Sunday, July 31, 2016

1943—The War and the Workers (1943)

From the February 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

In September, 1939, the Government of this country proclaimed its intention of planning for a “three years war." Alas, for the planners—and the planned—for war like other evils of our times, is generated by a social order which, below its veneer of method and organisation, is rent by the most explosive contradiction in all history, social production versus class-ownership in the means of life. Therefore, the “orderly" and “efficient" minds of statesmen and leaders cannot prevent disorder; the magnitude of productive forces is mocked by hunger and want. The capitalist Social Order is exposed always as Social Anarchy.

During the last months of the old year the war has extended its deadly grip along the northern shores of Africa; thousands of its native population will now experience the effect of total war. From these shores the Allies hope to bring to naught all of Hitler's schemes to secure himself from attack in the West. The dictator of Italy, for years preening himself and fooling his people with insane talk about the “glory and exhilaration" of war, now has his chance of convincing the duped victims whilst the full blast of war is turned upon them

In connection with this Allied expedition an incident has occurred which has given rise to much criticism and speculation. By a most remarkable coincidence the Allied Armada set out on its journey at the same time that Admiral Darlan (shortly to fall victim to the assassin's bullet) had chosen to visit the French possessions of Morocco and Algiers. The Admiral had until recently been second in command to Marshal Detain, and in this position vehemently proclaimed hostility to the Allies, especially Britain, and urged fuller collaboration with the Nazi regime. After press reports that Darlan had been taken prisoner, the news that he was in fact acting as host to the Allies was no doubt a shock. The enemy had become a friend—overnight. The Fascist had changed to a Democrat!

On the Russian Front the German armies are meeting the fate which overtook their predecessors in France during the last war. Stalingrad appears to have become another Verdun; the rubble and ruins of the city on the Volga must now be drenched by the blood of hundreds of thousands. Thus the “intuition" of the Fuhrer finds its fulfilment. The hold which Hitler seems to have on the youth of Germany is a riddle to many workers of other countries. But the solution is not difficult. The great depression which began in Germany in 1920 and put more than seven million workers on the dole gave Hitler his opportunity. “Work and Living Space" sound attractive slogans to workers, especially the young, when wedged in queues at the Labour Exchange.

However, the German people are not alone in being misled so easily. Their credulous behaviour can be paralleled by workers everywhere.

In this country, where the “economic blizzard" arrived a year later, in 1930, it brought to power a “National" Government, sponsored by Labour leaders, on the claim that it would “get the wheels of industry turning again." Both Hitler and the National Government kept their promise to the unemployed. Hitler's agents tout for labour in every nook and cranny of Europe, filling German factories with labour-power from the defeated countries, while the “pure- blooded Aryan" is given the privilege of dying on the snowy wastes at the Eastern Front. The British worker, in piping times of peace, often reduced to demanding “work or maintenance," earns himself a line or imprisonment now for being absent from his work. Thus the social status of the proletariat is clearly defined. It is capitalist society's beast of burden, to be coaxed or bullied as required.

One of the strangest features of the present conflict is a fact elicited recently m the House of Commons. The Bank of International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland, is, as its name denotes, a clearing-house for international financial transactions, its motto for war-time appears to be: “Business as usual." Around its table, apparently oblivious to the conflict surrounding them, sat the representatives of Britain and Germany, discussing matters of pounds, shillings and pence with the sworn enemy, the “forces of evil," whilst their respective governments go about the task of organising mutual slaughter, it may be merely a sidelight on the war, but it shows to what extent capitalism has developed ties between the ruling factions. So strong, that even war cannot break them completely. What a lesson for nationalist-minded workers!

At the same time, the press of this country publishes reports of wholesale extermination of Jews in Poland. We are not able to say to what extent these reports are true. The atrocity story played its propaganda part in the last war, and it is no doubt doing a similar duty in this. But bearing the record of Nazism in mind lends substance to some of these reports. The persecution of Jews as well as other minorities is inevitable in lesser or greater degree under class society. The prejudices of race, nationality, or religion is the outcome of ignorance, exploited by rulers and fanned into flames of persecution to suit their ends. In registering protests against the persecution of minorities, no ruling class can do so with clean hands. It will be a worldwide Socialist movement that will finally put an end to all persecution, including the persecution of class by class. Least of all can we accept the claim of the Pope, who in a special message (reported in the Evening Standard of December 24, 1942) said:—
Those who aim at building a new world must fight for the right of free choice of government and free choice of religion.
This is merely another example of ruling class hypocrisy. The Pope and the organisation of which he is the head, the Roman Catholic Church, have made a deal, at one time or another, with the dictators in Spain, Italy and Germany. Besides, they have their own unenviable record of persecution. Now that His Holiness sees a possibility of the fall of these dictators, he changes his Christmas prayers, so that we find him pronouncing : -
The Church has condemned Marxist Socialism and still condemns it. On the other hand, the Church cannot ignore it or approve that workers should be deprived of all their rights.
But the problem remains: Where is the better world to come from? A world free from wars and poverty? The dignitaries of religion can no more provide the solution than could the politicians of capitalism with whom they are allied. It is precisely the doctrine of Marxist Socialism that alone points the way.

The workers of the world must organise to make the means of life the common property of all mankind. To provide for the needs of all and the profit of none. 
Sid Rubin

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Political ideas in Africa (2006)

From the September 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
A brief look at the history of leftwing ideas in Africa.
In the years following independence from colonial rule, left-wing political thinking and activities were not uncommon especially in anglophone Africa. There were lots of vanguardist, anarchist and other pseudo-socialist organisations in many countries.
Some of such movements included the Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards, Pan-African Youth Movement, United Revolutionary Front, New Democratic Movement, (Ghana); Movement for Justice in Africa (Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia); African National Congress, South African Communist Party, Pan Africanist Congress, etc (South Africa).

These were all narrow-minded national pressure groups but whose left-wing leanings nevertheless provided forums where people learned of the existence of an alternative ideology - socialism. In fact that is how some of us later came to learn about and joined the World Socialist Movement.
However, around the mid-eighties the capitalists shot into a higher propaganda gear such as the newly independent countries never thought of. The free market and private sector idea came down so heavily that the leftist groupings were virtually swept off the political scene.
Today only the South African ANC, SACP, PAC, etc are still around but they have all capitulated and metamorphosed into outright right-wing political parties. Even trade union activities have almost become non-existent now except of course on Mayday
when pro-government sections of the working class come out to express their loyalty to the system.

This is the situation that accounts for the absence of even such anti-capitalists demonstrations as are staged in the West and other parts of the world each time representatives of big business hold their summits.
As for socialism (à la WSM), it is yet to be grasped by even the few who still see themselves as socialists here. Almost all of them understand socialism to mean the state capitalism of the soviet era.
Working class thinking
It is not surprising then that one can hardly talk of any positive working class thinking here in Africa. With the intensification of exploitation through a massive invasion of all sectors of the economy by capital, the economic situation of both urban and rural folk has drastically worsened. Under the dire circumstances, peasants drift to the towns with the hope of escaping from the hunger and lack of opportunities whilst the urban factory and office workers are preoccupied devising ways and means of pilfering at their workplaces in order to make ends meet.
Consequently, many of these frustrated people find it difficult to engage in political activities thus reducing the chances of potential cadres deepening their socialist consciousness. Indeed many, in their attempts to stay alive, finally abandon the political struggle altogether. On the other hand, the very few who are fortunate enough to find well paid jobs tend to live ostentatious lifestyles obviously influenced by the type of negative western media output that is predominant here in Africa. A good lot of these people, with an imposed insatiable ambition to "make it", prove more injurious to left-wing politics than their poorer counterparts in the working class who cannot afford the luxury of discussing politics.

