Monday, February 29, 2016

Sickness in society (1966)

Editorial from the March 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a sick society, and within its framework, man suffers. Capitalism is alien to man’s interests. It denies him all that is potentially best in humanity. It is a disease from which there is no recovery short of the reorganisation of society.

Socialists generalise about the way in which society is class divided about private properly. This is not a remote economic abstraction; it is the day to day reality which bestows existence on most people as an ungratifying burden of personal struggle. To the individual worker, life is an endless battle for fragmented survival. There is the electricity bill, the food bill, the clothes bill, the rent or the mortgage, the holiday fund, the minor crisis brought about by some unexpected item of expense. To establish a home, to have children, the worker tightens the knots of a personal economic straight-jacket. He consolidates the conditions of his own exploitation and his dependence on wages or salary.

Behind this, there is the year in and year out commitment to the job which he probably hates and which probably does nothing for the real needs of the community. This is an aspect of the insecurity which pervades capitalism. A man is oppressed by his own life but can see no alternative. It is this insecurity that forces a man to clutch on for a lifetime to what is devoid of satisfaction.

The separation of the individual is completed by the divisive attitudes of propertied society. Where the individual is considered not by what he is but by the properly he owns, there is a sense of shame, a special stigma attaching to the man with meagre possessions. With poverty goes guilt. It is the guilt of the individual in failing to measure up to the swinging commercial ideal associated under capitalism with success. These attitudes preclude social unity, where people might communicate in honest terms. Instead there is failure to communicate. There is pretentiousness; a discreet conspiracy to cloak the realities of the struggle.

Life under capitalism is not an opportunity for creative living; the individual in association with his fellow human beings. It is an acceptance of the dreary disciplines of wage employment couched in competition, pride, insecurity, guilt, frustration, hate and all the attitudes that divide the community and isolate its members.

Capitalism is not so much individualist as atomized, individuals moving in separate orbits, either suspicious or indifferent. It is not that under all circumstances he is uncaring. The preoccupation with the private struggle renders impotent his identity with humanity as a whole. Under capitalism, we are all on our own.

Moreover, the existence of social privilege under capitalism eats away at the mutual sympathy that man is capable of. The side by side existence of the well fed and the starving; the leisured and the overtime working; the cultured and the illiterate; is a corrupting assault which leads to cynicism, despair, a poor evaluation by man of himself.

For Socialists, the concept of community means that the existence of one under privileged person is an affront to the dignity of all members of society.

The problems of workers are common problems. The establishment of Socialism is collective action in the interests of the whole community. The disintegration of community under capitalism can only be healed by the social equality, the collective responsibility, the unity of Socialist society.

Through common ownership, a Socialist community would undoubtedly replace competition with co-operation, indifference with love, isolation with integration. It would replace mere economic functions with men.

Guyana horror (1980)

TV Review from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

On two Sunday evenings in July we watched in fascinated horror a reconstruction of the career of an American called Jim Jones.

Born in 1931, he “caught religion” at an early age. While studying to become a Unitarian Minister, he worked as an auxiliary in the local hospital where he met and married a qualified nurse who, despite everything, stuck to him to the end. After his ordination he was appointed to a church whose congregation never topped twenty. He built this up until the church was filled. However, he displeased his Elders as the faithful were predominantly negro in a city where segregation was fact if not law, and the Ku Klux Klan reigned. Dismissed from his post, he took to the streets and founded his own church, the People’s Temple.

At first his reputation rested on fiery oratory and the provision of welfare facilities for his deprived flock. However, soon he started to use his personal magnetism as well as fake miracle cures to dominate his flock completely. Absolute obedience and the making over to the church of all worldly goods was required. Part of the money so obtained was used for bribes and deals to buy into the city administration. Disobedience was published with public disgrace, beatings and even death.

Eventually his financial chicanery made it too hot for him and, with the law on his tail, he and 1,000 of his congregation went to Guyana to found their own community. His vanity and ruthlessness led him from excess to excess. From claiming to represent God, he progressed to proclaiming himself to be God. His sexual excesses with young people of both sexes multiplied yet his hold was such that the majority of his community continued to adore and obey him. In 1978 after the coldblooded shooting of a visiting Senator and accompanying newsmen, the end came. It is difficult to credit that his domination was still such that, when he ordered everyone to take poison — making his young son set the example all but three obeyed.

Those who saw the programme could not understand how so many could be duped into parting with all they had and, without question, obeying this man, even into death itself.

There is a far greater continuing tragedy than the one which happened in Guyana. The vast majority of the world’s population, the working class, are similarly deprived. They also accept without question the fact that they should spend the greater part of their lives working for the enrichment of others. They obey, with hardly a murmur, the edicts of their masters; in times of war even to death itself; and accept gratefully the crumbs from the rich man’s table. However, whereas everyone outside Jim Jones’ claustrophobic society recoils in horror at his merciless domination, only socialists appear to realise what is wrong with the capitalist world we live in today, and try to change it. 
Eva Goodman

"The Class Struggles in France." (1924)

Book Review from the October 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Class Struggles in France." (1848-1850). by Karl Marx. (Published by the New York Labor News Co: $2.00.) Translated by Henry Kuhn

A melancholy significance attaches to this volume, as the long preface was the last thing Engels wrote for publication before his death in 1895.

The work consists of four articles, originally published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1850, or just after the events recorded had taken place. The masterly analysis of the course of those events, with the penetration into the causes of the defeat of the working class, are all in Marx’s best style. While he was the first to recognise this defeat and its causes, the wide area of the revolution occurring in the principal countries of Europe, misled both himself and Engels as to the period when the working class would march to victory.

In this volume are given the details and materials, that were again briefly surveyed and summed up, after the coup d'état of Louis Bonaparte, in the famous “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.”

The Class Struggles in France’’ form an introduction to the Eighteenth Brumaire, while the latter sums up the whole period 1848-1851 in the light of the later developments. The two works are thus complementary and should be studied together for a full understanding of that exciting period.

To-day this study is of special importance in view of the claims made by certain self-styled “leaders” of the working class for the use of methods and tactics that these volumes show to be completely useless in present day conditions.

It is here that Engels' splendid preface is so valuable. Written 45 years after the events referred to above, Engels could show how true were the main sections of the analysis, while admitting the errors in forecast made by Marx and himself. But it is on the question of the tactics to be used by the working class that the greatest lessons are to be learnt. The view held by the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party that Socialism will be established by an “intelligent minority’’ leading the masses of the workers, looks curious in face of the following statement on p. 9:—
The proletarian masses themselves, even after their Paris victory, were absolutely at sea as to the course to be pursued. And yet there was the movement—instinctive, spontaneous, irrepressible. Was not that just the situation wherein the revolution must succeed, led by a minority it is true, but this time not in the interests of that minority but in the most specific interests of the majority.
This statement might have been taken today from one of the papers of the two organisations mentioned. But with pitiless logic Engels points out on p. 10:—
History has proved us wrong and all others who thought similarly. It has made clear that the status of economic development on the Continent was then by mo means ripe for the abolition of capitalist production.
Yet some who claim to have studied Marx’s teachings try to argue that it is possible to establish Socialism under economic conditions far less ripe than those existing in 1848, and with a working class much inferior in knowledge to those of France in that day.

