Friday, February 19, 2016

A Question of definition (3) - revolution (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Revolution
Revolution originally meant a revolving movement and is still used in this sense when we talk about engines doing so many revolutions per minute. It later came to be extended to describe a change in the political set-up (a change of ruler or constitution). Thus, when in 1688 Parliament and the Bishops expelled the Catholic King James II and replaced him by the Protestant William of Orange, appointed by Act of Parliament, they described this as the Glorious Revolution. Then, in the following century, there was the American Revolution and of course the French Revolution.

The French Revolution was a great deal more radical than the so-called “glorious revolution” of 1688 in England, but it gave rise to a body of thought which demanded an even more radical change which by 1848 was called “la révolution sociale”. The exact significance of this phrase will not be grasped if the French word social is understood to mean simply “something to do with society” so that “social revolution” would merely mean revolution in society. Of course “la révolution sociale” was to be a revolution in society, but then so had been the French “bourgeois revolution” as it was now being called. It meant a particular kind of revolution in society, one which would benefit the mass of ordinary, working people. Thus it might even be said that “social” in this phrase had some of the meaning of “socialist”. A contrast was also drawn between “la révolution sociale” and political revolutions, which, like the French bourgeois revolution, involved as far as the mass of people were concerned a change of rulers

Social Revolution
We would be more precise today and use political revolution to describe a change in the class which controls the State, social revolution to mean a change in the basis of society and socialist revolution to describe the particular change of society from capitalism to Socialism following the winning of political power from the capitalist class by the working class. Proletarian revolution is not a phrase we use though it was used by early Socialist writers and thinkers but, if we did use it, it would mean the winning of political power by the working class, i.e., the political revolution (change in control of political power) preceding the social revolution from capitalism to Socialism.

Now, whether we like it or not (and we don’t), we cannot deny that the word revolution has often been used to mean “violent overthrow” and in fact most of the political and social revolutions of the past have been violent. We deny, however, that there is any necessary connexion between revolution and violence. Here we endorse Williams’ comment on the revolution versus reform controversy (which he calls, confusedly, “the distinction between revolutionary and evolutionary socialism”):
From one point of view the distinction was between violent overthrow of the old order and peaceful and constitutional change. From another point of view, which is at least equally valid, the distinction was between working for a wholly new social order (socialism as opposed to capitalism) and the more limited modification or reform of an existing order . . . The argument about means, which has often been used to specialize revolution, is also usually an argument about ends.
Peaceful change
This is an important point, and one we have always made ourselves. In our view the distinction between revolution and reform is not between violent overthrow (insurrection) and peaceful change (using elections and Parliament), but between those who want to replace capitalism by Socialism and those who seek merely to re-form capitalism in one way or another. We claim to be revolutionaries because we stand for a fundamental and rapid change in the basis of society following the capture of political power by the working class, even though we hold that the working class can capture political power peacefully through elections and Parliament. On the other hand, there are many who believe in the violent capture of political power but who would use it merely to re-form capitalism (generally into State capitalism). We deny they are revolutionaries, irrespective of their commitment to violent tactics.

In other words, there is no necessary link between revolution and violence: there can be revolution without violence and violence without revolution. The criterion for revolution is the end envisaged (a change in control of political power, a change in the basis of society) not the means advocated (peaceful or violent).
Adam Buick

A Question of definition (2) Class and reform (1978)

From the April 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class was originally a general term for a division or a group and was thus equivalent to modern “category”. Thus it had no particular social significance but from the period 1770 to 1840 it came increasingly to be used to describe divisions in society. Williams explains its displacing of previous words for social divisions such as rank, order, estate, degree by the fact that, unlike them, class did not imply a hierarchical arrangement of society—such as feudalism had been but as;, emerging capitalism was not.

Even so, the first uses of class were hierarchical: lower classes, middle classes, upper classes. “Working classes’’ dates from early in the 19th century and seems to have been coined by Robert Owen (who is also responsible for another key word in the socialist vocabulary: socialism itself). At that time the big political struggle in Britain was for the Reform of the House of Commons, i.e., a redistribution of constituencies to give the new industrial areas more representation and an extension of the franchise. In this struggle “the middle classes”, as the capitalist employers called themselves, supported by ‘"the working classes”, saw themselves opposed to “the privileged classes” (i.e., the landed aristocrats, the clergy of the Established Church, those with government sinecures).

The compromise reached between the capitalists and “the privileged classes” in 1832, which left the great bulk of workers without the vote, led groups of workers to perceive the conflict of interest between the working class and "The middle classes” or capitalist or master class (a term used in our declaration of principles in 1904 but which has now dropped out of use) as they came to call them. Pro- working class writers showed how “the middle classes” too should be included among “the privileged classes” since they lived off profits got from the labour of the working class. By the 1860s “capitalist class” and “working class” were in current use. ' . .