The media
As the dominant ideas of the day are but a reflection of the views of the ruling class so is the media replete with information that is as poisonous as it is deceptive. On the one hand the television feeds viewers with adverts and news items which have the infectious intention of making ignorant people (and that means almost all Africa) think and harbour illusions of "making it".

On the other hand the print media and the radio stations are mostly devoted to such topics as religion or race-based discussions. Thus, even when serious issues like poverty, hunger, war, etc are touched, they always treat them in the light of "god will work miracles" or "all African hands on deck". Such ill-fated notions as "Africa for Africans", "African lingua franca", "NEPAD is a winner" etc are all what is found in the media. Naturally, the ordinary people pick them up and continue the misguided debate. That is the part the media play in formulating opinions.

However, in spite of the poverty, hunger and ignorance, the working class could still have had elements within it who would interest themselves with real political issues like it happened between the sixties and the mid-eighties. Yet such a potential situation is hampered by other factors. Foremost among them is religion.
Pushed to the wall by want, many ignorantly flock to religion as the last resort. Western big business, seeing the opportunity, quickly seizes it to its advantage. They worsen the already bad state of affairs by pumping money into the formation of more religious groups; the production of religious material; and the use of food, second-hand clothing, etc as incentives to the religious leaders andbait for the working class. Once captured it becomes an uphill task to salvage them or even let them see reason.
Another problem is the effectiveness of the capitalist propaganda machine. Their ideologues are always at hand to demonise socialism (citing the famous fall of the Berlin wall and the "collapse of communism") and eulogise the virtues of the free market economy.
In fact today seminars, workshops, clinics, and other so-called sensitisation programmes are organised on a daily basis to entrap the poor and hungry people. The issues on the platform of which such meetings are held include HIV/AIDS, the emancipation of women, child abuse, etc. Participants are lavishly fed and at the end of the day paid a generous honorarium. Such programmes are mostly channelled through NGOs. This problem also has the dangerous side effect of getting people used to shunning meetings or groups where immediate financial gains are not available.

In conclusion, though the picture painted looks so gloomy, that does not mean there is no hope. There are several oases dotted around this desert of hopelessness. And especially now that some basic democratic rights seem to be getting the nod from the dictatorships here (for example the criminal libel law has been repealed in Ghana), we only need to keep up the struggle and to give courage to the already liberated.


How To Make History (1950)

From the April 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Contrary to popular belief, the Labour Party has never been a Socialist Party.” So says Lester Hutchinson, M.P., in the Daily Worker (3.2.50). We cannot do otherwise than agree with him, but his reasons for disputing their claim to be Socialist are not the same as ours. We dispute their claim because we know what Socialism is, how it is to be achieved, and by whom. The means of production and distribution must be taken over by the people as a whole, controlled by them democratically for the benefit of all. The Labour Party’s objective is the opposite of this; to make capitalism work; to get the capitalists of this country out of the mess in which they have landed themselves with their capitalist competitors abroad. To the extent to which they succeed they strengthen capitalism and render it more difficult for the workers of this country to see the necessity for the establishment of Socialism.

“The word 'Socialist’ was thrown at the Labour Party by its Tory opponents as a term of abuse; and it stuck,” says Lester Hutchinson. But it soon became, apparent to the politically ambitious, would-be labour leaders that such abuse was no handicap. On the contrary, it conjured up ideas of social reform in people's minds, it made the Labour Party appear as a workers’ party pledged to improve conditions for the under dog. Few workers knew what was meant by Socialism, but most could be induced to put their trust in leaders who plausibly advocated reforms, even when such reforms stood not a ghost of a chance of becoming law. The Labour Party thus became a free for all in the political scramble. And those who succeeded did so because they saw the pitfalls and avoided them. Those pitfalls were the basic principles of scientific Socialism: the conflict of interests between the workers, who produce all wealth, and the capitalists, who enforce its production by their ownership of the means of production and their wages system.

Throughout its history the Labour Party has steadily discredited any idea of a class struggle, not because the workers are not yet class-conscious in sufficient numbers to warrant it, but because it will bring the end of their leadership nearer as increasing numbers of workers realise that the opposing interests of the two classes cannot be reconciled.

The obvious way to show that the Labour Party was not Socialist would have been to define Socialism and then compare it with their policy and objectives. This is the only sound method, and applies, not only to the Labour Party, but to the Communist Party as well. Both parties would continue the commodity character of human labour-power. The wages system would remain and the surplus value created by the workers would go, under the rule of the Labour Party, to the previous owners as bond-interest. When the Communists deign to state their intentions they seldom go much further than their rivals. They will not pay “extravagant” compensation. Moreover, there is no mention of any change in the workers' status. In short, neither the Labour Party nor the Communist Party are Socialist, though both lay claim to that title.

As Lester Hutchinson says; “This misuse of political terminology has caused and is causing the utmost confusion, and it enables leaders to put across essentially anti-Socialist policies in the name of Socialism.” Both the above-named parties and all their leaders come under this sweeping generalisation. But it is only those who do not understand what Socialism is that are confused. The worker who understands Socialism needs no leading and cannot be misled. It is therefore incumbent on the workers everywhere that they understand individually for themselves what is meant by Socialism, and the part each must play in its propaganda and establishment. That is the only sure way to avoid the confusion and misrepresentation spread not only by the Labour Party and the Communist Party, but by the orthodox capitalist parties as well.

When Marx and Engels placed Socialism on a scientific basis, the choice for the worker lay between Tory and Liberal, but both were capitalist, and the Socialist of those days, knowing what that meant for the workers, said “a plague on both your houses.” To-day the situation has not changed. Only the names are different. Four main parties now come before the workers and ask them to support policies based on capitalism in one form or another. Capitalism with its drudgery and poverty for the mass of the workers, and the ugly threat of atomic warfare taking definite shape.

The greatest obstacle to a clear understanding of Socialism that faces the worker is the confusion spread by the so-called parties of the workers, the Labour and Communist Parties. And the worst and most insidious form of their confusion is that in which they pose as leaders, promising reforms in working-class conditions in return for their support.

This is contrary to the very essence of Socialism, which, being easy to understand and intimately concerned with the worker’s conditions everywhere, proclaims to the individual his personal responsibility in the historical movement of the working class towards the establishment of a sane and rational system of society.

For Socialism can only be brought about by the efforts of the working class. By their understanding, their organisation as a class party, opposed to all the other political parties, whether openly capitalist or alleged labour.

The working class, the class that suffers poverty that is threatened with atomic warfare, with more austerity unless they work harder, must freely organise themselves as a political party that will leave the leaders of other parties cold. Immune to every kind of confusion, and organised for a single objective, they will steadily gain power until they control all political and administrative machinery. They will then proceed to eliminate the machinery of profits and wages, leaving themselves free to organise production and distribution on a democratic basis for the satisfaction of all mankind.
F. Foan

Friday, July 29, 2016

Population - What Explosion? (2016)

