Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Bottom Dog. (1919)

From the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
He loved his master dearly in the days of long ago ;
   His dirty kennel and his scanty food
To him were blessings, and he sought no other things to know,
   And all the world looked on and called it good.
But now, because this canine dares to bark for something more,
   The masters curse him for a greedy hog,
And wish that they could kick him as they did in days of yore,
   To teach him he is but the Bottom Dog. 
In days of old when foreign thieves his master’s house would spoil,
   He thought it but his duty and his "bis,"
To guard his master's property—the fruits of others' toil,
   With life and limb as though these things were his.
To-day he views his master with distrust and e'en with scorn,
   Much as the Bull looked on the bloated frog.
His faithfulness has vanished through the terrors he has borne,
   And now they call him "Bolshie Bottom Dog." 
Ungrateful whelp! hast thou forgot thy master's loving care ?
   Regardless of your puny puppy’s whine,
To shield you from the wintry blast, and summer heat and glare,
   Consigned you to the comforts of the mine.
Hast thou not learned in all these years the dignity of work?
   The pride of being just a human cog
In those vast wheels of industry that grind for those who shirk ?
   Oh! bad, unpatriotic Bottom Dog! 
Now just because some dogs have lost an eye, a paw, or leg,
   They snarl and growl at Barnes and Clynes and Hodge—
The master's friends—who tell them if they’ll just sit up and beg
   There’ll be more offal for the Bottom Dog.
But these are signs the mongrel, who is not devoid of pluck,
   With instinct clearing of its mental fog,
Will seize the thieves who rob him and I wish the bounder luck
   To end the days of Top and Bottom Dog.
F. G. Thompson

Spanish Anarchism & Libertarianism (1997)

Book Review from the January 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

To Remember Spain: The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936. Essays by Murray Bookchin (AK Press £4.50.)

This pamphlet consists of two essays: "An Overview of the Spanish Libertarian Movement" and "After Fifty Years: the Spanish Civil War".

Bookchin’s view of the Spanish Civil War is made clear from the outset. In the preface he describes it as "the greatest proletarian and peasant revolution to occur over the past two centuries". Compared with similar struggles in Italy, Germany and Austria, he writes that the Spanish working class and peasantry put up a massive, brave and organised resistance to the forces of fascism in the guise of Franco's military uprising. Bookchin views the Spanish Civil War not as a struggle to defend a discredited and treacherous republican regime but to create a social revolution in Spanish society. Much literature on Spain has tended to play down the more radical forms the conflict took, with the so-called Communist movement at the forefront of this camouflage.

As its title would suggest, much of the first essay deals with the development of the Spanish Anarchist movement, its structure, attempts at democratic control and how these varied from the countryside to the more urban areas.

The remainder discusses the problems of building a mass libertarian movement in the circumstances which have changed since the time of the Spanish Civil War. Bookchin highlights those changes and the limitation of unions, syndicalist as well as reformist. He outlines the capacity of the capitalist system to condition the working class through institutions like the family, school, religious organisations, the factory and trade unions. The system teaches workers obedience, hierarchy, the work ethic and authoritarian discipline and these also have their effects on organisations formed to try to emancipate workers from capitalism. Employment, (although Bookchin uses the term "factory"), and the class organisations that spring from it, are seen as most important in instilling docility in workers, manifesting itself in a commitment to hierarchical organisations and authoritarian leaders with the result that most militant groups and situations can be bought off to serve the interests of a reformist labour bureaucracy.

Bookchin does not provide clear-cut answers to these problems, nor would we expect him to do so, but while socialists may not always agree with the attempts to formulate a solution he does make, this sort of discussion should be of concern to all of us attempting to build libertarian forms of organisation that can begin to challenge capitalism.

