Sunday, December 20, 2015

Is Socialism Atheism? (1928)

Editorial from the April 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have become famous! Our booklet on Socialism and Religion has been quoted in the very respectable organ of Puritan America, the Boston Evening Transcript. In a discussion on the attitude of Socialism towards Religion in their columns, a supporter of Religion quotes long extracts from our pamphlet to the discomfiture of the so-called “ Christian Socialists.” In an attempt to reply a lady (Edith Williams) writes from Brookline, Massachusetts, as follows (January 27th 1928) about the S.P.G.B.
This organisation is a tiny and unimportant body of less than 1,000 members, which does not belong to the Labour and Socialist International, to which the British Labour party, the Socialist party in this country, and all the important Socialist parties throughout the world are affiliated, largely because it refuses to abide by the regulation that religion is a private matter and that no one may attack religion from a Socialist party platform. There are, no doubt, Socialists who are atheists just as there are Democrats and Republicans who are atheists, but when they insist on attacking religion from a Socialist party platform they are, of course, excluded from the party just as the Socialist party of Great Britain is excluded from the British Labour party.
This letter is typical of the religious fraternity. It dodges the essential question and argues that we have only small numbers. From that angle the ” Socialist Party of America ” is ruled out of court. If numbers decide and not principles, then the Republicans and Democrats are right. If numbers are the test of truth, the great mass of workers who supported the last war were right and Socialists were wrong. Even judged by their own party (the S.P. of America) they are wrong to-day, because that party once claimed over 100,000 members whilst to-day they number a few thousands!

The arguments and evidence supplied in our pamphlet, proving that Socialism and Religion are fundamentally opposed to each other, are ignored by the apologist of the Socialist Party of America.

The lack of knowledge of this "harmoniser ” of Socialism and Religion is shown in her false statement that we were excluded from the British Labour Party!

Excluded! The Socialist Party of Great Britain, unlike the Communists, has never tried to join the Labour Party. We are Socialists. We stand for the interests of and appeal to the working class alone. The Labour Party has a capitalist programme and has within its ranks Tories, Liberals and all shades of opinion except Socialists. The Labour Party appeals not to a class, but to the community, as Ramsay MacDonald told the Ilford electors at the bye-election just over.

We are opposed to the Labour Party and therefore exclude ourselves from that party of supporters of capitalism. Not on the ground of religion, but on the fundamental grounds of the class struggle, which includes our attitude towards religion as just one item of conflict. The Labour Party, like the S.P. of America, appeal to all shades of superstition because they want votes and not Socialists.

The real purpose of this brief article is to draw attention to the distortion of our attitude by avowed anti-Socialists. The writer who quoted our pamphlet in the Boston [Evening] Transcript has written a booklet for the "Movement against Socialism in the Church,” entitled Is Atheism inherent in Socialism?

This booklet quotes our pamphlet extensively and also re-hashes a large number of quotations from alleged Socialists that he has culled from such Catholic Handbooks as Father Ming’s "Religion of Socialism,” and Jesuit Cathrein’s "Socialism.” His only “quotation” from Marx is a fake. He accuses Marx of saying: ” The idea of God must be destroyed; it is the keystone of a perverted civilisation.” His authority for this is not Marx's own works, but the religious writer Peabody, in "Jesus Christ and the Social Question." Like most of our opponents he has not read Marx's own work but lifts alleged quotations from others. Any student of Marx would easily see that the view fathered on Marx is foreign to all Marx's materialist views. Marx never held that capitalism was a perverted civilisation. He never held that ideas were keystones of society. His views were entirely contrary to that. What Mr. Peabody has done is to kindly take the outburst of Bakunin (the Anarchist and idealist opponent of Marx) from the Manifesto of the Swiss and Anarchist so-called International Working Men's Association. Bakunin and other 'Anarchists' violent and futile denunciation of "Gods" was opposed by Marx and Engels, who held that Socialism was not Atheism, but a positive and constructive attitude towards life and society involving a recognition of the material basis of social relations and institutions.

The views of Marx are not dealt with by the supporters of religion. The claim that Socialism is Atheism ignores the fact that Atheism is a negative attitude towards belief in the "Gods" whereas the materialist view of history held by the Socialist leaves no room for gods or spooks in our outlook on the world, but explains the rise as well as the exodus of ideas of "Gods and Ghosts" by the changes in the conditions under which men work and live. The Socialist does not set out to destroy the idea of God—that is the idealist, topsy-turvy policy of Atheism. Our policy is to recognise the cause of social beliefs and to work for the establishment of a system whose social conditions men can understand without believing in the "Hand of God."

What is the State? (1950)

From the July 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE state, said Kant, is the outcome of reason. The state, said Hegel, is the realization of moral principles and concrete freedom. “I am the state,” announced Louis the fourteenth of France. The modem echo of this by the Fabians might well be “We are the state.”

Perhaps the most fashionable theory of the state, extant, tends to see it as an institution established in the interests of society as a whole, its purpose being to arbitrate on and reconcile conflicting interests which themselves are a result of social existence. The state on this view assumes an above the battle impartiality in maintaining social stability. Such a view might superficially seem to fit in with a considerable body of observed fact and in line with present day political tendencies.

The weakness of this viewpoint lies in the fact that it is generally tacitly accepted that the present system of property relations is given, and, apart from minor modifications, is in essentials unalterable. In this way it avoids the question of asking how did a particular class system come into being and contents itself with investigating how conflicting social groups adjust their differences and disputes. It then deduces that the state is the only social institution which can perform this function for the benefit of society in general.

