Monday, December 21, 2015

How much has Left-wing organization achieved? (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

In periods of keen left-wing activity, those who keep to the principles of Socialism are said to be stick-in-the-muds letting events pass them by. The argument is not simply that we ought to be swelling the agitation; it is that making issues and demands “radicalizes” the working class, or gets them in the mood for revolution. The picture is of an expanding movement building support as never before. It is quite false.

On 4th February 1974 The Times published information supplied by various organizations about their membership and policies and the circulations of their journals. The outstanding feature of all of them, with one exception, was their smallness. The Chartists, who advocated a general strike and that trade unions should institute military training, had a membership of 60. The International Marxist Group had “about 1000” and International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers Party) 4,000. The Workers’ Revolutionary Party gave no figure, but in 1974 was urging its members to try to get the numbers up to 1,000 by the end of the year. The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) likewise said its numbers were “secret”; two hundred might not be a bad guess.

The total membership of these five organizations is 6,000-plus. Together or separately, they are hardly in a position to sneer at the Socialist Party for not having recruited large numbers of workers. What most of them would claim is larger circulations for their papers, IMG’S Red Weekly was said to be selling 15,000 copies; the IS Socialist Worker 39,000; WRP’S daily Workers' Press 20,000; the Marxist-Leninists’ fortnightly The Worker 15,000.

Stony Ground
These presumably were print-order figures, and without doubt there is a good deal of overlap—people buying two or more of the papers regularly. But how much influence do they have? An obvious yardstick is election results. It can be assumed that the constituencies chosen by these parties are ones where the workers are thought to be well “radicalized” by protests and strikes, or made ready to listen by unemployment, and where sales of' the papers have been pushed.

In the 1974 General Election the Marxist-Leninists put up six candidates who gained 208, 334, 170, 107, 206 and 394 votes. IMG had three, who gained 90, 202 and 424. The WRP had nine candidates whose votes were 280, 52, 337, 263, 160, 760, 991, 240 and 1,108. The over-all average of these figures is 259; in a turn-out of, say, forty thousand it represents .065 per cent of the votes cast. In the Greater London Council elections in May this year the returns were no different. The four candidates representing left-wing groups polled 354, 361, 219 and 996.

After nearly twenty years of “new left” agitation the outcome is a few competing small organizations, getting electoral support which in total would not do for a Second Division football club. Certainly they make more noise, proportionate to size, than Socialists. One reason is that they take up reform demands which are already being made by sections of the Labour Party, Trades Councils etc. Another is that high membership dues and contributions from well-off members provide funds for printing. A high proportion of members in occupations such as teaching and journalism gives the impression of influence in important spheres. In fact, this underlines the failure of the left to achieve what it most wants to do, since it considers those occupations to be “middle class”. The “radicalization” of the working class remains elusive—naturally, because it is a myth.

What a Life
The exception in numerical strength is the Communist Party. Its membership was given as 29,000 in 1974 and is about the same today. Far from being the flower of radicalism, this comparatively high figure reflects a retreat from it. Before the last-war, when the CP agitated on similar lines with similar arguments to those of today’s left-wing groups, it had a membership comparable with theirs. It started with about 4,000, mostly drawn from the old British Socialist Party. Its numbers rose at the time of the 1926 General Strike, and fell sharply afterwards; in 1930 they were down to an official figure of 2,555. A marked rise came only after 1936, as a result of the Spanish Civil War and the Communists’ advocacy of a “Popular Front” government. During the war, after Russia became an ally of Britain and America in 1941 and the CP gave all-out support to the war effort, the numbers rose to a peak of 56,000,

Thus, when the Communist Party was trying to “radicalize” the workers it had a small number of members and was unsuccessful; its numbers grew only when it gave up making demands and talking of insurrections, and started doing the work of British capitalism. In the post-war years it fell steadily from 45,000 in 1945 to 33,000 at the beginning of 1956, after which there was a sharper fall due to the denunciation of Stalin and disagreements over Hungary. It has been said repeatedly that a large part of the the past thirty-five years have been “book” members only, characteristically those who joined in the excitement of the war.

One factor in disillusioning many Communists was the appearance of the CP policy statement The British Road to Socialism, in 1948. Following the Party’s war- time stand, it adopted an openly social-democratic attitude making proposals for the management of capitalism in Britain. A fresh version is being prepared In 1977, to be voted on at the Party Conference in November. Public meetings have been organized to discuss the draft, and the CP has invited Tribunites, SWP and IMG speakers to join in the debate (though IMG, in Socialist Challenge for 9th June, declared “total opposition” to The British Road). The present-day Communist Party is more or less despised by the others; it is bigger because it no longer pretends to be a revolutionary party, while they are where it was forty-five years ago.

Adding up
There is another way of looking at all this. Before the 1914-18 war the major left-wing parties were the ILP and the BSP. The Labour Party had no individual membership but was made up of affiliated bodies. With the creation of individual membership in 1918, followed by the formation of the Communist Party in 1920, most of the other groups and parties were swallowed up. The ILP kept a separate identity of sorts and in 1925 still had 50,000 members. Before disaffiliation in 1932 it had (according to Fenner Brockway) gone down to 16,000; when the ILP disaffiliated the majority stayed with the Labour Party, leaving a membership of about 5,000. The total of Communists, ILP and other smaller factions in the mid-thirties was probably about 20,000.

Since that time the numbers have not substantially changed. If the commonly-alleged amount of dead wood in the CP is taken into account, they may not have increased at all except proportionally to the increase in population. The ILP after its disaffiliation retained three Members of Parliament until a few years after the war, and the Communist Party had one MP from 1935 to 1950 (and a second from 1945 to 1950); both had a number of local councillors. Today none of the left-wing groups appears to have —despite persistent efforts—any prospect of getting a candidate elected at either level
The only changes are movements of members among organizations. The “new left” was generated in the late ’fifties and early ’sixties entirely by people who had parted company with the CP, and the members represent the CP's losses: i.e., it is what they would have joined but now reject. All the groups and parties have heavy membership turnovers. The break-up of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the mid- sixties produced, via the Committee of 100 with its “direct action” policy, a sudden and short-lived growth of the anarchist movement, which in turn yielded members for other groups. It is not uncommon to find people who in a few years have been through CND, direct action, the WRP’S predecessor the SLL, and perhaps is as well

Hole in the Road
No left-wing mass movement has ever existed. The idea that organizations today are winning support from a lot of “radicalized” workers, leaving the Socialist movement asleep at the post, has no relation to facts. The great majority of workers support capitalism through the established governing parties. A not-greatly-altering small minority want present rulers overthrown or some sweeping reform carried out; while the organizations come and go that they follow, Socialists continue to advocate Socialism as the only alternative to the existing order.

It may be asked why, if the left is a paper tiger, it receives so much publicity as a subversive influence in industry and politics. The answer is that this suits all concerned. For the employing class, it serves the myth that every working man is beatifically content until an agitator gets at him. For the major parties it provides scapegoats. It suits the organizations themselves in that it gives a reputation for being daringly against the way things are. It must be nice to become a Marxist not through studying the books but by having a label stuck on one’s coat.

Those who founded the Socialist Party of Great Britain were aware that the road might be a long one. In 1904 labour leaders had already turned their backs on the idea of working to achieve Socialism for that reason—it had not brought quick rewards. The history of the failures of left-wing organizations since that time makes crystal-clear that the Socialist attitude was and remains correct. Unless workers understand Socialism, they will go on supporting capitalism. The vision of short-cut “radicalization” has two tragic by-products. One is a number of disillusioned working people who were and are still led to expect big things which didn’t, and won’t, happen. The other is obstruction to Socialism: for, if all those who have said in seventy-odd years that they wanted a quicker substitute had acknowledged that no such substitute existed, we might have had the real thing by now.
Robert Barltrop

Rock 'n' Roll, the Sex Pistols and youth (1977)

From the April 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was once generally accepted that young people were to be seen and not heard. They were constantly being told to have respect for their elders, to dress decently, to watch how they talked, etc. etc. Youth were supposed to accept being “under the thumb”. In the 1950s this was changed. Due to their improved economic position, longer schooling and earlier maturity young people began to reject traditional roles and search for a new identity. Rock'n'roll music burst upon the scene. This music was exclusively for the young. It was loud, it had energy, it was audacious, it was about sex and it released the inhibitions bottled up inside of young people.

