Friday, October 30, 2015

Dissatisfied Customer (1973)

Book Review from the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chronicles of Wasted Time, Part I, by Malcolm Muggeridge, Collins, £3.00.

Fourteen years ago Walter Allen's novel All in a Lifetime created a stir by depicting the formative years and ripeness of the Labour Party, and then conveying that a misjudgment of society had been made and it had turned out irrelevant. This first volume of Muggeridge's autobiography covers the same ground, but is different in that the recollections are real not fictional and the result is not perplexity but animated sourness.

Muggeridge's father was a Fabian who became an early Labour Councillor and, eventually, an MP, and the book gives an account of home life in that atmosphere—parlour discussions, meetings with MacDonald, Dalton, etc., and a Tolstoyan "colony" at Stroud. Muggeridge recalls it all subjectively and, to a large extent, derisively. "It was a kind of revivalism without tears; sinful men were to be washed, but not in the blood of the Lamb; in, as it were, municipal water, with carbolic soap purveyed by the co-op." Later, visits to Five-Year-Plan Russia are described as if it were a crude but fortunately transparent attempt at personal fraud on the writer.

These reactions are common. One can meet anywhere men of Muggeridge's generation who shared the faith that beneficent reform would conquer all society's ills. The hopes of an "intellectual, moral and aesthetic transformation" through universal State education, and slums "transformed into garden cities" by Planning Acts; what has been produced is not so much disappointment as a sense of having been swindled. Recalling pacifist talk in his youth, Muggeridge writes of their conviction that the arms manufacturers were the cause of all the trouble: "how surprised we should have been," he says, to know that trading in arms by Labour governments would far exceed the evils of private enterprise.

Yet the illusions were self-created by those who believed all this. The choice between reform and revolution was put before the social-democrats at the beginning of this century, and the majority elected for reform. No notice was taken of Socialists pointing out the all-too-obvious fallacy of—to use one of Muggeridge's own metaphors—"building a housing estate on the slopes of Etna". Despite everything a century's experience should teach, reformists go on being hopeful like bingo-players that the next try will be lucky, afterwards to sit chewing peevishly on "a civilisation dropping to pieces" and "credulous armies of the just".

What is notable also is Muggeridge's lack of contact with workaday life and people. He acknowledges this in speaking of some earthy-proletarian relatives in the North, tries to dismiss it by calling the working class a fantasy invented by Marx, Engels, Morris and D. H. Lawrence, but without showing comprehension of what it really means. Thus, he writes of the start of married life: "We had very little money . . . certainly not more than £100" . . . in the early 'twenties when £100 was a year's pay to many working men! The remark echoes one made in a TV programme a year or so ago when, denouncing birth control and answering a woman who supposed he had always been comfortably-off, Muggeridge said indignantly: "It's quite untrue. It was 1939 before I earned even £1,000 a year"—and appeared oblivious to the thrill of half-amused astonishment in the audience.

And one other curiousity, considering Muggeridge's prominence in crusades against what they call the permissive society. He relates weightily the sexual preoccupation of his marriage in its early days: "Rolling about, now one on top, now another; grunting, coaxing, sweating, murmuring, yelling  . . . We looked to our bodies for gratification, which we felt they owed us." But that was fifty years ago, before pornography and the pill and Oh, Calcutta! had come to make satyrs of us all. Doesn't that give away the whole present case for Muggeridge!
Robert Barltrop

Students and Workers (1973)

Book Review from the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The French Communist Party versus the Students by Richard Johnson, Yale UP.

The French Communist Party is one of the two mass Muscovite parties in Western Europe. It is in fact the main party supported by the organised industrial proletariat in France; and is led by ex-industrial workers who have always had a profound distrust of "bourgeois intellectuals" (i.e., radical-minded, university-educated children of business and professional people). These, for their part, have had an ambiguous attitude towards the French CP: respect for the fact that it is the main party supported by industrial workers, but also qualms about its bureaucratic structure and dogmatic ideology. Until the 1960's, argues Johnson, they had been prepared to forget these qualms for the sake of having access to the working class through the Party. "Outside the Party", they thought, "we are nothing", a fear the Party's bureaucrats exploited to the full to get them to toe the Party line.

Towards the end of the 1950's the CP's student section began to adopt a mildly critical line (that of the more flexible Italian CP in fact). The bureaucrats reacted by accusing them of betraying the working class because of their bourgeois origins.