In the second essay Bookchin argues against the view of the so-called Communists that Spain was too economically backward for a socialist/anarchist revolution. He sees this as just an excuse for the reactionary role they played in destroying the more radical elements in the civil war in the interest of the dictatorship of the state capitalist Soviet Union, adding that if Spain in 1936-9 was too economically backward then so was Russia in 1917. The more radical initiatives which the "Communists" helped to destroy is well documented as is the reactionary role of popular frontism. What is not considered is the implications of their isolation in one country. The causes of the Civil War are considered by Bookchin to be cultural as well as economic.

The second essay also gives an interesting account of the depth of what has been called the Spanish revolution. In the Catalonia region it is estimated that three-quarters of the economy was under "workers’ control" and in what are described as "the more thoroughly anarchist areas” especially among the agrarian collectives, money was eliminated and the material means of life were allocated according to need rather than work, but it is clear that the circumstances varied from region to region.

Whilst sometimes Bookchin uses the terms socialist and Marxist in, to say the least, irritating ways this pamphlet is still well worth reading. It is certainly an encouragement to find out more about the “Spanish revolution" if your knowledge of it is limited. Some may feel Bookchin overstates the significance of the Spanish Civil War or the depth of support for the more radical movements within it What cannot be denied, even sixty years on, is that it was an event of enough significance to analyse and learn from.
Ray Carr

Fighting the tiger (1997)

From the February 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Early in the morning of 26 December 1996, as South Korea slept, the ruling New Korean Party met secretly and in seven minutes passed the most draconian labour legislation the workers had encountered since the end of military rule in 1987.

When workers awoke a new labour law had been introduced which gives big business greater freedoms in sacking workers and setting working hours. A ban on the formation of two trade unions in any one workplace was introduced until the year 2002 along with the outlawing of new umbrella labour groups until the year 2000.

A new National Security Act was also introduced which gives the Korean CIA greater powers. Although ostensibly justified by the incursion of a North Korean submarine into South Korean waters last year, many workers believe the new act is meant to compliment the labour laws and will be used to crush internal dissent and re-discipline the workers with an iron fist.

President Kim Young-sam rationalised the new legislation by stating that the country needs to endure a period of radical change if it wanted to compete on the global market, fending off, for instance, the threat from low-cost economies like China. Last year, rising labour costs and a slowed economic growth resulted in a £12.5 billion trade deficit and a drop in the profits of quoted companies by 40 percent.

Ironically the new legislation came within two weeks of South Korea making it into the "big man’s club"—the OECD, which includes all the leading industrialised countries, and in which a condition of membership is the recognition of certain labour rights.

Needless to say hundreds of thousands of workers immediately took to the streets in a national, stoppage which was the largest in the country’s post-1945 history, taking part in huge demonstrations and sit-ins and engaging in running battles with the security forces.

As can be imagined, the chaebol (the country's giant industrial conglomerates) were the hardest hit, losing £640 million in the first week of industriaJ action, bringing to a total of £2.7 billion lost to similar action throughout 1996—a loss which prompted the South Korean capitalist class to embark on a massive transfer of funds into the cheaper labour markets of developing countries and first world economics.

At a time when government ministers in this country have been telling workers that trade-union curbs and labour market de-regulation are important if Britain wants to compete with the likes of South Korea, it seems paradoxical that South Korea wants to mirror Britain.

The truth is that the South Korean capitalist class have come to realise that the average eight percent annual growth they have enjoyed since 1960 has peaked and that profits can only be maintained by following the example set elsewhere—by hammering the workers still further and in investing in countries with low productivity costs where workers have fewer rights.

What becomes of the ongoing unrest in South Korea is anyone's guess. One thing is certain though. It is high time the workers there, as well as their counterparts world-wide, realised they are exactly "something to be bought and sold— a commodity" which one Korean labour leader recently claimed they were not.
John Bissett

Handing back the booty (1997)

From the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 1 July Hong Kong will revert to being part of China, bringing to an end a century-and-a-half of colonial rule. Hong Kong island was originally ceded to Britain in 1842, part of the prize for victory in what even capitalist historians call the Opium War. Though supposedly British in perpetuity, Hong Kong island is not viable without the surrounding territories, which, after yet another war, were granted to Britain on a 99-year lease in 1898. On an agreement reached by Margaret Thatcher, the whole of the Hong Kong territory will be returned to China.