The term “rock’n’roll” was stolen from the black American rhythm-and-blues singers who used it as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. When the American record companies discovered that youngsters were buying these records they were both surprised (pleasantly, no doubt) and embarrassed. Surprised, because previously rhythm-and-blues was exclusively black music, played by blacks for black audiences. Embarrassed, because young white Americans were now going into the black districts to search out R-&-B records and attend concerts, which was unacceptable at the time (the Ku-Klux-Klan were furious). However, the record companies did not want to miss a good thing and so they re-wrote rhythm-and-blues songs to exclude the sexual content (“Dance with me Henry” for “Work with me Annie”) and had them recorded by white singers. Despite the efforts of the record companies and a wave of protest from the media, the churches and police forces from countries all over the world, rock’n’roll retained its basic character and popularity with young people for many years.

Ever since rock’n’roll “Youth” have been in the news. They have had an identity as a consumer group. The manufacturing industries discovered that they had a huge new market. A survey carried out in Britain estimated that people between the ages of 13 and 25 were drawing about £1,480 million a year in wages. The accompanying report concluded: “. . . there is now a business as well as a moral and psychological necessity to understand young people” (Dr. Mark Abrams, 1959). Once this was apparent, manufacturers turned over a large amount of their production to commodities aimed at the “youth market”. Note the high proportion of advertising today which is directed towards young people.

Youth have been associated with several “subcultures” over the last two decades. There were the “mods” who were around in the middle ’sixties. Their main hallmark was their dress: Paisley shirts, tartan socks, the mini-skirt etc. The styles had to be new, modern. Later on came the “hippies”. They rejected what they called the “materialistic” outlook and placed the emphasis on “awareness” or “aesthetic sensibility”. The ultimate hippy protest was to “drop out” of society by taking on a different life-style, forming small communes etc. The movement eventually died when it was realised that underneath all those mystic trappings the hippies were just another enormous group of consumers who bought gramophone records, stereos and drugs instead of cars, televisions and houses.

Next came the “skinheads” who had their origin in the East End of London, which at the time was going through tremendous change. Population was on the decrease, the docks and industry in general were moving out, the jerry-built terraced houses were being replaced by jerry-built tower blocks. The youth of this area formed the skinhead gangs and through them reacted violently to the violent changes going on around them. Unfortunately most of their anger was directed at immigrants who were, to them, a useful scapegoat. Consequently “Paki-bashing” became one of the activities pursued by some skinhead gangs. The latest sub-culture is the “Punk Rock’’ scene which has caused an almighty scare in the newspapers (and consequently among parents) in Britain. The “Sex Pistols”, it seems, will bring about the downfall of everything that is “good” about young people today. What happens when we compare the reaction to punk rock to what was said about rock’n’roll fans 20 years ago? “Notice! Stop: Help save the Youth of America. DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS. The screaming idiotic words, and savage music of these records are undermining the morals of our white youth in America”. (The Story of Pop, No. 1, 1974).

We’ve taken a very brief look at different ways youth have behaved at different times. One might conclude from the above that youth are rebellious. Many of them attempt to be “unconventional”. As for revolutionary, no! Certainly not! The sub-cultures mentioned above have been to a large extent “protests” and not practical attempts to solve social problems. We would also point out that a large section of young people are and always have been thoroughly conformist; the sections chiefly dealt with here and those who rub society up the wrong way.

What are the problems that face young people today? Do they differ that much from their parents? Just how wide is the so-called “generation gap”?

Few people, it seems, are happy at school. How often do we hear “School work is boring” or “School is a waste of time”? Why is there this feeling towards schools? We would say it is because schools do not operate with the objective of interesting pupils but of stuffing in facts and information which will enable you to go out to work for an employer for the next fifty years of your life. The education system is there to satisfy the needs of industry and commerce. The recent speeches of Jim Callaghan and Shirley Williams testify to this. Of course there is no guarantee that you will get a job when you leave school; you may well go straight onto the end of the dole queue.

Another complaint of the young is that there is little or nothing to do in their leisure time. Apart from the youth clubs with their emphasis on table tennis and orange squash, and maybe the odd disco, what is there? Well there’s television. Watching tv is the most time-consuming leisure activity of 65 per cent. of all 16-year-olds. (Britain's 16-year-olds, National Children’s Bureau Report, 1976).

The older generations suffer the same problems. While the young are bored and frustrated at school, their parents are bored and frustrated at work. If the only escape from TV for many of the young is the disco, then for many of the parents it is the local pub. The so-called “generation gap” is a myth. Most people want a reasonable standard of living, decent working conditions; nobody likes being fed up or bored and yet nearly everyone is. Why?

We say it is because of the system of society in which we live — capitalism. A system based not on the satisfaction of human needs but on the realization of profits by a small minority. In capitalist society, making a profit is what matters. If goods and services are not going to make a profit they will not be produced, regardless of the social consequences. Thousands go without a home and millions go hungry because it is not profitable to produce houses or food far those who cannot afford the market price.

What then is the solution to today’s problems? We say that it is the establishment of Socialism:
  • a world-wide system of society based on COMMON ownership, not state or private,
  • a democratic society WITHOUT leaders,
  • a system in which things will be produced solely for the satisfaction of HUMAN NEEDS,
  • where education will be freely available not only for the young but ANYONE seeking knowledge.

That is Socialism. That is what it means. Do young people agree with us? Do they want to establish Socialism? The answer is, sadly, only in small numbers. However, things are improving in that young people nowadays do show more interest in the world they live in and the solving of problems they see around them. We think the following is a good example of this.
A gang of skinheads as “The Collinwood” were asked to write a book expressing their views about such subjects as schools, jobs, violence, etc. After thinking hard about what they had written they came to this conclusion:
We need to change society. Change frightens people, any people. Not only the upper classes but our parents and us too. Change means revolution. People, even those who write and talk about revolution, think it means smashing everything up, bombing and shooting and killing people. They don’t hear when you talk about peaceful revolution, they still imagine bombs and things. They don’t realise that we don’t want to harm them as people but change the way we live. Most of the people who talk about revolution think of themselves as leaders and they want to take over after the revolution and replace the people who control us now. Instead of believing in equality they believe in power.
It is through equality that we get rid of class and exploitation.
The Paint House: Words from an East End gang. Penguin, 1972. Edited by Susie Daniel and Pete McGuire.
These words came from youths who, just two years earlier spent a part of their time “Paki-bashing”. Day by day there is more evidence why problems arise in capitalist society and the establishment of Socialism comes a little closer. We urge all workers (young or old) to consider our ideas, to decide whether or not Socialism is a practical solution to today’s problems. Socialism won’t be brought about by magic. It has to be understood, desired and worked for. If you agree with us you will be welcome to join the party (which incidentally has nothing as patronising as a “youth section”) and participate with us in the work for Socialism.
Ian Westgate

Revolting peasants of 1381 (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the midst of the most apparently solid and unchanging social structures, the cry for change is ever present. Six hundred years ago this month, in a feudal English society which gave legal and moral backing to the omnipotence of a mighty king and his ruling class of baronial landlords, a movement of resistance emerged to take on the established relationships of power. The existence of such a movement proves the essential contention of Marxist historical materialism: where there is a division between those who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution and those who do not there must be a class struggle.

To the contemporary observer, feudal society seemed to be rigidly unshakeable by popular dissent. The king had the right to own all land. The aristocracy were permitted to control areas of this land in return for feudal obligations, such as the payment of money or produce, the provision of peasants to fight in the king’s wars and the maintenance of the church and the law. The church, in return for the control of extensive lands, provided the king and the landlords with an efficient propaganda machine which morally, justified their class privilege in terms, that the most humble could comprehend. To oppose the church was heresy and the punishment for heretics was to be burnt alive. To deny that the ruling class were the divinely appointed masters of society was heresy. With such constraints upon them most people conformed.