The class structure of a given society is not however a natural or ordained order of things. As Marx showed in his historical studies there have been other class systems each with a form of state corresponding to its particular method of production.

The chattel slave empires of Egypt, Babylon Greece and Rome, all had a form of state suitable for the requirements of a slave society. Feudalism proper, i.e. the evolution of the warrior chief to the lord of the manor was a social and political Unit. Political authority was vested in the hands of the few, being as it was, an authoritarian productive system based on serfdom. Such a system produced its organizational counterpart in religion (the Roman Catholic Church), the family and education. What can be deduced as a general proposition from any set of private property relations is that the privileged class were the owners of the means of production and whose social well being depends on a class who work but are non-owners.

But not only have there been different forms of the state there have been societies without states. In primitive tribalism for instance there was the right of all to free access to the common wealth of the tribe. Consequently no contending groups could exist. Neither was it possible for a coercive authority to exist, to guarantee and perpetuate the properly rights of a privileged few.

As a result of productive development, e.g., the domestication of animals, the knowledge and use of agriculture, the discovery of iron, man was able to produce a surplus over and above the bare needs of the tribe. The notion of personal appropriation, i.e. the idea of private property began to evolve. Under the impact of new economic forces the old communal ties and loyalties of early society began to break down. Society became cleft into social groups with antagonistic economic interests. From the elected tribal chief and early patnarchalism evolved an institution whose function it was to protect and sanction property rights and yet prevent these antagonisms from developing into social disruption.

The state is not then logically prior to society as Hegel contended not as Burke, the founder of modern political conservatism, held, part of a divine moral order. Society is not the outcome of some metaphysical principle called the state but the state itself is the product of social development.

The state comes then, to exercise a sovereign power. Not only does it control the administrative and legal machinery but its control over the armed forces of the community provides the physical means upon which all social authority finally rests.

Private property is not however merely the ownership of things but is rooted in the social relations of men. Property rights give the owners of the productive resources not only freedom from labour but the power to control and dispose of the labour of others.

The state, so far from being the outcome of political reason, is not even the third man in the social ring of contending classes. The function of the state is not then to impose an agreement on all classes in the interests of society as a whole but to impose an agreement on the subject class for the continuance of a condition of affairs not in line with its own interests. The state is not then the sublimation of social differences but the expression of irreconcilable class antagonism The state will exist as long as classes exist.

The historic mission of a subject class, if economic development in the old social set-up is favourable to its advancement, is to capture political power and fashion the state in accordance with its own class interests, based upon a new method of production. Today the working class is the subject class. It is the only class therefore that has an interest in expanding the productive forces and regulating them on the lines of its own interests. But its position of economic servitude cannot be changed without revolutionizing the productive relations which make servitude indispensable for the continuance of a privileged class. A new set of social productive relations becomes necessary based upon free access by all to the means of living. This alone provides the social basis on which the free development of one is a condition for the free development of all.

The working class, like all subject classes must gain political power in order to make effective its own claims. But the working class is in historic order the last subject class. In abolishing itself as a working class it abolishes all classes. With the disappearance of classes the state disappears and gives way to an administration of affairs.

If we accepted the non-Marxist view that the state is an institution which allows all classes a participation in state power, then the real struggle between classes would be located, not in society, but in the state itself. It follows then that the non-privileged section of the community would use such power to try and arrange a set of conditions favourable to itself. In such circumstances there would only result internecine strife and complete social instability. It is only the Marxist view of the state which can explain not only the degree of permanence of a given social order but guarantees the possibility of continuous development.

From the Marxist view of the state it can be empirically demonstrated how economics, politics and the class struggle tie in with each other. For instance in the early 19th century capitalism, the unrestrained character of exploitation would have led to a catastrophic decline in workers' productivity and consequently, profits. The state power, because it aims at preserving the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, was forced at length to intervene with factory legislation on the length of the working day, even though it ran counter to the immediate advantage of certain sections of the capitalist class.

Also the fierce class resistance of the workers against this crippling exploitation was a powerful factor in forcing concessions via state agency, because such resistance threatened the stability of a profit-making society. Moreover the fight for the repeal of the corn-laws by the industrial capitalists, i.e. the import cheaper agricultural produce and the consequent cheapening of the price of labour power, compelled them to a change of front towards the workers. They promised them not only the ten-hour bill but a double sized loaf.

After the repealing of the corn-laws, the workers found support for their claims from the Tories, smarting as they were under the loss of certain economic advantages. State intervention favourable to the workers thus received support from the two great political parties as the result of the rivalry between landowner and free-trade capitalist.

As the result of technical development, more expensive and complicated machinery came into use. It thus became necessary to have a more educated worker. Education acts were introduced to give workers’ children the training necessary for a wage labour status and also to imbue a sense of responsibility and even concern for their masters’ property. Board of Trade regulations for the safer running of machines became necessary and with them, of course, workmens’ compensation acts. With the growth of wide-spread poverty and destitution caused by the economic effects of capitalism. the state was compelled eventually to legislate on health insurance acts, old age pensions and unemployment insurance. State activity regularizes and normalizes the exploitation of the vast majority. The state is concerned then not with the limitation of capitalist property but with its protection.

It can now be seen why socialism cannot be achieved through piece meal reforms. Reforms may modify the workings of capitalism but they never threaten its social structure.

The development of capitalism also compels the state to acquire an ever increasing number of economic functions. Certain monopolistic growths in capitalism come into conflict with the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. For instance, monopolistic practices in such spheres as transport, gas. electric power, constitute a threat to the majority of capitalist enterprises which use them. State intervention becomes necessary to curb such abuses in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. The purpose of political controls is to ensure as far as possible the smooth running of various branches of capitalist production; to ease friction between the various sections of the capitalist class; to regularize and spread over some part of the capital resources of the ruling class in the main field of capitalist production.

