Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fashion or principles? (1989)

From the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party single-mindedly pursues the establishment of a society freed from the constraints, contradictions and degradations of the market, commodity production and the wages system. Because we are the only political party in this country advocating socialism, we reject any thought of compromise or alliance with other organisations. Neither have we time for opinion polls commissioned to ascertain the level of public support for leaders and their policies.

Socialists do not water down their principles in order to trawl in workers who support reform programmes or the anti-democratic doctrines of the Left. Neither do we want advertising agencies or public relations consultants telling us what ought to be in our election manifestos or Party statements. When our candidates stand at local or parliamentary elections they are not first sent to image advisers to polish their style. Instead, we insist on workers attaining class-consciousness through argument, persuasion and their own experience, to the point where they understand capitalism and the need to abolish it altogether.

If, as a result, we are considered unfashionable and detached from the politics of "revolution" as understood by the Left, then so be it. We stand or fall on our insistence that democratic means must be in line with democratic ends. The politics of reform and compromise have left a trail of bitter failure throughout the twentieth century, with numerous and now largely forgotten casualties buried unceremoniously along the way.

Democratic method and clear objective have shaped the socialist movement, singling it out from these who use the word “socialism" to wrap up their own particular anti-working class policies. In 1917 we did not abandon our adherence to democracy and parliamentary action when all around us Leninists were crying "All power to the Soviets"; and during the Second World War we viewed the conflict as one involving the sectional interests of the world capitalist class and did not fall, as other parties did, for the rhetoric of fighting for "freedom and democracy"

The same consistency applies today. We reject the current fashion, spearheaded by the Labour Party, of describing the working class as "working people or consumers". as if “class" were an outdated concept with little or no bearing on the economic and political reality of contemporary capitalism. Politicians and journalists don't like to use the word because it spoils their portrayal of Britain as a united nation in which all interests are one and the same. But to socialists, “class" accurately defines a person's relation to the means of wealth production and distribution, bringing out the divisive nature of capitalism and the irreconcilable differences between capital and labour.

Class and the class struggle are not ideological constructs but concrete reality; changing words does not change society. The Labour Party needs to use the term "working people" in their desperate search for votes - but that's their problem, not ours We only ever want votes from class conscious socialists, for the purpose of organising to capture political power and introduce socialism. This means that the question of fashion or principles is an important one, for it is ultimately about the retention of capitalism or its abolition.
Richard Lloyd

A Word to the Unemployed (1932)

From the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The economic forces at work under capitalism tend towards a growing army of unemployed, and the problem is permanent as long as the private ownership of the means of production continues. The' increasing use and complexity of machinery, and the economies in organisation, are factors that enable production to meet the needs of consumption by the work of ever fewer and fewer workers. There used to be a possibility of temporarily easing the situation by the opening up of new markets. Now that the whole world has been drawn into the net of Capitalist production the prospect of “new markets" in foreign countries is disappearing.

Each national group is speeding up and rationalising production to the utmost of its power, and in the process meeting its own basic demands and looking for a market for its surplus. Cutting across this is the operation of the gigantic international trusts which seek to rationalise production and distribution internationally.

In the past, European and American capitalists looked to the huge markets of India, Russia, Turkey and South America as El Dorado's in which to get rid of their surplus products. These areas are now well marked on the productive map and are rapidly becoming first-class productive units with their own unemployment shadows looming menacingly ahead.

In each of these backward areas the aid of European and American trained experts has been invoked, so that their industrial development is progressing faster than the advanced countries formerly did, as the latter had to do the pioneering.

The future prospect then is one of growing unemployment and growing insecurity for those who were accustomed to believe they held “permanent” jobs. Even the bank clerk, who formerly regarded himself as among the “aristocracy of labour" is being hard hit by the new developments in mechanisation. The number of girls in banks who now, with the aid of machinery, do the work formerly only entrusted to trained men, has increased to such an extent that it has become necessary for the Bank Officers' Guild to appoint a full-time official to organise them and attend to their welfare.

All the political wire-pulling and programme making cannot overcome this obstacle. The growing insecurity and misery of the workers is solely due to their slave position, to the fact that before they can eat or drink they must sell their working power to a master. It is true a few try to avoid the necessity either by robbing or by trying to live on the crumbs of charity. But both ways are unstable and a glaring illustration of the rottenness at the root of the present order of things. .

Until the workers grasp the elementary facts of their wage-slavery and the utter hopelessness of any solution but Socialism, the unemployment problem and their other ills will continue to increase in aggravation.