Equally crushing is Engels' exposure of the absurdity of supposing that the working class can oppose the Army and Navy with weapons of physical force, in street fights, as advocated by many Communists and Anarchists, After analysing the revolts in the various capitals of Europe, and showing why temporary successes in some places was followed by defeat in all of them, he says :—
Since then much more has been changed, all in favour of. the military. If the cities have become larger, so have the armies. Paris and Berlin, since 1848, have quadrupled, but their garrisons have grown more than that: These garrisons, by means of the railroads, may be doubled inside of twenty-four hours, and in forty-eight hours may swell to gigantic armies. The armament of these enormously augmented troops has become incomparably more effective. In 1848 the smooth bore, muzzle-loaded percussion rifle, to-day the small calibre, magazine breech loader, shooting four times as far, ten times as accurately, and ten times as quickly as the former. At that time the solid projectiles and case shot of the artillery with relatively weak effect, to-day the percussion shell, one of which suffices to shatter the best barricade. . . . . Even if on the side of the insurrection there be more trained soldiers, it will become more difficult to arm them. The hunting and sporting rifles of the warehouses—even if the police has not rendered them useless by the removal of a part of the mechanism—are no match for the magazine rifle of the soldier, even at close quarters.—(Pages 22-23.)
If this was true twenty-nine years ago, how much more does it apply to-day when in addition to all the above advantages, the modern army possesses poison gas, aeroplanes and bombs. What was considered by Engels as a lunatic’s action then, can only be considered as quite brainless to-day. Yet such action still has its advocates!

The final view of the veteran who had lived and taken part in so many stirring events, whose immense knowledge and great intellect were combined in a calm survey of the conditions around him, is given on page 24 :—
The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When' it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But so that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required, and it is this work that we are now performing with results that drive our enemies to despair.
Such is the lesson this volume drives home. In view of its value to the workers, it is a great pity it has not been produced in a cheaper form. The price, at the present rate of exchange, is about 10/-, a sum beyond the power of most workers to pay for a book of 200 pages.
Jack Fitzgerald

Will Thorne and the Others (1917)

Editorial from the February 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

A REPUDIATION OF THEIR CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR SOCIALISM.
There was a time when Mr. Will Thorne was spoken of as "honest, blundering Bill Thorne." It was not honesty blundering, however, that led him, after specifically declaring during his last election campaign that he was not standing as a Socialist, to bawl from the balcony of the West Ham Town Hall upon the night of the declaration of the poll which elected him, that he had won a great victory for Socialism and Labour.

At the recent Labour Conference Mr. Thorne, in moving a hostile amendment to a resolution calling for the holding of an International Socialist Conference after the war, asked: "What sort of an International Conference would it be with delegates from Serbia and Bulgaria upon it?"

Would the man who claimed a Socialist victory when he did not stand as a Socialist, say if he stood as a Socialist when he arose to move that amendment and make that remark? It is not at all difficult to supply an answer in the absence of one from the member for South West Ham.

Mr. Thorne does not speak as a Socialist because he is not a Socialist. His claim to be such is exactly on a par with his claim to have won a victory for Socialism when he admitted that he had not fought a battle for Socialism. Not understanding the class struggle, not realising the unity of interest of the working class the world over, he is a nationalist—an anti-Socialist. But just as he regards himself as a Socialist, so he regards other nationalists of other lands as Socialists also. And just as his ignorance of the fundamental facts of the class antagonism has permitted this sordid masters' quarrel to fill him with hatred of his fellow-workers of other climes, so he sees the Thornes and Clynes of other lands seething in a hatred of their own class of other nations such as utterly precludes a peaceful international conference when the present strife is over.

Undoubtedly Thorne is right within certain limits. The hatred with which he regards his fellow working men of Germany and Austria and Bulgaria is no doubt heartily reciprocated by his mental parallels in those countries. And doubtless also that attitude of mind is as fully appreciated by Kaiser, Hindenburg, Bhung, Schippeowner, Schweater and the rest as is Thorne’s similar mental attitude by a like circle at home, as an expression of loyal love and fidelity toward “the hand that feeds.” To argue that such men can sit in peaceable international conference were fatuous, and therefore Thorne, so far, is right.

But this only proves what has already been stated here, that Thorne is not a Socialist. And by implication, neither are his mental images of other countries Socialists. And by the rules of logical argument, since a Socialist conference must be composed of Socialists, and since the Thornes and Clynes and Hendersons of this and other countries are not Socialists, a conference composed of such elements cannot by any possibility be a Socialist conference.

We always have maintained that the late conglomeration called the International Socialist Bureau was not Socialist at all. Events have proved us correct. The first blast of war found the Thornes and Clynes and Hyndmans of the various countries at each other’s throats. The "Socialist International” collapsed. It was not founded on the international unity of working-class interests; it was not reared and tested and levelled and plumbed and kept true and sound by that grand instrument for working-class guidance, the principle of the class struggle. Had it been so based and built Thorne would have been pitched out neck and crop at least at no later date than the first opportunity after he fought an election but did “not stand as a Socialist.” Such evidence that he did not (or would not) understand that the line of cleavage is drawn between the classes, and that therefore the political struggle must follow the same line, and that again therefore the man who “did not stand as a Socialist" in that highest expression of the class struggle, the political struggle, necessarily stood in opposition to Socialism—such evidence, we say, of these things, would have sufficed to place him outside any Socialist International that was such in fact as well as in name.

And the same remark applies to all the members of the Labour Party, who each and every one ran upon the same constitution, and not as Socialists. It applies also to those “Labour representatives” of other countries who have followed the same line of action. These men, and the organisations whose mentality they reflected, who could not separate themselves from their masters in peace time, would not have been permitted to remain in a SOCIALIST international to wreck it because, perforce, they found themselves in hostile camps in war time.

The Socialist can never be a nationalist. His mind can conceive no division of interests between the working peoples of the world. To him capitalism is one the world over, an international torture-rack on which every working-class race of the present day is stretched in agony. To him this capitalist war, terrible as it is, is but one of the torture twists of that rack, wringing impartially the thews of all workers unfortunate enough to be caught in its toils. His bosom, therefore, harbours no hatred for the German or Austrian worker whom he finds in arms against his fellow of Britain or France. Whether the combatants are the willing or coerced tools of the master butchers, and whichever side they serve, they are alike the subjects of the Socialist's pity, regret, and fraternal concern. He knows that they are a part of his class, wherever they are to be found; he knows that their ignorance, so curiously alike in England and France and Germany and Russia, as the late International itself, in both its rise and its fall, amply proves, is part of the class ignorance it is his mission to combat and disperse; he knows that their weakness as well as their strength, their agony as well as their emancipation, their struggle as well as their foes, are international. The only thing he finds in his whole political outlook that is not international is the sectional interest of the master class—before which the International composed of the Thornes and Clynes and Hyndmans of all countries collapsed like a house of cards before a “Jack Johnson.”

This is the difference, then, between Mr. Thorne and hie like on the one hand and the Socialist on the other and it is the difference between an International composed of Labour adventurers and one consisting of Socialists and founded upon Socialist principles. For the former Mr. Thorne may be permitted to speak—for the latter he never shall. Any Congress which may be engineered and set up by men of the kidney of those is doomed to be rotten at the start, since it must start with the assumption that the workers must defend their masters' property. It must therefore crumble at the test, whether it is confined to the “Allies” and neutrals or not.

What Socialism Means (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The object of socialism is to unite humanity and to solve social problems by building a society which can satisfy the universal need for co-operation and material security.

Socialism involves a creative outlook concerned with the quality of life. In association with others, the individual will develop himself as a social being. With enlightenment and knowledge, man will replace the ignorance, false illusions and prejudice from which he suffers in our own day. Socialism is the form of society most compatible with the needs of man. Its necessity springs from the enduring problems, the economic contradictions and social conflicts of present-day society. Socialist society must be based upon the common ownership and democratic control by the whole community of the means of life.