Most people were peasants, dependent for their livelihoods upon the permission of a manorial lord to work on the land he controlled. Production was not primarily for the market as it is now, and neither was it simply for subsistence. The peasant had to work not only so that he and his family could have a pittance to ensure their survival, but also so that the barons, the bishops and the monarch could live in parasitic luxury. The peasant bore the burden of all the classes above him in the well-known feudal social pyramid. If he was a serf he was legally bound to work his master’s land for a certain number of days each week, leaving his spare time to work on the common land to provide for his own needs. There was a thin line between slavery and serfdom; at least a slave-owner had to feed, clothe and shelter his possession, whereas the so-called free peasant was often left to starve after he had satisfied his master’s needs.

Like capitalism today, one of feudalism’s main stabilising factors was the belief of most people that it would never change. Just as today there are workers who cannot conceive of a society in which they are not employed for wages, so under feudalism the vast majority of peasants believed that God had created the social structure for evermore. But the material contradictions thrown up by social formations have a habit of driving people to desire change. Resistance to the status quo is never the result of abstract ideals being conceived of by thousands of people, but arises from ideas which are the direct result of day to day experience.

Six hundred years ago the experiences of the peasants led to a mass movement of resistance to the poverty of their condition. The main immediate cause of the Revolt was the fall in the peasant population following the bubonic plagues of 1349, 1361, 1369 and 1375 which resulted in a serious shortage of—and therefore greater demand for—labour. Following the government’s Statute of Labourers, there was a widespread attempt by landlords to increase rents and feudal duties in order to compensate for their loss of tenants. If these did not serve to economically cripple the peasants, the successive government poll taxes to pay for the king’s wars were the final straw. In 1380 a tax of one shilling a head to pay for the king’s war with France led to rebellion. In May 1381 the rising began in Essex and soon spread to Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire .

The Peasants’ Revolt was more than a spontaneous outburst. Throughout the fourteenth century popular criticism of the feudal state was emerging. Geoffrey Chaucer’s cutting literary condemnation of the abuse of clerical power in The Canterbury Tales was part of a general disillusionment with the clergy’s claim to privilege. John Wycliffe and his Lollard supporters had burned for their questioning of church theory. The years leading to the Revolt produced some of the best versions of the Robin Hood folk legend about the robbery of the rich by the poor in order to get back some of the wealth which had been stolen from them. One ballad, of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough and William of Cloudesley is one of the most readable stories of class war—concerning three outlaws who take on the entire population of Carlisle—which this writer has had the pleasure to read. Social dissent was even spreading to the universities. John Bromyard, a Dominican friar and Chancellor of Cambridge University wrote that
The poor for their good works are not rewarded, but are so oppressed by the rich and powerful that however true a case a poor man may have against a rich man in this world, it will nonetheless happen to him as it did the lamb at the hands of the wolf . . . the poor man, indeed, if he steals the rich man’s food is hung. The rich man is not punished at all for seizing the goods of the poor, even when he is worthy of the gallows.
William Langland’s Piers Plowman, while not a radical poem, served nonetheless to describe the intolerable conditions of
. . . the poor in the cottage
Charged with a crew of children and
with a landlord’s rent.
What they win by their spinning to
make their porridge with
Milk and meal, to satisfy the babes—
The babes that continually cry for
This they must spend on the rent of
their houses . . .
Accompanying the immediate factors leading to the Revolt were dreams of a communistic future. Indeed, these were Utopian in vision and often based upon such notions as a popular monarchy or a religious brotherhood. Perhaps the greatest of the fourteenth century cries for Utopia was the anonymously written and extremely popular poem, The Land Of Cokaygne. Ignored by most modern literary critics as a harmless anticlerical satire, Cokaygne was a wonderful vision of a communist Utopia:
In Cokaygne we drink and eat
Freely without care or sweat
The food is choice and clear the wine
At fourses and at supper time,
I say again, and I dare swear,
No land is like it anywhere,
Under heaven no land like this,
Of such joy and endless bliss.
In Cokaygne,
All is day, there is no night,
There is no quarrelling nor strife,
There is no death, but endless life;
There no lack of food or cloth,
There no man or woman wroth.
The most amusing feature of the poem is
That geese fly roasted on the spit,
As God’s my witness, to that spot,
Crying out, “Geese, all hot, all hot!”
Every goose in garlic drest,
Of all food the seemliest.
Many of the peasants, artisans, merchants and lower clergy who participated in the Revolt of 1381 ultimately sought a society of human equality. When they reached London they showed that they meant business by executing the chief government Ministers, including the Chancellor and the Treasurer. On June 14 at Mile End in London, the peasants’ leader, Wat Tyler, demanded of King Richard II that
The property and goods of the holy Church should be taken and divided according to the needs of the people in each parish . . . and that there be no more villeins in England, but all to be free and of one condition. (As noted at the time by the historian, Froissart.)
The devious king conceded the demands, but within a day Tyler was murdered and the concessions were withdrawn. G. Kriehn’s definitive Studies in the Sources of the Social Revolt of 1381 (American Historical Review 1902) shows how the trickery of the king and the murder of Wat Tyler were intentional state policies designed to break up the peasants’ movement and defend the status quo. The day after the Mile End meeting (June 15) the peasants gathered at Smithfield to present an even more radical set of demands. But by the end of June 1381 the Revolt was suppressed and the concessions all withdrawn. The peasants had shown their political muscle, but they were unable to strip the king, and his tenants-in-chief, the barons, of their right of ownership. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the new merchant class was able to enact some of the peasants’ demands (such as the dispossession of church lands), but the great demand for a society of equality has yet to be fulfilled.

In the most famous chronicle of the Peasants’ Revolt we are told of
A crazy priest in the county of Kent, called John Ball, who for his absurd preaching had thrice been confined in prison . . . was accustomed to assemble a crowd round him in the market place and preach to them. On such occasions he would say, “My good friends, matters cannot go well in England until all things be held in common; when there shall be neither vassals nor lords; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill they behave to us! For what reason do they hold us in bondage? . . .And what can they show, or what reason can they give, why they should be more masters than ourselves? They are clothed in velvet and rich stuffs, ornamented with ermine and other furs, while we are forced to wear poor clothing. They have wines, spices and fine bread, while we have only rye, and the refuse of the straw; and when we drink, it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, while we must brave the wind and rain in our labours in the field; and it is by our labours that they have wherewith to support their pomp. We are called slaves, and if we do not perform our service we are beaten, and we have no sovereign to whom we can complain or would be willing to hear us. Let us go to the King and remonstrate with him, he is young and from him we may obtain a favourable answer, and if not we must ourselves seek to amend our conditions”. (Froissart, Chronicles of France, England and Spain)
It is exactly six hundred years since our ancestors went to their rulers and pleaded for justice. The reformist Left of today are still doing the same thing. (Incredibly enough, in Socialist Worker (4/4/81) we are told that the Peasants’ Revolt “inspires all progressive people today”.) But six hundred years after the Revolt is it not time to learn an important lesson? We, the “crazy” workers who are called impossibilists for our “absurd preaching”, are still surrounded by a society of acute class inequality in which the oppressed and impoverished believe that history has come to an end and capitalism is here to stay. For six hundred years we have sought favourable answers from those whose interests are not ours; it is now time for us to seek to change our condition and build for ourselves and our children an obtainable Cokaygne.
Steve Coleman

Women & Socialism (1994)

August Bebel (1840-1913)
From the September 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

August Bebel, the pioneer German socialist, is almost forgotten today. The reason for this is, perhaps, that the party he helped to found has long since degenerated into an instrument of German capitalism, indistinguishable from any other capitalist party. Despite this, however, Bebel’s life and work arc still worth recalling, not least because as a key figure in the workers’ movement as it developed in the 19th century he contributed personally to popularizing the idea of socialism and the theories of Marx and Engels, most notably in his major written work, Women and Socialism, first published in 1879.

Bebel began researching Women and Socialism in 1877 while again in prison for allegedly writing defamatory articles against Bismarck. His summary critique of capitalism focuses on the commodity form of wealth in capitalist society and its role in the so-called crises of overproduction; only in a world where wealth takes the form of commodities - articles produced for sale with a view to profit - could poverty exist in the midst of plenty, and only in the profit-driven lunacy of commodity production could overproduction be regarded as a crisis, therefore, as Bebel points out, these problems can only be cured by abolishing the commodity form altogether: "In the future society this contradiction will no longer exist. It does not produce 'commodities' to be ‘bought 'and ‘sold’, but produces the necessaries of life that are used up, consumed, and have no other purpose. In the new society the capacity to consume is not limited by the individual's ability to buy, as it is in bourgeois society, but by the collective capacity to produce. If the instruments of labour and the labour force are available every need can be satisfied. The social capacity to consume is limited only by the consumer's saturation point."