In spite of the attempts of blind leaders of the blind to exploit such situations as that arising out of the means test the fact remains that the mass of the workers do not understand their slave position and consequently small temporary ameliorations are sufficient to disperse the apparent revolutionary fervour and battalions of unemployed marchers and rioters fade away. An example of how far the unemployed are from grasping the real position is illustrated by a report in The Star (October 6th) of an incident that occurred at Ilford. The report runs as follows: —
   Eighty unemployed stopped roadmaking work in Eton Road, Ilford, to-day, because, they said the 20 workers were not local men.
   The unemployed first marched to the town hall and interviewed the borough surveyor. Then they went to Eton Road, where they called on the foreman to stop his men. This was done without any disturbance.
   The job was held up until an arrangement was reached with the contractor that local men should start work to-morrow.
    Ilford Council, in their contracts for work of this description, stipulate that 60 per cent, of the men engaged shall be local.
Here is a blatant illustration of the narrowness bred out of the fight for “immediate ends” beloved of the Communist and the generations of Labour misleaders. One of the elementary principles the worker must grasp, if he wishes to be free, is that local and national boundaries disappear in the great class war of worker and capitalist. The workers of the world have one interest as opposed to the interests of the capitalists and the workers must unite to abolish capitalism and not allow themselves to be split up into warring groups like dogs fighting for the bones thrown to them.

The means test, and various other disabilities that at times press heavily upon sections of the workers are products of capitalism, and the people who put these things into operation have been placed in possession of the power to do so by the overwhelming majority of the workers at elections. While the workers agree by their votes to maintain capitalism it is futile for them to complain about particular evils of the system.

There is only one way in which the employed and the unemployed can obtain lasting amelioration of their lot, and that way is revolutionary political action to bring Socialism to birth out of capitalism.

A Fruitless Recipe (1935)

Book Review from the August 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

"How to Make a Revolution," by Raymond Postgate, (Hogarth Press), 5s.

It is difficult to recommend this volume to anyone seriously thinking of taking up revolution-making either as a hobby or as a full-time occupation. The author does not know how to make a revolution, and takes up the major portion of his book discussing methods which have failed.

Unlike the making of a Christmas pudding or a wireless set, the making of a revolution cannot be arranged beforehand, according to a recipe or blue-print. It can occur only as a result of certain conditions, and the author adds nothing to our knowledge and understanding of those conditions. On the contrary, he endeavours to belittle the value of those ideas of Marx which express a definite advance in knowledge and understanding. After a couple of pages of obscure verbiage, he concludes comfortably, “We have, then, to abandon the dialectic," and then goes on, “With slightly more hesitation we may reject also the whole system of Marxian economics" (p. 21). In other words, we are invited to revert to metaphysics once more (under the label of "psychology") and discard Marx for G. D. H. Cole.

Discussing the concentration of capital and the exploitation of the workers, he says: " These two facts are so obvious that Marxists economics are not required to prove them." (Italics mine.) This phrase illustrates Mr. Postgate's clumsiness of thought. Marx's economic theories are not intended to prove facts, but to explain them. Only understanding can enable us to deal with society as with nature in general. The importance of the theory of surplus-value to the workers lies in the fact that it alone explains how their exploitation takes place, and traces it to its source, i.e., the capitalist ownership of the means of production.

It is because the mass of the workers are still far from clear on these points that they continue to look to politicians for the supposed benefits of "prosperity" coupled with illusory “reforms." 

Mr. Postgate rakes up afresh the bogy of the “middle-class" vote, and attributes the compromising tactics of the Labour Party to the inevitable necessity of conciliating this vote. On page 48 he makes the ridiculous statement that, “Wherever a Socialist (?) Party has approached near to office in an advanced industrial country the same thing has happened—in Italy,. Germany, France, and Britain. In each country the Party has progressed a certain way with a genuinely Socialist or revolutionary programme, only to find that its further progress depended on a gradual abandonment of that programme." Anyone acquainted with the early history of the Labour Party knows that its principal Parliamentary leaders openly gained their “safe" seats on a Liberal programme, with Liberal support. The failure of the Labour Party from the Socialist view-point is due, not to their inability to “convert” Acton and Ealing (as Mr. Postgate contends), but to their failure to educate the workers in predominantly industrial areas, Sheffield, for example, in the rudiments of Socialism. The significance of such an area returning the full complement of supporters of the National Government is obviously lost upon Mr. Postgate. The fact is that there are no safe Labour seats. All of them, having been won by compromising tactics, are liable to be swept bade into the openly reactionary fold when a period of Labour Government has resulted in inevitable disillusion.