Life will be based on human relationships of equality and co-operation.  Through these relationships, man will produce useful things, construct amenities and establish desirable institutions. Socialism will resolve the conflicts which at present divide man from man. Regardless of ethnic or cultural differences, the whole world community will share a common interest.

Under capitalism the whole apparatus of production are either privately owned, as in America, or state controlled by a privileged minority, as in Russia. The economies of some countries combine both private and state control. Both forms are alien to the interests of the majority, since the priorities of trade and commerce, exploitation and profit-making, dominate life. Under both forms, production for sale on the market is organized primarily for the benefit of a privileged minority.

The building of Socialism requires a social reorganization where the earth's resources and the apparatus of production are held in common by the whole community. Instead of serving sectional interests, they are made freely accessible to society as a whole. Production will be organized at world level with co-ordination of its differing parts down to local levels.

In Socialism there will be no market, trade or barter. In the absence of a system of exchange, money will have no function to perform. Individuals will participate freely in production and take what they need from what is produced. The fact that Socialism will be based on common ownership does not mean that an individual will have no call on personal effects. It means essentially that no minority will have control over or possession of natural resources or means of production. Individuals will stand in relation to each other not as economic categories, not as employers and employees or buyers and sellers, but simply as human beings producing and consuming the necessary things of life.

Socialist society will minimise waste and set free an immense amount of human labour. Armies and armament industries with their squandering of men and materials will be swept away. These will disappear together with all the wasteful appendages of trade and commerce.

Work
Work is a human need not only because it produces the material things of life, but because it is through work that man expresses his social nature.

In present society, human labour-power is the source of profit. Economic antagonism causes strikes and lock-outs. The uncertainties of trade result in dislocation and unemployment. The present chaos generates frustration and violence. Work becomes repugnant when carried on in this context of competition and exploitation. Life is a personal struggle.

In Socialism there will be a common interest in the planning and smooth operation of production. Work will be a part of human co-operation in dealing with practical problems. Work will be one aspect of the varied yet integrated life of the community.

With the change in the object of society, that is human welfare instead of profit, man will freely develop agriculture and housing, produce useful things and maintain services. As well as material production, man will freely develop desirable institutions such as libraries, education facilities, centres of art and crafts and centres of research in science and technology.

It will be a problem of social planning, statistics and research to ascertain the requirements of the community. Although these techniques are used for different ends, there is already wide experience of them. With experience of Socialist production, these planning techniques will gain in accuracy.

Once produced, goods will be transported to centres of distribution where all will have the same right of access to what is available according to individual need. It will be a simple matter of collecting what is required. As well as tradition and geography, it will be a matter of organization and practicality as to which things will require a complex world division of labour for their production and which things will be produced regionally.

Social values
The insecurities of our present acquisitive society drive men into ruthlessly selfish attitudes and actions which frustrate the human need for co-operation. With success in this competitive race goes a hollow pride; with failure there goes guilt and stigma. Against this background the failure is general because where the individual is isolated, co-operation breaks down.

Socialism will establish a community of interests. The development of the individual will enhance the lives of other men. Equality will manifest attitudes of co-operation. The individual will enjoy the security of being integrated with society at large.

Institutions
The establishment of Socialism does not call for the complete destruction and reconstruction of society. Techniques of production and some of the machinery of administration which can be transformed already exist. The task is to allow their free use and development by and for the community. With the change in the object of society from profit to human welfare will come a change in the function of social institutions. The schools and universities will no longer be concerned with the training of wage and salary workers for the needs of trade and commerce. Education will be a social amenity for life, providing teachers and a storehouse of all accumulated knowledge and skill. Education will not be rigidly separated from other aspects of life. The provision of education facilities will call for some permanent specialists, but knowledge and skill will to a much greater extent be passed on by those actively engaged in their practical application. Education will be tied more closely to the whole process of living.

There will be a body concerned with safety, the co-ordination of services in the event of an emergency, traffic regulation and the like. Here again, whilst some specialists may be required, it will be desirable for members of the community to participate as part of the normal pattern of their lives.

Institutions such as the armed forces, customs, banking, insurance, etc, will become redundant. Socialism will continue those institutions necessary to its own organization. For example, the Food and Agricultural Organization could be expanded to submit plans and execute decisions concerning world food production.

World unity
Socialism will end national barriers. The human family will have freedom of movement over the entire earth. Socialism would facilitate universal human contact but at the same time would take care to preserve diversity. Variety in language, music, handicrafts, art forms and diet etc will add to all human experience.

Democratic control
Socialism will be democratic. World policies will be subject to the control of the world community. The most complete information relevant to all issues under discussion will be made fully available. Elected delegates will carry local viewpoints to a world congress where the broad decisions on all aspects of social policy will be made. From that point, the social machinery would be implemented to carry out these decisions, subject to democratic control through both local and world bodies. Decisions affecting only local interests would be made democratically by the local community.

Whilst the general direction of social policy will be decided by the whole community, many decisions will be technical ones arising out of the problem of this policy. These decisions can be left, subject to regular democratic checks, to men and women with specialized knowledge and experience; but given the whole context of Socialism, they could only be consistent with its general aim--human welfare.

The elimination of vested interests will mean that men will have no ulterior motives influencing their decisions.

The challenge of Socialism
The greatest challenge facing humanity is the need to increase the production of wealth on an enormous scale, but this cannot be done within present capitalist society. Men and resources serve profit. On all sides it can be seen that commerce, trade and vested interests are preventing man from expanding production on a scale necessary to serve the community's needs. Socialism will provide a social framework that will enable man to get on with the job. The initial task of producing enough goods for the whole human family will be a huge one. We do not underestimate the problems of organization and production involved, but to eliminate world poverty must be one of the first tasks of Socialist society.

It is the glaring contradiction of our times that wealth is socially produced but possessed by a minority. Whereas in science, technology and in the development of the means of production man has brilliantly asserted his genius, in his relationships man suffers an abiding failure. It is this failure which is expressed in war, nationalism, racism, world hunger and poverty, unemployment, industrial chaos and social disunity. In all history, man has never suffered such universal frustration whilst having so close at hand the means of building a better world.
Pieter Lawrence

Reformism: A Waste of Precious Time (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The part of the case that separates Socialists most firmly from all other attitudes is our insistence that reform will not do. It is the cause of the most pressure and argument by those who want our energy given to their causes: there are struggles going on for innumerable things, and we should be in all that flailing-about. And to many whose hearts rule their heads it is continually unpalatable. With the world full of misery and suffering, surely — they say — attempts at alleviation must be made; the efforts may be foredoomed, but the compunction at not making them is too great.

Reform means legislation seeking to overcome the problems and defeat the grievances of capitalism. The arguments for it are of four kinds. First, the conviction that in whatever situation Something Must be Done. This is less a theory than a compulsive sentiment, but like all sentiments it is inevitably rationalized and grounds shown to plead for each particular case. Second, the proposition that every reform is an erosion of the present order; given an accumulation of tiny changes, we shall wake up one day to find that a new society has come by stealth. Third, the belief that while working for Socialism in the long term, campaigns on various issues will bring short-term advantages. Last, there is the activist slogan "People are changed by struggle”, which means constant rallying on this and that account in hopes that rebellion may become a habit of mind.