The Material World Column from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Many doomsday predictions are cited to express the urgency of the ‘problem’ of population growth. It is commonly held that reducing the population levels provides a partial solution to poverty, while some environmentalists consider the population problem as one of the most pressing ecological problems. The over-population argument is simple. Global population is 7 billion today. It will rise to 9 billion (or whatever) by X year. The planet cannot support this size population. Disaster will loom. Thus reducing the global population growth rate is crucial if disaster is to be avoided. But is there an overpopulation crisis? For sure, world population has risen over the past century from 1.6 to 7 billion and the problem of overpopulation appears to exist in large parts of the world where people are subjected to famines and disease.
Population projections are determined basically by the number of children women bear. The number of children a woman of child-bearing age will have during her lifetime over the last half-century has fallen from 4.91 to 2.36. In order to replace herself and her husband, a woman must have two children, plus a bit more on average to make up for women who never give birth and for children who die. In most of the advanced economies, the rate is 2.1 . According to Joseph Chamie, a former director of the United Nations Population Division, historic declines in fertility rates is occurring, resulting in a halving of the world’s average rate to 2.5 births per woman in virtually every country. 75 countries, or close to half of the world’s population, are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level and  by mid-century that number is expected to nearly double, reaching 139 countries and by the end of the century, it will be 184 countries with the global fertility rate falling below two births per woman.
But why is global population still climbing? Because of lifespan.
John Wilmoth, director of the population division at the United Nations, explains that the decline in child mortality and increased life expectancy are the primary reasons for the population growth. Since 1960, longevity has increased almost 50 percent, from low 50s to nearly 70 globally. But it is not at the beginning of the lifespan where the problem is found, for although children consume without producing, they are the future who will build their communities and the world. They represent future production that outweigh their current consumption. The problem is either voluntarily or out of sheer necessity, old people cease to produce, but they do not cease to consume. In fact, their consumption of resources, such as in health care, increases.
Environmentalists should ask themselves, what will be the solution if people reject socialism as the answer? Is it the euthanasia of the elderly and the culling of babies?
The EU Commissioner for Justice, Franco Frattini pointed out in 2007:
‘In spite of the recent enlargement, which has pushed the EU’s total population up to some 490 million, the number of people living in the EU is set to decline in the next few decades.  By 2050 a third of them will be over 65 years of age.  Labour and skills’ shortages are already noticeable in a number of sectors and they will tend to increase.  Eurostat’s long-term demographic projections indicate that the total population is expected to decline by 2025 and the working age population by 2011.’
Italy’s health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, commented after the news that the country's birth rate – 8.4 per 1,000 people – is its lowest since the foundation of the modern state in 1861. ‘We are at the threshold where people who die are not being replaced by newborns. That means we are a dying country.’
Italy is not the only European country facing a population in decline.  Germany has fewer children than any other country in Europe. The lower number of young people in Europe could put its social systems under strain in the future because there will be fewer taxpayers to fund care for the elderly.
The percentage of over 65s in the total population has doubled in France between 1901 and 2005 and nearly trebled in the UK. Europe faces the ‘profound structural challenge’ of almost half its population being aged 50 or over by 2050, according to Eurostat.  Dr. Robin Niblett, the director of the think-tank Chatham House, said that significant net migration is necessary to keep worker-dependency ratios across the EU at their 2020 levels. In order to keep the workforce at its 2010 level, total Europe-wide immigration of 25 million is required by 2020.
The anti-immigration lobby should ask themselves how they will reverse the population declines if they reject the idea of a world without borders. Is it to turn women into baby-making machines?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dishonest Tactics (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard


On 18th May a speaker from the Socialist Party of Great Britain went to the University of Kent, at Canterbury, for a debate on “Should the Working Class Support the Labour Party?” The affirmative was to be taken by Reg Race, a local Labour Party agent.

Since Race’s speech was made before an audience, there is no reason why its contents should not be made known here. (Notes of the speech were made by our speaker, and Race agreed in front of the audience that they were a fair summary of what he had said.)

Race said he had no time for the Labour Party and its reformism. He described the Labour leadership as “shit”, and thought the idea of changing society through Parliament was nonsense. He was for “the revolutionary movement”, but the fact that Labour had mass working-class support gave the opportunity for “revolutionaries” to use it. Their objective should be to try to take over the Labour Party, then get it while in power to engineer an economic crisis of which they could take advantage.

As far as could be judged, “the revolutionary movement” meant such factions as the International Marxist Group and International Socialists. We are not concerned here with the ideas put forward by Race, which deserve notice only as antiquities, but with the double dishonesty of the position shown.

On one hand. Race presumably spends his time persuading people to vote for Labour, in which he acknowledges he does not believe, and for candidates and leaders whom, when elected, he describes with a four-letter word. On the other, his “revolutionary movement" which cannot (as he admits) gain support by its own merits hopes to pass itself off to the electorate as Labour and then, at a chosen moment, whip off the mask and inaugurate policies for which it has no mandate.

The working class would, we are sure, be enthusiastic over the plan of Race and his friends to try and make it revolutionary by arranging a slump. We say that this sort of deceit can benefit nobody except those who are seeking political power for themselves.

Who needs leaders? (2016)

Book Review from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Being Red: A Politics for the Future', by Ken Livingstone, (ed. Anna Minton). Pluto Press, 2016

Ken Livingstone is probably not an antisemite in any meaningful sense of the term, only a fairly loose-tongued, ill-considered critic of Zionism. The reason that he has been labelled as antisemitic (among other things) is because he is a figure of hate for the Daily Mail and other titles of the right-wing tabloid press. Livingstone was the leader of the Greater London Council, which took on Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s (and got abolished for their pains), MP for Brent East from 1987 to 2001 and then the Labour mayor of London from 2000 to 2008 (initially as an independent). As such ‘Ken’ became the public face and nasal voice of what the right wing tabloids labelled the ‘loony’ left.

Livingstone was a leader of the left and much of the left, with a shallow-rooted commitment to democratic forms, is obsessed with leaders. This is the appeal of Ken Livingstone to the new Left Book Club who have issued this review of his impact in political office. The book is a review of his career that approaches hagiography, including an extended interview with him, the reflections of the man himself on his political life and a chapter on his support for the arts.

Now Ken is not one to hide his talents under a bushel. His estimate of his own worth is not a small one. Hence he is constantly telling us how often the man and woman in the street comes up to him and thanks him for the difference he made in their lives. What might that difference be? Here the highlights of a lifetime’s work within the organs of the British state are that he lowered rail and bus fares in London in the 1980s and supported the arts during his time as London mayor. Oh, and he was apparently a consensus boss, not one of those awful control freaks who have to micromanage everything (well that is his take on it anyway).

All well and good as far as it goes, after all who would argue against lower rail and bus fares, especially given the current grossly expensive public transport at a time of wages restraint on the part of employers? It’s just that this doesn’t go very far at all towards changing the balance of class politics in favour of workers (indeed many employers would be in favour of nationalisation and public transport fares at cost, cheapening the price of hiring labour-power). Surely the left must want to go further than this and the Left Book Club must be able to aim higher for its left-wing political heroes? To elevate Ken Livingstone as being the height to which working class leadership can currently aspire is a desperately depressing state of affairs.

Not for us, thanks very much. When the political ambitions of the working class match its potential to be free of its current abject wage-slavery then it won’t need leaders of Ken’s calibre, or anyone else’s.
Colin Skelly

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Intelligence is not understanding (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is a child born with a certain level of intelligence or is it acquired, through upbringing and education? Or perhaps some of both? Arguments over this question are common, and they indicate the extent to which the concept of “intelligence" has been accepted as a reality.

The more deeply we dig, however, the clearer it becomes that “intelligence” is a fairly recent construction, rather than any objective mental characteristic or ability which has been discovered. It becomes clear, also, that this construction or invention of intelligence plays an increasingly large part in the control and running of modern capitalism.

Through the widespread use of intelligence tests and a complex examinations structure young workers are selected, streamed and paced through their education, training and jobs. Moreover, the idea of “intelligence" has become the core of an ideology which contends that every child actually has equality of opportunity; that the “best” will rise to the top; and that these deserve to be paid the highest salaries and given the greatest admiration. It is an ideology that (like the growing cult of sport) encourages intensified competition and the acceptance of a hierarchy throughout the working class in all capitalist countries.
"To Ford a degree signifies proven intellectual capabilities. We train graduates from a wide variety of disciplines to become some of the most professional and achievement orientated managers in British industry, and our management training is recognised as one of the most fertile breeding grounds for top management professionals.
The quality of these managers has helped Ford to emerge and remain as one of the most successful companies in Britain . . .
(Graduate Opportunities 1979)
In this advertisement, the Ford Motor Company was trying to buy trained intelligence like the commodity it is, but at the same time to present the illusion that to dedicate all your enthusiasm, loyalty and hard work to the rat-race of increasing Ford’s profits at the expense of competitors is a fulfilling, satisfying life. These managers are to become the top-paid workers who control and pressurise workers lower down the hierarchy to produce more, better, faster, cheaper.