Marx in Capital (1867) in fact distinguished a third class: the class of landlords who monopolise natural resources and live off rents, not only without haying to work but also without having to invest' any capital either. Nowadays this class, through long ago investing its rents in industry and banking, has merged with the capitalist class arid so virtually disappeared as a distinct class.. Thus we can say that today society is, to all intents and purposes, divided into two classes: the capitalist class and the working class, defined by their different relationship to the means of production. The capitalist class, as a class, monopolise the means of production; they own and control them. The working class are excluded from ownership and control of the means of production and only have access to them on the capitalists’ terms: on condition that the capitalists think they can make a profit by selling what the workers produce. There is thus a fundamental conflict between these two classes which takes the form of a permanent class struggle, ultimately over the ownership and control of the means of production but at the moment only over wages and working conditions.

The phrase working class was, as we saw, originally “working classes”,, but this usage is loose and theoretically wrong since there is only a single working class. But there is another confusion arising out of the phrase’s association with “working man” and “workman” which refer to manual labour, so that it is often assumed that the working class is confined to manual workers, in the factories and mines', on the railways and docks, etc. This mistake is made not only by those who do not want to be considered as members of the working class, but also by manual workers who do not consider civil servants, clerks and other “pen-pushers” as real workers. But it is a mistake and arises from an alternative and inadequate definition of class in terms of social status rather than relationship to the means of production. Thus there is supposed to be an upper class of aristocrats and capitalists enjoying high social status, a middle class of professional people and office workers enjoying a middling social status and a lower, working class of manual workers with no social status; various refinements can be introduced according to taste like lower middle class, upper working class, etc.

But it is clear that, as far a relationship to the means of production is concerned, office workers (including managers) are in precisely the same position as shop floor workers: they are excluded from ownership and control of the means of production and are forced to obtain a living, by selling their mental and physical energies to an employer. This in fact is our definition of working class: all those who are forced to sell their mental and physical energies in order to live. It would have been convenient to use some phrase such as “wage-earning class” in order to make our point of view clear at first sight, but unfortunately not only does a section of the working class call itself the “middle class" but even denies that it is paid wages as workers are and insists on calling them a salary instead. In fact a salary is equally a price for the sale of a person’s mental and physical energies, but this snobbery means that in order to make ourselves absolutely clear who we mean by working class we have to say “those forced to work for a wage or salary” or, less adequately but more simply, “wage and salary earners”. 

Williams detects a third use of class defined not by relationship to the means of production, nor by social status but by political consciousness. It Is true that Marx did sometimes, especially in his earlier writings,use class in this sense, saying that the workers or the peasants did not constitute a class until they perceived themselves to be a class with a common interest and organised themselves consciously to pursue that interest.This has been expressed, in philosophical terms, by distinguishing between a “class-in-itself" (defined by relationship to the means of production) and “class-for-itself" (defined by political consciousness). While not denying that this is a useful distinction it is hardly an adequate definition of class; otherwise the working class would be reduced to the tiny minority who at present want Socialism! The distinction is better made by saying that the working class now exists, but is not yet class conscious (defined politically to mean not simply a trade union consciousness but as wanting and understanding Socialism).

Reform, Reformism, Reformist
Reform, as a noun meaning a specific measure, dates from the end of the 18th century and was particularly associated with moves to make elections to the House of Commons more democratic. Thus the 1832 Act of Parliament which redistributed constituencies and extended the franchise was called the Reform Act. A second "Reform Act”, which further extended the franchise, was passed in 1867. But then, as the focus of popular agitation shifted from trying to change political institutions to trying to change society, reform came to mean also a specific measure aimed at improving society, hence “social reform”. But (at least in the way we have always used the word) reform does not refer to all attempts to improve social conditions but only to measures passed by Parliament or implemented by the State; thus, for instance, trade union activity and the work of private charities, whatever may be said for or against them, are not reforms.

Raymond Williams (Key Words, Fontana) detects an ambiguity, dating from the word’s first appearance in English in the 14th century, between reform in the sense of improve and reform in the sense of re-form, restore, rearrange. Thus someone who wants to reform capitalism may justify this as a supposed step towards Socialism or as a means of strengthening capitalism. There is no doubt that Williams is right here as can be seen from how the meaning of the word reformism has changed over the years.

This word is less than a hundred years old and originates from arguments within the French Social Democratic movement towards the end of the last century. One tendency argued that it was possible to gradually reform capitalism into Socialism by a series of reform measures; this view was known as “réformisme” and its supporters called themselves “réformistes”. In Britain a similar doctrine was propagated by the Fabian Society where it was more commonly known as “gradualism” (from the Fabian slogan “the inevitability of gradualness”). The Social Democratic Federation too had a similar position, labelling the reforms they advocated “stepping stones to Socialism”.