A Bit of History
It should be said at the outset that the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed precisely because reformism had taken hold of the existing movement. The Social-Democratic Federation was the first party in Britain to exist as a partly-Marxist organization, proclaiming the class struggle and the need to overthrow capitalism. (That is not to ignore the old International Workingmen’s Association in which Marx himself played an active part; but it was an association aiming to foster and stabilize revolutionary thought chiefly among trade unionists, not a political party as such.) However, as the SDF grew and laid down fresh policies, considerations of expediency were posed more and more against those of Socialism. While it aimed still at “The Establishment of a Free Condition of Society”, it sought also "measures called for to palliate the evils of our existing society ... for immediate adoption”.

Thus, the free society became a remote objective and "something for now” the actual one. The immediate demands, because they were immediate, required attention all the time not only in propaganda but in tactics too, and the Federation became prepared to ally itself anywhere, anyhow, for its temporary ends. Eventually there appeared a body of dissidents determined to return to Socialist teaching, to independent political action based on class-consciousness and the excision of reformism; and these became the founders of the Socialist Party in 1904. What happened to the SDF was no anomaly, but the inexorable fate of all would-be revolutionaries who open the door to reform. 

An Unamenable Society
The basic question is that of the nature of capitalism. Here again, a vague idea leads nowhere; the policy of Socialists has always been to insist on proper definition of terms, so that what we are talking about is clear. Capitalism is the social system in which the means of living are owned by a section only, leaving the great majority having to work for wages to live. The wages are the price of the commodity sold, i.e. labour-power; like all prices, they depend fundamentally on the commodity’s content — which means that people get what it costs to support them, from buyers who say they cannot throw money about. What must be noted and emphasized is that this is not an exchangeable state of affairs, but the way capitalism has to run. The position of the majority as wage-workers, their differentials only degrees of financial desperation, is unalterable under this system.

More follows. Social problems galore — housing, health, literacy, racial tension, the plight of old age, etc.—are simple consequences of working-class poverty. In addition to them there are the recurrences of war and economic crises, which also are consequences of the production for and competition in markets that is capitalism’s existence; the weight of these catastrophes too falls on the working class, to whom the victories and recoveries mean nothing. In the face of the organic nature of these problems it should seem obvious that attempts to treat them while the cause remains intact are absurd. That is the view Socialists take; but plenty of people make such attempts their vocation. It might be salutary to look at "reform” etymologically as re-form, and consider its activity in that light.

Progress and Commerce
Is all this to say that nothing has changed since capitalism began, or can change? Of course not. Examples to the contrary abound. If one assumes that being alive is a good thing, the expectation of life has grown remarkably. Barefooted children, or children with their legs in irons from malnutrition, have ceased to be a common sight within living memory. Despite the headlines and Mrs. Whitehouse’s obsession about "mugging”, there is nothing like the violence which was taken for granted in everyday life before 1939. Up to the last generation, to have a carpet on the floor, or to possess a car or eat in a restaurant or have regular holidays, was thought luxurious; now those and many other things are commonplace.

However, enthusiasm for apparent benefits should be reserved. Though electioneering parties claim credit for improvements in physical well-being, the fact is that none of the instances given above comes from benevolent legislation. In a broad sense they can be put down to "progress”. But, by itself, that will not do. What "progress” means is that technical and medical knowledge are applied to social life if they are marketable or serve political needs for capitalism. It used to be said that after missionaries had denounced the un-Christian nudity of African tribeswomen, clothing salesmen were the next to arrive. Likewise, to have shoeless children and homes without wallpaper or electricity is to dam up a market. On the other hand, research which finds children poisoned in the streets by traffic fumes is damnably subversive, at least until it provides some selling-point. Nor is this cynical speculation. The pouring of welfare foods down infants’ throats began in this country — see the report of the Royal Commission on Population, 1948 — with the alarm over future military needs: to the drug firms’ delight.

Doubtful Bounties
It may be thought that the gains, nevertheless, are there. Certainly that was true of major reforms when capitalism was still forming its apparatus in the 19th century. The vote and popular education were given by the ruling class for its own requirements, but are indispensable weapons in the struggle to abolish capitalism. The changes in living standards can be traced back to the beginning of the era of relative surplus-value when technical changes brought about, as Marx puts it:
. . . the fact that the same amount of values represents a progressively increasing mass of use-values and enjoyments to the extent that the capitalist system of production carries with it a development of the productive power of social labour, a multiplication of the lines of production, and an increase of products.
(Capital, Vol. Ill, pp. 256-7) 
What the benefits have conveyed, then, is a fresh phase of exploitation. Portraying in “The Man with the Hoe” the mute, brutalized labourer of the 19th century, Edwin Markham asked:
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands.
How shall the future reckon with this man?
The masters, lords and rulers answered by giving him a Council flat and Hai Karate after-shave; the future remains to be reckoned with.

For all the changes in detail that can be seen, in broad sweep there has been none. The situation of the working class and the major problems it is faced with have not altered. Indeed, to compare circumstances today with those of forty, sixty, a hundred years ago is to accept the wrong yardstick. The comparison should be between life as it is and life as it could be; the development of society’s powers, and the restraint from enjoyment of them. By that standard, reform is an idiot’s struggle to get miniscule silk purses out of the monstrous sow’s ear of capitalism.

Reforms at Work
One other thing not realized by reformists is that measures arc granted on the basis of their worth to capitalism: for practical considerations, not sentimental ones. This is why an ideal so often turns sour. The good intentions which furnish support for a project are one thing, the terms in which it is legislated usually another. The outstanding example in our time is that of the Welfare State. As planned by Beveridge, it sought greater State control of the economic system and manpower; giving priority of claim to sick workers and their children over the non-productive old; and the damping- down of wage claims. Yet, presented as the great promise of the post-war world, it was hailed as such by thousands who wanted insecurity abolished but had not read even the moderately small print. Another instance is the recent agitation for the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. There is general agreement in the Left that the Tories must go and a Labour government be brought in to enact something different; but no-one is asking what, and whether the alternative will be acceptable either.

Some reform is fat-headed, actuated by limited vision of the consequences. Labour’s limitation of office-building, which was a flourish at quelling the speculators and did them a good turn by creating scarcity prices. Farther back, the zeal of prison reformers in having every convict enclosed in his own neat cell, thus creating one of the most dreadful of deprivations — that of human company. And some reform is cynical. The varying of censorship laws can be seen thus, pretending liberal thought or moral concern when the issue is invariably a practical one; and present-day penal reform, preoccupied with the finances of keeping men in prison while the correspondence columns irrelevantly debate justice. One might add reforms in other “moral” matters, like the legalization of abortion and homosexuality; it would be hard to imagine measures like these considered except in times when population growth was conceived as a serious problem.

But, whatever its motivation, the policy of reform does not change the essential nature of society. That is not a matter for argument: the history of social problems, and attempts to deal with them, demonstrates it absolutely. Promises, endeavours and lamentations over the housing problem, for example, can be traced back almost endlessly. “Disgraceful condition of the dwellings inhabited by the poorer sections” (1851); “better housing for workers” (1895); “London’s shame — the slums" (1933); “a million slum houses” (1955) — and so on, to the Shelter reports of today. What other indictment is needed of the futility of reformism?

Where we Stand
The Socialist case follows the logic of the facts. We oppose the patching-up of capitalism, and work only for its abolition and replacement with a system based on common ownership of the means of living. It is part of our case to analyze reform measures and point out their effects — favourable, if and when that can be discerned, as well as otherwise. What matters, however, is not the statements of good intent but the actual legislation; perhaps that is why the Socialist view is so constant an irritation to reformers, since it involves saying “Told you so”, continually.

