriately. "If x then y", a simple causal connection, cannot give us the results that we need.

This book is for students of economics who despair of making sense of the subject. The style is heavily academic, much of it arising from the need to deal with the willful obscurantism or the hopeless muddle of the advocates of the system. For example, there is some discussion of ontology or being (what the world is really about) and epistemology or knowing (how and what we know about the world), which is not quite the same thing. The problem for us is that the World or the Universe is infinite, and we are very finite. Add to that our inability to investigate more than one thing at a time. Yet reasoning from one thing to many can give false conclusions because we are moving through different levels of abstraction. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A better title for this book might have been Political Economy and Reality which is how Marx characterised the study of capitalism, as opposed to other socio-economic arrangements in history. The capitalist system has occupied less than one percent of human existence and it is only by comparing it with other systems—hunter-gatherer, herder, homesteader, etc and possible future societies—that it can be satisfactorily analysed. Bourgeois apologetics usually fight shy of history, of an economic past, since that might imply a (possibly different) future.

Comparing our unfree society with autonomous past or future arrangements can permit a better understanding of our present predicament. Science supplies only relative or partial truths. "Whole truths", as A. N. Whitehead pointed out, "are the very devil", and he could have added: from fundamentalist religion to molecular biology ("genes explain everything") or any other single cause explanation.

There is an alternative to capitalism but no research funds are being awarded for investigating it. Meanwhile millions of words are being ground out by economists in press, radio, television and books, which leave neither them nor us any the wiser.
Ken Smith

Socialists Do Stand for Equality (1936)

From the August 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

The new draft Constitution now being considered in Russia lays it down that "to each according to the quality and quantity of his work" is a socialist principle. In the July SOCIALIST STANDARD that assertion was challenged on the ground that the principle is a capitalist one. As the question is an important one, and much confusion is likely to result from the Russian declaration, it was proposed to follow the matter up. In the meantime, the Daily Worker (July 4th) has departed from the general rule of the Communists of ignoring the S.P.G.B. by replying to the comment published in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD. While the Daily Worker’s observations are not well-informed, they will serve as an introduction. This is wDaily Worker says: —
hat the
Marxists have always drawn a distinction, corresponding to the distinction in reality, between Socialism and Communism, Socialism being that period between the seizure of power, by the working-class and the epoch of full Communism. In the period of Socialism, the principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to the quantity and quality of his work" obtains. Only with full Communism, the conditions for which are built in the period of Socialism, will the principle " from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" be realised.
Lest, however, the "Socialist Standard" should doubt that this has always been the view of true Socialists, I would suggest that the writer of this illiterate piece of nonsense should read Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he will find this alleged "corrupted version" fully explained and justified." — Daily Worker. July 4th, 1936.
The writer of the above, with more trust in Stalin than knowledge of the subject, has simply repeated what Stalin has said on several occasions. It happens, however, that Stalin's version of Socialist theory, and even of the past activities of the Bolsheviks, can be shown to be false. Let us, therefore, examine the points one by one, beginning with the terms Socialism and Communism.

The Terms Socialism and Communism
These terms have had a chequered history, but it can be said with certainty that the Daily Worker’s statement about them is wrong. It is not correct that Marxists have always used the term Socialism to mean a "period between the seizure of power by the working-class and the epoch of full Communism." Marx did not, neither did Engels, and Lenin knew this even if the Daily Worker does not know it. Lenin, in "The State and Revolution", actually quotes from Marx a passage in which Marx referred to such a period, but did not use the term Socialism to describe it. The passage Lenin quoted from Marx begins with the words: "But these defects are unavoidable in the first phase of Communist society . . . " (See The State and Revolution, by N. Lenin. Pub. Allen & Unwin, Ltd. p. 96.) We see then that Marx at that date, did not call this period Socialism but "the first phase of Communism." It is Lenin, not Marx, who then interposed the words "generally called Socialism." (p. 96.)

Notice, too, that while the Daily Worker says "always" Lenin said "generally"; but even Lenin's more cautious statement is wrong, except possibly as regards usage in Russia alone. To what extent in Russia the terms Socialism and Communism were used in this way we do not know, although it seems probable that even there it has been a comparatively recent development. Outside Russia it appears to have existed only in the imagination of the Daily Worker.

Marx and Engels used the terms Communism and Socialism to mean precisely the same thing. They used "Communism" in the early years up to about 1875, and after that date mainly used the term "Socialism" There was a reason for this. In the early days, about 1847-1850, Marx and Engels chose the name "Communism" in order to distinguish their ideas from Utopian, reactionary or disreputable movements then in existence, which called themselves "Socialist" Later on, when these movements disappeared or went into obscurity, and when, from 1870 onwards, parties were being formed in many countries under the name Social-Democratic Party or Socialist Party, Marx and Engels reverted to the words Socialist and Socialism. Thus when Marx in 1875 (as mentioned by Lenin) wanted to make the distinction referred to by the Daily Worker, he spoke of the "first phase of Communist society" and "a higher phase of Communist society" Engels, writing in the same year, used the term Socialism, not Communism, and habitually did so afterwards. Marx also fell, more or less closely, into line with this change of names and terms, using sometimes the one, sometimes the other, without any distinction of meaning.

It will be noticed that one of the most widely circulated works of Engels was called by him "Socialism, Utopian and Scientific" not "Communism, Utopian and Scientific."