The abolition of the commodity form entails the simultaneous abolition of the market, the law of value, the profit motive and money - in short, all the social relations which currently fetter the forces of production and prevent them from being used to meet all humanity’s needs: "There being no ‘commodities' neither can there be any money. Money appears as the antithesis of the commodity, but it is a commodity itself. Yet money even though itself a commodity, is at the same time the social equivalent, the measure of value for all other commodities. The future society will not produce commodities but only articles for the satisfaction of needs."

Women and Socialism also gives a clear analysis of the role of the state in capitalist society and its destiny in socialism. Capitalist society is based on private ownership, one social class has exclusive control over economic resources with the consequent dispossession of the other class. In order to maintain their privileged position theowning class needs to ensure that its private property is protected. This is the role of the agency known as “the state": “Through laws it secures the owner in his ownership and confronts those who assail the established order as judge and avenger". In a socialist society everyone will stand in equal relation to productive resources and have free access to the products of social labour; this is what is meant by common ownership. It goes without saying that in a society of common ownership the state will no longer have a role: “Since the state is the essential organisation of a social order based on class rule, its very existence becomes unnecessary and impossible as soon as class antagonisms disappear as the result of the abolition of private property. ”

And with the state disappear all its appendages and apparatchiks: "ministers, parliaments, regular armies, police and gendarmes, courts, lawyers and public prosecutors, prison wardens, tax and customs authorities, in a word- the whole political apparatus".

Capitalism’s apologists often claim that without the state humanity will sink into a state of barbarism - a war of each against all - crime will soar, chaos will prevail and society will grind to a halt. This misses several key points, however. First, the state has never intended nor succeeded in eradicating acts of barbarism - on the contrary the  worst acts of barbarism are perpetrated by the state, war and genocide being just two examples. Second, the “crime" which exists in capitalist society is a direct result of class antagonisms and deprivation - theft, rioting and looting, and picket line clashes, for example - and could not occur in socialist society; and third, absence of a state cannot be equated with absence of social organization, something which Bebel makes crystal clear when he points out that state bureaucracies will make way for: "Administrative collegiums and delegations, which will engage in organising production and distribution to ensure maximum efficiency, in establishing the volume of supplies needed, in introducing and applying rational innovations in art, public education, the communications system, the production process in industry and agriculture, etc. These are all practical, visible and tangible matters, which everyone approaches objectively, because he has no personal interests opposed to society. None is motivated by any other interest but that of the community which consists in arranging and producing everything in the most rational and most advantageous way."

In summary, private property society gives rise to class antagonisms which the state attempts to suppress; in a society of common property, by contrast, the “antagonisms” which exist are not class antagonisms (as there are no classes) but differences of opinion on how best to serve society as a whole, in which case it is not in society’s interests to suppress these antagonisms but, on the contrary, to see that they arc thrashed out as freely and as publicly as possible.

The main focus of Women and Socialism is, of course, on the experience of women in private property society and how that experience will change with the establishment of a society based on common property. Bebel’s argument is simple: that the position of the vast majority of women in private property society is one of economic dependence, resulting in sexual slavery, which finds its expression in marriage and prostitution. According to Bebel, “marriage” - the union of a man and a woman - would ideally be inspired by mutual love and respect, and be accompanied by economic security for themselves and, if they have them, their children.

The institutionalized marriage found in private property society, however, is almost wholly concerned with ownership rights, the right of succession in particular, and originated, according to Bebel, as a means for begetting “legitimate” children as heirs. It then became a “social law” being imposed upon even those who have nothing to bequeath, and was further reinforced with the appearance of the wages system under capitalism, making women - especially women with children - even more economically dependent on men. Marriage then became “a kind of almshouse into which women must gain admittance at all costs”, the cost usually being a life of domestic servitude occasionally coupled with wage-slavery to supplement the earnings of the husband, “who is, more often than not, unable to support the family alone". Consequently marriage is a social and economic necessity, more or less compulsory, which once entered into is difficult and sometimes impossible (economically of not legally) to get out of. And even in those marriages where economic compulsion is accompanied by such notions as “love”, “the stern reality of life introduces so many elements of disturbance and dissolution, that they rarely fulfil the hopes of youthful enthusiasm and passion". The form of the social sanctions and legal devices used by capitalism to enforce the institutions of marriage and the family may have altered since Bebel was writing, but they nevertheless remain an essential part of the capitalist mode of production providing the capitalist with a source of labour power and a ready-made market for many consumer goods; the capitalist class arc also well aware that workers who have families to support make more “reliable” (i.e. docile) employees. Thus we see what lies behind the social institution which while condemning the majority of women to a life of relentless domestic labour, sexual slavery, child-rearing and economic dependence, is lauded by capitalism's ideologists as society’s foundation stone and woman’s natural and rightful domain.

Needless to say, in a society base on common ownership no individual, man or woman, will be economically dependent on any other individual: “In the new community woman is entirely independent, no longer subjected even to the appearance of supremacy or exploitation; she is a free being, the equal of man". Therefore relations between two individuals will be entered into or broken up freely, without any social or economic compulsion, and be subjected to no legal or political regulation: “The contract between two lovers is of a private nature as in primitive times, without the intervention of any functionary.”

Bebel regarded the emancipation of women as the ultimate goal of human development, “the achievement of which no power on earth can prevent”, but which is possible only on the basis of a transformation which abolishes all forms of domination and exploitation in society - in particular that of the worker by the capitalist.

This raises the practical problem of how such a transformation can be brought about. Despite the social-democratic reform programme, Bebel was well aware that socialism could not be brought into being through piecemeal legislation: “half-measures and minor concessions achieve nothing”. Nor was he naive enough to believe, as the “utopians” did, that the ruling class could be persuaded on grounds of “morals” or “reason” to implement such a change themselves: the ruling class consider their position “natural” and “just”, and will not be overthrown by force of reason unless “force of circumstance compels them to accept reality and submit” This “force of circumstance” is an understanding by the majority of the need for change: “As this understanding embraces ever broader circles, it finally conquers the vast majority of society most directly interested in this change. In the same measure in which the people's understanding of the untenableness of existing conditions and the realisation of the need for radical change rises, so the ruling class's capacity for resistance ebbs, since its power rests upon the ignorance and lack of understanding of the oppressed and exploited classes."

When socialists emphasize the need for democratic revolution based on an understanding of socialism by the majority, it is not out of any superstitious reverence for an abstract political ideal, but for sound practical reasons. All of society’s productive, distributive and administrative processes arc carried out by people who by economic necessity are working for wages; it is the working class, the vast majority, who run society from top to bottom. If this majority decide to change the motive force driving society’s productive processes from one of making profits for the few to one of meeting the needs of all, there would be little, if anything, the capitalist minority could do about it. On the other hand, if only a minority were to attempt such a transformation the most likely result would be bloody repression. Even if an insurgent minority succeeded in dislodging the capitalist class politically, the end result would not be socialism but a new form of hierarchical society, directed by the insurgents reconstituted as a new ruling class. Furthermore, as socialism is a society run by and in the interests of all its members, it requires that all individuals are able to contribute their skills and knowledge, opinions and ideas, to society’s decision-making and productive processes fully and therefore freely, it is not possible on any other basis; common ownership and democratic control are inseparable. Socialism, therefore, is democracy completed; it is the abolition of the class monopoly on the means of living and the consequent extension of the freedom to live independently to all walks of life, liberating the whole of humanity from all forms of exploitation. To use Bebel’s words: “An end will be put to class domination once and for all, and with it man's domination of women. ” 
Ian Simpson

Women and Socialism is available from Pluto Press under the title: Woman in the Past, Present and Future for £ 10.50, and in a greatly abridged version from Central Books entitled Society of the Future.

The Socialist Party v. The Communist Party. A Debate (1931)

From the August 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

About four hundred people were present at Chalmers Street, Clydebank, on Wednesday, May 27th, to hear a debate between the Communist Party of Great Britain and the S.P.G.B. The subject for debate was, “Which Policy should the working class support at the Present Period of Crisis, that of the C.P.G.B. or that of the S.P.G.B." Mr. J. Cunningham occupied the chair.