The growth of Imperialism also integrates the political functions of the state with the economic functions of capitalism, i.e. the need for military protection in defence of the interests of its nationals. As the late Joseph Chamberlain once put it: “All the great offices of state are occupied with commercial affairs. The Foreign Office and the Colonial Office are chiefly engaged in finding new markets and defending old ones. The War Office and the Admiralty are mostly occupied in preparation for the defence of these markets, and for the protection of our commerce.”

It is not then, the programmes and policies of political parties which determine the basis of state activity but state activity which, in order to try and solve problems, posed by the development of capitalism itself, forces these programmes upon them. That is why the main burden of the party which comes to power is to implement and supplement the work of the retiring government. The only difference between them is how far the state should intervene in the economic functions of capitalism. Even in this respect, if we take as significant some of the recent statements of Labour spokesmen on the desirability of removing as quickly as conditions permit, certain controls; their admission of the limitations of nationalisation and the necessity for a large and efficient private sector in industry, then even such superficial differences look like being whittled down to vanishing point. It must be realized that such alleged differences between Conservative and Labour parties serve as a convenient ideological basis for ostensible political rivalry. The Labour party see the state, not as an instrument of class domination, but as a neutral social agency which can be used by different people for different ends. For them it is not what the state is but who runs the state which is crucial. On this view the state can be used in the interests of the non privileged class, just as, in other hands it can be used for the benefit of the privileged class.

Such a party, which seeks to become a mass party based upon popular reforms, faces an impossible task. In t'te first place its activity is limited by supporters who do not want to effect a real change but only to change certain effects. To attempt to go beyond this limited outlook would not only lose them actual support but scare potential followers away. It aimed at becoming the governmental power and at the same time to hold itself free from the taint of capitalist influences. It proposed to administrate capitalism and in addition to reduce the capitalist class to economic impotence or at best to allow them to exist only on sufferance until such time as they could be disposed of. Having agreed to accept capitalism even if only temporarily as they fondly hope, they arc forced to work with it and for it. From that moment they are engulfed in the economic processes of capitalist society. To attempt to extricate themselves from such a position would not only be disastrous for them as a party administrating capitalism, but impossible.

Such a party of course inevitably attracts the politically ambitious. Political trading based upon the attaining of political advantages becomes the rule rather than the exception. In this way it comes to accept all the rules of the political game and ends up by becoming respectable.

Reform parties under capitalism are necessary because capitalism is a reformist system par excellence. From the far-off days of the 19th century on to Chartism, the New Liberals, the New Tories, on to the Labour Party, Popular Front and the New Deal, capitalism has reformed itself again and again. Yet the more it is reformed and threatened with further reforms the more securely does it establish itself. Only the socialist realises that the great destroyer of capitalism is the inner contradictions of capitalism itself. "The greatest barrier to capital is capital itself."

It is this lack of understanding of the nature of capitalist society and the role of the state which allowed idealists of the Labour Party to indulge in a social dream world. Believing they could reform capitalism piece-meal and peacefully in the interest of the majority, they abstracted in their minds from capitalism all the features which make it capitalism.
Ted Wilmott

As others see us (1966)

From the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Working class history, or Labour History at it has come to be known, has had something of a boom in recent years especially as to the origins of the Labour Party, a period during which the Socialist Party also came into existence. Yet in this boom literature references to the Socialist Party, other than footnotes as to its formation, arc surprisingly sparse. There is hardly any discussion as to why those who founded our party felt obliged to leave the Social Democratic Federation. It is always a temptation for small groups like ourselves to see behind such things a "conspiracy of silence" so we must be wary of drawing any rash conclusions.

Yet this consideration alone does not seem adequate to explain the lack of any serious study of the Socialist Party by British Labour historians. Most of those who go into this field do so because they have political leanings in this direction; most are members of the Labour Party and a not inconsiderable minority arc associated with the so-called Communist Party. Nearly all of them must be aware of the Socialist Party and of its criticisms of these two parties which are at the same time criticisms of their own political positions. Here perhaps we can find the source of the unorganised, but still very real, bias against the Socialist Party in this quarter, a bias which becomes obvious when they do condescend to mention us. It is more than an accident that the only historian so far to have done a scholarly study of our party comes not from Britain but from Japan.

Max Beer and G. D. H. Cole were pioneers in this field of Labour history and it is interesting to compare what they said with later writers. Beer wrote in 1919 that the members of the Socialist Party “with much perseverance and self-sacrifice have been disseminating Marx's views on economics and political class warfare". The Socialist Party, he wrote, “was very active in spreading Marxist theories and it opposed all other political parties, whether they were calling themselves Socialist or Labour. It emphasised the importance of proletarian political action on strictly revolutionary lines". Cole wrote dial in the eyes of the Socialist Party 
political action as practised by the other Socialist bodies was mere reformism, but it was also of the opinion that Trade Union action was doomed to futility as long as the capitalist system remained in being. Strictly revolutionary political action alone would help the workers and the only activity that was justifiable under existing conditions was the persistent education of the working class for its revolutionary task.
Compare these honest and more or less correct attempts to explain our views with the following offered by the "communist" historians. Morton and Tate, in their The British Labour Movement. 1770-1920 (1956):
In I905 another split took place in the SDF, when part of the membership this time mainly centred in London formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a body so sectarian that it adjured both politics and trade union action, believing that socialism would come when everyone was converted. Fifty years later it was still a tiny sect, mainly concerned with echoing propaganda hostile to the Soviet Union.
This view of us as a socialist sect trying to convert the world to a particular brand of socialism has been deliberately fostered by the so-called Communist Party. One of the first to refer to the Socialist Party as a sect was the leading "communist" Tom Bell in his autobiography Pioneering Days (1941). Hobsbawm provides a variation on the same theme in his Labouring Men (1965) where the Socialist Party is a “conventicle". T. A. Jackson in his autobiography Solo Trumpet (1953), refused to mention the Socialist Party by name despite his being one of the original members. But the mysterious “Imperialist" group he mentions be was associated with was in fact the Socialist Party.