May 1968, however, marked the final break between the radical students and the CP. Humanit√©, the daily CP paper, described those who took part in one riot as members of "certain groups (anarchists, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc. ) composed in general of sons of the big bourgeoisie and directed by the German anarchist, Cohn-Bendit". Cohn-Bendit replied in kind by speaking of "Stalinist shit".

Many of the students explained the CP's "betrayal" on the grounds that it had become bureaucratised and the victim of its parliamentary strategy (the CP's immediate aim was, and still is, an elected "popular democratic government" with Party Ministers). Johnson rejects the "bureaucratisation" view by pointing out how, on the contrary, the French CP has been extremely flexible, zigging this way and zagging that way on Moscow's orders. Instead, he sees the CP's attitude as a ritual response dictated by its whole ideology (the working class as the sole revolutionary class; the Party as the sole legitimate representative of the working class; and the Party leadership as the sole infallible judge of working class tactics). To back up this view he points out that the Maoists and certain Trotskyist groups also denounced, on ideological grounds, the student movement at "petty bourgeois" and denied that there was a "revolutionary situation" in 1968.

Undoubtedly there was no such situation at that time (even though these groups' conception of a revolutionary situation is radically different from ours). A revolutionary situation did not exist because the great mass of workers in France, industrial and white collar, were not socialist-minded. They were merely discontented, wanting higher wages and some reforms—which they got and returned to work leaving the students out on a limb. On June 12 De Gaulle banned a number of student anarchist, Trotskyist and Maoist groups and, beating the drum of "law and order", on June 30 won a resounding electoral victory. The student groups' attempt at "revolution" in an non-revolutionary period had strengthened the forces of reaction.
Adam Buick  

Party News (1960)

From the October 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Islington members have been reading The New Class, by Djilas (former supporter of Tito and ex-Vice-President of Yugoslavia), and J. Bonus will open a discussion on the book at the Branch Room, Co-op Hall, 129, Seven Sisters Road, N.7. on Thursday, October 13th, at 8.15pm. Further, Islington Branch is arranging a discussion with a member of the Yugoslav Democratic Union (an organisation of exiled Yugoslavs) sometime in November. Details will be announced soon.

The new branch at Wembley seems to have made quite a good start. The inaugural meeting was held at the beginning of July, and a fair amount of activity has packed in since then.

Two visits have been paid to Southsea, one on August 14th and the other on September 11th, and both were successful, with interested audiences and good literature sales. In addition, on Friday evenings throughout September, some very encouraging outdoor meetings were held by this branch at Gloucester Road.

A film show took place on September 12th at the branch rooms and although it was the first to be held there, it attracted a number of non-members. The title of the film was "Eldorado" - a documentary on British Guinea, and it was followed by the usual comments, by a member of the Party.

This has encouraged us to think about further shows in the future, but this will, of course, depend on time available, for there is a very crowded autumn and winter programme of historical lectures. Three members of the branch will be responsible for these, and details appear elsewhere in this issue.

The branch has lost no time in canvassing the Socialist Standard, and both Harrow and Greenford areas have been given special attention. The results have been most gratifying, and local comrades are following up the contacts made. It is hoped to expand sales of the S.S. and other literature steadily over the next few months.

It can be seen from all this that the new branch is active and intends to stay that way. But more help is always welcome and members living in the vicinity are particularly asked to give us their support where possible. We have pleasantly situated branch rooms at Barham Old Court, Barham Park, Harrow Road, Wembley, and meet every Monday at 8pm. Members of the public are cordially invited and facilities are available for the friendly cup of tea and cake after each meeting.

Ealing Branch meetings are continuing very satisfactorily. Outdoor activities have been handicapped by the weather, but some good meetings have been held at Gloucester Road with reasonable literature sales. A very good propaganda trip to Southsea took place on 4th September, with two meetings at which there were excellent audiences. Some useful contacts were made. Winter activities include lectures by Branch members and the resumption of the West London Writers' Class.

On Sunday, September 11th, Paddington Branch paid a social and propaganda visit to Birmingham. Eight members (and a "fellow traveller" from Fulham) drove up in a minibus and were most hospitably received by Birmingham Branch members. After Sunday dinner and conviviality as guests of the local members, an outdoor meeting was held in the centre of the city at Chamberlain Place. This speaking spot is being built up in place of the traditional Bull Ring which is being completely rebuilt. It proved difficult to gather a large crowd partly due to the overwhelming noise from its fountain and droves of starlings on the surrounding buildings, but a small and attentive audience remained for three hours, and a fair amount of literature was sold. The speakers were L. Cox, E. Grant, S. Goodman, I. Jones and C. Wilson. Thanks Birmingham members for your hospitality and support!

