Thursday, October 29, 2015

Edwardian Times (2004)

From the Socialism or Your Money Back book:
The first edition of the Socialist Standard appeared nearly three months after the formation of the Party, being dated “London, September, 1904” and costing one penny. Entitled the “Official Organ of The Socialist Party of Great Britain”, it was eight pages of dense type and small headlines (in that sense very much the style of the time) but noticeably larger than the current A4 page size. The first editorial promised “we shall give a fair hearing to all sides on any question, and trust that our correspondence columns will be freely used”, a promise that has been upheld ever since by both sides.
The first edition included an editorial outlining the Party’s hopes (in some ways over-optimistic) for the development of the Standard and the movement for socialism in general, but for reference we include in this section an article from this first issue simply entitled “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”. This is because it explains, from the standpoint of the founder members, the basic political positions of the SPGB in distinction to those held by the growing number other organisations claiming the title “socialist” at the time.
The Standard during this pre-First World War period mainly tended to comprise original articles from Party members on topical issues of the time plus theoretical articles expounding aspects of the Materialist Conception of History and Marxian Economics, some written by Party members themselves but many were reprints or translations of the writings of some of the “greats” of the Second International period like Kautsky, Bebel, Lafargue, Guesde and Morris. Perhaps belying the somewhat staid physical appearance of the Standard, the topical articles written by members tended to be lively and polemical, using rhetorical devices in a way the party’s outdoor orators often did. The article about the official appearance of the Labour Party on the British political scene in Westminster (The New ‘Force’ in Politics) is as good as an example of this an any, though some of the later articles we’ve included in this section certainly run it close for tightly-argued political invective.
Politically, the party nailed its colours to the mast on the “nation or class” issue at the outset and the article included here on the rise of Sinn Fein in Ireland is a stinging attack on the idea that “national liberation” movements against established imperialist powers are in some way progressive and worthy of working class support. The stark class division identified as being at the heart of capitalism’s social relations by the party’s Declaration of Principles was reflected in many other articles of the time too. Indeed, many modern readers may be surprised at the vehemence with which the early party opposed the Suffragette movement on class grounds, identifying the Suffragettes as – at best – an irrelevant movement of propertied women falsely claiming to represent the interests of female workers.
The naked working class anger at the iniquities of capitalism to be found in the pages of the Standard in its early years is understandable given the conditions of the time and it is exemplified no better than in the articles on the brutal suppression of the miners’ strike in South Wales by the Liberal government and the piece written on the sinking of the luxury liner, the Titanic. Both are fine examples of a particular style of political prose in the small revolutionary milieu in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century and of the application of a class-based analysis to contemporary issues. But contrast these with the more elegant—even quaint—piece on the “motor car problem”, specifically as it affected post-Victorian London where the majority of SPGB members at the time were based.
Lest this particular piece lull any readers into labelling the Party “backward-looking” in its attitudes to developing social issues during this period, the article expounding “the Case For Free Love” should dispel any such myths. It manages to put an eloquent and considered case on the subject long before it was fashionable to do so in radical circles, let alone in the mainstream press.

Is Politics Corrupt? (1967)

From the July 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Amongst the literature now put out by the so-called Peace Movement is a small red sticker proclaiming in bold black print: "Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Communist. THEY'RE ALL ALIKE." Such a radical change of policy from that which many of these people were propagating a few years back should not be left without comment. In case anyone has forgotten, the Nuclear Disarmers were among the supporters then the Labour Party had when it took office for the first time in some thirteen years. Now, in their own words:
After two years of government by Labour we have few illusions left about the nature of party politics, the empty promises, and humbug of firm assurances about firm government.
They now stand for, and the Committee of 100 have already stated this, non-violent direct action. "We have broken with party politics, is now their claim. To recognise that there is little difference between the large parties is certainly a big step forward, but this suggests only that Parliament and the vote have been misused not that they are of no use. Ultimate power rests with those who control the state machinery and all its coercive forces. To give up politics and the struggle to gain control of Parliament is folly.