The one scholarly examination of the founding of the Socialist Party is by C. Tsuzuki in an article, “The Impossibiist Revolt in Britain", in the International Review of Social History (1956). Those who left the SDF to form the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Party were called Impossiblists because they were said to have held that any improvement of the lot of the working class under capitalism was “impossible". Tsuzuki's article is mainly historical but does to a certain extent discuss the issues involved. He also mentions that the Socialist Party still exists As he wrote in another of his works, H. M. Hyndman and British Socialism (1961), the Socialist Party "refused to accept any programme of palliatives and was thus in the strictest tense 'impossiblist'—as indeed it remains today". Tsuzuki, unlike Morton, Tate and Hobsbawm, at least tries to keep his own views and the facts apart. No asides about “sects" and “conventicles" appear in his writings.

Unfortunately the view of the Socialist Party as a sect out to convert the world has spread from “communist" books to other fields. Thus H. G. Nicolas in The British General Election of 1950 (1951) at which we contested two seats wrote:
Less sullied even than the ILP by the contamination of practical politics was the “SPGB”—the Socialist Party of Great Britain. This was a group of non-violent Marxists, who preached an undiluted gospel of class struggle and poured an equal contempt on every other party, including Labour and the Communists . . . Their propaganda had the austere purity of perfectionism, offering, as they truly said, no vote-catching promises Their candidates had the self-effacing devotion of members of a monastic order.
and again J. P. M. Millar in The Nature of Politics (1962):
Small parties, and parties in their early stages of growth, are often lofty in their aims and united in purpose. Some remain so; these we may call sectarian or interest parties, maintaining a narrow but consistent concern, from which they are not deflected by electoral considerations The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) and its associated parties in other countries provide a clear example. Such parties put doctrinal considerations above all others They insist that the gospel must not be diluted by considering other peoples opinions. They are not daunted by smallness and ineffectiveness, arguing either that everyone will come round to their views in the end. or that mankind is, in general, too stupid to see what is good for it. In this they are very much akin to minor Christian sects.
The view of the Socialist Party as a sect persists to such an extent that it is worth looking into the matter in more detail. In the early days of the socialist movement the phrase “socialist sect" was used to refer to groups of Utopian socialists like the followers of Saint Simon and Robert Owen. These groups did resemble religious sects in that they set out to convert people to their ideal system; they had no understanding of the social world and tended to ignore politics and the struggle of the working class. What Marx did was to turn the theory of socialism from such Utopianism into a science: socialism was the next stage in the evolution of human society and would be realised as a result of the struggle of the working class to free itself from wage-slavery. The Socialist Party has always accepted Marxian, or scientific, socialism so that it is only by distortion that we can be likened to the old Utopian socialist sects. Wc do not “adjure politics and trade union action" as Morton and Tate claim. On the contrary we hold that all such actions should be based on a recognition of the class struggle. Wc argue that at the present time all that socialists can do is to help the working class come to see that only through socialism can their social problems be solved or, as G. D. H. Cole put our position, the only activity that is justifiable under existing conditions is "the persistent education of the working class for its revolutionary task".

“Sectarian" is a "communist" swear word. Lenin held that the function of a party of socialists was to try to lead the working class; to take up any demand that happened to be popular and to try to win power with the support of such discontented workers. This view, though quite at variance with the view of scientific socialism that the workers must free themselves, does provide a new definition of “sectarian", namely a group of socialists who stand aside from the so-called day-to-day struggle and thus give up all chance of using popular discontent to get political power. Since we have never had this as our aim, considering ourselves not as a “vanguard" but rather as an instrument which the working class can use, this reproach is pointless. We are not Leninists or Bolsheviks and it doesn't matter to us if we are criticized for not acting as such! The term "sectarian" is a red-herring and a convenient excuse for not considering the real issue: can capitalism be made to benefit the working class?

As an organisation which contests elections we qualify as a minor political party and so are subject to study from this angle too In the Political Quarterly (July-Sept., 1962) Nicolas Harman discusses the Socialist Party in an article, "Minor Political Parties in Britain". This article, though a genuine attempt to examine our views, still misunderstands them. For some reason, perhaps because of his own views, Harman tries to express our aim not in terms of the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism but rather of "the dissolution of the State" which gives our views an anarchist slant. Thus Harman says we argue that the Russian revolution was not a socialist revolution because “it preserved the structure of the State in the form of state capitalism".