Failing to understand history in his own country it is, of course, too much to expect the author to grasp the meaning of events abroad. Hence, on page 50, he lets fall another fatuous remark: “The more realist Socialists of Italy and Germany will admit, to-day, that the Socialist Parties of those two countries had their opportunity to make a Socialist revolution; that they failed to take it and for that reason are extinct."

Were the representatives of these Parties ever sent to the seats of Government in order to establish Socialism? Nowhere does Mr Postgate face up to this vital question. He thoughtlessly accepts the totally unwarranted assumption that parties elected for the purpose of achieving certain very limited reforms, can use their power to accomplish a social revolution. The Continental parties in the Second International have paid the penalty for having at the outset succumbed to the fatal delusion that it is the business of Socialists to play the paltry game of vote-catching in order to be able to assist the master-class in the administration of the present system.

In his concluding chapter, the author suggests the formation of yet one more organisation to reform (or should it be to “ Bolshevise"?) the Labour Party. He considers that the next Labour Government should hold on to office till it has “made Socialism." He does not tell us what is going to happen when it fails to balance its Budget. He evinces an uncomfortable feeling that the Labour Party, like its brother Parties in Italy and Germany, is hardly likely to escape from the chain of its own history, and lugubriously asks his fellow Labourites how they would like to be beaten into a state of unconsciousness with a rubber baton.

It is amusing and instructive to reflect that this is the same Mr. Postgate who, a dozen years or so ago, was cheerfully editing the official organ of the Communist Party, encouraging the workers to adopt violent and unconstitutional methods.

For a person who rejects dialectics, Mr. Postgate has certainly done his best to illustrate in his own person the negation of negation. The part of his book dealing with Communist tactics is, as a consequence, the most entertaining. His summary of the slogans of the Daily Worker could hardly be improved upon: “Come out on strike! If you do, your leaders will instantly sell you out!”

Nevertheless, Mr. Postgate has merely exchanged one form of futility for another. He is by no means optimistic about the prospects of his proposed new organisation.

He “will not even permit himself to say with certainty that such an organisation will lead to a successful revolution.” Apparently, he and others put the idea before the Socialist League two years ago without success. So that the “reform" of the Labour Party appears almost as remote as Socialism. And what is this, after all, but a reappearance of the original idea of the I.L.P. in joining the Labour Party a generation back?

Experience answers Mr. Postgate. No group, however well-intentioned, can save a Party which adopts vote-catching as one of its methods; for the group must participate in the methods of the Party and, eventually, in its fate.
Eric Boden

Insult to injury (1966)

Editorial from the November 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Make no mistake about it. The Labour government is out to cut our standard of living. To be sure, they claim this is necessary so that standards can rise in the future. But we need take no notice of this. After all we’ve heard it so many times before from Labour and Tory alike. First it was Cripps, then Gaitskell, then Butler, then Thorneycroft, then Selwyn Lloyd and now Wilson. But the promised prosperous futures with steadily rising living standards have never appeared and, of course, they never will. You don’t have to be a Socialist to be sceptical on this point.

What the government is trying to do is to freeze wages and salaries at July 20 levels and allow prices to rise to offset “tax increases and import price rises”. If this works, our standard of living will have been cut and more of the wealth we produce will be available for profitable investment.

It’s bad enough to have this attack on our living standards and to be intimidated by the “reserve powers” of the Prices and Incomes Act. But we have also to take Minister of Labour Gunter telling us that this is what we deserve as we have been “dishonest and thriftless” and clever Dick Crossman and the New Statesman telling us that this is a step towards Socialism.

It is surprising that there are still people who think that trade unionists and workers generally have something to gain from backing Labour. Perhaps this is because of the skilful way the Labour leaders have exploited their followers’ fears of a return to the mass unemployment of the inter-war years. They have alleged that the Tories deliberately create unemployment and misery for workers while they swear, hand on heart, that they will never allow this to happen again. But it will, they claim, if workers don’t work harder; if employers don’t get “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”; unless- “each hour worked is filled with sixty minutes’ worth of work well done”.

These Labour appeals for harder work have fallen on stoney ground. Absenteeism thrives and the seamen took a month or so off work just because the shipowners wouldn’t pay them more or improve their working conditions. This failure has produced revealing reactions in some of the Labour Leaders. Now Gunter calls us dishonest. Last year he was shouting about “far too much indiscipline in every part of the nation”. Presumably we can take it that Labour is out to discipline us. As Wilson is fond of saying, the job of a government is to govern. Precisely—and governing involves keeping us in our place as honest, thrifty, hard-working and docile workers.