Another partial break in the use of names came in 1918, when the Bolshevists (the majority wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Party) wished to indicate their repudiation of the wartime actions of their associates in the Second International. To do this they changed their name to Communist Party, and when they formed the Third International they called it Communist. Even then the British Communist Party only partly fell into line in the use of terms, and continued very largely to use the term Socialism as synonymous with Communism. Thus, the 1929 Election manifesto of the Communist Party of Great Britain, "Class against Class" repeatedly uses the term Socialism, and only once the term Communism. Each time Socialism occurs in that manifesto it is as the equivalent of Communism, and never in the way the Daily Worker says that "Marxists have always" used it.

The S.P.G.B., throughout its existence, has used the term Socialism, never in the manner the Daily Worker alleges the term is used, but always to mean what Marx and Engels meant by Socialism and Communism. Further, the S.P.G.B. has never helped to spread confusion by conceding the term Socialist to such bodies as the British Labour Party. The Communist Party—in this as in other directions has managed to box the compass, declaring at one time that the Labour Party is "the third capitalist party. It lays claim to the title of Socialist Party, but has nothing to do with Socialism " ("Class against Class," p. 8), and at another time referring to it as a Socialist Party (Mr. Harry Pollitt, in a letter to the Town Crier, Birmingham, June 26th, 1936).

Among many other illustrations of the way in which the terms Socialism and Communism have been used may be mentioned the English translation of the Communist Bogdanoff's "A Short Course of Economic Science" the final chapter of which carries the sub-title, "Socialist Society" and uses the term Socialism in place of and as the equivalent of Communism. The book was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923.

So much for the question of terms. Now for the basic principle of Socialism and Stalin's revised version of it, remembering all the while that Stalin, when he uses the term Socialism, means the phase after the workers' capture of power, and when he uses the term Communism he means the later phase. Stalin claims that Russia is now in the first phase and developing towards the later phase.

"From Everyone According to His Capacities, to Everyone According to His Needs"
This principle, quoted by Marx in the course of his criticism of the programme adopted by the German Social-Democrats at their Congress at Gotha in 1875, was by no means original. Similar ideas were discussed by the equalitarians during the French Revolution, and later on by such men as Louis Blanc, in France, and J. F. Bray, in England. Louis Blanc was using this same principle in 1839, although on occasion he employed it in reverse order—" To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities." It was framed in opposition to the doctrine of the followers of Saint-Simon, "Let each be placed according to his capacity and rewarded according to his work."

Now for Marx's views on the subject. In his criticism of the Gotha programme in 1875, he pointed out that "the co-operative commonwealth based upon common ownership of the means of production" (i.e., Socialism, or, as he then called it, Communism) would have a "first phase" in which it would be "afflicted with the congenital defects of the society from which it has sprung." In this first phase the individual "receives from society a voucher showing that he has done so-and-so much work. . . . On presentation of this voucher he withdraws from the communal storehouse of articles of consumption as much as this quantum of work is worth." (The quotations are from the S.L.P. edition called "the Socialist Programme," translated by Eden and Cedar Paul, and published in 1918.) In this first phase there would, Marx says, be mal-adaptations. Thus if each individual were required "to do an equal quantum of work, and all to receive an equal share from the social fund of articles of consumption," the man with dependants to keep would be worse off than the single man, while the stronger and more clever individuals would be able to do the required amount of work with less effort than the weak. Marx added that "such mal-adaptations are inevitable in the first phase of Communist society, because it is born out of capitalist society."

In due course the first phase would go, giving place to a higher phase: -
In a higher phase of communist society, when the slavish subordination of the individual to the yoke of the division of labour has disappeared, and when concomitantly the distinction between mental and physical work has ceased to exist; when labour is no longer the means to live, but is in itself the first of vital needs; when the productive forces of society have expanded proportionately with the multi- form development of the individuals of whom society is made up—then will the narrow bourgeois outlook be utterly transcended, and then will society inscribe upon its banners, "From everyone according to his capacities, to everyone according to his needs!
(It may be mentioned that Louis Blanc and others had also preceded Marx in stating that this last principle would not be applicable until after a "transition" period.)

Before going on to the present distortion of Marx's writings by the Russian Communists, , certain observations may be made in order to put Marx's words into proper perspective. His comments on the Gotha programme were "marginal notes" to use his own description, and were written at a time when he was "overwhelmed with work." They are, for the most part, clear enough, but in certain passages undue compression has left ambiguity. For example, there is the solitary reference to "the distinction between mental and physical work" which has been seized upon by Stalin as the basis of his revision. Though it is by no means certain what Marx meant, it is arguable that he considered that, in the "first phase" , "mental" workers would have to be placed on a somewhat higher level than other workers. They would get a somewhat larger share of products. If that was Marx's view it is still questionable, however—even in the circumstances envisaged by him in 1875—whether any such differentiation would not produce more problems and difficulties than it would solve. More importantly, the circumstances envisaged by Marx at that time are widely different from the circumstances that would now obtain after a Socialist majority have gained control of the political machinery. In 60 years the "productive forces of society have expanded" greatly—thus removing to a considerable extent one of the obstacles to the inauguration of the "higher phase" . Secondly, the working class have already travelled some distance away from capitalist notions about work and pay. Thirdly, we know from the experience of these 60 years that the understanding of Socialism which the workers will have to acquire before the conquest of power for Socialism becomes a possibility will be considerably greater than Marx held to be necessary in 1875. In short, all the reasons for having a phase based on "to each according to his work" (and for possible differentiation between mental and physical work) will have disappeared or be greatly weakened.