Today, however, we use the word reformist to refer to anyone who seeks to reform capitalism for whatever reason and irrespective of whether or not he claims to be a Socialist. This (quite justified) extension of the word reflects the fact that nowadays the leaders of parties such as Labour have no idea of what Socialism is (unlike some early Fabians who were on record as calling for the abolition of the wages system) and so cannot be said to want to transform society, even gradually, into Socialism and the fact that openly pro-capitalist parties, even the Conservative Party, also claim to stand for the improvement of society by means of reforms. Thus when we call someone a reformist today the suggestion is not there, as it once was, that he wants Socialism but has a mistaken view of how to achieve it. A reformist today is simply someone who (Williams', second sense) wants to re-form capitalism in one way or another or for one reason or another.
Adam Buick

A Question of definition will be concluded with an article on Revolution and Socialism.

A Question of definition (1) (1978)

From the March 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Words, written and spoken, are the tools we use in our task of trying to spread socialist understanding and we are therefore particularly concerned to clearly define the words we use. Language, like everything else in the world, is constantly changing, as new social experiences demand new words or as old words assume new meanings. Dictionaries only give the meaning of words at the date they are drawn up and even then merely describe how words are used rather than prescribe how they should be used.

This is why when there is an argument over a definition of a word this cannot be settled by a simple reference to a dictionary. To assume that it could is to assume that the definition of words has been settled once and for ail and that arguments over the definition of words are illegitimate. We don’t accept this, not only because we know that words change their meaning but also because we reserve the right to define certain words in ways which we consider more useful, from the point of view of understanding and changing the world, than the currently used definitions This is why we do not accept current dictionary definitions of such words as class, socialism and revolution. As dictionaries merely describe how these words are used they merely reflect what is in our opinion confused and confusing current popular usages.

A book such as Raymond Williams’ Key Words (Fontana), which seeks to give both the history of a word and controversies over how it should be used, is thus to be welcomed. Williams is the author of a book published in 1956 called Culture and Society, a title which indicates his main concern: literature and art in relation to society. Nevertheless there figure among his “key words” words which are also key words for us such as (to mention only those which occur in our declaration of principles): capitalist, class, common, community, democracy, equality, evolution, interest, labour, mankind, monopoly, socialist, society, wealth. We do not of course always agree with his conclusions, or even his history (he attributes, for instance, the coining of the phrase dialectical materialism to Engels whereas it was first used by Joseph Dietzgen in the 1870s), but we will follow his practice and give our history and definition of the key words in our vocabulary: capitalism, class, reform, revolution and socialism.

Capitalism, Capitalist
Both these are key words in the socialist vocabulary since we describe present-day society as capitalism and one of the two classes into which it is divided as the capitalist class.

Capitalist came into the English language in the early part of the 19th century and meant someone who had “capital”. Capital was a shortening of the phrase “capital stock” and referred to a monetary fund. Thus capitalist was basically somebody with money. Later, as the classical political economists came to distinguish various types of capital employed in production—circulating capital, fixed capital—the word came to apply also to employers of labour and owners of factories, mines and mills.

Capitalism was not originally the name for a system of society but for a system of production, one based on the investment of money-capital. Williams claims that to talk about capitalism as a system of society it to confuse a distinction made by Marx between “bourgeois society” and “capitalist production”.

Certainly Marx did speak of “bourgeois society” or rather its German equivalent “bürgerlich Gesellschaft”. Bourgeois is of course a French word and originally referred to the citizens of towns in Mediaeval France which enjoyed certain privileges, for which the English equivalent might be “freeman”. Later it came to be associated with anyone who, not being an aristocrat, enjoyed a steady income and led a respectable life. As it was precisely this class of people which gained from the French Revolution, taking over from the landed aristocracy as the ruling class, it was quite natural that in French this should have been called a “revolution bourgeoise” and the society over which they ruled a “société bourgeoise”.

The German equivalent bürgerlich is a further complicating factor in that it aiso means “civil” (hence “Burgerkrieg” = civil war) and was used by Hegel, who considerably influenced Marx, in the phrase “burgeriich Gesellschaft” (= civil, rather than bourgeois, society) which he contrasted with the State. Civil society was, if you like, all the non-political activities of men, i.e., above all their economic activities. Thus, whether translated “bourgeois society” or “civil society”, the German phrase used by Marx led him to a study of the system of production which, in both English and German, he called “capitalist”.

Bourgeois is not a word we use except in the phrase “bourgeois revolution” (to describe political revolutions in which the rising capitalist class—then only a “middle class” or, even, a “bourgeoisie”—takes political power from the landed aristocracy). It is not and never has been in wide use in English where there have always been adequate alternatives.

In this connexion it is significant that when Marx and Engels wrote in English they chose to avoid the word “bourgeois”. Thus in Value, Price and Profit, a talk delivered in 1865, Marx talks of “the capitalist class” and “the capitalists”. Engels in the series of articles he wrote for the Labour Standard in 1881 followed the same practice and in one place even used the phrase “capitalist system”. Both Marx and Engels were deliberately trying to express themselves here in English idiom, to use phrases already current in the working class movement in England, phrases which have survived and fully justify the use of “capitalist” rather than “bourgeois” to describe present- day society.

Later, when in the early part of this century the ending -ism, in connexion with socialism, came to mean not just the theory but also the putting into practice of that theory and so to a system of society, it was natural that the same transition should take place with regard to capitalist so that capitalism became an alternative word for what had previously had to be called “capitalist society”.