Here, in these watchwords of capitalist production, is one clue to definition of “intelligence”. In the introduction to Check Your Own I.Q. by Professor H. J. Eysenck, he says (p. 15), “When we analyse performance on intelligence tests in some detail, we find that there is one outstanding characteristic which more than any other determines success or failure. This characteristic is mental speed.” And then he shows where he stands in the “nature/ nurture” argument by finishing the paragraph, “This all-pervasive mental speed, I would say, is the fundamental, inherited basis for intellectual differences between people.” Then he goes on to point out that the effects of mental speed are modified by personality factors such as persistence and care in checking answers. He also draws attention to the fact that practice can make a considerable difference to the scores people achieve; and, because he regards it as an impossibility to keep intelligence tests totally secret, advocates the alternative policy of making them as widely known and used as possible.

Eysenck makes the crucial point about intelligence testing, however, in response to criticisms about the partiality of tests:
To obtain a reasonable measure, therefore, we must have a certain homogeneity of motivation, background training, set, experience and knowledge: no intelligence test is universally valid but applies only to a given sub-set of the population. Know Your Own I. Q., as well as the present book, was intended for literate, English-reading people, between the ages of eighteen and fifty or sixty, with above average IQs and a corresponding minimum degree of schooling.
As he develops his argument it becomes obvious that the way intelligence tests are designed discriminates in favour of those adults and children who come from families which are already relatively successful and ambitious in competitive capitalist society and who have accepted the values set up for them by their rulers. Intelligence tests do not merely test: they also incessantly validate and reinforce those values. They serve as an instrument of social stability and a means of social control.

There was an upsurge of mental testing of all sorts in the latter half of the nineteenth century in Britain, Europe and America, and it is not difficult to see why. In the sixty years between 1851 and 1911 the population of Great Britain doubled to 18 million; agricultural workers declined from 2 million to 1.5 million, while workers in mining and manufacture doubled to 8.5 million, and workers in services, commerce, transport and communications trebled to 8.3 millions. With such a reproduction of labour power, capitalism badly needed techniques and systems for sorting and grading this labour power. With such an increase in the size of the working class, the capitalist class looked anxiously for a means of social control. Intelligence testing, integrated with the school system, provided an answer to both. In America, H. H. Goddard wrote (Human Efficiency and Levels of Intelligence, Princeton University Press, 1920, p. 97), “The disturbing fear is that the masses—the seventy or even eighty-six million—will take matters into their own hands."

In an address delivered to the Fifth Conference on Educational Policies at the New York Teachers College entitled ‘How may we improve the selection, training and life work of leaders?’ (Columbia University Press, 1939, p. 32) Edward L. Thorndike said, “It is the great good fortune of mankind that there is a substantial correlation between intelligence and morality, including goodwill towards one’s fellows. Consequently our superiors in ability are on the average our benefactors, and it is often safer to trust our interests to them than to ourselves.” To psychologists like Goddard and Thorndike, Carnegie and Rockefeller gave a continuous stream of money for research and development of tests and school text books. In this way they were able to supplement, and eventually influence, the policies of national and local government in the USA.

This development of a hierarchy of intelligence in all the industrialised capitalist nations is sometimes misleadingly called a meritocracy. Apart from the fact that equating mental speed with merit is cynical even by capitalist standards, the word implies that the people with this sort of merit rule society, which is simply untrue. Intelligence tests and examination ladders are for workers. Capitalists neither want nor need them; and it is they who rule. They do not even need “intelligence” because they can buy it without difficulty, together with enthusiasm, loyalty and hard work. Indeed, it is ironic that it has been members of the working class, in the middle and higher income brackets, who have been most assiduous in developing and consolidating the intelligence hierarchy in order to enhance their own prestige and fend off competition. Nevertheless, by allowing virtually all the work to be done for them, the capitalist class has given up any pretence at performing a useful function in society. They rule only through their ownership of capital and the fact that the working class continues to operate society according to their laws and in their interests. 

“Intelligent” workers do not understand this any better than “unintelligent” workers. As the slump develops, they will be just as bewildered when they are thrown out of a job as the man on the factory floor. When the next war comes, they will have more sophisticated rationalisations for going to fight their masters’ battles, but they will die just the same.

Intelligence is not understanding; it is not common sense; it is not awareness; and above all it is not class consciousness. These are the mental abilities the working class must develop if they are to do away with slumps, wars and all the other idiocies of capitalism. Intelligence, defined, selected and trained as it is at present, is a hindrance rather than a help.
Ron Cook

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Primitive Accumulation (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

How they got the Scottish Highlands 

Even after a newcomer to Socialism has seen that capitalism is based on the exploitation of the workers, he may still feel that originally the propertied class must have obtained their property by superior merit. Surely, he will argue, riches were obtained in the first place by worthy individuals who worked hard and saved?

Marx deals with the question of “primitive accumulation”, the original gathering together of wealth, in Part VIII of Capital. This “primitive accumulation”, he says, plays the same part in orthodox economic theory as original sin does in theology. “In times gone by there were two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal, élite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living . . . And from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work.” The facts, Marx pointed out, are very different. Wealth was originally accumulated by a process of legalised robbery. The land of Britain, for example, once belonged to those who tilled it. The theft of the land by a few has gone on in stages throughout the last fifteen centuries.

This expropriation was perhaps most striking, as we look back now, in the Highlands of Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries. The reason is that the blight of private property struck in the Highlands later than in other areas, so that the whole of the coercive forces of Britain were available to help on the transformation, which as a result was particularly sudden and brutal.

The Highlands owed their long immunity to their physical configuration. Entrance to the mountainous area could only be gained through narrow passes, where a handful of men could defeat an army; and the glens and straths within the Highlands were easily defensible against invaders for the same reason. Within this area, during the first part of the 18th century, the clans owned their own clan territories as they had done for centuries. The Campbells in Argyll, the Stewarts and Robertsons in Perthshire, the Rosses and Munros in Ross-shire, could have been forgiven for thinking that their ownership of their land was eternal and unchallengeable. It was not individual ownership; no clansman owned this or that stretch of land to the exclusion of all other clansmen; clan ownership meant that every clansman had the right to hunt the game on the mountain and moor within the clan land, to share in the general grazing, and to till part of the clan's soil. The general right to a living off the land had a corresponding duty: the duty to defend the clan land against invasion. At any alarm the croishtarich — the fiery cross, a piece of wood burnt at one end and dipped in lamb’s blood at the other — would go from township to township through the clan land, and every man capable of bearing arms at once repaired to the pre-arranged rallying spot (the Grants, for example, at Craigellachie, and the Clan Chattan at Dunlichity hill) to ward off the danger.

But among the institutions thrown up by clanship was one which was pregnant with future disaster. It was the chiefship. The chief led the clan in war, and judged any dispute in peacetime. When a chief died, another chief would be chosen, usually a new or distant relative of the last chief: although this meant little when every member of the clan believed himself related to every other, and could recount his descent — whether real or mythical — from the clan’s founder. (Clan is Gaelic for children: the Clan Leod were the children of Leod — the originator of the clan — and each man was Mac Leod, or son of Leod, and each woman Nic Leod, or daughter of Leod). In time it became usual for chiefs to be chosen from the members of one family — the system of tanistry. If a chief’s eldest son were old enough when his father died to lead the clan in war, and the clan thought highly of him, he would usually have the best claim to the succession.