Those people who have come to this decision should think again and look a little deeper into the relationship between the major political parties. They are all alike, but what is it that they have in common? What is it that causes politicians to promise everything and give nothing? People in the "Peace" Movement would no doubt claim that all politicians are evil, completely insincere persons. But what they have in common is the simple fact that they all support the capitalist system of society. They have different ideas about how it should be run but all are agreed on this essential point.

Unfortunately without the necessary understanding of capitalist society, organisations like the Committee of 100 will continue to make these mistaken claims, based as they are on irrational ideas about the social and economic forces at work in society today. The vote, when based on sound Socialist knowledge and used to send delegates to Parliament as opposed to opportunistic leaders, can be the most useful instrument the workers possess.
M. Ballard

Against the state (1992)

Book Review from the August 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Volume IV: Critique of Other Socialisms by Hal Draper, Monthly Review Press

Marx and Engels gave few details about what they thought socialism would be like. However, they both wrote an enormous amount about what they thought socialism would not be like. Or rather, they provided a critique of "other socialisms"—hence the subtitle of this volume of Draper's exhaustive analysis of Marxian politics.

The "other socialisms" were Utopian Socialism (Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen gave useful criticisms of existing society and interesting ideas for a future society, but were naive about how this was to come about); Sentimental Socialism (not a school of socialism but a tendency to be found in various schools, substituting the power of love, humanity or morality for the class struggle); the Anarchism of Stirner, Proudhon and Bakunin (criticised for the authoritarianism inherent in its anti-democratic nature); Reactionary Anticapitalisms (those who yearn for a pre-capitalist golden age, as in the writings of Thomas Carlyle); and Boulangism (after General Georges Boulanger in France, an arch-opportunist and a forerunner of "National Socialism").

Marx and Engels were also confronted with a "socialist" ideology which was patently anti-socialist—Bismarckian Socialism (or so-called "State Socialism"). In late nineteenth century Germany the Bismarck regime introduced nationalisation and social-welfare reforms; in part this was to undermine the growing support for the German SDP led by Lassalle, who proposed similar statist reforms (and criticised by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme). It is this Bismarckian, statist conception of "socialism" which—via Lenin in to Bolshevism and the Fabians into Labourism—has become world famous. The irony, however, is that this conception of socialism is largely anti-socialist in its origin.

Draper accepts that in Socialism: Scientific and Utopian Engels gave a "definite repudiation" of "the view that statification equals socialism, or that statification was progressive", but that doesn't stop him peddling the Trotskyist (that is to say, Bolshevik) nonsense about the need for a "workers' state". Engels, in the same place, is quite clear:
The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal collective capitalist. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more it actually becomes collective capitalist, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-workers, proletarians. But the capitalist relation is not done away with; it is rather brought to a head.
Lew Higgins

Truths, Half-Truths and Lies (2015)