Capitalism, then, is defined by us as a system of society based on the monopoly of the means of production by a minority class and their use to produce wealth to be sold on a market with a view to profit, i.e., as capital, as wealth used to produce other wealth with a view to a profit.
Adam Buick

A Question of definition will continue as a series with future articles dealing with, CLASS, REFORM, REVOLUTION AND SOCIALISM.

Snowbound in Boston (1978)

A Letter from America from the April 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

By the time these words are published, the blizzard of 1978 that inundated the northeast coast of the USA with the largest snowfall in anybody’s memory, obliterated all highways and shut down most of the means of transportation, will be but a memory. They are being written on Feb. 8, the second day of the Governor’s Emergency and the pending Federal Disaster edicts that have put Boston and Massachusetts, generally, in the control of State and Federal authority. After more than 24 hours of steadily and rapidly accumulating snow— to a record total of 27 inches—plus hurricane-force winds of up to 100 miles an hour throughout the period, the clean-up operation has just begun. It is the second full day of following orders to remain at home and nothing much is moving in the Greater Boston area other than emergency equipment, police, soldiers, underground rapid transit, and so on.

Up-to-the-minute information on what is happening is being provided by the various TV and Radio stations and networks—as long as there are no breakdowns in transmitting equipment, and enough of a working staff is on the job, electronic news dispensing goes on. So there is no lack of the usual things that accompany disasters to write of—rescuing of trapped motorists in the thousands of stranded cars on the highways surrounding the city, life-saving operations along oceanfront residential areas where houses by the dozens were being destroyed by angry tides, general cooperation among “intrinsically competitive” (as some “scientists” would have it) human beings—and so forth. We shall leave that aspect to the professional journalists and concentrate upon some thoughts of what is happening from a socialist perspective.

To make a beginning, let us examine the state (small s) and its function in situations of this nature. The smaller divisions, such as city, town and country governments, soon must appeal to the main, centralized, authorities for help, so State (large S) and Federal politicians and troops take over. The Mayor takes a back seat. A sour-voiced Mayor Kevin White, of Boston, speaking over the radio via telephone, averred that “nobody” wants a Federal Disaster situation—something that is required before Federal troops and equipment can join in the rescue and clean-up efforts, it seems. (In Boston’s case, a convoy of army trucks has already arrived from a nearby Federal barracks while some 40 troop-and- equipment carrying planes are scheduled to land at the airport as soon as runways are cleared.) So the Governor of Massachusetts and the Federal politicians take over and the free publicity afforded them had a monetary value in the millions, particularly so in the case of Governor Michael Dukakis who must campaign for re-election this year.

But all of this is neither here nor there—really—to the mass of the working class. What is vital to the ruling class is that this enforced—and generally unpaid —respite from the daily grind does not last too long. When airports and railways are again operating, the well-heeled can take a well-needed vacation in sunnier climes. The rest of us stay put, trapped by financial circumstances even though no longer trapped by snow. Even the Federal troops will resume their daily grind of military duty, whatever, in their usual quarters when the Boston emergency is over.

Which brings us to the whole question of armed forces, why they exist, and whether or not a brand new, world socialist, society would need them. We have written, in the past, and will no doubt write more in the future, of the need for military in a world of competing nations and hostile economic classes. At this time, we shall touch upon this other duty that armies are frequently assigned—rescue and cleanup operations in areas of natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons and deluges of rain or snow can well be expected to occur in a socialist world—such disasters are a-political. A well-trained and well-equipped force will always have to be available to handle such emergencies.

But note well: guns and other lethal weapons serve no purpose in humanitarian operations. Discouragement of and protection against looting, the so-called ugliest crime? (ugliest because it strikes at the vitals of capitalist rights). In Boston it didn’t take long before arrests became commonplace, seemingly concentrated in black, ghetto areas. Whv did the looters not satisfy themselves with merely taking merchandise, avoiding wanton destruction of property, as one TV newsman asked? It might well be that the vandalism among these black workers was a reaction against “whitey”. To militant blacks, even black businessmen can be thought of as a part of the white “Establishment”.

In any event, ethnic and “racial” hatreds could not exist in a sanely-organized world where the economic basis for such hatreds would be absent. Nor is looting conceivable in a society based upon common ownership and free right of access by all mankind to all of its needs. Is such a society impossible to achieve? Only if it proves to be impossible to organise a majority of the working class for such an immediate goal. Notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, socialists insist it is possible and shun all other political activity. This, is the (socialist) message from snowbound Boston, Mass.
Harry Morrison

New Interventions (1998)

Book Review from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Interventions, Vol 8 , No 2, Winter 1997-98, PO Box 485 Coventry, CV5 6ZP. £2.

This issue of a Trotskyoid journal is devoted to a reappraisal of Bolshevism on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. But, instead of the expected praise of the Bolsheviks and a call for the 1917 experience to be repeated in this country, most of the contributors expressed doubts about whether the Bolsheviks did the right thing in 1917 and the years that followed.