The Chairman intimated that the conditions of debate would be: first speech twenty minutes, second speech fifteen minutes, and a closing speech of five minutes. All “personalities” barred.

A. Shaw, on behalf of the S.P.G.B., opened the debate by defining terms. By working class was meant those who had to sell their labour-power to the capitalist class in order to live. By capitalist class was meant those who bought the labour-power of the workers. Capital was that portion of wealth used with a view to profit. The working class desired to sell their labour power at as high a figure as they could possibly obtain, while the capitalist endeavoured to purchase as low as possible. The private ownership of the means of living provided the basis for a struggle which Socialists termed the class struggle.

The class struggle had two aspects—economic and political. Workers form organisations on the economic field (Trade Unions) in order to make organised resistance to capitalist attacks on wages and working conditions, but in spite of all efforts put forth by them on this field their conditions tend to become worse. The class struggle would go on so long as the capitalist system of society existed.

Under such conditions the workers are doomed to a life of poverty, degradation and misery. The means of production are developed to such an extent at the present time, that all kinds of goods could be produced almost as plentifully as water. Yet we had the absurd state of affairs of workers starving in the midst of plenty. In America, in the State of Ohio, wheat was being burned in order to keep up prices. Around us the factories and granaries were bursting with the necessities of life while the producers went ill-clad, ill-nourished and ill-housed. This being the state of affairs, workers organised on the political field in order to better their conditions. Lacking knowledge of the cause of their terrible plight, the workers fell easy victims to smooth-tongued orators who enlisted their support for any and every policy but that which would free them from their poverty-stricken condition.

The I.L.P., the Labour Party, and the Communist Party had programmes which they claimed would benefit the working class. The Socialist Party of Great Britain also had a programme, but unlike the programmes of the Parties mentioned, which wish to reform the present order in certain details, the Socialist programme was one of Social Revolution. Nothing short of the complete abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism would serve the interest of the working class.

The Communist Party spread confusion among the workers by advocating such nostrums as a £4 minimum wage and a six-hour working day, abolition of the House of Lords, &c. Their policy changed so often that it was difficult at times to know where they stood. As an example of this, his (Shaw’s) opponent and others, as Communist candidates in Glasgow, recently advocated a £3 minimum and a seven-hour day. Having failed to get working class support for their reforms at previous elections the Communist Party had reduced this particular reform from £4 to £3 a week. There was no difference between tactics such as these and of those used by Labour politicians to whom Communists professed to be opposed.

For years the Communist Party had been telling the workers that Socialism was in being in Russia. This was false. The workers in that country were at the present time producing commodities for sale and being exploited as in other capitalist countries. Capitalism, not Socialism, was developing in Russia. The social relations of wage-labour and capital were the order of the day in Russia and were developing under the name of the Five Year Plan.

The Five Year Plan (much boosted by Communists) was merely a step taken in the Industrialising of Russia, and Industrialisation would develop in Russia as it had done in any other country—at the expense of the worker.

The majority of the population of Russia were peasants, with the peasant individualistic outlook, and largely illiterate. It was difficult enough to get the workers of western capitalist countries to understand Socialism (where all the conditions were favourable and reflected this idea) but how much more difficult would it be in such a backward country as Russia?

Russia held out no example to the workers of Britain or any other capitalist country of how to establish Socialism. On the contrary, as Marx had pointed out many years ago in the preface to his work “ Capital,” the more highly developed country held out to the lesser developed the image of its own future.

The position of the Socialist Party was that Socialism could only come about by the intelligent action of an enlightened working class, organised in a Revolutionary Socialist organisation to get control of the State machine for that purpose. No reforms or palliative measures could be advocated by such a Party to side-track the workers, therefore he (Shaw) would ask, the workers present to support such a policy and reject the reformist and muddled policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Peter Kerrigan, on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain, stated that he agreed with his opponent that the abolition of capitalism was the only hope of the workers. At the present stage of capitalist development we were in a period of permanent crisis. The policy of the Communist Party was framed to apply to conditions as they were at present. The Communist Party took part in all the struggles of the working class, hence their programme had to be broad enough to cover all details of working class life. The representative of the S.P.G.B. was in error when he referred to the programme of the Communist Party as a programme of reforms. Since capitalism, to-day, was at the stage where it could not grant the demands of the workers, those so-called reforms were revolutionary in character. The immediate needs of the workers were of more importance than the abstract theories of the S.P.G.B. By lining up with the workers in every struggle we would ultimately arrive at unity. We could get unity only by preaching what the workers wanted. A seven-hour day was a need of our class; therefore we ought to advocate it and organise the workers for it. The masters were lowering wages; therefore we should strive with the workers in order that wage-cuts be resisted. Marx in “Value, Price and Profit ” made this quite clear. In the day to day struggle of the workers the S.P.G.B. were of no assistance.

Shaw had stated that capitalism was the order of the day in Russia.  Such a statement showed that his opponent did not understand the Russian situation. Socialism was being built in Russia. A workers’ government was in control there, and there was no unemployment. The workers being in control of their own affairs were better off.

There were three systems of economy in Russia : 1 Handicraft in backward areas, 2 Concessions (under control of the Workers’ State), 3 Socialist economy. The Socialist economy was fast ousting the Concessionaires and abolishing handicraft. The workers granted concessions to outside capitalists, only in order to develop Russian industry.

Lenin had shown that the workers here could learn many valuable lessons from Russia, and, while learning those lessons, they should give Russia every assistance possible.

The S.P.G.B. wanted the workers to get control of the State. Marx said that the State machine must be broken and replaced by a Workers’ State. So much for the Marxism of the S.P.G.B. !

Did the S.P.G.B. think that the masters would allow them to peacefully achieve their goal? He (Kerrigan) did not think so. The whole of the past history was against such a theory. The workers must be armed and establish the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This meant a new form of the State and would be the fullest Democracy.

The programme, as outlined by the speaker, was. the correct policy for a revolutionary workers’ party, and he would ask the workers present to support it.

Shaw, for the next fifteen minutes, dealt with the points raised by the Communist speaker. First of all, he said, Kerrigan seemed to think that by merely asserting a proposition, it was so. He would remind his opponent, that he who puts forward a proposition must back it up with evidence.

His opponent had stated that the programme of the Communist Party was framed to deal with the immediate needs of the workers. This plea had been put forward by reformers of all shades of opinion. Conservatives, Liberals and Labourites had used this plea with disastrous effect on the workers who accepted it. If the workers accepted the Communist plea the effect would be no less disastrous. His opponent had failed to show how any of the planks of the Communist programme could alter the position of the workers, if any, or all of them, were put on the Statute Book. The workers would still be in poverty, would still be slaves to those who own the means of life. If unity could be achieved by this method, it certainly would not be unity for Socialism.

So far as wages disputes were concerned, the S.P.G.B., being of the working class, had of necessity to take part in this every-day struggle. Who could avoid it if they be workers. The columns of the official organ of the Socialist Party, the “Socialist Standard,” were used to point out the correct tactics to be adopted, as conditions determined, in such struggles. At the same time the limitations of such struggles were pointed out.

There was nothing revolutionary in fighting a wages battle with the employers. People holding all kinds of political opinions, from the die-hard Tory to the blow-hard Labourite, took part in such fights and did not desire Socialism; many, on the contrary, were strongly opposed to anything suggestive of Socialism.

His opponent had made the assertion that Socialism was being built in Russia, but had failed to submit any evidence of his assertion. When such evidence was produced it would be dealt with.

Arming the workers to smash the State had been put forward by his opponent as a means of Social Revolution, but he had not informed us where the workers were to obtain arms, and who was to train them. And did he think the masters in the meantime would stand idly by, perhaps putting a donation into their collection boxes in order to assist them? The advocacy of physical force was a suicidal policy. The workers were no match for the trained disciplined forces of the State. If the workers in Clydebank were to attempt to defy the State forces in the manner advocated by the Communist Party it would mean an early grave for them. A couple of battleships on the Clyde could turn Clydebank into a cemetery in the twinkling of an eye, and would do so if the workers there ever attempted to put into practice the nonsense taught by the Communist Party. This policy would lead to the shambles, not to emancipation. Engels, in his preface to Marx's "Class Struggles in France," had pointed out, over thirty years ago, that he who would advocate street fighting and violent uprisings was an idiot, yet hero we had the Communist Party advocating that workers should fight the State forces. The development of the technique of modern warfare itself was sufficient to fender this method obsolete and impossible.