Hong Kong has operated as a very profitable colony, with rich pickings for British companies and their local subsidiaries. Politically, it has been run by an appointed governor, aided by advisory councils, and with no pretence even at what passes for democracy under capitalism. Most forms of protest were illegal, including the use of loud-hailers in public. Things began to change as the implications of Thatcher's negotiations with the government of China sank in. Then in 1992, John Major appointed old chum and recently-defeated Tory MP Chris Patten as the new Hong Kong governor. Patten belatedly introduced limited elections and repealed much of the earlier repressive legislation, but this was clearly window-dressing, done with a view to flaunting Hong Kong's "democracy" in contrast to the dictatorial regime in China.

China has for years done very well out of Hong Kong as an export market and a source of foreign exchange, and certainly has no interest in seeing the place degenerate into chaos. After 1 July, Hong Kong will be a Special Administrative Region of China, under the slogan of "one country, two systems". The political boss will be the Chief Executive, elected by a hand-picked selection committee in a show of openness that fooled nobody. In December the new man was named as Tung Chee-hwa, millionaire owner of a shipping company and just the kind of person China's rulers like to do business with. In fact in 1985 they actually bailed out his company to the tune of £75 million! Tung is clearly going to toe Beijing’s line: already he has given warning that the press will have to be more "responsible", meaning they should not inquire at all closely into the doings of the government. And many of the former colonial laws are being revived, much to the wrath of Patten and the British political establishment.

But what hypocrisy it all is! China criticises Britain for repressive policies, and then re-introduces some of the most repressive, which is particularly chilling from the government responsible for the 1989 Tiananmen massacres. Britain objects to China re-introducing the laws that British governors were originally responsible for and still implemented up until recently. But it's really all a sideshow, with the aim of British-owned companies continuing with their investments in Hong Kong (and, of course, in the rest of China), and of the Chinese government profiting from its new possession.

The ordinary people of Hong Kong were treated with contempt (at best) by successive colonial governors, and will receive similar treatment from Tung and his capitalist colleagues. The pollution in Hong Kong, the enormous squatter population, the sweatshops and firetrap factories, will all continue. As one ruling class hands over to another, capitalism with its exploitation and its disfigurement of human lives and the environment remains in place.
Paul Bennett

The Uselessness of "Practical Politics" (1934)

From the February 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most Socialists are familiar with the type of criticism which consists of arguing that Socialism is a vague proposal for general change, whereas what is needed is a series of definite, practical reforms. Bertrand Russell, in the Sunday Referee for November 5th, reproduces this argument with a variation which is new, at any rate, to the present writer. This is the opening paragraph, which provides the key to the entire article, entitled “The age of stagnation”:—
"The nineteenth century, judged by any definite test, was a period of solid progress, in comparison with which the present is an age of stagnation. This not because there were, in those days, more people who desired change, but because reformers worked patiently for definite objects without any thought of altering the entire social order.” 
He then goes on to specify the particular types of reform he has in mind, such as Parliamentary reform legal reform, sex reform and prison reform.

This attitude embodies two fairly obvious errors. In the first place the present, century has witnessed social reforms, such as National Health and Unemployment Insurance, Old Age Pensions, etc., and political reforms, such as the enfranchisement of women. One would have expected the latter, at any rate, to have held a special appeal for Mr. Russell. In the second place it is obvious that the present National Government have no “thought of altering the entire social order.” On the contrary, they obtained power for “ definite objects.”

At the last election they obtained support by promises of certain immediate reforms. Even the Bolsheviks, who do profess to have Socialism as their ultimate aim, secured power by promising peace, land for the peasants and bread for the workers.

It is no part of the Socialist case that reforms are unnecessary. Capitalist society produces such a crop of evils that the need for reforms is constant and urgent; but it is a necessity which imposes itself upon the master class, who alone possess the power to introduce them. Hence we find arising from this class (in the words of Marx and Engels), “Economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, and hole and comer reformers of every imaginable kind.” (Communist Manifesto.)