Veteran Trotskyist Harry Ratner writes that Russia remained a genuine soviet regime (a workers' democracy) for only "a few weeks" after November 1917 (he says October 1917--Trotskyists still use the old Julian calendar). After that, the Bolsheviks established their own dictatorship. He wonders if it might not have been better if some sort of broad front democratic government had been allowed to emerge from the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and asks:
"So were Kautsky and the Mensheviks right to oppose the October Revolution from the start, as an attempt prematurely to go beyond the 'bourgeois' stage of the Russian revolution? Were they right to declare a socialist working-class revolution in a backward Russia premature and doomed to failure because the conditions for socialism were not ripe-both as regards the economic base and the social and cultural level of the working class? On the face of it, subsequent history would seem to justify them".
His reply is even more surprising:
"All one can say is that the 'workers' state' that was born in October 1917 was premature and infected from infancy. Unfortunately, as it degenerated, it infected the working-class movement internationally, and proved an obstacle on the road to socialism. My old comrade, the late Alex Acheson, who joined the movement in the 1930s and remained a committed Trotskyist till his death last year, once told me: 'It might have been better if the October Revolution had never occurred'".
Another contributor, Hillel Ticktin, editor of Critique, tackles the question "What if the Left Opposition had Taken Power?". After beginning with the preposterous statement that "the Russian Revolution is possibly the most important event so far in human history", his conclusion is that they too would have established a dictatorship that would have "had nothing to do with socialism" but would not have been as bad as Stalin's. He asks himself the same questions as Harry Ratner: "Do we wait until we have a revolution that is totally democratic?", "Are those who argue that in 1917 the means of production were not yet sufficiently developed then correct?". His answer is not very clear, especially not to the first one.

Al Richardson, editor of Revolutionary History, says that even "workers' state" is "a term that does not appear in Marx at all, to my knowledge". Only Ian Birchall of the SWP claims the mantle of true Bolshevism. It is his party that seems to him to "come nearest to being a legitimate successor to the essential spirit of Bolshevism". He's right. That's why they should be opposed.

Two other articles, one by a Socialist Party member on "Why the Russian Revolution Wasn't a Proletarian Revolution", the other by Alastair Mitchell on "1917 and All That", have no time at all for Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks.

The same issue also contains a lengthy reply by another Socialist Party member to an ignorant criticism of the Socialist Party in the previous issue by Ted Crawford who supplies an equally ignorant (in all senses of the word) reply.

Of course it wasn't just Kautsky, Martov and the Mensheviks who warned that conditions in Russia in 1917 weren't ripe for a socialist revolution there. We did too. In fact anyone who had read and understood Marx knew this. We know people don't like being told "we told you so". So we shall resist the temptation.
Adam Buick

Cripps and the Labour Party (1939)

Editorial from the February 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political  groups are nowadays two-a-penny. Facing the Tories, National Liberals and National Labour Party, which make up the Chamberlain Government are the opposition Liberals, the Labour Party and its affiliated parties, the Co-operative Party, the I.L.P. and the Communists. Then there is Lloyd George’s Council of Action, the Labour Co-operative joint campaign, the Churchill - Sandys - Atholl  Hundred Thousand" movement, and the latest addition, the Cripps' Manifesto for an alliance of all genuine friends of democracy and opponents of the Chamberlain Government. Sir Stafford Cripps argues that if all the genuine friends of democracy got together, they would be numerous enough to defeat Chamberlain at the next election, but lots of genuine friends have lost no time in telling Cripps that he is a disruptionist, and they will have none of him and his movement. They include the overwhelming majority of members of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party, on which Cripps had a seat, and their denunciation has been backed by Mr. Bevin and other trade union officials. Also, Sir Stafford Cripps will himself have no dealings with a rival group of ”friends of democracy,” the Churchill group; for, says Cripps, in a memorandum to the Labour Party, the object of the Hundred Thousand movement is really “to capture the youth for reactionary imperialism” (Manchester Guardian, January 16th, 1939). He fears that, though this movement has been checked for the moment, some such group, while preaching a ”democratic front," may actually be leading the youth “into what are substantially Fascist paths." Though the Cripps’ group object to Churchill and the rest of the Hundred Thousand movement, they approve the Duchess of Atholl, who is its Acting Chairman.

Naturally, Sir Stafford numbers among his supporters that indefatigable promoter of new parties, Mr. G. D. H. Cole. It would be difficult j to point to any period in the past quarter of a century when Mr. Cole was not founding a new political cult or burying an old one.