Again, "all leadership leads to dictatorship; only by persuasion and education can the abolition of the State he brought about". The Socialist Party, he says, "continues its uncompromising path, not advocating any reforms short of the establishment of socialism by persuasion of a majority of the people". George Thayer in his very superficial book, The British Political Fringe (1965), also puts over our views as if we think that socialism will come purely because of our educational efforts. The Socialist Party, he writes. believes that
only through the education of the working classes will pure Marxist Socialism be achieved. It does not imply that capitalism and the parliamentary system can he reformed. Capitalism must be destroyed, it believes. but only when the working classes have a "conscious understanding and desire for Socialism". At that time, capitalism will peacefully disappear and Socialism will take its place . . . They keep on struggling . . . secure in the belief that when their brand of Socialism arrives they will have properly educated the working classes not only to accept its arrival but to welcome it as well.
Both Harman and Thayer misunderstand our position and make us out to hold views which would justly lay us open to the charge of being a mere sect—that we are out to convert the world to our “brand of Socialism". Perhaps some of our activities might suggest, to a superficial observer, such an interpretation. Still those who fancy themselves fit to write books should take the trouble to go beyond mere appearances. They have no real excuse for misunderstanding us especially as they arc given literature to read which clearly explains the theory behind our practice. As Marxists, wc accept the validity of historical materialism and do not subscribe to any facile theory of social change.

Before summing up, we must mention the not unfriendly reference to us in A Faith to Fight For (1964) by Eric Deakins. The author, a member of the Labour Party, does discuss our view that "socialism will only come about when the workers recognise that it is in their economic interest to create a Socialist society”. What is important about this book is that it represents a breakthrough: our views are actually discussed in a.serious book on politics. Wc can only hope that Deakins has set a precedent.
Adam Buick

Trained to kill (1997)

The Last Word Column from the February 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nobody likes a bully—unless he has a medal on. Her Majesty’s well-paid bully-boy, ready to blow to pieces any stranger his masters set him upon. Bullies in uniform.

At least the street bully, thuggish and anti-social as he is, acts from self-interest. Beat up that old woman—frighten that mother with kids—scare the hell out of that kid— and they’ll give you their money. The working-class bully is a disgrace to society. But he’s a disgrace created by a system of society which rewards the most ruthless predator. The street thug is only doing what the supermarkets do to the comer shop; what Murdoch does to the small-fry press; what Uncle Sam does to the neighbouring country which can’t defend itself against him. I’m bigger and tougher, says the bully, and capitalism likes a callous brute.

But the hired bullies are an even lower breed. Whereas the anti-social mugger thinks that he can use his boots and fists to become one of the rich kids, the wage-slave in bully’s uniform is content to stay a slave, but uses his boots and fists so that the rich kids can stay rich or get richer. The military bully is the human fighting dog—the bulldog breed, they call them—who will leave his wife widowed and children fatherless to that somebody else can get rich—stay rich. Pitiful thug, all dolled out in his Action Man kit, mud on his face to disguise his humanity, and gun in his hand to show any brave opponent that he will fight muscle with bullets, the soldier is one of the most disgusting distortions of humanity that capitalism has conceived in its perverse history.

But out of that particularly distasteful brand of state-paid bully there is a sub-group which is even more malignant than the rest. These are the bullies who are trained to kill strangers from the air. At least the pathetic thugs in the army have to walk through dangerous streets occasionally and pop their mud-stained heads up above the trenches to face their masters’ enemies. And the naval bullies have to endure months at sea being treated like a Ship of Fools, sailing from here to there in voyages of pointless enmity against whichever stranger the Admiral class picks for them. But the Air Force contains the scum of state thuggery. What could conceivably be more uncouragously intimidating and vicious than to travel by jet to distant lands and, from vast distances in the skies above, drop bombs which kill people whom you have never met and whose language you cannot speak.

We are trained to forget. So, the bombing of Libya fades into the bombing of Iraq and that fades into the Vietnamese atrocities, and who even remembers about the villainous aerial bombing of Dresden by “the democratic allies” in which more bowed, defeated and defenceless Germans were killed than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (two more successful targets for the sky terrorists)? Thatcher was not alone in calling for the bully bombers to do their business in Bosnia, killing vast numbers of workers whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Voices from the British Left conspired with the likes of Thatcher to call for such aerial warfare. These were doubtlessly the same people who had once praised “the wonderful Soviet Air Force” whose planes were poised to fly over Britain and kill thousands of workers here with the press of a button. The bomber from the skies does not select victims on the basis of any kind of justice, however misplaced. Aerial bombing is indiscriminate in its slaughter. In Baghdad the USAF and the RAF killed children as they played. This was Dunblane with precision accuracy, carried out with the blessing of Church and State, and with the killers given medals upon the completion of their sick deeds.

And when they return, these uniformed murderers, they have children whom they love and care for, and dogs which they take to the vet when they limp, and they give money to charities because they feel sorry for neglected whales or crippled war veterans. In short, they are bullies by profession, not by birth. Their sick behaviour takes arduous training to develop. One day they are spotty teenagers, standing in the dole queue and wishing they could make a living wage out of doing something decent. And then the wages of military indecency are offered to them and off they go to train to kill. Look carefully next time you pass an RAF Careers Office. They are buildings which humans shall one day be ashamed to remember. They are bastions of the inhumanity which the profit system needs, like a vampire needs blood.
Steve Coleman



Rebellion is not enough (1987)

From the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
When a party, group or movement presents itself as "revolutionary" it is necessary to ask some questions about it:

  • Does it possess an understanding of the capitalist system?
  • Does it possess a serious conception of the socialist alternative?
  • Does it propose a serious strategy for the revolutionary transformation of society?

In relation to most of the so-called revolutionary groups these questions are easily answered, always in the negative. For example, the Communist Party does not understand what capitalism is. has a wholly mistaken and misleading conception of socialism and cannot even agree within its own ranks about how to achieve revolution.