Now let us look further at Marx's views, and also Lenin's views on the subject of equality of wages.

Marx and Lenin on Equal Pay
Whatever Marx may have had in mind about the "distinction between mental and physical work" there is no doubt whatever that he strongly favoured at least approximate equality of wages, in the first phase, until such time as distribution "according to need" would eliminate the whole problem. Writing on the Paris Communards of 1871, Marx, in his Civil War in France (Labour Publishing Co. edition, 1921), highly approved their rule that "from the members of the Commune downwards the public service had to be done at workmen's wages" (p. 31. See also p. 34).

At one time (but not now) the Bolsheviks were aware of this. Lenin, in his "Soviets at Work", an address he delivered in April, 1918, expressly endorsed the—
principles of the Paris Commune and of any proletarian rule, which demand the reduction of salaries to the standard of remuneration of the average worker . . . ." (See edition published in 1919 by the Socialist Information and Research Bureau, Glasgow. Pages 17-19.)
Lenin was regretting that necessity compelled the Russian Government to pay high salaries to specialists. He did not pretend that it was anything but a backward step. He said, "Such a measure is not merely a halt in a certain part and to a certain degree of the offensive against capitalism . . . but also a step backward by our Socialist Soviet State, which has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of wages of the average worker." (Italics ours.)

Lenin went on to call the payment of high salaries "the old bourgeois method," and said, ''the corrupting influence of high salaries is beyond dispute—both on the Soviets . . . and on the mass of the workers." He admitted that "to pay unequal salaries is really a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise."

Lenin had also referred to the matter in 1917 in The State and Revolution. Using the Post Office as an example, Lenin declared (pages 52 and 53) that, after overthrowing the capitalists, the task of the Communists would be to—
Make practical use of the experience .... which the Commune has given us. To organise our whole material economy like the postal system, but in such a way that the technical experts, inspectors, clerks, and, indeed, all the persons employed, should receive no higher wage than the working man. . . ." (Italics ours.)
We see, therefore, what Marx said; how Lenin interpreted Marx; and what Lenin's own emphatic views were.

Then there was a resolution passed by the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party in 1921, an English version of which is given as follows in "Economic History" (January, 1932. Supplement of the Economic Journal): —
The theory and practice as regards wages should be based upon as equal a distribution as possible of the standard articles of consumption. However, the Unions will make use of wages both in money and kind, as a means of improving discipline and production.
Now let us jump from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and the present-day Bolsheviks.

Marx and Lenin versus Stalin and the "Daily Worker"
The first point to notice is that, whereas Marx and Lenin used the expression "To each according to the quantity of his work" (and Bogdanoff says, "in proportion to the amount of labour"), the new draft Russian Constitution has smuggled in the word "quality" also. (The first Constitution, adopted in 1918, was silent on the point, merely proclaiming the principle, "He that does not work, neither shall he eat.")

Stalin, in recent speeches, has also inserted this word quality, absent from earlier statements of the principle.

Now if this change meant only that the work demanded of the able-bodied shall be of good quality, one could say that the inclusion of the word is unnecessary but harmless, unnecessary because nobody in his senses argues in favour of bad work.

If, on the other hand, it meant that all Russian "able-bodied citizens," from the members of the Government downwards"—to apply the words Marx applied to the Commune—are being paid approximately on the same standard, i.e., "workmen's wages" plus some small bonus for output or for quality as a stimulus to greater output and better quality, three criticisms could be made. One is that such a system would need great care in its application to avoid penalising the weak. The second is that such a measure (justified by Marx and others, for application during the first phase, on the ground of capitalist mentality and low productivity) would be hard to square with Bolshevik claims about their success in making the population Socialist in outlook, and their claims about the high productivity of industry.

The third criticism is, nothing can excuse the Russian Communists' pretence that such a principle is a Socialist one. Even if they were compelled to bow to necessity in the matter of their system of distribution (owing to low productivity and the capitalist outlook of the population) that cannot in any way justify them in circulating in English-speaking countries an English version of the Constitution which declares that "to each according to the quantity and quality of work", particularly as it is applied in Russia, is "the principle of Socialism" . The Communists know full well that large numbers of workers have already been deceived by them into believing that what we call Socialism (and what Marx and Engels called Socialism or Communism) has been established in Russia. The Communists cannot escape the charge that they are willfully deceiving the workers.

Furthermore, Stalin is using this word "quality" as cover for something much worse than differentiated wage rates. Whereas Lenin admitted that inequality was a regrettable necessity, a step backward, a corrupting influence, Stalin (and his new admirer, Sidney Webb) is glorifying it, and doing so under cover of the altered version of Marx's and Lenin's statements.

Lenin wrote in "Soviets at Work" that "our Socialist-Soviet State . . . has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of the average worker."

Stalin's Government, far from reducing high salaries, is encouraging them. He goes further and according to the Webbs in their "Soviet Communism" denounces those who now put Lenin's point of view as "leftist blockheads" He declares that the Bolsheviks never held that view.