We do not advocate any reform. It is possible to think of measures which we would welcome for our own benefit — say, a change giving minorities the TV and radio facilities now monopolized by the main parties, or an end to the legislation which stops us selling literature at meetings in public parks. But if a case were seen for wanting this or that to be done, the fact is that there are thousands of people and organizations already in the business of reform. To join it means only adding to, in some other words of Marx, “the length and weight of the golden chain the wage-worker has already forged for himself”. Our business is revolution.
Robert Barltrop

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Basic Principles of Socialism (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (i.e. land, factories, railways, etc) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

"You take my life if you do take the means whereby I live", wrote Shakespeare. This is precisely the position today for the great majority of people. The means whereby they live — society’s natural and industrial resources — are monopolized by a minority who thus form a privileged class. This is the basis of present-day society the world over, In countries like Britain this class monopoly takes the form mainly of legal property titles granted to individuals. In countries like Russia the predominant form is actual control of access to the means of production through control of the State. But, whatever the form, the position of the excluded, non-owning majority is basically the same; to live they must sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary; they are dependent on the owning class for a livelihood. But more. They also produce all the wealth of society, including that consumed by the owning class. So they, like the slaves of the ancient world, work to maintain in privilege and dominance a minority class who monopolize the means of production; they are, in short, wage slaves. Because they produce the wealth of society they are properly called the working class. A word of caution is in order here.: The term “working class” is often used in ordinary conversation in a narrower sense than this, to mean industrial workers only. But in the scientific sense used here it is much broader than this and includes all those who depend on a wage or salary to live, irrespective of the kind of job they are employed to do. So the vast majority of those who are popularly regarded as “middle class”, professional and white collar employees of all kinds, are really working class. In fact the middle class is a myth. In the industrialized parts of the world there are only two classes: this working class, comprising over 90 per cent of the population, and the monopolizing or capitalist class (so called because they use the means of production as capital, that is, to extract from the labour of the producers a profit which is accumulated as more capital).

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess.

Built-in to present-day society is a struggle between these two classes over the possession and use of the means of production. The one, using political power and ideology, to maintain its dominant position; the other, at first somewhat blindly and without fully realizing it, struggling against it. At the moment the obvious signs of the class struggle are trade-union negotiations and strikes when workers bargain over how much they shall be allowed to have of the wealth they produce. But the class struggle is not about the division of the newly-produced wealth between wages and profits; it is about the ownership and control of the means of production themselves, as the next Principle makes clear.

3. That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into the common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

The class struggle will only end when the working class take over the ownership and control of the means of production from the capitalist class (a political act, as a later Principle explains). This done, classes are abolished and the means of production become common property under the democratic control of all the people; Socialism has been established. So ultimately the class struggle is a struggle over whether there should be capitalism or Socialism, class or common ownership of the means of production, with the working class championing common ownership, even though at first they don’t realise this.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

“The history of all hitherto existing society”, wrote Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, “is a history of class struggles”. Like everything else, human society has been subject to constant change. The basis of any society is the way its members are organized to produce and reproduce their basic conditions of life. This has two aspects, the actual technical methods of production and the social relations of production by which classes are defined according to how they stand with regard to the control and use of the means of production. As technology develops, so this social organization of production changes too: old classes lose their dominant position as new classes, based on new more productive methods, arise to challenge them. In the course of history, at least in Western Europe and the Mediterranean, class society has evolved, very broadly, through the following states: ancient slave society, feudalism and now capitalism. The presently dominant capitalist class, the last class to have won its freedom, had to fight its way to power against the landed aristocracy whose power rested on their private ownership of the land, the main means of production till the growth of modern industry. But the revolutions in which the capitalist class seized power — Britain in 1688, France in 1789 — were, despite all their talk of “freedom” and “liberty”, changes from rule by one minority class to rule by another minority class. The mass of the people remained unfree, downtrodden and exploited; these were later to develop into the modern wage-earning working class of today. This working class is now itself engaged in a struggle for its freedom. Its struggle is not simply one to replace one ruling class by another since, as we saw, the working class can only free itself by establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, so abolishing all classes (including itself). The working class can only achieve its freedom by establishing a classless society in which every member of society, no matter what their race or nationality or sex, will stand in the same position with regard to the control and use of the means of production and will have an equal say in the way social affairs are conducted. This is why Socialism necessarily involves what is called “women’s liberation”, “black liberation”, “national liberation”, etc. and why all other oppressed groups; should recognise that they are the working class and struggle for Socialism, a frontierless world community where the resources of the world, natural and industrial, will become the common heritage of all mankind;

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

This is the shortest, but perhaps the most important Socialist Principle. It expresses the fact that Socialism can only be established by the action of the working class (remember, all those compelled to work for a wage or salary). It is a decisive rejection of all leadership and an assertion of confidence in the ability of the working class to act for itself and work out its own salvation without needing to be guided by condescending or “intellectual” leaders or vanguards. History shows that leadership a conscious minority at the head of an unconscious majority — has been the feature of those revolutions that have merely transferred power from one minority ruling class to another, as was the case in France in 1789 and again in Russia in 1917, The very nature of Socialism, as a society based on common ownership run by and for all the people, means that it can only be established by people who have already learned to do without leaders and to manage their affairs democratically. Socialism cannot be established by an élite, but only by a conscious, participating working class. '

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exist only to conserve the monopoly of the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

The establishment of Socialism must be a political act. Not in the sense of being legislated into being by professional politicians (or of being legislated into being at all), but in that the socialist-minded and democratically - organized working class will have to use political power to do it. For one simple reason. Once the vast majority of workers have become socialist-minded there will only be one obstacle in the way of establishing Socialism: the fact that the machinery of government will still be in the hands of the capitalist class. One of the biggest political myths of today is that governments exist to serve the interest of all the people. In class society this is impossible; the government’s job is to preserve the status quo, to maintain the established basis of society: at the moment, the capitalist class monopoly of the means of production and their exploitation of the working class. Parliament passes laws in the interests of the capitalist class, and the civil service, the courts, and if necessary the armed forces, carry out and enforce those laws. But in countries like Britain Parliament is elected by all the people, the great majority of whom are workers. At the moment, unfortunately, they elect people pledged to maintain and work within capitalism. But it needn’t be like this. Once the workers have become Socialists they will obviously stop electing capitalist politicians and parties. Instead, they will have to think about how to take control of the machinery of government out of the hands of the capitalist class. The way to do this will be to organize themselves in a mass, democratic, Socialist party and to themselves put up candidates for parliament and the local councils. In accordance with the previous principle that “the emancipation of the working class . . . must be the work of the working class itself”, these candidates must be mandated delegates under the strict democratic control of the politically-organized working class outside parliament. Their task will be to carry out the democratically-expressed will of the working class outside Parliament, they will take over the machinery of government, convert it for Socialist use by lopping off its many undemocratic features and then use it to end capitalist ownership and control of the means of production (along with any vestiges of aristocratic privilege, such as the monarchy, that may still be existing at that time). Should there be any attempt on the part of an undemocratic minority to use violence to resist the abolition of capitalism, then the Socialist working-class majority will have to be prepared, as a last resort, to deal with them by employing armed force (suitably re-organized on a democratic basis of course). But there is no question of there being a “socialist government”. This would be an absurd contradiction in terms. The Socialist working class will simply be using the machinery of government for the one purpose of replacing class ownership by common ownership. This done there is no longer any need for a coercive governmental machinery to protect the interest of a ruling class. With the establishment of Socialism government over people gives way to the democratic administration of social affairs by and for all the people.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

A political party is an organization seeking to win control of the machinery of government. Since, in the end, such political power can only be used for one of two basic purposes — either to maintain capitalism or to abolish it — then parties either represent the interest of the capitalist class (or rival or would-be sections of it) or they represent the interest of the working class. The major parties in Britain today (and, for that matter, the various minor parties too) all stand for the interest of the capitalist class because they stand for the maintenance of capitalism. They all in practice accept class ownership and production for the market with a view to profit; they all work within and seek only to patch up and reform the capitalist system. For this reason the working-class, socialist political party, envisaged by the previous Principle, must be uncompromisingly opposed to all other parties.'