The situation was different when The Socialist Party was formed in 1904. There were groups in various parts of the world which did possess a considerable degree of understanding about what capitalism is and what socialism means. In the early days of our party it was recognised that there were others who were close to our aim and the main disagreement with them was about how to achieve a wageless, moneyless, stateless society. In the 1980s there are again some revolutionaries existing in parts of the world with whom socialists would not need to argue much about what socialism is but with whom we are in major disagreement on the question of how socialists must go about the task of working for the revolutionary transformation of society, and what “revolution" means.

Reading the new pamphlet produced by the Manchester-based group, Wildcat, it becomes clear that much of what these "council communists" have to say about capitalism and socialism is not very different from what The Socialist Party says. Their criticism of capitalism is elementary but correct, quite properly making the point that "Nothing could be further from the truth than the idea that state capitalism equals socialism, or a step towards it". (Capitalism and its Revolutionary Destruction — A Statement by Wildcat) What they say about socialism or communism — like The Socialist Party they use the words interchangeably — is reasonable enough: "A communist society such as we envisage is only possible on the basis of material abundance . . . Goods will be freely available and free of charge. Money will disappear . . . Work will be done because we want it to be done and want to do it. . ." But the most beautiful visions in the world are of no value unless they are accompanied by serious ideas and action to make them real. It is on that point that Wildcat must be criticised.

Within the first three sentences of the pamphlet there is the best and the worst of Wildcat. Sentence one: "Wildcat stands for the abolition of capitalism by communist revolution". Good. And what this means in practice is stated in sentence three: "We struggle in favour of strikes, riots and all other acts of rebellion against capitalism". But strikes are not "acts of rebellion against capitalism". In general, they are sectional efforts to obtain better wages and conditions for workers within capitalism. Neither are riots "acts of rebellion against capitalism". If Wildcat is committed to "struggle in favour of riots" we must assume that they recommend workers to have more riots — to indulge in more futile street fights in which workers always get hurt.

They also struggle for "all other acts of rebellion against capitalism". Such as assassination? Sabotage? We are sure the strikers and the rioters are waiting for further details. But why would workers, when we can take action against capitalism as a whole, waste time striking or rioting? Once enough workers understand and want socialism it will not be time to strike — stop work — but to work hard because the means of wealth production and distribution at that stage will become ours. Why riot against capitalism once you have understood that its real power will not be beaten by smashing workers' heads and workers' possessions?

According to Wildcat, the revolution will come about as a result of workers forming councils:
From the mass struggles which have occurred in East Germany '53, Hungary '56, France '68, Spain in the late Seventies, Poland '81 . . .  as well as the historical experience of the Russian and German Revolutions — we can see what the basic form of this organisation will be. It will be based around mass assemblies of everyone actively involved in the struggle, both in the workplaces and neighbourhoods, meeting daily or in permanent session. These assemblies will elect delegates to regional and inter/national assemblies to coordinate the struggle.
Firstly, it must be noted that all these examples of workers' councils were failures: they failed to oppose capitalism as a system or to prepare for socialism or to prevent themselves from being smashed by the state. Why is this? Because if you leave armed power in the hands of the state and then proceed to ignore the state by forming alternative councils (or soviets) the class which controls the state will use it to crush the councils. That is why it is vital for revolutionaries to gain control of the state — by democratic means. But Wildcat, with emphatic dogmatism, asserts that "revolutionaries do not. under any circumstances. participate in parliament or elections". Not "under any circumstances": even if there is a socialist majority which could send delegates into parliament for the single act of dispossessing the capitalist class Wildcat is opposed to such a politically wise course of action.

Furthermore, "under no circumstances" do revolutionaries participate in elections, we are told. Why not? If we are a minority we can use elections to publicise our alternative outlook and discover how many (more to the point, how few) of our fellow workers agree with us. If we are in a majority what have we to lose by winning the election? If the statement quoted is read literally and we are to assume that Wildcat is opposed to participation in any election — ever, under any circumstances — then we wonder how these "mass assemblies" will make decisions. Is voting to be rejected in principle? Can we assume that Wildcat never delegates any of its members to perform a function; if it does, do members refuse to elect such delegates? And what of the reference to electing delegates if revolutionaries, "under no circumstances" participate in elections?

Of course, there is one strong reason for opposing electoral methods and that is if it is thought that the revolutionaries will be in a minority at the time of the revolution. At times Wildcat seems to think like that:
For a while the fate of an entire struggle may depend on the courage and resolve of a small minority of militants. They need to organise themselves independently to carry out whatever actions are necessary. They are in the forefront of attempts to raise the aims and broaden the scope of the struggle.
No Leninist would disagree with that. Nor with the assertion by Wildcat that "the revolution itself will inevitably be a bloody affair". Brave talk. But who is going to spill this blood? If workers are in a majority in establishing socialism, as they must be if it is to be established, it is hardly likely that the minority which is non-socialist will last long in putting up bloody, undemocratic resistance to the revolution — even if they were foolish enough to try, which is not "inevitable". It is possible that an anti-socialist minority at the time of the revolution, seeing that they are up against a conscious majority which controls the coercive force of the state, will simply give up the struggle. Even if this recalcitrant minority does have to be contained, while The Socialist Party accepts the possible need to use force for that purpose, that is a very different matter from "a bloody affair". If, on the other hand, a minority under capitalism which has no conscious support from the working-class majority attempts to enact a revolution without winning electoral victory and gaining control of state power, we can be sure that "a bloody affair" would follow: the ruling class would crush the minority. It is all very well for Wildcat to announce that "We call for mutinies in the armed forces of all warring states" but this misses the point that wars are not commenced or directed by the workers in uniform but by the capitalist-controlled state.