The Webbs quote from a speech of Stalin's delivered in January, 1934, at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of Russia: —
These people ["leftist blockheads," he calls them elsewhere] evidently think that Socialism calls for equality, for levelling the requirements and the personal lives of the members of society. Needless to say, such an assumption has nothing in common with Marxism, with Leninism. By equality Marxism means, not equality in personal requirements and personal life, but the abolition of class. . . ." ("Soviet Communism", p. 702.)
Stalin's speech contains one true and important point, that Socialists are interested primarily in abolishing the private ownership and control of the means of life which is the basis of class division. Stalin is also right in repudiating the idea that Socialists aim at imposing uniformity. But in the light of what is actually being done in Russia under Stalin's Government, what meaning are we to attach to his further statement that "Marxism starts out with the assumption that people's abilities and requirements are not, and cannot be, equal in quality or in quantity, either in the period of Socialism or in the period of Communism ?" (Webbs, p. 702).

Marx and Lenin laid it down that in the first phase everyone should be at least approximately on workmen's wages, and in the higher phase, when productivity had increased and prejudices disappeared, all should be treated on the principle "each according to his needs" .Stalin's Government does no such thing. It promotes great inequality between the various rates of workmen's pay and between those rates and the salaries, fees, and royalties of technicians, high officials, popular literary men, novelists and so on, and for the later phase it promises "to each according to his needs" but only on the basis that (in Stalin's words) "requirements are not and cannot be equal in quality or in quantity." This can only mean that some are always to have a higher standard of living than others.

The Daily Worker objected to our statement that the new Russian principle is a "corrupted version" of the basic principle of Socialism. Is it not evident, however, that Stalin's words and the actions of his Government embody precisely that "corrupting influence" which Lenin associated with high salaries in his "Soviets at Work"?

Let us examine some of the actual applications of Stalin's theory in Russia.

Workmen and Others
The Webbs, who thoroughly approve of Stalin's views on this subject, report, in their "Soviet Communism" (p. 711) that in Russian industry work and pay are graded into anything from eight to seventeen grades, but—and this is important—"always excluding the apprentices, with the mere porters, cleaners or gate-keepers on the one hand, and the foremen, technicians and managers on the other." (Note the reference to "mere porters" by our Labour Peer!)

The difference between the pay of the highest and lowest grades of workmen varies according to occupation. In some cases it appears that the highest may be three or four times the amount of the lowest—but outside and above the rates of pay of these workmen's grades are the salaries of foremen and administrative and technical staffs. Why? On what principle? What has become of Lenin's demand that, in the Post Office, for example, technical experts, inspectors, and so on, should get no more than a workman's wage? What has happened to the example of the Commune so praised by Marx and Lenin?

On what ground does the playwright Schkwarkin get 300,000 roubles a year from royalties on his plays (compared with a skilled workman's 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 roubles), making him a very rich man even after deduction of income tax? Is this in accordance with the quantity of his work, even if modified for the supposed distinction between mental and physical work? Is it, like the average factory worker's pay, based on output or piece-work?

The pay of a head of a department in the Russian local government service is 700 to 1,000 roubles a month, while that of a typist is 175 to 250 roubles a month. How does a Communist decide that the head of a department is worth four typists? And why is he worth half as much again as an engineer or a lawyer (400 to 700 roubles)?

(These figures are taken from the Bulletin of the "International Committee of Employees, etc." Moscow. June, 1936.)

The same question applies to all the favoured groups of politicians, technicians, officials, managers, popular writers and playwrights, etc.

The fact is that the real or supposed needs of Russian state capitalism and of the ruling group and their close associates have given rise to riches and poverty, privilege and lack of privileges, the features of capitalism generally. Russia is faced with the largely non-Socialist outlook of the population and the still relatively low productive capacity of industry. Lenin, when faced with such a necessity, said: "To pay unequal salaries is a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise" . Stalin, rather than admit the truth, chooses to gloss it over by misusing Socialist phrases, and by corrupting statements of Socialist principle. His hangers-on throughout the world first give their unqualified support to whatever he may say from time to time, then try to find reasons for doing so afterwards, quite regardless of the interests of the working class and the Socialist movement.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Myth of Red Clydeside (1976)

From the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The "Red Clydeside" first put itself on the map in the agitated years of the First World War. Since then, it has received plenty of examination. It has been portrayed as a possible revolution in the making; one that could have formed a link with the Bolsheviks and the Spartacists. The Clyde Workers' Committee was the main body in the agitation of the period. It was an unofficial industrial organization of the type that is today favoured by various claimants to the Bolshevik title.

When Britain entered the war in August 1914, the Clyde area joined in the nationwide enthusiasm. Yet soon after, it proved to be an area that would tolerate opponents of the war who were elsewhere reviled. John MacLean, in particular, soon became noted for his pugnacious attitude. A member of the British Socialist Party,[1] the local members shared his stand along with Independent Labour Party and Socialist Labour Party members. All three groups were relatively strong in the area although only the ILP had any significant strength.

 At first the recalcitrance of part of the population was not strong enough to warrant any special attention. More important was the production of munitions from the local engineering works. The government had soon realized that success in the war depended as much on the armaments as the bodies that could thrown into the fray. Clydeside as an engineering centre was thus under heavy scrutiny on the home front.