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action, determined to wage, war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, as the one uncompromising, Socialist, working-class party operating in Britain, declares its opposition to all other British political parties and calls on the working class here to join with a view to quickly establishing Socialism, a society of freedom and equality in which no one will go without adequate food, clothing or shelter. Socialism of course cannot be established in Britain, but the working class in any particular nation-state must organize to take control of that State out of the hands of its capitalist class. At the same time as the Socialist Party is organizing here so will similar Socialist parties be organizing in the other countries of the world. At a certain stage these Socialist parties will unite as a world socialist movement — and, most likely, a single World Socialist Party — to co-ordinate the final establishment of world Socialism. 
Adam Buick



Socialism Means: World-Wide (1973)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,

I have read the Socialist Standard for some two years now, and have been impressed with its general economic analysis of world events, attributing the evils of society to capitalism, etc.

I have not been so impressed, however, with the rank condemnation by the Socialist Party of all other ‘left wing' organisations and institutions. Chile, Russia and China have been continually maligned. But even if the leaders of these countries were selfless personages and there was full worker control, the system, by definition, would still be state capitalism because the rest of the world remains capitalist. So what could the workers in those countries do to escape your wrath?

What would be your policy, Mr. Editor, if democratically elected to power in this or any country? To be consistent you would have to resign on the spot (in fact you should never have campaigned for election in the first place), stating that world socialism is the only answer and you should retire to await the day when the whole world realises this fact — simultaneously — it must be simultaneously.

Can it be that the Socialist Standard has spent 60-70 years engaged in this type of academic analysis? If so, this analysis is no use whatsoever to the oppressed man in the street. Even if he realises that world socialism is the only answer, he is not prepared to wait for the preposterously hypothetical day when all the world’s workers come to realise this fact.

Next months’ issue of the Socialist Standard will predictably expose the evils of capitalism and dismiss other ‘socialist’ parties as being a nonsense, full stop. To your suffering readership this must now be old hat. I suggest that future issues of the Socialist Standard deal not only with the above two basic lines of attack, but also constructively outline to the British worker precisely what is, in practical terms, the political activity he should be indulging in. Also indicate how soon his labours might be expected to bear fruit in the shape of world socialism.
—D. J. Thornton, Aberystwyth.


REPLY: 
Unfortunately Mr. Thornton has not understood our conception of the role of a Socialist party. He assumes that a Socialist party is like other parties, except that what it is offering to do for people is to introduce Socialism for them. Hence his reference to a Socialist party being “elected to power” and his criticism of us for not being “practical”.

In our view a Socialist party is an instrument which the working class can — and should — use to establish Socialism when a majority of them have become convinced Socialists. It is a matter of the working class themselves forming their own party to further their interests, not of a group of Socialists seeking working-class votes to do something for them. Hence we don’t think in terms of “winning elections”, “coming to power”, “forming a government”, etc. The working class Socialist party will of course contest elections and ultimately gain control over the machinery of government, but only for the one revolutionary purpose of establishing Socialism by their own democratic political action based on Socialist understanding.

When the working class becomes Socialist there is no reason to assume that this will be confined to those in one country. Quite the contrary. First, because the conditions and problems which face wage and salary earners everywhere are essentially the same. And so of course is the solution. Second, because Socialism is the concept of a world society so that, even if it did happen that the Socialist movement grew more quickly in one country than in all others, then the Socialists in that country would take action to correct this imbalance by helping the movement in other countries. So it is Mr. Thornton’s situation that is preposterously hypothetical.

But in a sense he is right. If a group of genuine Socialists (which of course the governments of Chile, Russia and China are not: they always stood for state capitalism) were, by some freak circumstances, to come to control the government somewhere, then it is true they would have no alternative but to administer capitalism.

What should workers do till there is a Socialist majority in the industrialized parts of the world? It is not a question of what they should do (they should of course immediately establish Socialism) but of what they will do. No doubt they will continue struggling to get what they can out of capitalism until, helped by the activities of the as-yet-only-small Socialist parties in the various parts of the world, they realise the need to establish Socialism if their problems are to be solved.

World socialism is, quite literally, as far away — or as near as the working class choose to make. Unfortunately, it’s up to them, not us. All we can do is to urge them to make the right choice quickly.
Editorial Committee


Socialism Means: Russia was never Socialist (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is our contention that Socialism has not been established at any time in any part of the world and that there is no basis for supporting the various regimes which claim to be socialist or advancing towards Socialism.

The oldest and most well-known of such regimes is that which governs Russia and, indirectly, a host of East European countries. This regime came to power with the so-called October Revolution at 1917, an event which was little more than a straightforward takeover by a well-organized minority group, the Bolsheviks, who have held political power to the present day. They have consistently claimed that the working class rules in Russia, in contrast to the capitalist west, a claim which we have treated with the contempt it deserves.

Despite the adulation with which the revolution was received by many leftists in the West, the Socialist Party of Great Britain maintained from the start that Socialism could not possibly be established in Russia because of the extremely backward nature of the country economically and because of the lack of Socialist ideas among the working-class throughout the world. Everything which has happened since 1917 has proved the truth of this stand. The organized brutality brought about in the process of industrialization, the oppression of any semblance of democracy and the emergence of the country as a giant capitalist power armed with a full army of the latest weapons has led to a growing disillusionment with Russia in the left wing.

But the Left gropes in the dark for an explanation as to what went wrong. Some see the corruption of one man, Stalin, as responsible for the failure of Socialism to develop; others, wanting to have their cake and eat it, see elements of Socialism in Russia which they attribute to the revolution, and other “deformities” which "the bureaucracy” is alleged to be responsible for. However, it is totally false to believe that the establishment of Socialism depends upon having the right leadership; given the conditions which existed in Russia, capitalism in some form was the only possible outcome of the revolution.

The type of society which emerged in Russia is best described as state capitalism. This is different in form from western capitalism, but is not fundamentally different and exhibits all the basic features at the capitalist mode of production. According to the Russian Constitution the means of production are owned by the whole community; however, this is meaningless in practice, and if ownership is defined as effective rights over the use and products of property, then the top political and industrial executives are in the same position as the capitalist class in the Western countries. Because this form of ownership is not legally recognized by the issue of personal property titles, this dominant section of the ruling class do not own as individuals, but as a class. There exists therefore what Djilas described as a “new class” enjoying a de facto ownership and control of the means of production. There are also many individually wealthy people in Russia such as private entrepreneurs, legal and illegal.

The working class in Russia is in the same basic position as in the West, as propertyless and having to sell their labour for a wage in order to live. In terms of democratic rights, the Russian workers are far worse off than their counterparts in the West, having no trade unions or political parties of their own. This is mainly because of the very centralized nature of state capitalism which makes for a more homogenous and united ruling class, less open to the kind of splits which make it possible for the working class to play off one section against another. This in itself is enough to expose the myth that the type of society which exists in Russia is in any way a step forward for the working-class.