From the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Truth is a troublesome concept, and not just for the ‘bad guys’. For hundreds of years philosophers have sought to define its meaning and understand its efficacy in relation to our world. It has undergone many incarnations including: correspondence truth, coherence truth, pragmatic truth, linguistic truth and its final nemesis, the redundancy theory. It is said that in the dead of night the post-modernists can be seen to dance on truth’s grave. But it has proved to be a most resilient idea that is still valued by most of us even if we fail to articulate just what it is. We can readily identify its antithesis – a lie or false-hood. In contemporary politics ‘propaganda’ is a word many use for false claims or downright lies.
We in the Socialist Party have had a relaxed relationship with the word 'propaganda', using it in its original sense as involving the propagation of ideas. But reading these words and the other articles in this journal an objective reader might very well suspect a ‘bias’ in our analysis of politics, history and economics. We don't deny the existence of a clear perspective – every word is aimed at serving the political cause of the great majority (the working class). This being the case, how can the Socialist Standard hope for journalistic 'balance', or be considered as anything other than ‘propaganda’ both in terms of its perspective and in the possibility that we might manipulate information to suit our political aims? In other words can the reader have any confidence in the truth of what we write?
Different perspectives
Consider the phrase: ‘High profits and property prices are good for the economy’. This represents mainstream journalistic bias since it disallows the possibility of any disaffection from accepted political norms within a capitalist context. What is ‘good for the economy’ is identified with what is good for the owners of the mainstream media and their chums – the parasitic minority. To the majority the statement means a higher rate of exploitation at work and yet another barrier to finding a place to live. Can both perspectives be simultaneously true?
Different perspectives of the same phenomena can result in opposite interpretations and conclusions. Can ‘what is good for the economy’ be bad for those who make it work? Is the truth or otherwise of all political statements dependent on this type of class perspective? Then consider this statement: ‘Capitalism can only work in the interests of the capitalists and against the economic interests of the majority’. This claim would seem to be above and outside the political context that defines class perspective. It claims a more objective and historical account of an economic relationship. But is it true?
You will never read such a statement within the mainstream media for reasons that are self evident. They cannot claim that: ‘Yes it is true that the system makes the rich richer and the rest are unimportant’ even if they know this to be the case. Perhaps this is one of many important distinctions between our ‘propaganda’ and that of those who defend the capitalist system; everything we write we believe to be true but, given that not all of our opponents are just plain stupid, it is very hard to believe that they can have any faith in the integrity of what they write. One always suspects that they smile privately about their own cynicism in protecting their interests at every opportunity; from the persecution of the poor to the ridiculous claim that the rich exist because ‘they work hard’ or are ‘geniuses at innovation’.
Another criticism that socialists encounter is that truth is said to be never ‘black and white’ and that our uncompromising political stance is impractical and sectarian. To compromise does have a reassuring mature patina to it but if we are correct that capitalism in all its forms is diametrically opposed to the majority’s economic interests what is it exactly that we’re supposed to compromise on? The Left regard it as a victory if they are allowed to collect a few more crumbs from the rich man’s table (minimum wage etc.). But if a person steals your wallet and returns it minus two thirds of its content then it is still reasonable to regard them as thieves.
For over a hundred years the Left has made one compromise after another and what has it to show for all their boot-licking reforms – people in higher debt, later retirement, low wages, family breakdown, trade union enfeeblement etc., etc. Just as Oliver Cromwell allowing compromise after compromise with Charles I in his feeble bourgeois attempt to keep his king on the throne led to just more bloodshed so we have reached an historical situation where compromise is seen as weakness and is politically pointless. The story of the frog and the scorpion comes to mind: the scorpion asked a frog to give him a ride on his back so that he could cross the river. The frog said ‘but you’ll sting me and we’ll both die’. The scorpion made a solemn promise he would not do so and the frog took him. Halfway across the scorpion stung him. As they both sank to their deaths the frog asked: ‘why did you do that?’ The scorpion replied: ‘It’s in my nature’. So it is with capitalism; any attempt at compromise and reform will just prolong the world’s agony. In this respect the truth is ‘black and white’ and no pleading with the beast will make it any greyer.
The witness’ oath: ‘I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ may be a very high and even unobtainable ideal in political terms but any compromise in aspiring to it must lead to a loss of moral integrity. All we can promise you is that everything we write is done in good faith with the single aim of revealing the truth about the politics of capitalism and the meaning of socialism. We have no other agenda. If ‘truth’ is regarded as anachronistic by some intellectuals then so be it – we believe that the complexity of a concept does not necessarily render it useless. We live in a world of political spin, half-truths, marketing and lies.
Socialism is not just another political commodity that we are trying to sell. Superficially it may appear to the politically naïve as just another leftist variation swamped by so many other groups misusing the term ‘socialist’. In the end perhaps we can only glimpse parts of the truth, but to ignore the concept entirely is to flirt with the disaster of Orwellian ‘business speak’ where: ‘War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength’.