Mr. Russell belongs to this type of person. He is superficial enough to think that by concentrating attention upon the details of capitalist administration he will avoid facing the fundamental problem which the very existence of capitalism involves. In this he resembles most defenders of capitalism to-day. Indeed, this is the only safe line for such people to take, since the moment the workers begin to think about fundamentals the game of bluff will be nearly up.

No one need worry that they will not have enough to do if they become revolutionary. Even a small organisation like the S.P.G.B. is not maintained by meeting to pass revolutionary resolutions. Practical details have to be attended to, and will become more numerous as the Party grows. The revolution will change the class of details that need dealing with. The working class in power will find its administrative capacity amply taxed. Mr. Russell, however, wishes us to ignore the need for revolution. He offers us the barren prospect of becoming mere busybodies on behalf of our masters.

Various sections of the ruling class at present are preoccupied with what they describe as ”preventing war.” Not having finished paying for the last they do not relish incurring a still greater burden of debt by having another. Mr. Russell proposes, in a further article in the same paper (November 19th), international agreement to take the armament industry out of private hands. It is, of course, only to be expected that armament firms will support policies suited to their interests, but it by no means follows that Mr. Russell’s proposal is any solution to the war problem.

In the first place, Governments do not increase their debts merely to oblige the armament firms. Control of trade routes, markets and sources of raw materials is essential to any powerful group of capitalists, and conflicts over this control are the prime cause of modern wars. Secondly, Mr. Russell’s idea implies a degree of harmony of interests among the national groups which is simply non-existent. If they cannot agree about the division of the plunder derived from the exploitation of the workers of the world they are hardly likely to trust one another not to obtain arms except from Government arsenals. In fact, the armament industry is not a separate, watertight, economic department, it is inextricably bound up with other industries.

In order to carry out Mr. Russell’s proposal each Government would either have to confiscate or purchase industrial concerns normally used for other purposes or leave them outside its control, thus losing valuable sources of supply in time of need. Mr. Russell might just as usefully suggest an international agreement between Governments not to employ civilians in war time. Experience shows that armies can, in a few months, be increased from a few hundreds of thousands to several millions, and similarly all kinds of factories become sources of war supplies, including arms and munitions, when the emergency arises. Mr. Russell, with his passion for attention to detail, should pay a certain amount of respect to details such as these. Deeper than this he can hardly be expected to go, but of all utopian schemes that of establishing peace under capitalism is the most fantastic. Capitalism is founded upon robbery—the robbery in the workshops, mines, farms, etc., of the producers, by the possessors of these means of living. The proceeds of robbery require to be protected, both from the robbed and from, rival gangs of robbers. Hence the existence of armed forces. For the international capitalist class to get rid of these forces would be equivalent to abandoning the most important guarantee of its own conditions of existence; in other words, it would be equivalent to, economic and political suicide.

Disarmament in any real sense of the term is the task of the international working class. They can accomplish it only by getting control of the armed forces through consciously organised political action. That is the essential preliminary act in the drama of social revolution, whereby the means of living will be converted into the common property of all. Nothing less than the determination to emancipate themselves will provide the workers with a motive equal to the task. So long as they are prepared for slavery in the factories they will be ready for sacrifice on the battlefield at the behest of their masters.

Mr. Russell fears that much of the stagnation of which he complains is due to the fear of war. This only demonstrates the urgent need for the workers to concentrate their attention upon the revolutionary task. For them no essential change for the better can come within the limits of a system which inevitably generates wars and the fear of war. Our masters may alternately slacken or tighten our chains as circumstances dictate, but the chains will still be there until the workers as a class deliberately break them.

To any worker who is fully alive to his slave position emancipation is his supreme specific need. Compared with this the petty details of day-to-day adjustments within capitalism sink into relative unimportance. Certainly they can form no basis for a workers' party. Such a party can have for its object nothing less than Socialism.
Eric Boden