Any logical analysis of Russia must conclude that it is a capitalist society and therefore to be opposed by Socialists along with all capitalism. Capitalism does not stand or fall on the existence of a stock market or any other superfluous characteristic. The hallmarks of the capitalist system are wage-labour, exchange and capital, all of which exist in Russia. Even the distinction between state capitalism and the private capitalism of the West is not as sharp as is usually made out. In Russia, about 25 per cent of capital is privately operated, while all Western economies have been the subject of increasing state intervention. With the need of the Russian economy to trade with other capitalist economies, the West and the East are becoming daily more similar and recently we have seen the visit of the American president to Moscow. However, the dealings and manoeuvrings of the Russian rulers are not our concern. For the working-class, there is only one solution—the establishment of Socialism.
B. K. McNeeney



Socialism Means: We are Opposed to War (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the two world wars the Socialist Party of Great Britain alone took the position of opposing them because, as our 1914 Manifesto stated, “no issue was involved which justified the shedding of a drop of working-class blood”. Members of other organizations refused to fight for religious, humanitarian and political reasons; none shared our stand based solely on working-class interests.

“Join the professionals" is the punch line of the advertisements which try to sell us the advantages of life in the modern Army. For once we have no argument with the ad-men; war is no longer a matter for part-timers. It is a socially organized, socially pervasive act planned, organized and carried out by highly trained people.

All over the world, states reserve a large — in many cases the largest — part of their budget to their armed forces. This means that a large part of the knowledge, the skills and the material resources of those states is diverted into organizing and producing a powerful machinery of destruction.

The more “advanced" countries vie with each other in turning out the weapons with the fastest, most obliterative effect; some of the results of this contest have an awesomeness which would once have seemed appropriate only to the wildest nightmares of science fiction. But this is reality — nuclear weapons and methods of biological warfare, to name only two which we know of, are there — waiting.

If they are ever let go a large part of the settled world would quickly be wiped out. This very fact has been in part responsible for something of a change in the style of warfare. How long ago was it, that hostilities opened only after a declaration of war? Did America and China ever admit that they were at war in Vietnam?

Nowadays the great nation states and power blocs of capitalism are in perpetual manoeuvre for advantage against each other, pushing out in a series of minor conflicts (if Vietnam can be called minor) with their ultimate threat held in reserve.

The spectacle of modern society, with all its capacity to provide abundance for its peoples, wasting valuable resources in this way while it still has problems of famine and poverty, has provoked a great many theories about the cause of war. "Human nature" is one of them — war is simply an extension of an individual’s irritability. Munitions manufacture is another — men like Krupp have a vested interest in the continuing use of weapons. Sometimes the explanations have a tenuous connection with the truth — for example Lord Boothby writing in The Times (20 May 1968) " . . . they (the Central Bankers) were primarily responsible for the Second World War.”

In fact none of these explanations comes near the root of the matter. This can be done only by examining war as an aspect — along with human behaviour, munitions firms, bankers — of capitalist society.

Capitalism is a social system with the characteristic that its wealth is produced primarily for sale. But selling, as any supermarket bears witness, is a matter of competition. If we expand the point, we can see capitalism is a system which divides the world into a number of competing units; on one scale these might be supermarkets competing for customers in the High Street, on another they are states and alliances which clash over exploiting markets or getting access to things like oil.

A state is a coercive machine which enforces the interests of a particular group of capitalists, a particular group of the ruling class. Wherever these capitalists have interests, their state machine will protect them and if possible expand them.

Since capitalism is an international system, most states have interests outside their own frontiers. Lonrho, for example, has large investments in Africa; the oil companies have the same in areas like the Middle East, the Far East, the North Sea.

Provided all goes well the customary exploitative operations of capitalism can be carried on with no more disturbance than need be caused by the expected double-dealing of commerce, banking and so on. It is when the competition gets too fierce — when a new ruling class in Africa threatens to take over foreign investments, when the Icelandic fishing interests grab a bit more of the seas, if the carve-up of the North Sea (which was an example of original robbery) were to be upset by some latecoming state — that force is brought to bear.

Then the armed forces — the Professionals — take over the argument from the businessmen and the diplomats. This is war. The tragedy is that the people who are most directly involved in the hostilities, and who pay the price in terms of suffering, have nothing to gain or lose in the struggle. In the dispute over the Icelandic fishing grounds it is the owners of the trawler fleets and the food combines on both sides who stand to gain, not the fishermen or the sailors in the gunboats. These men have no ownership in any of the means of wealth production, including the seas, yet they are the ones who suffer through the cod war and some of whom may sometime be killed in it.

In larger wars millions of workers die or bear an untold burden and at the end of it all their basic situation remains the same as before. None of their problems has been lessened, let alone solved. They are still exploited and degraded in service to the ruling class and to the demands of capitalism. They still suffer poverty and a host of related social malaises.

The wars of capitalism solve no problem simply because they aim only to readjust the balance between clashing interests. To abolish war we must go for its roots, not tinker with the superficialities of those interests. We must strike at the basis of capitalism. But to do that means to abolish the system and to replace it with Socialism, a world order in which all human interests are in harmony and the conflicts of capitalism a black memory.
Ivan

Socialism Means: An End to Racist Nonsense (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Modern racist attitudes are entirely the product of capitalist society. They are generated by capitalism through the social and economic relationships which exist toward the means of production. These relationships (whether or not the State is involved) are private-property ones, i.e. employer to employees, landlord to tenant, buyer to seller, rich and poor.

Any attempt to rationalize racist attitudes, or to surround them with an aura of scientific justification, is ludicrous. These are no examples anywhere that can be shown where any group of people, along racial or national lines, is more or less capable of assimilating ideas or interpreting information and performing social functions than any other. Different stages of history and different systems of society vary widely in the kinds of ideas and social functions relevant to them. If we call these things intelligence, then man’s intelligence is entirely social.

All human beings are genetically similar, and what variations there are—such as in aptitude, strength, endurance, creativity and so on—exist within every group and in no way lend support to ideas of innate superiority or inferiority.

The proof of this, of course, is society itself. Inherited characteristics can only be seen in action through society. Whatever social group or so-called race one takes against which prejudice is held, whether it be blacks, Jews, Irish, Poles, Pakistanis or Japanese, every shade and level of ability and accomplishment exists within each of them. That there are some exceptionally “gifted” or talented people is obvious, hut no one group has a monopoly of such people. On a planet inhabited by some 3,000 million people, there is no possible starting-point for the development of a so-called super-race. Neither could such an abhorrent abomination ever be desirable.

In any schoolroom of working-class children, regardless of colour, there are the “bright” ones who get higher marks and the “less bright” ones who get lower marks. All of the standards set and the measurements used are derived from the needs of capitalism, and ultimately aimed at slotting people into those private-property relationships. Modern educationists and sociologists look for social or economic factors to explain why some children are relatively backward. The size of class, home background, parental encouragement, amount of sleep, nutrition, number in family, and family income. It is conditions outside the individual social conditions, the sum total of which constitute the social environment, which mould and influence the people involved in them.

We are not taking the mechanistic view that man is poured into a social mould which predetermines him and from which there is no escape. It is because man’s consciousness develops through society that he becomes aware of his environment and tries to change it: in fact he is constantly changing various aspects of it and being constantly modified himself as a result.