Trouble first arose over the negotiation of a wage agreement by the local engineers. The skilled craftsmen who had lost out on the last deal, put in a pace-setting claim for 2d an hour which the employers rejected. Early in 1915, an overtime ban and then a strike in support of the claim brought patriotic wrath down on them. The executive of the men's union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, had already pledged its support for the war effort and condemned the strike. With no official support, the strike was organized by the shop stewards — a growing influence in the Union. A ballot conducted by the ASE showed a 10-1 majority against the acceptance of an offer by the employers. However, with no strike money and in an atmosphere of slander and government threats, the strike folded after two weeks. In the end they half of their original claim.

The gulf between the Clyde militants and their union widened during the year. The ASE executive signed the Treasury Agreement and a referendum endorsed this.[2] Then the passing of the Munitions Act in July established the ground on which the CWC was to form. The Act, to be applied to munitions work, outlawed strikes, abolished restrictive practices and limited the right to leave a job. Prosecutions and convictions followed and the weak response of union officials to this prompted the establishment of the Clyde Workers' Committee in November.

The CWC was based on the organization that had developed during the 2d strike. Their manifesto proclaimed the Committee's aim as the defence of the trade union rights summarily abolished by the Munitions Act. It claimed to be " . . . composed of Delegates from every shop . . . untrammelled by obsolete rule or law . . . We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file." This was a challenge to the government and was soon recognised as such. Government officials began discussing the best way to dispose of this obstacle to their plans.

Unrelated to the activities of the CWC, the 1915 rent strike was coming to a conclusion at about the same time. The war had brought an influx of workers into an area already infamous for its housing and the landlords had been raising rents to an extent that earned them the title — "the Huns at home". A rent strike had been in progress and in November some men were taken to court to get unpaid rent stopped from their wages. On the day of the case a number of sporadic strikes took place and a demonstration outside the courtroom threatened a wider strike unless the rises were stopped. The cases were dismissed and soon after rents were frozen. This was done seemingly on demand in order to avoid what would have been, in the government's eyes, unnecessary trouble (and, even more important, more wage disputes).

Meanwhile the CWC was more concerned with the looming threat of dilution. In recent years, the development of new techniques had been making the skills of the engineering craftsman increasingly redundant. The ASE, in which most of them were organized, had resisted this threat to their livelihoods by a closed-shop policy designed to keep semi-skilled workers and their lower wages out of the craftsman's traditional preserves. In this they had a measure of success with the results that their skills were often under-used and the employers reluctant to introduce new methods. This was an obvious obstacle to the government's demand for the maximum output of armaments and they were determined that it should go. A greater division of labour was to be brought in and dilutees, mainly women, were to be put on much of the work. In the short term this would have no effect on the engineers as there was an overwhelming demand for them. However, when the war was over it was likely that ASE members would find a restricted market for their abilities in a modernized industry.

The CWC was now operating regularly with 250-300 delegates attending their weekly meetings. The most representative delegations came from the heavy engineering works and this was reflected in the composition of the small working committee. This included men from the ILP, BSP and SLP with the latter having the most coherent influence.

The CWC was not an anti-war organization and this was shown by the policy adopted to meet dilution. This, in contradiction to the ASE, accepted the inevitability of dilution but wanted nationalization and workers' participation in management in return. This led to the expulsion from the CWC of two of MacLean's associates who wanted opposition to the war effort, not workers' participation in the management of it.

It was wishful thinking to believe that any great opportunity was missed by the consequent split between the CWC and MacLean. Quite simply, when it came to the crunch they were concerned with industrial matters where he was concerned to oppose the war. After this, he and a small band of supporters, interrupted by jail sentences, continued with tenacious opposition gaining much sympathy but no real support. Despite his principled stand, MacLean's optimistic illusions about the development of the Irish nationalist and Bolshevik movements show that he did not understand Socialism and what was required to achieve it.

The CWC ignored political reality in pursuing their dilution policy. Regardless of the implications of their demands, they made no provision to back them up. On a visit to Glasgow in December, Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, contemptuously dismissed the proposals. Later, after the Minister's stormy meeting with 3,000 workers, and ILP and a BSP paper were suppressed for printing truthful accounts of the proceedings.
Con Friel

(To be continued)

[1] The BSP was basically the Social Democratic Federation under a new name. Statements in some publications that the BSP was a breakaway from SDF are wrong.
[2] Of 190,000 eligible to vote, 18,000 were for and 4,000 against. (Quoted in "The First Shop Stewards Movement" by James Hinton.)

Intellectual Property: a further restriction on personal freedom (2006)

From the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Professor Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s contribution is based on a Q&A session held on 22 April last year at Washington State University. Tristan Miller provides a commentary from a socialist perspective on the following page.

Guaranteeing corporate profits

The relation of intellectual property to personal freedom and its place in public and academic settings is an interesting topic with an interesting history.

The Uruguay Round that set up the World Trade Organization imposed what is called a free trade agreement, but which is, in fact, a highly protectionist agreement (the US and business leaders being strongly opposed to free trade and market economies, except in highly specific ways beneficial to them). A crucial part of this agreement was the establishment of very strong “intellectual property rights”. What this actually means is rights that guarantee monopoly pricing power to private tyrannies.

For example, consider a drug corporation. Most of their serious research and development – the hard part of it – is funded by the public. In fact, much of the dynamism of the world’s economy comes out of public expenditures through the state system, which is the source of most innovation and development. There is some research and development in the corporate system, but it’s mostly at the marketing end. And this is true of the drug industry. Once the corporations gain the benefit of the public paying the costs and taking the risks, they want to monopolize the profit and the intellectual property rights. These rights are not for small inventors. In fact, the people doing the work in the corporations don’t get much out of them; at best, they would receive a small bonus if they invent something. It’s the corporate tyrannies that are making the profits and they want to guarantee them.