The Highlands, however, were not isolated. Together with the English-speaking Lowlands they formed the kingdom of Scotland. This was largely a theoretical arrangement: the king in Edinburgh had no control in the Highlands, and the only way he could force his will on any clan was by leading an army against it — and often not even then. There were in practice many kings in the Highlands — the chief was “king” of his clan territory. The chiefs soon began to meddle in Lowland politics; and to gain their support, the Edinburgh king would often grant a charter to a particular chief to say that he owned the land of his clan. These charters were of no practical effect at the time, since the chief was unable to exercise any of the powers of ownership. The clansmen paid the chief small annual sums, analogous to present-day taxes, to support him; he had no right to increase this annual tax, much less to evict the clansmen from the clan land. Indeed, if he had gone beyond his traditional powers the clan would have evicted the chief. As a matter of historical fact, whenever a chief was found unsatisfactory he was deposed, and replaced by another member of the chiefly family.

The clan (if it even knew of the fact) was probably relieved when its chief did secure a charter to the clan territory, since it meant that no other chief could do so. Occasionally a chief in particular favour at court would obtain a charter not only to the land of his own clan (which did not belong to him) but also to the land of other clans (which, equally, did not belong to him). The chief of Macintosh, for example, got charters to the lands of the Camerons and of the MacDonalds of Keppoch; and both the Camerons and the MacDonalds had to light several battles to assert their right to their own land by beating off Macintosh and his clan who, out of a mistaken sense of duty, had followed him to support his claim.

Some of the Highland clans followed James Stuart, the Old Pretender, in 1715, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, in 1745. Both rebellions were defeated. The British Government determined to end the anomaly of having more than a sixth of Great Britain still under a type of society based on communal ownership, a system moreover which produced such superlative fighting men that only a few thousand of them had seemed about to topple the Government twice in thirty years. In addition the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the middle years of the 18th century, both provided the material strength needed to conquer the Highlands, and spawned great cities which demanded large supplies of food from the non-industrial districts, such as the Highlands. Soldiers marched and counter-marched through the Highlands, garrison towns were created, and the old Highland law was crushed, making way for the new private property law of the Lowlands.

According to this Lowland law, the charters which most of the chiefs had by this time obtained gave them exclusive rights to the whole of the clan land. This was such an enormous change, since it entailed the replacement of an entire system of society by another, that the chiefs themselves were hardly able to comprehend it for a time. Then some of the chiefs, desirous of making a fine figure in Edinburgh or London, realised that by turning out the clansmen and letting the clan land to sheep farmers, they could at one stroke increase their incomes five or six times. The clansmen were as astounded at this turn of events as if they had been told that the sun was henceforward to rise in the west. They had lived in and defended their land from time immemorial: and now the chief had brought in a lawyer who said that because of some writing in a foreign language on a small piece of paper in Edinburgh, the chief—chosen and loyally supported by the clan, and in fact the embodiment of the clan—had now the right to tell every clansman to leave, and to bring in instead a capitalist tenant farmer with great flocks of sheep! Some clearances were met with physical resistance, rioting, and violence; but where that happened, the chief brought up a detachment of Lowland, English, or Irish soldiers, and evicted the clansmen at the point of the bayonet. Often the threat of force was sufficient, especially since the local parish ministers backed up the landlords with warnings of eternal punishments as well as temporal ones. The odds against the clansmen were too great. In district after district the Gaels packed up their belongings, sold off their sheep and cattle, and left the glen for the last time, headed by a piper playing a clan lament. Often the chief cleared out his clan himself; sometimes he sold out to a buyer at such a high price that the new owner obviously intended to recoup—and did recoup—by a wholesale clearance. The tide of evictions crept steadily northwards. From the 1760s to the 1780s there were clearances among the Campbells in Argyll, the MacPhersons in Strath Spey, the various clans of MacDonalds in Glen Garry, Glen Coe and Keppoch, and the MacKenzies in Ross-shire. In the first decade of the 19th century there were many clearances in Inverness- and Ross-shires. MacNeil of Barra, the Chisholm, and MacLeod of Dunvegan were clearing out their clans; Glengarry was doing the same for the MacDonalds, Lochiel for the Camerons, Seaforth for the MacRaes and MacKenzies, and Lovat for the Frasers. Then, from 1807 to 1820, the great Sutherland Clearances took place, the Countess of Sutherland putting to flight thousands of Sutherlands, Murrays, MacKays, and the other Sutherland clans. Lord Reay, chief of a neighbouring clan of MacKays, was doing the same in what was now his land.

The clearances would have been completed sooner than they were but for two complicating factors. Chiefs who still had clansmen to call on found they could raise Highland regiments for Britain's repeated wars between 1740 and 1815; it was financially profitable to them, and in addition they could nominate officers (thus providing for impecunious relatives) and bask in the reflected glory of vicarious military adventure. Further, there was a kind of sea-weed called kelp found in the Hebrides and along the coast of the western Highlands, which when burned was a source of soda (an ingredient of glass) and of iodine. During the Napoleonic wars this burnt kelp brought £20 a ton, at a time when the kelp-worker got only £3 or less a ton. The enormous profits to be made meant that the coast and island landlords were eager to retain as many workers on their estates as they could. For these two reasons landlords would usually allow some of the evicted people to squat (for a rent) on odd comers of marsh and moor that no large farmer would have as a gift. The clansmen were always ready to accept these crofts because any toehold in the venerated land of the clan was better than none, especially when the alternatives were either to undergo the horrors of factory work in the Lowlands, or to go overseas in coffin ships to clear the thickly timbered wilderness in America—an experience many of the emigrants did not long survive.

After Waterloo great wars were few, and the demand for soldiers disappeared. Further, from the 1820s to the 1840s the kelp boom faded to nothing as Free Trade politicians allowed the duty-free import of foreign alkalis, with which kelp could not compete. Finally, the introduction of a Poor Law into the Highlands in 1845 meant that henceforward the landlords would have to pay steep poor rates to help support the very paupers they themselves had created. The clearances now rose to a crescendo. The steady driving out of the Gaels in the 1820s and 1830s (e.g. in Skye, Arran, Morven, Kintyre, Breadalbane, the Menzies country, and Rannoch) was now succeeded by a frenzy of evictions in the 1840s and 1850s. Most notable, perhaps, were those of Seaforth and Sir James Matheson in Lewis, Robertson of Kindeace in Glen Calvie and Greenyards, Colonel Gordon in South Uist and Barra, Lord Macdonald in North Uist and Skye, and Macdonell of Glengarry in Knoydart. These are only examples. Everywhere ships were ordered up to the sea-lochs of the Western Highlands and Islands, and people were herded on them for transportation to Canada or Australia without being consulted, and indeed against their strongly expressed wishes. Any escaping were hunted down and put back on board the emigrant vessels with the aid of the police. In this fashion the Highlands were emptied. 

By the time of the 1880s crofters were to be found in any number only in Skye and the Outer Hebrides and along a few lochs on the west coast; even there they clung to patches of land, the good land having all gone to make either sheep farms, or deer forests where rich idlers—noble and royal— came from England and the Continent to make merry in the glens which had seen the tragic and brutal dispersal of the Highlanders. In the 1880s the groundswell of discontent burst out into a series of open insurrections in Skye, Lewis, Barra, Tiree and other places. It was called the Crofters’ War, and resulted in some measure of protection against eviction for the scattered remnants of the Gaels. But it was too late. The Highlands had already been won for capitalism, and great fortunes had been established through the expropriation by a few of what had previously belonged to the many. It may safely be said that the income from Highland land rose fifty or more times between 1750 and 1880.