Social attitudes, habits and institutions which flourish in one form of society do not fit into another. Indeed, many ideas from early capitalism would not fit into modern capitalism. Scores of examples could be taken from medical science or physics and from the spheres of social thought which correspond to the different periods.

Just as the racist looks at the African tribesman and concludes “we are superior”, it is relevant to ask if the British, French or German working class of the early industrial era were inferior to their modem successors. Were ancient Britons inferior to the Romans, or the pioneers of locomotion backward because they did not start with the Golden Arrow?

We would argue that the opportunities for the development of ideas are socially created, and restricted by the general level of development of the means of production at a given time. Capitalism imposes further restrictions concerned with investment of capital and the profitable disposal of goods in world markets.

As Socialists, we condemn racist ideas. They are stumbling-blocks to working-class understanding of Socialism. This above all is why we find such attitudes pernicious and repugnant, Racists are invariably ignorant and irrational. They seek only the most crude and superficial explanation of social problems. They need a whipping-boy, a scapegoat. The Jew to blame for money grabbing and financial swindling. The black man to blame for housing squalor or unemployment. If they can find in the black man a convenient outlet upon whom to vent their frustrations and resentments, they need look no further.

In a recent television programme, in what was supposed to be a debate on racism in Britain, representatives of the National Front and the Monday Club expressed alarm at the development of a multi-racial community and the loss of what they called “national identity”. For the working class national identity has always meant decaying slums, congested insecure living, poverty and, very often, dole-queues and wars. National identity is a cunning political device by means of which the working class, who own no country, are kidded to identify with their exploiters the capitalists, who own virtually everything.

One has only to look at those festering cess-pits of capitalist culture where racist ideologies have had legal sanction and/or mass support, to see the depth of inhuman depravity masquerading as race supremacy. The worst examples being Nazi Germany, South Africa and the United States. The records of the first two countries are perhaps more familiar than the last. Would any white suprematist today like to defend the record of the United States where some 5,000 negroes were lynched during the hundred years up to 1961? Many of them were burned alive. Some had the defiant courage to sing while the mob perpetrated their grisly deeds. The violence and hatred which now erupts in the form of the black-power movement can only be understood against the background of a long history of racism—which, in turn, can only be understood as the product of the most appalling poverty and ignorance: a product of capitalism.

It is a typical contradiction of capitalism that its private-property relationships produce racism, and yet commodity production and the profit motive find racism an encumbrance. The capitalist class (black and white) is interested in maximizing profits. Whether the wealth they accumulate derives from the exploitation of black or white wage-slaves is a matter of indifference to them. In the long run, capitalism finds it unprofitable to have a potential labour force of many millions which cannot be fully exploited because it is black. What capitalism encourages in one situation, it actively seeks to prevent in another. This is true of racism in America, and similar signs are beginning to emerge in South Africa.

Capitalism in creating “a world in its own image” also creates a world-wide working class with common interests. This common interest cuts right across questions of colour, language, and place-of-birth. It prompts all workers to understand the world they live in and to take enlightened action to banish the major social problems, by changing society.

The whole of humanity and the entire earth are the only limits to society. Capitalism divides because the means of production are owned by a few. Socialism will embrace all mankind because the earth will be owned in common. Only thus can racism and all its ugly manifestations be finally conquered.
Harry Baldwin

Strife in the West Indies (1939)

Book Review from the February 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Warning from the West Indies by W. M. MacMillan. (Penguin Special, 6d.)

To-Day, when Germany and Italy are demanding colonies, when the British and French governments are holding fast to theirs, and when leaders of all shades—Communist, Labour, Liberal and Conservative—are doing their utmost to make the British workers believe that the British Empire is worth defending with their lives, it is very fitting that these workers, who would bear the brunt of the fighting in the event of war, should know what they would be defending.

Are we not told that it would be inhuman if the British Government handed any of its colonies over to the savagery of the totalitarian governments? Well, it is worth asking how the British colonies are administered, in order to find out if the subject peoples would lose by a change of masters.

An insight into the character of British rule over colonial peoples can be obtained from Mr. W. M. MacMillan’s "Warning from the West Indies.” This book shows the results of imperialism, and should convince all workers that British imperialism is no better than any other.

The title is very apt. Indeed, it is a warning, from the West Indies that British workers would be sacrificing themselves in vain if they backed their Government in a war with another country over colonies.

Though we are well aware that “Home Rule" solves none of the problems of a working class, it is worth noting that "No British Crown colony of other than European population has 'grown up' to attain responsible government ” (p. 26). That fact alone is sufficient to expose the lying assertion that the British are in the colonies to help the natives along the road of progress. It shows, also, how much a capitalist government is interested in fostering democracy. Although the British Government has been ruling some colonies for many generations, Mr. MacMillan is able to make the following observation: "In the West Indies, and in the Empire as a whole, the development of the backward peoples has hardly yet begun" (p. 169).

Until 1838 chattel slavery was carried on in the West Indies. Since the slaves were "emancipated,” their position has changed very little— save that formerly they were fed, clothed and housed by their masters, whilst now they work for wages, and feed, clothe and house themselves as best they can.

“Emancipation,” says Mr. MacMillan, "only meant the substitution of a low wage for the previous outlay on the purchase and maintenance of slaves, besides absolving employers from responsibility" (p. 69). And again : —
“But, in spite of a growing middle class, a large but uncertain proportion of the population are very much where slavery left them" (p. 53).
And that, let it be noted, after a hundred years of “freedom" and “progress” under British rule.

In the towns of the West Indies slums are general (p. 101). Even when the Government launches a housing scheme the houses are beyond the means of the poorer sections of the population. “These remain as they were, crowded in insanitary dwellings, even in the country” (p. 119). The latest Trinidad Commission severely condemned housing conditions.

Incidentally, we agree with Mr. MacMillan when he says, "Bad housing is obviously only part of the familiar problem of poverty and cannot be dealt with in isolation,” and we would urge workers to ask themselves how it is that, wherever capitalism penetrates, slums are to be found.

Unemployment is rife in the West Indies, and provision has had to be made for the indigent poor (p. 95). “In Barbados, in particular, special effort is needed to save the unemployed from starvation. In other islands they can live more easily on friends with small holdings, or, failing these, gather wild produce from the forest." (Italics ours.) This last sentence shows how concerned the British Government is for its subject peoples.

Every island in the West Indies has its beggars. Says MacMillan, “Almost every island is desperately afflicted with beggars of all kinds—'sturdy' beggars a few of them, but many not so sturdy. Especially in the larger islands, where tourist influence is strong, the visitor has to suffer importunate begging from the obviously inadequately employed . . .  a not uncommon salutation is ‘I beg you somet'ing' "(p. 105).

Naturally, with so much poverty and with so many slums, malnutrition and ill-health are widespread. The poor, being inadequately fed, have not the power to resist epidemics. “The school medical officer for Kingston has produced evidence that undernourishment is very general, and that teachers find it prevents many children from working" (p. 123). 

Mr. MacMillan's case is that the malnutrition is due to the fact that there is no variety in the diet, but he says—and note this—“Even if good feeding were available and understood, agricultural wages would not buy it. . . ."

And so we could continue to quote from this book to show that, in these British colonies, conditions are revolting for the poor. And such, fellow workers, is the state of affairs you will be called upon to defend in the event of a war over colonies.

It is not surprising that strikes have broken out among the workers of the West Indies during the last two years. These are but the beginning. Some day, those workers will be lined up with their brothers in other parts of the world, and with them they will demand the end of exploitation, and this will end poverty, slums and malnutrition. They will be demanding the change from capitalism to Socialism.
Clifford Allen