The Socialist Party does not claim to have a blueprint for socialist revolution. Many of the crucial decisions regarding the transformation of society will need to be made by socialists as the movement grows to thousands, millions and then a majority. But in the late 1980s. while the world socialist movement is for the moment only a small minority, we have a responsibility to present a strategy for revolution which is credible. Maybe workers in the future will evolve better methods of transforming society but they will not look back on our Principles and accuse us of proposing a revolutionary means which is out of line with the revolutionary end. As for Wildcat and others in their tradition, their strategy amounts at best to adventurist phrase-making and at worst to a recipe for another crushed workers' rebellion.
Steve Coleman

Who will do the dirty work? (1981)

From the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s a familiar scene. You’ve been pointing out the absurdity of a system in which the people who produce all the goods and services have access only to what their wages can buy while the Tiny Rowlands of this world, good at inheriting and making money but nothing else, possess and enjoy enough wealth to buy anything that takes their fancy. You’ve suggested that it’s time to get rid of the wages system, money and the negative employer-employee relationship; time for people to produce goods not for their employer to make a profit but so that these goods can be freely and directly available to all who need them. But what about the dirty work? You answer this objection by pointing out that advanced technology, when used for the benefit of all, will leave hardly any ‘dirty work’ at all to be done. But your objector is still shaking his head, unconvinced: “You can’t mechanise everything. What I want to know is who’ll sweep the streets and collect the rubbish?”

It’s true that the mechanisation argument isn’t entirely convincing. It’s hard to imagine a world without any unpleasant work and anyway it’s not for socialists to try and predict the exact details of how socialism will be organised. Better to answer the objection by looking at what people mean, and assume, when they talk about ‘dirty work’.

Work that is messy, that gets your hands dirty, is usually considered dirty work. But not always. Doctors and nurses, for example, have close contact with human functions that are normally regarded as dirty yet few people would consider that they did dirty work. For most people dirty work doesn’t just mean dirt but dirt plus heavy monotonous activity requiring little skill or creativity. This sort of work couldn’t, most people believe, be done voluntarily. The only way to motivate people to do it, we’re told, is by offering them money.

Yet if we look around we find that even in today’s society most dirty work isn’t done for money. Who sweeps and scrubs the floors, dusts and polishes, does the washing and the washing up, changes the nappies and worse? Women usually do it, but whether women or men, they do it for nothing. If something like half the human race spends most of its time doing dirty work without getting a wage for it, can it possibly be argued that money is the only motivation that will get people to do this kind of work? In fact the opposite appears to be true, namely that people do any kind of work better when motivated by social need — in the case of most women the needs of their family.

But is dirty work as objectionable anyway as most people believe it to be? Behind the belief that it is, lie two main assumptions. The first is that people don’t like dirt. Is this true? Children certainly do, in spite of strict training to dislike it. And in later life many still enjoy such ‘dirty’ activities as messing with bike or car engines, playing rugby on a muddy pitch, digging the garden . . . The second assumption is that people will naturally steer clear of activities that are strenuous or boring. But this again isn’t entirely true. When people are after a given result, they’re quite capable of going for activities of just this kind: they’ll jog around the park or swim up and down the pool for the sake of health and fitness, they’ll dig a patch to grow vegetables in, they’ll sand down woodwork before painting it to get a smooth finish. Jogging, digging and sandpapering aren’t the most exciting, creative ways of passing the time, but many people will do them if it’s a means to a desired end.

After all this, you think you’ve convinced your objector that dirty work is no real barrier to socialism. But he’s still shaking his head: “No matter what you say, nobody would want to be a dustbin man ”. And he’s right; of course: nobody would want to spend their entire working life collecting dustbins. But that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t mind collecting dustbins occasionally, when it was socially necessary.

Unfortunately though, in the society we live in at present, work isn’t done on the basis of people cooperating to do what’s socially necessary. Work is done within the system of employment. People have to sell their physical and mental energies to an employer in order to earn the money that will buy them the necessities of life. Once they have contracted to sell their energies as, say, dustbin collectors or teachers or bank workers, they will have to carry it out for most of their waking hours, perhaps for the rest of their active lives. They do not see the desired goal that would give them the incentive to work willingly and enjoy ably (a pay packet is no substitute). The imposed daily stretch of work and the lack of variety make all jobs boring and unsatisfying. In these unattractive conditions any type of work becomes objectionable and dirty work becomes positively offensive.

In socialism people will no longer work for an employer or for a wage or salary but simply to achieve a desired result. All the completely negative work that has to be done today — such as the production of armaments and the killing and destruction (the real 'dirty' work) — will disappear. So will all the useless non-productive work associated with money and production for profit — such as insurance, banking, sales promotion . . . All work will be equally useful and necessary to society and no stigma will be attached to any of it. People will be free to create conditions that will make any task pleasant and interesting, and in the process they will be able to put technology — now ensnared by the profit motive — to its best use.

People don't mind getting their hands dirty nor their bodies tired. What they do mind is having to work under conditions that have taken all the pleasure out of work. Change the conditions (get rid of capitalism and establish socialism) and then the very concept of 'dirty work' will disappear.
Christine Moss


Law and Order in the U.S.A. (1968)

From the December 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

A member of the World Socialist Party of the US paints a somewhat frightening picture of politics in America

If you saw it only on television and stayed off the streets, the political situation in the United States this year seemed like a second-rate circus which had suddenly and dramatically risen in entertainment value. The star performers—Humphrey, Nixon and Wallace—were clowns at best, whose acts included the usual inane platitudes, empty promises, perpetual smiles, and abysmal ignorance of the system they defended. At worst, they were not clowns, but surrealist weasels, one of whom was seeking the power to provoke and crush insurrections, to fill the concentration camps which have already been constructed here under the McCarran Act, to complete the extermination of the Vietnamese, to bring on a chemical, biological, and/or atomic world war, and to turn the circus into a chamber of horrors whose only audience would be the eskimos lucky enough to survive the epidemics of anthracis and tularemia. 