The only sane, safe and sure method of overthrowing capitalism was, as Engels pointed out, to control the armed forces by getting control of the State machine. This was the Marxian method, the method of the S.P.G.B.

Peter Kerrigan, in his next fifteen minutes contribution, stated that he was surprised that Shaw, instead of wasting time by accusing his opponent of making baseless assertions about Russia, had not given the audience some data from authoritative sources to show, that Russia was a capitalist country. Shaw’s accusations on this score also applied to himself.

Russia, to-day, was in a period of transition to Socialism. The State industries there are Socialist forms and are developing. There is no unemployment. He would like to know where the industries are, in Russia, owned by capitalists. Shaw could not tell us, because there are none owned by capitalists. All industries there are owned by the people. The Constitution in Russia was the most Democratic that had ever been established. This Constitution gave the workers full control.

Surplus-Value in Russia goes back to the people via the channel of Social Services, and was used to better the conditions of the worker all round. Hours of labour were shortened and wages were increased. It was only a matter of time before the workers of this country realised the great changes that had taken place in Russia, that one-sixth of the globe were establishing Socialism in spite of world opposition.

His opponent was opposed to the idea of workers fighting the armed forces of the nation, but he would assure them that this job was not so ghastly as it appeared to be. The Communist Party was carrying on a campaign of propaganda among the troops which was very successful.

Shaw’s reference to Engels’s preface in no way assisted him, as it had been proven, since that preface had been written, that the manuscript had been altered in some details by Bernstein. . Bernstein himself had admitted that he had altered Engels’s work.

On the question of a country struggling for the rights of nationality, he would remind his opponent that Marx had supported the Germans against the French in 1870. Then, again, Marx had enthused for workers using physical force whilst writing for the "New Rhenish Gazette.”

The workers could not get their emancipation through Parliament. Before allowing the workers to do so the ruling class would abolish this institution. When the workers of Ireland had voted solid for Home Rule they were ignored. The same thing happened in Egypt and other countries. The workers here would have to do as the workers of Ireland had to do —take up arms.

Shaw, in his closing speech of five minutes, reviewed the ground covered by him and his opponent. The time allotted to both speakers was inadequate for them to deal in detail with the differences which existed between the S.P.G.B. and the C.P.G.B. Both speakers had to deal with the positions of their respective organisations in a general way. However, enough had been said to make it clear that only by workers becoming class-conscious, organising for control of political power as advocated by the Socialist Party of Great Britain could they win their emancipation. Any other method was doomed to failure. Socialism was the only hope of the workers, hence the ‘ Socialist Party would go on advocating and organising for it, refusing to be side-tracked and refusing to follow the Will-o’-the-wisp of Social Reform as the Communists were doing.

Kerrigan, in winding up the debate, wished to emphasize the fact that fighting for "immediate demands ” was in no sense of the word reformist. The development of capitalism had made reforms a thing of the past. The I.L.P. and the Labour Movement promised the workers reforms but were not delivering the goods, and could not. The Communist Party, on the other hand, recognised the revolutionary significance of pressing forward with their programme of "immediate demands,” as by this method they would go forward to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was only by paying attention to the details of working class life and framing our programme accordingly that we would go forward to Communism. Mr. Cunningham, the chairman, after a few remarks on the able manner in which the participants in the debate had put forward their positions, threw the meeting open for questions, a large number of which were answered by the two speakers.

This was the first time the position of the S.P.G.B. was put before a Clydebank audience, many of whom had never even heard of the Party’s existence, and on hearing the position for the first time received it in a manner which could only be described as "enthusiastic.” Many of them expressed a wish to hear more of the Socialist Party case, as they had become disgusted with the Labour Party and considered that the Communist Party was no better. At the request of several workers, we decided to remain in Clydebank until evening and hold a propaganda meeting. This meeting was held and was so successful that Glasgow Branch decided, to continue holding meetings in Clydebank during the summer.

Since the debate, we have held another meeting in Clydebank and our literature sales there have doubled. With persistent effort we hope to, in the near future, put Clydebank on the Socialist map, by forming a Branch of the Party there.
Glasgow Branch Organiser.

Note.—In order not to allow inaccurate statements to gain currency we deal briefly with four assertions made by the representative of the Communist Party which our representative did not have time to deal with fully. (1) P. Kerrigan said :— 
The S.P.G.B. wanted the workers to get control of the State. Marx said that the State machine must be broken and replaced by a Workers' State. So much for the Marxism of the S.P.G.B. 
The implication of Kerrigan's assertion is that Marx did not urge the workers to get control of the State machinery. This is quite incorrect. Two brief quotations will suffice to show that the Marxian position is that held by the. S.P.G.B., i.e. that the workers must use the vote to obtain control of the political machinery.

Marx, in an article on the Chartist Movement, published by the “New York Tribune,” on 25th August, 1852, wrote:— 
“The six points of the Charter which they contend for contain nothing but the demand of universal suffrage. . . . But universal suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat form the large majority of the population. . . . Its inevitable result here, is the political supremacy of the working class.”—(Republished in the "Labour Monthly,” December, 1929.)
Engels, Marx’s intimate friend, wrote in "Socialism, Utopian and Scientific ” (Sonnenshein edition, 1892, p. 86):—
The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialised means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoise, into public property.
It may be remarked here that Lenin, in his "The State and Revolution” (B.S.P. and S.L.P. Edition, October, 1919, page 30) gave support to this policy. He wrote:—
The proletariat needs the State, the centralised organisation of force and violence, both for the purpose of crushing the resistance of the exploiters and for the purpose of guiding the great mass of the population . . .  in the work of economic Socialist reconstruction."
(2) Kerrigan claimed that in Russia there are no industries "owned by capitalists. All industries there are owned by the people.” He was not referring to the concession companies (which he admitted are capitalist owned) but to the so-called "Socialist ” State industries and collective farms. What Kerrigan overlooks is that the State industries in Russia, like the Post Office in this country, are financed on borrowed capital; they are a source from which the investor draws interest on his investment, out of the product of the worker’s labour. The original estimates of the Russian Government were for the raising of 6,000 million roubles (£600 million) for the Five Year Plan. This; with loans already outstanding would have increased the national debt to £750 millions at the end of the financial year 1932-33. (See Review of Bank for Russian Trade, June, 1929.) Actually the original estimates will be greatly exceeded. The above figures do not include credits obtained outside Russia and estimated at about £100 millions. Nor do they include investments of capital in the Russian Co-operatives, or the capital brought into the collective farms, by the peasants in the form of animals and machinery.

The interest paid on State loans is 10% or more. The interest on tens of millions of pounds of co-operative capital is 8%. The interest paid to farmers on their capital brought into the collective farms is 5%. (See “ Manchester Guardian,” 4th March, 1931. Article by the Moscow correspondent.)

(3) Kerrigan further claimed that Engels preface to Marx’s "Class Struggles in France 1848-1850 ” had been “altered in some details by Bernstein,” and that ” Bernstein himself had admitted that he had altered Engels’s work.” The mention of Bernstein is puzzling. Kerrigan's probably here thinking not of Bernstein but of a statement made by Engels himself in a letter to Kautsky to the effect that he had exercised restraint in the phrasing of his preface because of the possibility of the German Government re-enacting the anti-socialist laws. But the deduction drawn by some Communists is absurd. To suppose that Engels would avoid provocative phrases in the existing circumstances is reasonable; but it is not reasonable to suppose that Engels would categorically and in detail analyse and reject the idea of armed revolt as lunacy, and explicitly assert on the contrary that “bourgeoisie and Government feared far more the legal than the illegal action of the workers’ party, more the successes of the elections than those of rebellion,” if in fact he held precisely the opposite view. There is no foundation whatever for the view that Marx and Engels favoured the suicidal Communist policy of unarmed workers throwing themselves against the State and its armed forces. Such a policy is now even more impracticable than it was when Engels wrote in 1895.