The World Trade Organization proposed new, enhanced intellectual property rights – patent rights – far beyond anything that existed in the past. In fact, they are not only designed to maximize monopoly pricing and profit, but also to prevent development. For instance, the World Trade Organization rules introduced the concept of product patents. It used to be you could patent a process, but not the product, so if some smart guy could figure out a better way of producing something, he could do it. The WTO wants to block this. It’s important to block development and progress in order to ensure monopoly rights, so they now have product patents.

Consider US history: suppose the colonies, after independence, had been forced to accept this patent regime. What would we Americans be doing now? First of all, there would be very few of us at all, but those of us who would be here would be pursuing our comparative advantage in exporting fish and fur. That’s what economists tell you is right – pursue your comparative advantage. That was our comparative advantage. We certainly wouldn’t have had a textile industry. The British textiles were far cheaper and better. Actually, British textiles were cheaper and better because Britain had crushed Irish and Indian superior textile manufacturers and stolen their techniques. They therefore became the pre-eminent textile manufacturer, by force of course. In actuality, the US does have a textile industry which grew up around Massachusetts. But the only way it could develop was by extremely high tariffs which protected unviable US industries. Our textile industry developed and later had spin-offs into other industries. And so it continues.

We would never have had a steel industry either, for the same reason: British steel was far superior. One of the reasons is because they were stealing Indian techniques. British engineers were going to India to learn about steel-making well into the 19th century. They ran the country by force so they could take what the Indians knew and develop a steel industry. In order to develop its own steel industry, the US used massive government involvement through extremely high tariffs and the military system, as usual.

This system continues right up to the present, and furthermore it’s true of every single developed society. It’s one of the best-known truths of economic history that the only countries that developed are the ones that pursued these techniques. There were countries that were forced to adopt free trade and “liberalization” – the colonies – and they got destroyed. The sharp divide between the first and the third worlds has really taken shape since the 18th century. And maintaining this divide is what intellectual property rights are for. In fact, there’s a name for it in economic history: Friedrich List, the famous German political economist in the 19th century, who borrowed his major protectionist doctrines from Andrew Hamilton, called it “kicking away the ladder”. First you use state power and violence to develop, then you kick away those procedures so that other people can’t do it.

Intellectual property rights have very little to do with individual initiative. Einstein didn’t have any intellectual property rights on relativity theory. Science and innovation is carried out by people who are interested in it; that’s the way science works. However, there’s been an effort in very recent years to commercialize it, much the same way everything else has been commercialized. So you don’t do science because it’s exciting and challenging, because you want to find out something new, and because you want the world to benefit from it; you do it because maybe you can make some money out of it. You can make your own judgment about the moral value. Personally, I think it’s extremely cheapening, but also destructive of initiative and development.

It’s important to note that the profits from patents commonly don’t go back to the individual inventors. This is a very well-studied topic. Take, for example, the well-studied case of computer-controlled machine tools, which are now a fundamental component of the economy. There’s a very good study of this by David Noble, a leading political economist. What he discovered is that these techniques were invented by some small guy working in his garage somewhere in, I think, Michigan. After the MIT mechanical engineering department learned about it, they picked up these techniques and developed them and extended them and so on, and the corporations came and picked them up from MIT, and finally it became a core part of US industry. Well, what happened to the guy who invented it? He’s still probably working in his garage in Michigan or wherever it is. And that’s very typical.

I just don’t think intellectual property has much to do with innovation or independence. It has to do with protecting major concentrations of power which mostly got their power as a public gift, and making sure that they can maintain and expand their power. And these highly protectionist devices really have to be rammed down the public’s throat. They don’t make any economic sense or any other sense.

Neither do I think that intellectual property should play any role in academic and public institutions. In 1980 the Bayh-Dole Act gave universities the right to patent inventions that came out of their own research. But nothing comes strictly out of a university’s own research; it comes out of public funding. That’s how the university can function; that’s how their research projects work. The whole system is set up to socialize cost and risk to the general public, and then within that context, things can be invented. But I don’t think universities should patent them. They should be working for the public good, and that means the fruits of their research should be available to the public.

Noam Chomsky

No amount of legislation can change the basics
To most people today, the notion that ideas or information can be owned seems as natural as owning a house or a bicycle. We are brought up to believe that when someone writes a book or piece of music, or develops plans for a new invention, they become that work’s sole owner. This means that they alone have the right to determine whether and how that work is used by other people, or the right to transfer ownership of the work to another person or a company. Only the owner is allowed to make and sell copies of the work, to incorporate it into a collection of other works, or to produce a new work based on the original, such as a new edition or a sequel. These “rights”, as they are called, are encoded not just in our laws, but increasingly, as we shall see, in our social norms and our technology.

However, the world did not always work this way. To people in the Ancient world and in Mediaeval times, the thought that anyone could claim ownership and control of something intangible like a poem or an idea would have seemed ludicrous. Philosophers and mathematicians regularly borrowed, critiqued, and expanded upon the works of their colleagues; historians compiled and summarized descriptions of events recorded by others; and musicians performed existing songs while adding their own embellishments. Written works were copied freely (albeit laboriously) by trained scribes, and technological improvements diffused gradually among artisans through word of mouth.