Welcome Swansea Branch! This new Branch was recently formed by our enthusiastic and active Swansea members, who have been keeping the torch of Socialism alight in South Wales for some time. We invite all readers in the Swansea area who are unable to personally attend Branch meetings to make a point of contacting the secretary (See Branch Directory, page 146. for details)

The two Glasgow branches, City and Kelvingrove are going to amalgamate their forces. watch this column and the Branch directory for more details.

Letter: Classless Society (1936)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Canning Town,
London, E.16.

Dear Sir,

In a copy of The Socialist Standard left at my house I notice a phrase is frequently used, i.e., "The Classless Society." Will you kindly explain as fully as possible what you mean by this?

It appears to me that such a position, if ever achieved, could not remain in practice, for surely the members of the community holding the more responsible positions and directing "the centralised machinery of administration" (quoted from The Socialist Standard, December, p.54) would, and could, fairly ask for greater recompense in return for shouldering this responsibility. It follows, them, that there will be, as at present, many varying grades or classes of society—graded according to their abilities; the only class which will not then be extant being the person deriving an income from capital investment.

This, I think, is what the phrase must mean, but allowing that such is the meaning, it appears to be a most vague manner of describing the position I have mentioned previously. However, I should be very pleased to know your definition of the "Classless Society."

Wishing your policy, which I gather is the educating of the general public to an understanding of Socialism, every success.
                                                                                                                            I remain,
                                                                                                                                     Yours, etc,.
                                                             A. H. Kincey.

A careful study of the copy of The Socialist Standard, to which the above correspondent refers, should have convinced him that the S.P.G.B. only knows of two classes in present-day society, namely, the working class and the capitalist or master class. It is the exploitation of the former by the latter which gives rise to the manifold problems with which we are confronted, including the particular one which is puzzling him. The workers are graded and degraded because the structure and purpose of capitalism make that necessary.

Grades, however, are not classes. Hundreds of thousands of workers are promoted to more or less responsible and better-paid positions in the course of their lifetime. Very few can, however, change their class. Those promoted go on working for the master class in once capacity or another; quite unlike those rare ones who suddenly find themselves being left fortunes by hitherto unheard of uncles in the Colonies, or who succeed in winning the Irish sweep.

The reason for the illusion that the more highly-paid workers belong to a different class from those to whom they give orders arises from this very fact, that they are specially paid, not merely to administer affairs in the technical sense, but to supervise or maintain in one way or another the exploitation of their nominal subordinates. Although they receive greater recompense for this work, many of their subordinates are usually as competent, technically, as themselves.

In the very early days of capitalism, the capitalists themselves had to perform this task; but the growth of their capital enabled them to employ special wage-slaves for the purpose, on whom they conferred in varying degrees the appearance  and some small portion of the substance of social superiority. So great have the powers of production grown to-day, however, that there are, not only a multitude of unemployed labourers of varying degrees of skill, or lack of it, but also a growing number of unemployed technicians and administrators of all types.

The multiplicity of parties and the fierce competition in the political area is one expression of this. Under Socialism, however, the principle of co-operation will apply, not merely inside the individual factory or other industrial establishment, but throughout the whole process of social administration. The motive for effort will be neither private profit for the masters, nor individual wages for the slaves. The production and distribution of wealth as efficiently as possible will be in the common interest of all.

This will rule out any need for "grades" (or "classes" as our correspondent terms them) among the workers. As social equals they will be free to develop their abilities in any desired direction to the fullest possible extent. The material means for their training already exist or could be rapidly produced when the restrictions imposed by capitalist conditions have been removed. There will, therefore, be no lack of trained men and women capable of occupying responsible positions interchangeably, and their development into a class or caste is inconceivable. This was made possible and necessary in ancient times only because of the limited resources and small wealth-producing capacity of society in those days.

Economic development has given rise to priests and patriarchs, feudal lords and capitalists in turn. Each of these groups have evolved into classes and dominated society for a period only. New conditions and new needs have brought about the downfall of all, save the last-named, who now stand confronted by the heirs to the slavery of the ages. The emancipation of this class, however, the working class, involves that of all mankind, and the accomplishment of the goal of history, the classless society.
E. B.