Today in the Highlands many of the old chiefs’ descendants still own vast stretches of what was once their clans’ land—the Duke of Sutherland, Lord Lovat (chief of the Frasers), the Countess of Seafield (chief of the Grants), Cameron of Lochiel, the Duke of Atholl (chief of the Stewarts), the Marquis of Bute, the Earl of Cawdor (a Campbell chieftain). Lord Macdonald, Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch, and others. Many others of the old chiefs' heirs have preferred to sell their clans’ land, and otherwise invest the proceeds. None of them should be in any doubt as to the real nature of capitalist primitive accumulation.
Alwyn Edgar

What Kind of Revolution? (2016)

Letter to the Editors from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

Your article on the General Strike weapon (May Socialist Standard) whilst informative and useful is quite faulty on a few key points. First, you grossly underestimate and demean the importance of workers’ class consciousness growing, which set the basis of the workers’ advances from mere legal/truncated trade/craft union actions. General strikes tend to move affected parts of the class and allies to more militant, anti-capitalist wider fightback and their own demands and build socialist clarity.

Second, you contradict, by your own emphasis on narrow parliamentary activities that many advances to General Strikes also incorporate political trends and tendencies, socialist work, and getting a favourable and influential hearing from masses of active/combined workers. The workers in combined actions, working, co-operating, in spreading support bring more workers to see in reality the latent power of their own class unleashed from capitalism’s legalist jails and electoral illusions, and raising the needed spirit of organizing as a wider, united class against waged slavery and capital’s wider hegemony over society . . .

Third, you try to separate, almost with a Chinese wall, almost the whole economic struggle from the political conflict with capitalist rule. In fact at whatever the level of struggle, class conflict needs to raise both fronts of battle to the fore, in the terrain of the workers’ lives for them to strengthen their educating and organizing as a class against the bosses rule economically and through the capitalist state machine monopoly of controls.

There is no guarantee of immediate advance to revolution and workers taking the power. But the training of industrial and bona fide socialistic political education and action raises the workers to be serious challengers to the rule of the bosses dominance, exploitation robbery, racism and wars.

In your snipes on the ‘Soviets’, (Books, April Socialist Standard), the workers’ councils advanced struggles, your prejudice against mass combined industrial political tactics leads you to distort the history of the workers’ councils risings. Your assertion that workers councils just arise 'spontaneously’ and in less developed countries is flat out wrong! The workers’ councils did not just step into history in 1905 and 1917 in Russia, but also in rebellion to the imperialist World War 1 in advanced industrial nations as Germany, Austria and Italy, etc and played a huge role in forcing the bourgeois rulers to halt the carnage of WW1 and both the workers, as large sections of the armed forces in councils rebelled against the continuing barbarism and after. That their efforts went furthest in Russia but could not advance to full socialism is hardly the western workers/farmers fault. Given the amount of repression, counter revolution, isolation, capitalist intervention and blockades and state capitalist controls resulted in the defeat of the huge revolutionary waves by the early 20s.

In Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, etc the workers’ councils had not the time to deepen political understanding assisted by their new Marxist revolutionary parties like the experienced Bolsheviks, as had happened in Russia. The Western European workers’ councils, soldiers/sailors and workers included strong influences of reformists, careerists and fakers in addition to harmful influences of nationalist reaction too. Thus these councils occupations, mass actions, general strikes and near civil war did not achieve the tactical and strategic clarity they had in Russia, at least for a few years. Also, as a result of illusions in bosses 'democracy' and slick parliamentary facades, followed by political division, repression, and isolation, their diffuse attempts to establish workers rule were defeated by the ruling exploiter classes.

Finally, is it not at least a tad of wooden and ossified thinking for you to say that the workers’ councils (albeit in different forms and experiences) cannot again emerge in countries like the UK or the USA, etc., especially in periods of capital’s crises/plunder that will probably be even deeper, bloodier, more global in scope?

Neil Chertcoff (by email from USA)


1. We don’t see how, in pointing to the limitation of the general strike as a working class weapon, we are demeaning anything. General strikes are sometimes necessary to defend workers’ wages, working conditions and the right to organise. As with all strikes, some you win, some you lose. The 1926 British General strike was a failure. It did lead to a move away from relying on industrial action towards political action but reformist political action via the Labour Party. The 1968 French General Strike was a success in terms of improving wages and conditions but, from your standpoint, was no doubt a failure as it did not lead to overthrow of capitalism. But that was never the aim and, if it had been, would not have succeeded given, despite the high degree of trade union consciousness, the lack of majority socialist consciousness amongst workers and the fact that the state machine was controlled by pro-capitalist elements. As we said, general strikes are ok as a weapon of the defensive class struggle under capitalism but not as a weapon to overthrow capitalism. The syndicalists are wrong about that.

2. You seem to think that we are opposed to workers organising in the workplace and in communities. We are sure this will happen alongside direct political organisation once the movement for socialism develops, but, as with the general strike, we don’t see these being able to overthrow capitalism in the absence of majority socialist consciousness and independently of political action using the electoral system to win control of state power (of which ‘parliamentary activities’ will be marginal and mainly propagandistic). Those councils you mention (apart from the factory councils in northern Italy which were part of an industrial dispute) came into being in autocratic dynastic empires which had collapsed under the impact of WW1. They were substitutes for local councils and, as you yourself point out, in Germany reflected the view of most workers that the aim should be political democracy not socialism. As to Russia, we don’t see what happened there as an example to be repeated – or likely to be – where an ‘experienced’ vanguard party rode to power on the basis of popular discontent over the war and shortages, using the ‘soviets’ as a cover and then, once in power, emasculating them. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Party News Briefs (1952)

Party Notes from the October 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arrangements have been made to hold regular indoor Sunday evening meetings during the Winter and Denison House Hall has been booked fortnightly from 5th October. The title of the first meeting is“ The Labour Party in Conference ” and the speaker is J. D’Arcy. The meeting on 19th October is “Marx—Right or wrong ? ” and the speaker on this occasion is F. Evans. A. Turner is the speaker at the meeting on 2nd November and the title “Has Man Progressed?" Several branches are assisting in the running of these meetings and every effort will be made to ensure their success. If readers make a note of the dates and mention them to friends and people likely to be interested, we should be able to fill the hall to capacity. Further titles will be advertised in future issues of the “Socialist Standard" and details can be had from Head Office. The address for the meetings:- Denison House Hall, Vauxhall Bridge Road (Near Victoria Station). Each meeting commences at 7 p.m.

Socialist Challenge Meeting is being held at St. Pancras Town Hall, Euston Road, N.W.1 (Near Kings Cross Station) on Sunday, 12th October, at 7 p.m. An invitation has been sent to other political organisations asking them to send a representative to put the case of their respective party from the platform, thereby giving the audience an opportunity to compare the various parties' attitudes to problems of to-day. A similar meeting was held on May Day and proved most successful — we are sure that this meeting will be equally successful. Comrades May and Turner will put the case for the Socialist Party of Great Britain. R. Ambridge will take the chair.

Head Office Forums. It is proposed to re-commence these forums at Head Office on Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. The first on 11th October—subject “The Class Struggle” and the second on 25th October—“Mass Production and Socialism.” The panel of speakers has not yet been arranged but names will be given on the notice board at Head Office as soon as possible.

Sunday Evening Lectures at Head Office. It is hoped to commence these fortnightly, from 26th October. Full details on notice board at Head Office.

Head Office Classes. The series of classes at Head Office will start on Monday, 6th October at 7.30p.m., and will continue weekly. Further particulars are being supplied to Braoches by the Education Committee.

Branch Lectures. Hackney, Lewisham, and Leyton Branches am holding a aeries of lectures in their districts and details appear in this issue. In addition to those held by Leyton Branch on Sundays there is a lecture at Grove House on Monday, 27th October at 8pm., title “Indonesia” speaker—C. Scott. Bloomsbury Branch will re-commence discussions after their branch meetings from 16th October when a series on “Revolutions” will commence.