To someone from the past, then, today’s intellectual property regime would seem terribly restrictive. Had Shakespeare been told he could not copy and rework material from other playwrights, he would have seen this as a tyrannical imposition on his personal freedom as an artist. What’s more, we would have been robbed of many of his greatest works, including Hamlet and King Lear, both of which were adaptations of other authors’ plays. What was it that changed, then, between Shakespeare’s time and ours, to allow us to think of information and ideas in the same terms as physical property? And more importantly, is our society more or less free as a result?

The answer to the first question is relatively simple when we look at things in their historical context. In the century preceding Shakespeare, two great developments began sweeping across Europe, one technological, the other socio-economical. The first of these was mechanized printing, introduced by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s. Books and pamphlets suddenly became easy and cheap to reproduce, and with their abundance literacy and authorship increased. The second development was the capitalist mode of production, which was by fits and starts beginning to replace the old feudal system. Trained scribes who used their own inexpensive tools for copying manuscripts were replaced by relatively unskilled workers who operated a costly printing press owned by their employer. Few authors could afford a press to print their own books, and the wealthy publishers who owned the presses depended on a steady supply of new literature to drive their sales. Therefore, authors and publishers entered into an agreement whereby the publisher supported the author financially in exchange for printing their book and retaining the profits from its sale.

Though a few popular authors became quite wealthy through this arrangement, the vast majority were not significantly better off than the rest of the labouring class. As with any employment relationship, it was not in the publisher’s interest to pay authors any more than required for their upkeep, thus forcing them to either continue writing or seek other employment. To prevent authors from securing payment from more than one publisher simultaneously and to prevent rival publishers from cutting into their profits, publishers in the 17th and 18th centuries pressured governments to enact laws recognizing a publisher’s exclusive ownership and control (“copyright”) of a literary work. (Initially this ownership rested with the author, though as it was useless to anyone without a press, he invariably assigned it to a publisher.) Similar laws were enacted granting monopolies on “any manner of new manufactures” – that is, patents – which again were beneficial primarily to those who already had the capital to exploit and defend them.

For professional writers, artists, and inventors, then, copyrights and patents – collectively referred to as “intellectual property” – are simply a specialized legal formalization of the wage-labour exchange other workers are forced to make with their employers. Just as manual labourers, lacking the means to produce and distribute their own products, must sell their labour power to a factory owner for an hourly wage, writers, lacking a printing press and bookstore, sell the copyright on their writing to a publishing house for a lump sum or nominal royalty. And just as manual labourers selling their labour power must waive ownership of the goods they have produced and the freedom to use them as they see fit, so too do writers selling their copyright lose the freedom to use their writing as they wishes. If a writer wishes to adapt or incorporate elements of another book – even one that they themself originally wrote – into a new work, they must first secure (and often pay for) permission from the publisher who owns the copyright. Given that the free and fruitful exchange of ideas and information was commonplace before intellectual property, it is difficult to argue that these laws have done anything other than rob artists and scientists of their personal freedom to learn from and interact with each other.

And what of the rest of us, those of us who do not make our livings writing, performing, or inventing? Has the intellectual property regime affected us in any way? Until relatively recently, the answer was not much, or at least, not personally. Intellectual property was simply a legal fiction allowing corporations to stake their various claims to “properties” in the information market. How the capitalists decided amongst themselves who had the right to produce what had little bearing on the individual freedom of the average worker, who owned neither presses to print books nor factories to mass-produce new machines . Technically it was illegal for a worker to make a copy of a book, but since it would take them weeks or months to do so by hand, the publishers’ profits were not threatened and no injunction was sought.

With the advent of home computers and the Internet, however, the entire working class suddenly found itself in possession of the same sorts of instruments of production and distribution that had previously been exclusive to wealthy publishing houses. Once a book or piece of music had been put into digital form, anyone could instantly produce unlimited copies with the click of a button and instantly send them anywhere in the world. Alarmed at the threat to their monopolies and their profits, publishers began to take notice. Criminal and civil lawsuits were brought against individuals who downloaded music from the Internet or copied software for their friends. Publishers launched wide-scale public “education” campaigns to convince people that unauthorized copying was akin to theft or even to piracy on the high seas. The full force of the law and corporate propaganda apparatus was applied to preventing workers from exercising their new-found ability to produce and distribute intellectual property on a massive scale.

At this point, one could well argue that people technically had not lost any of their personal freedoms, since by law they were never free to copy information in the first place. This changed, as Noam Chomsky notes, with the passing of increasingly restrictive laws in the late 20th century. Now it is a crime not just to copy a digital work, but also to use it in any way not authorized by the publisher. Many of the freedoms people enjoyed with printed books and analogue audio and video recordings no longer apply to their digital counterparts. A publisher can arbitrarily decide that a particular e-book can be read only a certain number of times, or only up to a certain date, or only on a certain device, making transfer to a friend or donation to a library impossible. These restrictions are hard-coded into the device or software which reads the e-book, and modifying the software or inventing a new device to circumvent these restrictions is a criminal offence.