(4) The assertion that Marx supported the Germans against the French in 1870 has no foundation in fact. In the first Manifesto of the International on that war he wrote:
On the German side, the war is a war of defence; but who put Germany to the necessity of defending itself? Who enabled Louis Bonaparte to wage war upon her? Prussia! It was Bismarck who conspired with that very same Louis Bonaparte for the purpose of crushing popular opposition at home, and annexing Germany to the Hohenzollen dynasty. If the battle of Sadowa had been lost instead of being won, French battalions would have over-run Germany as allies of Prussia. After her victory did Prussia dream one moment of opposing a free Germany to an enslaved France? Just the contrary. While carefully preserving all the native beauties of her old system, she super added all the tricks of the Second Empire, its real despotism, and its mock democratism, its political shams, and its financial jobs, its high-flown talk and its low legerdemains. The Bonapartist régime, which till then only flourished on one side of the Rhine, had now got its counterfeit on the other. From such a state of things, what else could result but war? . . . . . . . . The very fact that while official France and Germany are rushing into a fratricidal feud, the workmen of France and Germany send other messages of peace and good will; this great fact, unparalleled in the history of the past, opens the vista of a brighter future.
The above is dated "London, July 23rd, 1870."
Ed., Comm.

You Can’t Buck the Market But You Can Abolish It (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO CAPITALISM, COMRADE’, wrote Tory Lord Finkelstein addressing John McDonnell in the Times (14 October). A few weeks later the same paper carried a news item on an opinion poll conducted for a Tory think-tank, the Legatum Institute, headed ‘VERDICT ON CAPITALISM: UNFAIR AND CORRUPT’ (3rd November).

The two headlines are probably an accurate reflection of current popular opinion – that there is no alternative to capitalism even though it’s not up to much. McDonnell, though, probably does see an alternative to capitalism but a long way off, in the meantime wanting to reform capitalism so it’s not so harsh on workers, maybe in fact not so ‘unfair’ or ‘corrupt’.

But it was a statement by the Corbynista Labour MP Diane Abbott that Labour ‘have always been a Keynesian party’ that particularly annoyed Finkelstein.

Since it wasn’t until the 1930s that Keynes formulated his famous theory of how (supposedly) to control capitalism while the Labour Party had been founded thirty years previously, the ‘always’ in Abbott’s statement is wrong (though Keynes did in fact provide an academically respectable justification for the spending policies the Labour Party had always advocated).

But this wasn’t Finkelstein’s point:
‘Labour was founded as a socialist party, not a Keynesian one. Keynes developed his ideas about borrowing as a way of saving capitalism from itself. Socialists rejected the very idea. They wanted to replace capitalism altogether, not patch it up with macro-economic policy.’
Finkelstein does give here a quite good description of the socialist attitude to Keynes. The trouble is that it does not apply to the Labour Party. It was not founded as a socialist party, but merely as a trade union pressure group in parliament and did not even claim to be socialist until 1918 when a new constitution containing Clause Four was adopted.

Quite apart from this clause committing the Labour Party to nationalisation, or state capitalism, rather than socialism, this made no difference to its policy which could accurately be described as being to ‘patch up’ capitalism.

Later in his article Finkelstein admitted that in the 1930s ‘a hybrid emerged of planning, partial public ownership and Keynesianism’ as Labour policy. This in fact remained Labour’s ideology until the 1990s when Tony Blair persuaded the party to drop it as the price of getting back into office (always the leaders’ top priority). So, to that extent, Abbott was right and Finkelstein had conceded it. What Corbyn and McDonnell represent is not a return to Labour’s never-existing socialist origins, but merely to the hybrid described above. When tried, as under Wilson and Callaghan in the 1960s and 70s, it didn’t work and, here, Finkelstein scored a point in the subtitle of his article: ‘John McDonnell has ignored the lesson the late Lord Howe taught the Labour Party forty years ago – you can’t buck the market.’ That’s right, you can’t buck the market, at least not for long. In the end the economic forces of capitalism dictate what governments can and must do – put profits first – not governments controlling capitalism.

But ‘you can’t buck the market’ doesn’t mean that there is no alternative to capitalism. It means that the alternative has to involve the disappearance of ‘the market’ and the replacement of production for sale on a market with a view to profit by production solely and directly to meet people’s needs, on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

Remove the barrier of profit (1994)

From the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Year in and year out we release millions of tonnes of carbon gases into the atmosphere. Every year 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forests are destroyed or seriously degraded. So,at the same time we arc destroying the plant life that uses carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen. The result is a slow but steady build-up of carbon dioxide which may be leading to a gradual global warming.

We are reducing the ozone layer with the result that we now get big holes in it. For the first lime, last year the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica extended over populated areas in the Falkland Islands and the tip of South America. The increase in the amount of ultra-violet is known to be very damaging.

Then again we are seeing a steady and unremitting build-up of radioactivity in the environment; which is also damaging.

These are global changes which involve incredible risks. Some of the dangers are understood but nobody knows and nobody can predict the critical point when any combination of such changes might produce a sequence of further rapid changes which would be catastrophic from a human point of view.

Capitalism to blame
The first thing we’ve got to do is identify the cause of the problem and here socialists begin to part company with most environmental groups. Obviously we share their concern about the problem, and we too want a world where we do not damage the environment. But read the material put out by people like Friends of the Earth and you’ll notice that they never get down to the cause of the problem.

They say, for example, that acid rain and the resulting destruction of the lakes and forests in the Northern hemisphere is caused by the release of sulphur gases. That is only part of the explanation as it tells us nothing about why we keep doing it.

Acid rain is not a technical problem. The means of stopping the release of eases like sulphur dioxide are known and available and with the millions of unemployed there is a super-abundance of unused labour to apply these means.

Acid rain continues for the same reasons why we can’t provide decent hospitals, why we can’t house the homeless, why we can’t stop people living in insecurity and poverty, why we can’t stop people dying of hunger . . . These all result from the economic limitations of a system that puts privileged class interests before the needs of the community. The cause is capitalism which puts profit before needs and which therefore puts profit before the protection of the environment.

The cost of fitting de-sulphurisation equipment in all the power stations that burn fossil fuels would come to billions of pounds and would not be profitable. That is why we continue to create acid rain.

It must be obvious that a set of problems which are global in scale, affecting populations across the entire planet, can only be effectively tackled by cooperation between all peoples.

You can’t have the world divided up between rival capitalist states — all riven by economic competition both within their boundaries and between each other and all driven by the economic pressures of profit and class interests, with a good many of them at actual war with each other — and expect to be in a position to solve the problems of the global environment.

Effective action has got to be based on world cooperation.

Secondly, we have to be in a position of control. In other words, we must be in a position of being able to make democratic decisions about what must be done and must be free to take the necessary action, using the available means without any economic constraints.

It is surely self-evident that unless we have cooperation and control we are never going to begin to solve the problem and that we cannot get cooperation within capitalism.

World cooperation
To get cooperation we first have to get rid of the present system which is based on economic competition. We need to establish a system based instead on common ownership, a world where all means of producing and distributing goods and all productive resources are held in common by the whole community. This means the end of the wages system through which workers are exploited for profit and the end of producing goods for sale so as to get that profit. It means people living and working in the community in a relationship of direct cooperation with each other, producing the goods and running the services that we need. This is a way of organizing the community where the use of money will be entirely redundant.

If we establish common ownership, if we set up a society which is run solely for human needs as a result of people cooperating together, we are at fast in a position where we can control our actions. Under capitalism we are at the mercy of economic forces that nobody can control. Get rid of these economic forces and we are at last in a position to make democratic decisions about how best to use production for the benefit of the community.

At last we would be able to build houses for the homeless without the barriers of cost and money. We would be able to provide a good health service without worrying about how much kidney machines cost. We'd be able to provide everyone with good quality food, to stop the dying from lunger, and to end the malnutrition that exists even in this country. And we would be able to begin the work of restoring the environment.

Socialism is not the instant solution to problems but the means by which we can solve problems. In socialism we get the release of all productive resources — machinery, transport, raw materials, energy and labour — for the benefit of the community, but as, to start with, there will be a great deal to do we would have to make choices. We would have to make decisions in line with agreed priorities of action.

We’ve got to supply a lot more food, so that has to be increased. We’ve got to supply decent housing for everyone and that is an enormous world project. The mention of just these two priorities of action means that we would need a lot more energy and, as we know, the supply of energy is one of the worst villains in this problem of environmental damage.