Internal Party Journal. The first issue of‘Forum' will be on sale about the middle of this month to members through Head Office, Branches, or by subscription (6d. per copy, plus l½d. postage). Intending subscribers are particularly asked to notify Head Office without delay, in order to ensure receipt of the first issue.
Phyllis Howard

Thursday, July 14, 2016

End of geography (2012)

Book Review from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why the West Rules – for Now. By Ian Morris. Profile Books.

The basic question addressed by Morris is why in recent times the Western part of the globe has been dominant over the Eastern part. Britain’s rulers, for instance, sent armies and gunboats to humiliate the Emperor of China in the nineteenth century and extract trading concessions, rather than vice versa. It is important to realise that the West (more precisely, the rulers in the West) has not always been top dog: from the sixth to the eighteenth centuries the East was more developed. Morris summarised his views in an article in History Today in October 2010, which can be read for free here.

Morris defines the ‘West’ as societies descended from the original core region of southwest Asia, so encompassing Europe and the Americas. The ‘East’ is those societies descended from the early civilisations between the Yellow and Yangzi rivers. Social development is quantified by looking at four criteria: energy capture (the capacity for extracting energy from the natural environment and for using it), urbanism (the size of a society’s largest city, as a proxy for the ability to organize complex situations), information processing (the power to communicate information) and the capacity to make war. The higher the score, the more powerful and developed a society is, and the more able it is to impose itself on others. The West was more advanced till around the middle of the sixth century CE and again from around 1800, when development leapt upwards, first in the West (the Industrial Revolution) and then in the East. The West is still ahead (especially in war-waging ability) but, as the title of the book suggests, this may not last for long.

Biological explanations (to the effect that people from the West are more intelligent) do not hold up, since human beings are basically the same everywhere. Rather, the factors behind the differences are claimed to be essentially geographical. A period of global warming around twenty thousand years ago led to the growth of agriculture in the ‘Hilly Flanks’ (covering the valleys of the Tigris, Euphrates and Jordan rivers) and so to a distinctive ‘Western’ core. At the end of the last Ice Age, agriculture began between 20 and 35 degrees north, a region with plenty of domesticable plants and animals (unlike, say, sub-Saharan Africa). Millennia later, by around 700 CE, China was a unified empire, with an enormous capital city and woodblock printing, while the West remained divided and much less developed, in the period known as the Dark Ages. But it was Europeans who encountered and exploited the Americas, because it was easier for them to cross the Atlantic than for Chinese explorers to cross the Pacific. Chinese fleets sailed through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean in the fifteenth century, but distances and prevailing winds meant that sailing eastwards into an empty ocean was unlikely to be attempted.

Western Europe (especially Britain) was well-placed to start off industrialisation because it could build on the gradually-accumulating technologies of previous centuries, but also because it possessed plenty of natural resources, colonies and warships, much more so than China at the time. We might add that it benefited from the profits of the slave trade, too. The various graphs that Morris presents suggest that the East will overtake the West in development early next century; compare predictions that China will become the biggest economy within just two decades, though Morris is not simply dealing with China. He argues, however, that geography will soon cease to mean anything anyway, as globalisation undermines real differences and produces a true worldwide system.

Morris’s work is probably most reminiscent of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which emphasised the importance of environmental factors, such as the relative shortage of domesticable animals in Africa and the Americas, in determining the course of historical development in different areas. In The Enigma of Capital, David Harvey accuses Diamond of a geographical or environmental determinism: on Diamond’s view, he says, ‘Africa is poor for environmental reasons, not … because of centuries of imperialist plundering, beginning with the slave trade’. This objection misses the point, though, since there needs to be an account of why it was Westerners who enslaved Africans, rather than vice versa. A geographical explanation is perfectly compatible with the view that the slave trade contributed to the impoverishment of Africa. In connection with the determinism objection, Morris is right to quote Marx to the effect that people make their own history but under circumstances they have not chosen themselves; their geographical situation being part of those circumstances.

Astonishingly, the word ‘capitalism’ is absent from the book’s index, though there is much discussion of industrialisation and industrialists (i.e. capitalists). It is all very well to say that ‘Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things’, but there needs to be explicit recognition that this often involves people getting others to work for them, and so exploiting them. Life for the earliest workers in capitalist factories was in no way easy or safe, and the profits went to the owners, not to those who toiled in the factories. The owners were not so much lazy and frightened as hungry for wealth and power.

Marx attributed the growth of the industrial working class to deliberate acts by the capitalists, fencing off the countryside and so driving people into towns to labour as propertyless wage workers. Rather, says Morris, it was due to increases in life expectancy and hence in population (Britain’s more or less doubled between 1780 and 1830). But he does not seem to deny that the rural dispossession took place, and it clearly contributed to the availability of urban workers as a labour force to be exploited by the new lords of capital.

One thing the book does show is that societal arrangements are never permanent. We could turn its theme around and say that the capitalists rule – but only for now.
Paul Bennett

New Left (2011)

Book Review from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left and Postwar British Politics. By Scott Hamilton, Manchester University Press, 2011

Many socialists would count EP Thompson's books among the best socialist books ever written, particularly William Morris: From Romantic To Revolutionary (1955), The Making of the English Working Class (1963) and The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (1978). Thompson's own politics however are less admirable. He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1942 and was an active member until 1956 when he resigned as a result of the Russian military invasion of Hungary and Khrushchev’s 'secret speech' which denounced Stalin. To a significant extent, the rest of Thompson's political career can be seen as distancing himself from Stalinism. He later tried to justify his CP membership by claiming it was part of a 'Popular Front' against fascism. But Thompson did not appreciate that his CP membership would lend legitimacy to Stalin's reign of terror. His concern for the lives of ordinary workers did not extend to the Russian working class.

William Morris: From Romantic To Revolutionary showed that Morris was a revolutionary Marxist. This book was written and published while Thompson was in the CP and in it he claims that Morris's ideas were being realised in Stalin's Russia. In the Second Edition of 1977 this claim is removed. The Making of the English Working Class won huge critical acclaim and it is still widely used as a textbook. Thompson's book is an account of the formation of class consciousness, and in his 1980 Preface he argued that 'in the years between 1780 and 1832 most English working people came to feel an identity of interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs'. Some critics had complained that Thompson's analysis of class is too subjective and this forms a major theme of his The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. Among Thompson's targets was the 'Stalinism in theory' of Louis Althusser. For Althusser history was 'a process without a subject' in which specific circumstances determined human behaviour. For Thompson, on the other hand, the class struggle was the motor of history and so therefore he wrote about the experiences and consciousness of the working class.