The theme of all three performers was the same: change "our" military strategy in Vietnam and do something about law and order. Many U.S. "radicals" have been thoroughly shaken by Wallace's success among white workers, recalling that the Nazis succeeded with a similar combination of racist chauvinism and pretended hostility to big business. And indeed, his aggressive, anti-intellectual appeals to the racism and bigotry of his supporters are frightening to hear. But the actual policies that Nixon is (or Humphrey would have been) likely to adopt are no less frightening.

We should be grateful, in one way, that "law and order" became such a strident campaign issue in the election, because it gives us a chance to expose the primary aim of government. That aim is to protect the social order of capitalism. Government is the agency which maintains the control of the capitalist class over their property and their workers. It is essential to grasp the fact that a given form of government is the result of a particular social order, not the cause. Otherwise we cannot understand the true function of elections, and we cannot understand politics. Instead we will approach politics the way most workers do, and waste our time in futile and meaningless debate over the personalities of individual candidates.

The phrase "law and order: has the merit of calling our attention away from trivia like sales taxes, trade agreements, foreign aid, directly to the basis of politics itself—the structure of the society. That structure consists of two major classes: the capitalist class, who own the means for producing and distributing wealth, and the working class, who depend for their living on wages and salaries. There are groups which do not fit into either category, but the nature of the social order is determined by the relationship between these two classes.

Because the interests of the two classes are irreconcilable, they are most of the time locked in a struggle for power; and one cannot increase its power except at the expense of its opposite. The interests of the capitalist class are to conserve its right to property over industries and resources, invest capital, sell commodities for profit, expand world-wide markets, obtain cheap raw materials, control the social behaviour of non-owners and hire competent labor at the lowest possible cost. The pursuit of these interests forces the capitalist class to inflict misery on everyone else. They must break or emasculate unions. They must employ salesmen to lie and trick their way into homes and sell un-needed products, pay engineers to make cheap, dangerous cars, send police into the streets to club, stab, and shoot the people who cause trouble for them, and draft troops to deal with resistance to their power and hold onto valuable real estate.

The interests of the working class, whatever their color, are to find jobs, obtain decent living and working conditions, raise their wages, cling to their civil liberties, and ultimately, put an end to alienated work, take over control of society's wealth and distribute it for their own benefit.

The government is a class instrument, the means by which law is made and enforced. It regulates matters which concern the capitalist class as a whole, but which no one corporation or capitalist enterprise can manage by itself: interstate commerce, law enforcement, taxation, foreign investment subsidy, and suppression of threats to the capitalist system from riots or wars.

Politics for the workers is usually an exercise in futility. They choose between various capitalist candidates on the basis of a few speeches and television appearances, and hope for a law now and the in their favour. In times of social turmoil, most of them support candidates who re-assure them and promise to keep things normal. Having only a vague idea of their own interests, workers are swindled into accepting the best deal they can get from the capitalist parties. Time after time they scab on each other, smash their most militant political organizations, police and suppress the "radicals" among themselves who have begun to wake up, dilute their collective strength by using ethnic minority groups within their class as scapegoats, and fight and die in defence of the very property investments which exploit them. Then they are told that to vote for anything but a capitalist party is "unrealistic" because only capitalist parties can win elections.

The workers in short are a subject class. They are prevented from changing their position by their failure to see government as a class weapon. The schools teach them that government mediates between classes, and that they owe something to the government because it represents them. But no government, in a society made up of two classes with irreconcilable interests, can represent the interests of both classes. If it represents the interests of one class, then it is by definition suppressing the other. Either the government represents our employers, or it represents us. Either the government represents our employer, or it represents us. And since it protects our employers' monopoly over the nation's wealth, orders us to risk our lives in its defence, limits our right to strike and safeguards their right to exploit us, and maintains our cages for our "rehabilitation" in the event that we rebel against their authority, we should recognise that "law and order" in their mouths is just one more of the many frauds by which they remain in the seat of power.

Law and order means the law and order of General Motors, Standard Oil, Socony-Mobil, U.S. Steel—the law and order of the capitalist class. For the rest of us, law and order means ten thousand troops clubbing and gassing crowds of unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Chicago. More important, it means a system which enriches 10 per cent of the population at the expense of the other 90 per cent.

What capitalist politicians want us to understand by it, of course, is mothers being able to wheel their baby carriages through the park without getting raped, and smiling policemen who help little children across the street. But what their use of the tern suggests is that the ordinary methods of protecting the system are no longer working. Individual assaults on the property of the capitalist class are handled by courts and prisons; but the courts are not prepared to handle mass insurrections, nor are they equipped for things such as the guerrilla warfare that broke out last summer against the Cleveland police.

The phrase "law and order" is intended to prepare the politically ignorant majority of Americans for some extraordinary, perhaps unbelievably brutal, means to cope with dissent. The government, with working class support, may suspend what few civil liberties remain to the workers. It may draft half a million young men for continuous occupation of the major cities, and imprison the leaders of every organization which is considered subversive. It may dupe white workers into venting their discontent on black workers in a kind of domestic Vietnam. The future seems grim, and the only thing that will brighten it is the spread of socialist concepts.
Stan Blake