Socialism in Cold Storage.
Both the Labour-Co-operative joint campaign to secure the election of a Labour Government and Sir Stafford Cripps' plea for united action have as their ostensible justification the critical nature of the present political situation, particularly the international situation. Both programmes are designed to appeal to non-Socialists, though Cripps is candid about it and the Labour Party is not. Cripps says, frankly, that he proposes to put Socialism into cold storage for the present, and drafts his programme accordingly. The Labour Party offer just the same kind of programme but indignantly deny any abandonment of Socialism. As recently as December 2nd, 1938, the editor of the Daily Herald, Mr. Francis Williams, wrote an article in answer to “people who declare themselves Socialists but who want Socialism to be put into cold storage for the time being.” Mr. Williams, using arguments that have often appeared in The Socialist Standard, maintained that “a great Socialist crusade” is needed to answer Fascism. It would, he said, ”win an immense number of converts,” but such a crusade "can only be harmed by alliance with those who do not share our Socialist beliefs.”

Now the crusade has been launched by the Daily Herald of January 14th, 1939. It has seven points, as follows: “£1 a week pension at 65,” "Work for all at fair wages," ”Plenty of food at fair prices,” ” A fair chance of health for all,” ”A clear policy for peace,” “ Build up our strength,” and " Put Britain's safety first.”

The first four are self-explanatory. Number five proposes linking up with “other peaceful countries," so that the dictators ”will not dare to attack any of us.” Number six means the development of agriculture, industry and transport. The seventh and last means the provision of adequate anti-aircraft protection.

The above new programme is so like all the old ones that it needs little comment. It will be observed that the “Socialist Crusade” has no slightest tinge of Socialism.

Sir Stafford. Cripps (see Manifesto in Manchester Guardian, January 16th) wants his Popular Front to be based on the following points: Effective protection of democracy, collaboration with ”France, Russia, America and other democratic countries," co-operation with the trade unions for advances in wages, etc., higher standards of nutrition, better provision for the unemployed, improved old-age pensions, educational reforms, a policy to deal with unemployment, agricultural reforms, and national control of transport, mining, and the Bank of England.

Socialists will perceive that Sir Stafford’s programme also contains nothing of Socialism, but not because he has put it in cold storage. When he says that the Labour Party should join his proposed Popular Front, but at the same time affirm that it remains “convinced that the only ultimate solution of the national and international difficulties was along the lines of its fullest Socialist program me." Sir Stafford is talking with his tongue in his cheek. He knows, as well as anyone, that the Labour Party was built up on a programme from which Socialism was excluded, and that the exclusion was as necessary to the Labour Party as he recognises it to be necessary for his all-party group. Those who want non-Socialist votes must put forward a reformist programme which will appeal to non-Socialists. Sir Stafford says that in “normal political times" he is all for Socialism and independence, but the present times are not normal. Those who look up his political career will find that times apparently never were normal, for all of his own election campaigns have been fought as a Labour candidate on the usual reformist programme.

The Partnership of Sheep and Wolves.
Behind all these manoeuvrings of the Labour and Co-operative Parties, and Sir Stafford Cripps and his supporters, is the decisive factor that the vast majority of electors are not Socialists. To get a majority the opposition must therefore always make a non-Socialist appeal. As long ago as 1931 it was pointed out in The Socialist Standard that the workers' experience of two Labour Governments had so knocked the gilt off Labourism that it was hard to conceive of any situation in which the Labour Party could ever hope to gain a majority, unless in alliance with the Liberals or other parties or groups. The Labour-Co-operative campaign and the Cripps’ Popular Front are a tardy recognition of this situation. But neither group candidly admits the price that has to be paid to get votes. The Labour Party puts forward a non-Socialist programme and labels it "Socialist Crusade," while Cripps writes glibly of an all-party alliance, in which nobody “would be expected to relinquish any part of their beliefs or programme except for the specific and limited purpose of the present emergency and for the creation of a temporary combination to fight the National Government.”

Fine-sounding phrases, but what is the new Government going to do when it gets into office, except carry on the administration of capitalism? They could not introduce Socialism, even if they wished, because the electorate is opposed to such a course, and the openly capitalist elements have not the slightest intention of putting capitalism in cold storage as their part of the bargain. Nor do they even pretend to have that intention. Like the Duchess of Atholl, who wrote an article on “My Creed" in Reynolds (January 15th, 1939), they desire “to maintain private property as an institution." The Socialist sheep is asked to join in a pact of mutual assistance with the capitalist wolf under the blessed guise of genuine friends of demoracy, but while the sheep is to give up Socialism the wolf carries on in the accustomed way.

Cripps and the Labour Party both talk of “ fair wages." Every capitalist, including the worst sweaters, will hasten to sign on the dotted line to such a nebulous phrase, but it will be noticed that neither the Labour Party nor Cripps embarrasses its potential capitalist supporters by proposing to repeal the 1927 Trades Disputes and Trades Union Act: that would be construed as an unfriendly act by the “genuine friends of democracy," who, in truth, care all about protecting the private proverty institution and nothing at all about fighting Fascism, unless they consider the latter a means to the former.

Neither a Labour Government nor a Popular Front all-party Government would advance Socialism one iota. Nor will they even improve the prospects of democracy. Doomed to fail and disintegrate, like every Government administering capitalism, they may very likely encourage the growth of Fascism among the disappointed electorate.