Thompson was one of the self-appointed intellectuals who founded the New Left Review in 1960, and it is still published bi-monthly. It was conceived as the journal of the New Left who were opposed to Stalinism and Labour Party 'revisionism' (an open acceptance of capitalism). After an initial surge in interest provided by their work in Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, most of the New Left found their ideological home in the Labour Party. Thompson was involved with the Labour Party in the 1960s and re-joined in 1978. By the early 1980s CND was resurgent and Thompson was its main spokesperson, and he harangued large public meetings on the 'logic of exterminism'. He thought the superpowers were dragging the world towards an inevitable nuclear annihilation, a fatalistic way of thinking he once would have denounced as 'Stalinist'. Thompson died in 1993 but, as Hamilton shows, his books live on.
Lew Higgins

Saving Private Capitalism (2016)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
American capitalism is, apparently, suffering a ‘crisis of faith’, at least according to a 5-page article featured on the front cover of Time magazine (23 May). The author, Rana Foroohar, quotes the findings of an opinion poll which she finds ‘startling’:
‘… only 19% of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves as “capitalists”. In the richest and most market-oriented country in the world, only 42% of that group said they “supported capitalism”. The numbers were higher among older people; still, only 26% considered themselves capitalists. A little over half supported the system as a whole.’
One of the questions must have been odd if it invited people to identify themselves as ‘capitalists’ in the same sort of way that they might have been asked if they were socialists. A capitalist is not someone who believes in capitalism. It is someone who has enough capital to be able to live without being obliged to sell their labour power for a living. In America that will be well under 5 percent.
Foroohar’s article, entitled ‘Saving Capitalism’, is taken from her forthcoming book Makers and Takers. Her argument is that the current problems of American capitalism are due to ‘financialization’. Up until the early 1970s, she says, finance served business:
‘finance took individual and corporate savings and funnelled them into productive enterprises, creating new jobs, new wealth and, ultimately, economic growth.’
However, over the past few decades this has changed:
‘finance has turned away from this traditional role. Academic research shows that only a fraction of all the money washing around the financial markets these days actually makes it to Main Street businesses…. Most of the money in the system is being used for lending against existing assets such as housing, stocks and bonds.’
She says that banks have become more interested in such ‘trading’ than in their traditional role of lending to business. But it is not just banks that have been affected. Businesses themselves have become increasingly involved in hedging, ‘tax optimization’ and offering financial services, to the detriment of productive investment. They have the money to do this because:
‘Top-tier US businesses have never enjoyed greater financial resources. They have a record $2 trillion in cash on their balance sheets – enough money combined to make them the 10th largest economy in the world.’
Her plan to save capitalism is ‘remooring finance in the real economy’, putting ‘the financial system back in its rightful place, as a servant of business rather than its master.’
It’s not the first time in the history of capitalism that finance capital has been seen as the enemy. Before WWI the Austrian Social Democrat Rudolf Hilferding wrote Finanzkapital in which he argued that banks had come to dominate and control industry. Lenin took this up and incorporated it into his theory of imperialism.
To merely denounce ‘financial capital’ is to support ‘manufacturing capital’; which is Foroohar’s (if not the Leninists’) explicit position. She has appointed herself as a defender of manufacturing (‘the makers’) against finance capital (‘the takers’). But she doesn’t consider an alternative explanation for ‘financialization’: that it might be a consequence of slow economic growth rather than the other way round. Since previous profits are not being fully reinvested because it’s not profitable enough a part of them accumulate as cash mountains, providing the stakes for ‘trading’ and ‘hedging’. Like the Stock Exchange, these are zero sum games in which no new wealth is created but where representations of existing wealth are traded instead – where some capitalists get richer but only at the expense of other capitalists, competing against each for the largest share they can get of wealth already taken from the real wealth makers, the working class.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Looking Back on Edward Bellamy (2016)

From the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1888 a book by Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, was published which had an enormous impact at the time. It could even be said that it marked the take-off of modern socialist ideas in America.

Bellamy was a New England journalist and writer who had travelled widely. His utopian novel is based on the story of a rich young Bostonian, Julian West, who is sent to sleep by mesmerism and does not wake up until the year 2000, by which time a far-reaching economic and social revolution has taken place in America.

As explained to him by his host, Dr Leete, all land and industry is now the collective property of the whole community and run as a public service to supply people’s needs. People no longer work for wages, and money has been abolished. Instead, everybody is required to serve in an industrial army between the ages of 21 and 45 and in return receives an annual credit, which is equal for everyone, in the form of vouchers entitling them to draw a given amount of goods and services from the common store. Differences between the nature of jobs would be taken into account by adjusting the number of hours the people doing them would be expected to work. The functions of government, Dr Leete explains, now reduced essentially to the organisation of production for use are exercised by the general council of the industrial army whose members are elected by those who have retired from industrial service, i.e. by the over-45s.

Bellamy depicted a technologically advanced society, imagining some technological advances that would have taken place between 1888 and 2000, for instance moving pavements, music piped to every house, and goods delivered to homes by pneumatic tubes. Reality (airplanes, motor cars, radio, television, electronic computers, internet, mobile phones, etc) turned out to be much more amazing than anyone in 1888 could have imagined, but this strengthened rather than weakened Bellamy's case.

Although the industrial army aspect is over-painted (and Bellamy himself watered it down in his later writings), all the essential ideas of the socialist movement as it was to develop in America were there: collective ownership of all land and industry on a national scale, production for use not sale or profit, social service instead of working for wages, economic equality, industrial administration replacing political government.

Bellamy himself never referred to himself as a socialist, apparently feeling that the foreign associations of the word would put off American public opinion which he was seeking to convince. He referred to his system variously as 'national co-operation', 'nationalized industrial system' and even as 'public capitalism'. The movement which sprang up on the basis of the ideas expressed in his book was called the 'Nationalist' movement. Nevertheless, his was a powerful indictment of private capitalism and its effects on the propertyless majority which it both created and exploited. Many of those influenced by Bellamy were not afraid to call themselves socialists. In fact they easily moved from his Nationalist movement to Socialism, including Daniel De Leon who joined the Socialist Labor Party in 1890 and became its leading figure till his death in 1914.

The attraction of Bellamy’s book was that it put forward a solution to the social problems, brought about in America by the development of industry under capitalist conditions since the Civil War, and which did not reject industry and industrialisation, but which on the contrary fully accepted them as providing the means to supply plenty for all.

When people like De Leon left the Nationalist movement and became socialists, they did so not because they disagreed with the goal but because they disagreed with Bellamy’s strategy for reaching this goal. Bellamy thought that a 'nationalised industrial system' could come about gradually through the trustification of industry and then the piecemeal nationalisation of these trusts, and steadfastly refused till his death in 1898 to entertain talk about socialism and the class struggle. He got no further than supporting the People’s Party (Populists); in fact most of the Nationalists who did not go over to calling themselves Socialists were absorbed into the Populist movement.

De Leon and the others who broke away over this issue saw Bellamy’s system, which they were not afraid to call socialism, being achieved through the working-class victims of the competitive system organising politically and industrially to dispossess the private capitalists, so making all means of production the common property of the community (or rather of ‘the nation’ as they sometimes revealingly put it). Like Bellamy, they envisaged 'political government' being replaced by 'industrial government', though their conception of this latter was more democratic than Bellamy’s since they envisaged the members of this 'central directing authority' being elected by those working in the various branches of industry, an idea Bellamy had rejected in Looking Backward as being bad for the discipline of his 'industrial army'.

When William Morris reviewed Looking Backward in the Socialist League's paper, Commonweal, on 22 June 1889 he made the point that one of the dangers of socialist utopian novels was that some people would take them as a description of what socialism was going to be like rather than as seeing them as the author's preference as to what he or she would like it to be (a point to remember, as Morris himself made clear, when reading his utopian novel News from Nowhere written precisely to propose an alternative vision of the future to Bellamy's).

In his review Morris criticised the regimentation and centralisation Bellamy depicted and, like other socialists of the time, challenged his view as to how socialism would come about. Above all, he criticised Bellamy's attitude to work. Like many others, Bellamy saw work as something inherently unpleasant which people had to be obliged to do and which society should aim to minimise. Morris's view, on the contrary, was:
'I believe that the ideal of the future does not point to the lessening of men's energy by the reduction of labour to a minimum, but rather to the reduction of pain in labour to a minimum, so small that it will cease to be a pain.'
Morris point is a reasonable one but views similar to Bellamy's still circulate amongst critics in America of capitalism, for instance in the Zeitgeist movement (which wants to automate everything) and Parecon (which is based on the assumption that nobody will work without some form of compensation as an incentive).

This said, Looking Backward was an important work in the development of the socialist idea in America which in turn had an influence in their development in other parts of the English-speaking world including Britain.

Looking Backward can be read online here