In conclusion, Prof. Chomsky is correct in his identification of today’s intellectual property system as a way of granting legal monopolies to corporations. And I applaud him for speaking out against the worst excesses of companies exploiting the patent system in the name of maximizing profits. But by focussing on and attacking only recent intellectual property law reforms, it is easy to fall into the trap of suggesting that the system could be “fixed” simply by repealing these reforms or otherwise tweaking the laws. As I hope I have shown here, from their very beginnings copyrights and patents have existed to benefit only that small minority of people who owned the presses, warehouses, and stores through which books and other media are reproduced and distributed. Any benefit to the inventors and authors who actually produce inventions and artistic works is incidental, and furthermore comes at the cost of stifling cross-pollination of ideas and the progress it entails. No amount of legislation can ever change the fundamental relationship in production between the workers, who produce almost all of the world’s artistic and scientific wealth, and the rich minority who control the means of disseminating this wealth. Therefore workers have no stake in the intellectual property regime and should work only for the abolition of the entire system that supports it.
Tristan Miller

Why Russia was capitalist (1998)

Book Review from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism and Class Struggle in the USSR. A Marxist Theory. By Neil Fernandez. Ashgate. 1997.

This book represents a breakthrough from our point of view in that, for the first time, our view that Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev was a form of capitalism is both given its proper historical place and discussed seriously.

Basically, our view (which we expressed from the 1920s on) was that Russia was capitalist because of the continued existence there of the wages system under which workers have to sell their labour power for a wage or salary to live. As Marx put it in a passage we often quoted, "capital presupposes wage labour; wage labour presupposes capital. They reciprocally condition the existence of each other; they reciprocally bring forth each other" (Wage Labour and Capital).

Fernandez argues that this is alright as far as it goes, but that it doesn't go far enough. To clinch the argument that Russia was capitalist you have to able to show also how money-capital and the law of value functioned there. This, he says, the SPGB never really attempted to do, so that our theory of Russia as (state) capitalist remained inadequate.

It is true that we did not describe in detail the precise way that the Russian capitalist economy worked but this was because we did not consider it as operating much differently from capitalism elsewhere, except that the workers' employer and exploiter was a state trust (nationalised industry) rather than a private capitalist firm or individual. Hence "state capitalism". Fernandez, however, is wrong to classify us amongst those who argued that Russia was "state capitalist" rather than merely "capitalist", as we tended to see state capitalism in Russia as a more widespread version of the examples of state capitalism that existed in Britain and elsewhere.

He also ignores the fact that there were different points of view within the SPGB on some issues. For instance, in the 1960s there was a discussion about the nature of the Russian rulers: were they simply a government running Russian capitalism for a developing private capitalist class or were they a ruling and exploiting class in their own right? A majority voted for the second view, but the point is that, on the basis of acceptance of the view that Russia was capitalist, different views on its exact nature were permissible within the SPGB.

From the early 1920s on we were aware, from material provided by the Russian authorities themselves, that Russian industry was not run as a single state trust—USSR Ltd—but was divided into separate trusts covering different industries which traded with each other and made profits and that some, for a period from the 1920s to the 1940s, even issued bonds on which they paid interest.

This view, that the basic units of the Russian capitalist economy were these state trusts whose money-commodity relations with each other the central government tried to plan, is developed in more detail by some of the others whose views on Russia Fernandez discusses—in particular Bettleheim, Chavance, Buick and Crump, and Chattopadhyay—but Fernandez doesn't find it any more adequate in its developed form, for two reasons. First, that in his view the various Russian state trusts cannot be regarded as competing against each other for profits. Second, that while they did seek to cover their costs and even make some profit, they were not motivated by maximising their profits. In fact, he says, their motive was to conform to, and exceed, the physical output targets set by the central planners.

It is true that Russian trusts did not aim to maximise their profits but rather to meet the physical output targets set by the central state but it was this that, in the long run, proved to be the problem. In the end, the central planners, who were trying to maximise surplus value at the economy level, were unable to do this as they did not know which particular industries were more profitable than others or indeed if a particular industry was profitable at all.

According to Fernandez, capitalist competition in what he deliberately calls the "bureaucratic capitalism" (rather than "state capitalism") that used to exist in Russia was not between the various trusts into which he admits Russian industry was divided, but between various sections of the bureaucracy (from central planners to factory managers) as they competed to control as much as possible of the surplus value extracted from the workers with a view to reinvesting it.

It's a theory that conforms to some of the facts, but can a struggle amongst different sections of a bureaucracy really be regarded as competition between separate capitals? Wouldn't this mean that competition for resources between different managers within a capitalist firm would also have to be regarded as a competition between separate capitals? Such competition is non-market and non-monetary and so fails to meet the objection of those who argue that, whatever Russia was, it wasn't capitalist as the surplus extracted from the workers was extracted in kind and not in value form. Fernandez is only able to get round this objection by the dubious ploy of extending the concept of money way beyond both its Marxian and its normal sense of a circulating medium to include "bureaucratic clout and influence". According to him, such clout represented the "money-capital" of these bureaucrat-capitalists who in striving to increase their ability to command resources were striving to make a "profit" on their "capital". It's all rather far-fetched.

Fernandez is off the mark in other parts of his book too, in particular his ideas about how to get to "a society without money, commodities, the State, wage-labour, and exploitation" (he favours a world-wide civil war, with rioting and looting in the meantime). Despite this dangerous nonsense, the book also contains a discussion of how workers' resistance to their exploitation contributed (he argues that it was the main factor) to the final collapse of the so-called Communist regime in Russia. But of course this is a long time ago now, so his book — like all others on the same subject — is about history rather than the contemporary world.
Adam Buick