Produce for use
As things are at present it is clear that socialism will have to do two things at the same time: increase the supply of energy and to do it in ways which protect the environment.

Do we keep on using nuclear generators knowing that inevitably this leads to increases in radioactivity?

Do we keep on burning oil, knowing that oil is an immensely useful material which can supply thousands of very durable products? The burning of oil in power stations is in fact the kind of profligate waste that only capitalism could go in for.

What about coal, do we keep on burning it? There is no doubt that the burning of coal can be made less damaging by the installation of pollution-abatement equipment but it is expensive. In socialism money would not be a factor. So we could go on burning coal in a less damaging way and of course there are immense world reserves of this.

However, most people would agree that the most desirable way of producing energy is with the various renewable, benign methods such as solar, wind and wave power etc. This is clearly where the future lies.

Under capitalism it is uneconomic to use these methods. It costs too much money. It is not competitive. But, again, this would not be a factor in socialism where we would be free to go in for a rapid development of these ecologically-benign methods.

With the establishment of socialism we will throw off the economic shackles of the profit system and break through into the freedom to use all our talents, skills and energies to solve problems through co-operation.
Pieter Lawrence

South Korea: behind the mask (1988)

From the October 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before the first Olympic spectator had arrived in South Korea, the police had swept over sixteen thousand "criminals" — drug addicts, prostitutes, beggars and petty thieves — from the streets of the capital city. No more than a quarter were formally charged, the rest either spirited away by summary courts or detained pending further "investigations". Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of slum dwellers evicted to make way for the Olympic stadium are now living in tents. They received no compensation, but they have been invited to the rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies; "We want them to feel it's everybody's Olympics", said Mr Yi Dong, the city's senior planner (Guardian, 30 August).

The South Korean state spared little expense to ensure that the world's media got the "right" impression of their country. In a highly symbolic act, a wall was constructed along the hundred mile Olympic torch route to spare TV viewers the sight of the slums which infest the poorer parts of the Olympic city. This all helps build the myth that the Free Market can deliver social justice and permanently rising living standards for the vast majority. How closely does this tie in with the reality of life in South Korea today?

The South Korean economy was built on the ruthless exploitation of the working class: long hours and low wages were the hallmark of this economic "miracle". South Koreans still work the longest hours in the world, and 12.3 per cent of the population live below the poverty line; the bottom 40 per cent own little more than 17 per cent of the country's wealth . . . (M. Smith et al. Asia's New Industrial World, 1985, p. 52).

The education system is strictly geared towards the needs of the economy. As a recent study concluded, "the rote learning type of education that Korean children receive is conducive to producing an efficient and well qualified labour force" (B. Bridges. Korea and the West. 1986. p.28). In the "company cities", which were built to service key industries, the schools and colleges are actually financed and run by the local employers. School leavers in the "motor city" of Ulsan, for example, will have those skills, and only those skills, which are deemed useful to the local car industry. Even this "education" does not come cheap: all schooling above primary school level must be paid for, and 40 per cent of the average family's income is needed to finance a student up to degree level.

In similar fashion. South Korean culture supports the production of a disciplined labour force. Confusianism, the dominant pre-capitalist ideology, contained a strong work ethic based on a strict duty towards the family. Today's young Koreans are taught that the state and the company are simply extended parts of that family, and are thus owed the same respect, loyalty and self-sacrifice. Just to make the point, all work stops at five pm each day while workers stand for the national anthem.

In spite of these pressures, however, the very speed of South Korea's economic development is undermining the hold of traditional ideas, particularly among the young. An example of this is to be found in the university system. In her study of Korean society, Jane McLoughlin notes that more autonomy has had to be granted to colleges and universities in order to turn out "the sort of personnel capable of achieving technological equality with competitors" (Asia's New Industrial World, p.50). This has fuelled the militancy seen in recent anti-government disturbances. as students use their new-found freedom for purposes not intended by their masters.

On the industrial front, a rising tide of dissatisfaction has expressed itself in the fight against company unions which embody the "one happy family" ethos. At present only one union is allowed in each company, and these must belong to one of sixteen government-controlled national union federations. They are banned from political action and must register any intended strikes. If a strike is deemed illegal, factory owners are empowered to call in the riot police, whose notorious brutality is reflected in in their nickname — "Kusaden" or "bully boys". Notwithstanding legal obstacles, however, workers have fought bitterly to establish their own autonomous unions.

In the course of this struggle, the state has openly supported the employers, dashing the hopes of many Koreans for a new deal following the collapse of the military regime of General Chun in June 1987. In fact, the government which emerged from that upsurge of violent mass protest was still run by the same old gang. President Roh Tae Woo. himself a former military man. retained seven ministers from the previous junta and kept on military personnel who had been implicated in the notorious massacre of unarmed protesters at Gwangju in 1980. As one civil rights activist put it, "for all the talk of democracy, nothing has really changed in this country. Every step to improve workers' rights is a hard struggle" (Guardian, 23 April). Even if the newly-tolerated political opposition came to power, it would not run the state machine much differently. Although its present leader. Kim Dae Jung, has managed single-handedly to wipe 25 points from the Seoul stock exchange by his advocacy of workers "rights", he and his followers are in general agreement with "the broad continuation of the present economic system" (Korea and the West. p.15).

There can be no doubt that the militancy of South Korean workers has brought substantial material gains over the past few years. Last Autumn alone they staged 3,800 strikes, most of them illegal, which virtually shut down South Korean industry. This action brought wage increases of 22 per cent, and the threat of similar action this year has forced employers to concede rises of up to 15 per cent (Economist, 23 July). In reality, however, the strike weapon has very serious limitations as an instrument for making permanent gains for South Korean workers. Most importantly, it has not even begun to tackle the endemic poverty of the low wage sectors of the economy, such as the textile and electronics industries in Asia. South Korean business has been forced to restructure towards more capital and technology intensive industries. This has increased the bargaining power of some groups of skilled workers, enabling them to squeeze more from their bosses. The supply of cheap labour for the sweated industries has been maintained, however, by recruiting women into the workforce. They now form 38 per cent of the labour market, and suffer highly discriminatory wage levels — usually half the rates paid to male workers.

The relative poverty suffered by all workers in South Korea, no matter how "well" paid, has had a disturbing impact on the way they view the world. Protests are taking a more stridently nationalist tone, denouncing the regime for being under the control of "foreigners". Increasing numbers of dissidents have taken to seeing the "communist" North as the more truly "patriotic" of the two Koreas because it is supposedly independent of the world market and has no foreign troops on its soil. This was behind the wave of student-led protest which aimed to get the Olympics co-hosted by the North.

The United States has become the main focus for this opposition, particularly since Congress forced through a package of restrictive measures designed to cut South Korea's $10bn trade surplus. The fact that the US also maintains 40,000 troops on the border with the North has further enraged many "radicals", who see American imperialism as the cause of the division of the peninsula and the economic injustice in the South.

This upsurge in vitriolic patriotism can be linked directly to the present state of economic development in South Korea. Traditional values of family solidarity are coming under sustained pressure from several sources linked to the evolution of the economy: the growth of the alienated, consumerist culture needed to market commodities; the needs of the system for the free movement of workers; the increasing use of women workers in labour intensive industries. At the same time, the company is losing its mystical attraction as the focus for workers' loyalty, as the growing strength and militancy of the Free Trade Union movement shows.

For the South Korean capitalist nationalism is the cement which will hold this imploding structure together. The attempts to present the Olympic Games as a triumph of South Korean solidarity and achievement were not aimed only at foreign tourists and investors. They were also intended to pull workers into line behind the economic and social system of South Korean capitalism—to convince them that further sacrifices would be necessary if “their country" was to survive and prosper in a competitive world.

As this article is written, all the indications are that the shabby appeal to Korean patriotism has been successful in relieving the pressure on employers and the state — nobody wants to rock the boat while the country basks under the lights of the world's TV cameras. Whether this new found solidarity will outlast the end of the Games is a different question altogether. The antagonism between workers and employers cannot be wished away, and a resurgence in union militancy seems inevitable. When the media circus has left town, and there is no longer the need to show a smiling face to the world, the South Korean state is likely to turn against its subjects with the more brutal and trusted methods it has favoured in the past.
Andrew Thomas