The politics of recession (1981)

From the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the world today, one person dies of starvation each second, but food is deliberately destroyed in order to maximise prices and profit. Production is being cut back in all vital areas, with one major exception. The world's governments are now spending a million pounds a minute on weapons of destruction, to defend the property and privilege of their investors. Clearly, society is not being run according to a principle of human well-being, but to provide profit for the holders of property.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about the recession. The Tories pray that it will lift in time for the next General Election. The Labour Party claims to have a master plan with which to beat it, but is increasingly cautious in its claims. Financial institutions such as the World Bank and the London Chamber of Commerce speak desperately about it “reaching the bottom” and “turning the corner” in the hope that they can inspire confidence among investors and make their predictions come true. Politicians like Geoffrey Howe and Francis Pym argue over when business is likely to pick up again. Perhaps the most honest judgement has come from the Employment Secretary, James Prior, who said “Frankly, I don’t know what the forecasts will show or what the results will be in three years’ time.” (Guardian. 2914/81.)

This might lead you to believe that the recession has a mind of its own. Labour politicians speak of magical spending programmes which they intend to offer up as sacrifices to soften the temper of the crisis. Certainly, world recession can no more be produced or ended by governments than the “boom” periods with which it alternates. But as an integral part of the present social system, it is ultimately a human creation which can be removed once it has been understood.

We are taught to regard social institutions such as nations, employers and money with a kind of religious reverence which gives them an eternal air. We allow them to dominate over us, so that the relations between us develop a greater importance than our wish to survive in comfort and security. The present world economy of capitalism is based on the blind anarchy of competition between companies and nations. It does not serve the interests of the majority but it is kept in being by distortion and confusion.

The Trade Cycle
The mass unemployment and destruction which is a sign of recession is an inevitable part of the profit system which dominates the entire world today. It is a demonstration of the natural insecurity of the wage-worker or salary-earner. Even in “boom” times there is unemployment. Keynes, who expounded the theory that higher government spending could relieve unemployment, only ever hoped to reduce it to a rate of five per cent, which Geoffrey Howe recently referred to in a Commons Treasury Committee paper as the “natural rate” of unemployment.

Most of the factories, offices, farms and other productive and distributive machinery are in the hand of a tiny minority. In Britain, for example, only seven per cent of adults have any shares whatsoever, and the richest one per cent have more wealth than the poorest eighty per cent (Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth, 1979). The majority are forced to work to live, but are only allowed access to the work-place on terms which are beneficial to the employer who owns it. Of all the wealth produced, only some is paid to the employees who create it all, just enough to keep us fit for work at an accepted standard of living, while the remainder is accumulated as capital. The surplus goes to the parasitical, unproductive minority in the form of rent, interest and profit. They only employ us when they think it will be profitable—that is, when they think they can sell the goods and services we produce. When we have produced too much for the market, so that people cannot even afford to buy back what they have made, the market dries up and redundancies occur. Food is destroyed, politicians moan about the “lakes of wine” and “butter mountains”, and “destocking” takes place until a chance of a profit arises again.

This system of wages, profits and prices is based on competition. Instead of working together, pooling resources to satisfy needs, we are regimented into the armies of companies which compete over the profits they make in the world market. Like a monster breathing in and out, this anarchy leads to a continuous cycle of stops and starts. After a period of rapid growth in production, market demand falls behind in a particular industry, so investors pull out, bringing further decline in that area. They switch their money into other fields, where production increases until it outstrips market demand, when, again, profitability is threatened and investors pull out.

The process spreads in a matter of years, across the world, and a crisis of “overproduction” is declared. Overproduction for the restrictive market system, it should be noted, not for the needs of humanity. While industrialists complain about the lakes of wine, workers are told to “pull our belts in”, and cut back on “luxuries” like bottles of wine. The United Nations recently declared that half of the world’s population is severely malnourished. Millions of workers are put on the dole. War breaks out as nations compete over reduced profit margins and glutted markets. The Italian stock exchange was closed for three days recently after £4 billion had been wiped off the value of companies. State-capitalist countries like Russia and China are affected too. The Polish government recently announced that unemployment will be unavoidable there and Janos Kadar, the Hungarian Communist Party leader, has stated that the relative “liberalism” of recent years must end, and that a tougher line is needed.

When there has been enough destruction and human misery to deplete stocks to the point where market demand is greater than supply, when industry has been stripped of enough capital, including workers, then production will pick up again. In one area after another the prospect of profit will persuade the capitalist class once again to allow us to work for them. And so the cycle continues. The vast destruction of the second world war. It was partly through the reconstruction necessary in the post-war period that there was relatively full employment in the ’fifties and ’sixties.

The Social Effects of Crisis 
The symptoms of the present recession have been well documented, in the national press as well as in this journal. Signs of frustration such as domestic violence, alcoholism, suicide and rioting all increase in such times as these. For example, the Office of Health Economics have published a report (Suicide and Deliberate Self Harm) showing that there were 4,200 suicides in Britain in 1979, 500 more than in 1975. The last surge in suicides was in the 1930s. These examples of the social problem are present even in time of “boom”. The fact that they multiply during capitalism’s recessions proves that they are caused by the inherent poverty of the working class, since recession increases economic frustration.