The Labour Party has always had a brutal streak in it. Since the war Labour governments have shown themselves more ready than the Tories to use the power of the state to discipline us. Remember that it was they who used troops as blacklegs. Remember that it was they who tried the last wage freeze. And remember that it was their Attorney General who prosecuted strikers in 1951.

Labour Party members accepted these events last time. Most will probably accept the same things this time. And this is where the talk of Socialism comes in. At election times Socialism is a dirty word among Labour candidates. But when they have to put over their policies to the party faithful the leaders brush up the speeches of their youth and declaim about Socialism. Generally they take the Tory view of Socialism—that it is whatever the Labour Party does. But surely few, even of the hard-core Labour men, can be taken in by the specious arguments put over by the editor of the New Statesman on September 16. Under the headline “How Labour Blundered into Socialism”, he wrote of the openly anti-union Prices and Incomes Act: “Prices and incomes regulation . . . may be a foundling; but it has true socialist blood in its veins and. properly nurtured, is likely to grow into a powerful champion of social progress.”

If this is Socialism people are right to want none of it. But it is not Socialism or anything like it. Socialism means a democratic world community in which the means of social life are owned in common so that they can be used to satisfy human needs. What the New Statesman editor is talking about is not Socialism but state capitalism which, as the example of Russia shows, has nothing to offer us.

Will Jesse run? (1988)

From the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone who expected the 1988 American presidential election to be refreshing for the high level of its political debate will have found the primaries ominously disturbing. Such was the level of tedious cant from the candidates that it was almost a relief to turn to the bigoted ravings of Pat Robertson, whose manic religion at least offered something other than endless grins flashing through exhausted platitudes.

Another candidate who tried to be different was Jesse Jackson, who gathered an unexpected success based largely on a mould-breaking appeal to bring a single-minded resolve to tackling the problems of poverty, housing, health, racism and the rest. Jackson has a past which is dubious enough to cast strong doubts on the endurance of his pledges. His place as an aide of the late Martin Luther King was not based on his entirely selfless devotion to the work of racial integration. His claim to have cradled the dying civil rights leader through the last moments of his life were not echoed by other witnesses of the assassination. There is some question about whose blood it was and how it got on the shirt which Jackson wore when he apppeared in public after the killing.

Whatever the truth, it has not held Jackson back in his ambition to be the first black president of the United States. His success in the primaries was such as to have the pros in the Democratic Party fussing about the awful consequences of their convention foisting on them a candidate who. because of his colour, would be unlikely to be elected. Of course the pros were equally worried in 1960. about the prospects of electing a catholic to the White House, except that the Kennedy machine rolled on its ruthless way to show them how wrong they were.

It is votes that worry the pros - not the fact that Jackson makes a blatantly cynical appeal to the people whose despair and frustration at American capitalism in 1988 makes them vulnerable to any charismatic trickster. Nothing is easier in politics and nothing happens more often - than mouthing seductive promises that a candidate has the ability to cure social ailments which has eluded everyone and every administration in the past.

That is why, when a president takes the oath, we hear a speech full of assurances about a new age, a new departure from outmoded ways of tackling problems, a new zeal to build a better world. That kind of speech was made by Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan . . . In each case it was followed by the inevitable disillusionment and an equally inevitable despair until a new candidate came along, to make the same promises, the same speech.

So if the possibly unelectable Jackson is nominated and then elected, the American people will be on course for an experience they have had many times before. After the hysteria of the inauguration the reality will set in - that capitalism takes no account of politicians' promises.

The S.P.G.B. and the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 (1935)

From the August 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been asked the following question: —
What was the proposal of the S.P.G.B. to the Bolshevik Government as to what should be the mode of procedure after the Bolsheviks had achieved political power ?
The question is evidently based on a misunderstanding of the attitude taken up by the S.P.G.B. It is not, and never has been, our view that the Bolshevik Government might have succeeded in establishing Socialism in Russia, or might have succeeded in engineering world revolution, if only it had adopted some policy different from the one it did adopt. On the contrary, our case has been, right from the outset 18 years ago, that the backward industrial development of Russia, and the very small number of Socialists both in Russia and in the rest of Europe, made it impossible for either of these two events to happen. It was not, therefore, a question of our telling the Bolsheviks what to do with power when they had achieved it. What we did tell them was that their hold on power would not bring Socialism, however they used their power, and that they were deceiving themselves and the working class in claiming otherwise.

Interested readers are referred to the articles published in the August, 1918, “ S.S.,” “The Russian Revolution—Where it Fails," and to numerous other articles in the years 1918-1921.