Those who depend on a wage or the dole suffer much more from the cutbacks in production than those with unearned incomes to support them. Some companies declare losses of millions of pounds. But often they more than make up for this in periods of expansion, and sometimes these “losses” are declared after dividends have been paid. For example, on 19 March this year, the Guardian announced that “The GKN group lost more than £100 million last year”, but further down the article explains: “tax charges and redundancy and closure costs of £49.8 million compounded the loss, and these, together with the expense of dividend payments, put the loss at £103.1 million”. Individual capitalists do not tend to pull their belts in. Recent figures from the Government’s General Household Survey show that an increasing number of families need two people to go out and earn a wage. But have investors been driven to take their spouses with them to the Stock Exchange? Interviewed on television recently, Rupert Dcen explained:
Daddy never worked: nor have I . . . I have various businesses . . . Speaking personally, the recession doesn’t affect me at all because I’m not employed. (Man Alive, BBC 2, 6 March 1981.)
 An official report in France refers to over a million young, second generation immigrants of whom “a substantial fraction is in process of becoming a sub-proletariat which will prove socially and politically intolerable in the coming years” (Guardian 24/3/81). As long as the proletariat behaves itself, and does not become “sub”, the ruling class is fairly confident of keeping its hold.

The Political Reaction
The government in every country, regardless of its rhetoric, is forced to defend the interests of capital. That is what is expected by the shareholders who pay taxes by the million. The openly reactionary and pro-capitalist regimes of Reagan and Thatcher, the so-called “socialist” President of France, the word-twisting dictators of the Eastern bloc: all have the same aims. They want to encourage investment, inspire confidence, get the profit system moving again. They want to encourage a harmonious friendship between workers and employers, while making sure that the brunt of the pain falls on labour rather than capital.

The idea is to employ less workers (“rationalise”, “shed excess labour”) so as to reduce the wages bill, while squeezing greater productivity and profit out of those who remain. Wages are cut by offering rises which do not keep up with price increases. Incomes policies have been advocated by all parties now and in the past, including the Labour and Social Democratic Parties. On 28 April of this year a conference in Amsterdam of the twelve European “socialist” parties announced that the time had come “to promote wage controls” (Guardian 29/4/81). In June Geoffrey Howe held up Germany as an example, where wage settlements have been around four per cent, and the Confederation of British Industry has demanded that increases be “substantially less” than at present, although present “increases” are in fact cuts. Inflation is not caused by wage increases, but by the government printing money.

The most outspoken minister, however, has been the Trade Secretary John Biffen. By pointing out how the recession can be turned to the employers’ advantage, he has exposed the unavoidable class struggle which some of his brothers-in-arms had hoped to conceal while they fought it. “Let no one suppose there is not a national advantage”, he said, and went on to list the advantages (Guardian 11/8/81). These included a reduction in over-manning and “a much quieter situation in respect of industrial relations”. The number of stoppages in 1980 was the lowest since 1943. This is because competition for jobs forces workers into submission. Biffen also boasted that pay settlements had fallen to single figures.

Where, then, are those trusty supporters of the working class, the Labour politicians? The helpless attitude of Michael Foot was made clear at the 1975 Labour Party Conference. At the time he was the Employment minister of a government which presided over a doubling of unemployment and planned cuts in government spending of billions of pounds. On that occasion, he called for both wage restraint and the exercise of what he called the “Socialist Imagination”. Take a cut, pretend it’s a rise, and we’all be friends together. They might wish to improve conditions for the working class, but this is an uncontrollable system. The Labour Party formula is “public spending to create jobs”. From 1973 to 1980 public spending increased fourfold, from £20 billion to £80 billion. Over the same period, unemployment rose from half a million to over two million. The formula has been disproved, as has Thatcher’s “monetarist” madness.

Solving the Social Problem
The plain fact is that capitalism, in boom and slump, does not serve the interests of the majority. The answer to an insane system of market forces is not struggle to control those forces, as the Labour Party has sometimes tried, and as they claim to do in state-capitalist Russia. The answer is to remove the market forces altogether, by ending the institution of property. The answer is not to increase the power of the state, it is to end the power of the state. The answer is not to take less, but to take control of the world as a democratic community. The answer is not to work harder for our bosses, but to stop working for them altogether, and to start to work for the common good of society. To produce for direct use, not for the profit of the few. This can only be achieved through understanding and cooperation. A democratic society can only be created democratically. What is needed is political organisation. Dissent of all forms against the status quo, frustration at the thousands of problems which capitalism continually produces, has to be united in one mass movement, with the clear and open aim of establishing a society in which each will work according to his or her ability and take according to his or her needs.

Today, we are prevented from realising our expectations, from engaging in creative work and from developing ourselves freely. The choice is forced upon us, between the destruction and waste of the commercial system, and the harmony and freedom of a society which will be democratically and consciously run according to a common plan.
Clifford Slapper