Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Thatcher's remedy (1985)

Book Review from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mrs Thatcher's Economic Experiment by William Keegan (Penguin. 1984).

William Kegan begins his book with a question:
How, then, did it come about that a Conservative administration after 1979 allowed the country to suffer the worst recession since the war, with manufacturing output dropping by nearly 20 per cent, and unemployment more than doubling—from 1.3 million to nearly 3.5 million in 1983?
We are in the midst of a global recession but, according to Keegan, Britain has suffered disproportionately in comparison with other countries. He supports a Keynesian economic perspective in which the government should intervene to stabilise economic activity and employment. Thatcher supports a free market economy. He says that she reacted against formal incomes policies and against the position of Edward Heath and his sensible reforms in trade union legislation" (p.27). Monetarism was embraced specifically to tackle inflation.

Keegan sees the monetarists as evangelicals in that they chose to elevate the one policy as the cure-all for society's ills and held that no other perspective could or would be tolerated. He also defines the Thatcher administration as being based on economic liberalism which favours the free market economy without state intervention. Incomes policies were seen as "impeding the harmonious workings of unfettered market forces" and therefore enhancing the role of the state, so "posing threats to liberty and freedom" (p.76). This seems to contradict the fact that the state was keen to attack the trade unions but, it was argued, this was because the unions had monopolistic power. It was said that they could price workers out of jobs. Given the massive rise in unemployment during the first Thatcher administration it is difficult to see the logic underlying the supposed power of the trade unions, which should presumably have been steadily increasing during the period of that administration. The reality is that trade union power was being eroded during an initial period which also saw a massive increase in inflation.

The author catalogues the now familiar consolidation of Thatcher's base by rejecting her detractors and taking on board her supporters. He presents an accurate picture of the politicising stance adopted by the government in which, for instance, attacks on the unions detracted from the economic mess being created. He also pinpoints the double edge of the Thatcher strategies in which the spending of money on electronic gadgetry in schools was offset by cuts in allocations for textbooks. The author's attacks on the government are based on what he sees as its failures: it did not revive the entrepreneurial initiative and it increased the tax burden while promising a reduction. This suggests a misconceived administration whereas the Thatcher experiment represents an essential inability to control capitalism.

Keegan does make some pertinent criticisms about the notion of democracy in this country It is not simply that a large parliamentary majority means that each policy can be presented as a fait accompli but that, for instance, "all those ad hoc decisions about the exchange rate in 1979 and 1980 .  . . were made well away from the floor of the House — and indeed from the Cabinet table" (p. 184) Thatcher's inner cabinet could dictate policy. This is not simply a critique of the nature of the Conservative Party but pinpoints the flaw in what masquerades as democracy in contemporary society. Decisions are taken over which there is virtually no control. The Thatcher government justifies its position by constructing linguistic walls in which There Is No Alternative and in which there is light at the end of the tunnel. There can be no U-turn. This is not to say that the original plan was carried through as intended. The government has intervened in the market place, companies have been given financial assistance, aspects of public expenditure, notably defence and law and order, have increased. Keegan argues that:
when monetarism was seen to be flawed. Mrs Thatcher was prepared to acquiesce in decisions which did not accord with pure monetarism, (p.200)
Such a pragmatic approach does not detract from the fact that the overall economic stance was maintained. Nor does it suggest that pragmatism presupposes a correct method of running capitalism; having gained hold of the reins of power, slight bends were acceptable as long as the reins remained in hand. Power was not relinquished even in the midst of a profligate waste of human resources. The satisfaction of human wants is subsumed by an ideology which accepts unquestioningly all the kicks in the face that capitalism brings. It is not simply a need to restore entrepreneurial initiative but to create the conditions in which the restrictions of the capitalistic mode of production can be removed. This is not achieved by such misguided notions as controlling the money supply (however this may be defined). for money represents the methodology whereby the enslavement of human potential is achieved.

It is not sufficient to argue that the Thatcher experiment has been less successful than policies pursued by governments elsewhere. This hides the reality of capitalism's essential inefficiency Keegan damns the Thatcherites:
The evangelicals believed passionately that they were right, and their dogmatic fervour brooked no criticism. They had discovered their god, and there could be no alternative within the scheme (p.206)
Developing this image, capitalism has become the god. There are different factions that believe their ideologies will explain and appease that god. Rather, we should address ourselves to the death of that god and its replacement by a system of society in which people and their needs are the consideration To use the cliches of the Thatcher administration, the light at the end of the tunnel will always be around the comer. To get around that comer is to get rid of capitalism. This is not to suggest an evangelical alternative but a practical and real necessity
Philip Bentley

Arthur Scargill (1985)

Book Review from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arthur Scargill and the Miners by Michael Crick (Penguin, £2.50)

Great men do not make history. Churchill did not win the last war — for most of it he was too drunk to find his way to a map of Europe, let alone to the scene of the action. At most, individual men or women play exceptional roles which explicable combinations of social factors have created. To see the miners' strike as a contest between Arthur Scargill and The Establishment (an analysis presented at times by both media hacks and Leftist leader-worshippers) is to personalise an historical process which cannot be comprehended through the biographical microscope. In order to understand the strike it is far less important to know about Arthur Scargill (whom the media has attacked with an obsessive hostility) than it is to comprehend the workings of the capitalist social system, the nature of which the media-producers would be too ignorant to tell the truth about, even if they had a will to.

The first weakness of Michael Crick's Arthur Scargill and the Miners (Penguin. £2.50) is its concern to explain the history of industrial relations in the coal mining industry, and particularly the present miners' strike, in terms of the leading characters in the NUM. Biographical accounts of contemporary "political celebrities" can be enlightening — and Crick's portrayal of Scargill is well above the standards of some tabloid-style mini-biographies-for-the-proles — but should not be confused with the study of the social events within which "great men" are but small parts.

What Crick tells his readers about Scargill is sometimes surprising. We are informed that at the age of thirteen he read Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists but, as a supporter of import controls, we can only conclude that he did not accept Owen's correct pronouncement that capitalist tariff arrangements are no concern of the working class. At the same age he read Jack London's The Iron Heel and is quoted as saying that London was the main influence in his becoming a "socialist''. That he is not a socialist is clear from other information provided by Crick. His father is a member of the Communist Party and is. according to Scargill, on its pro-Russian side. Scargill claims to be a Marxist like his father — although "now he rarely describes himself as such" (p.136). His mother was a devout Christian and it would seem that Scargill's "Marxism" is not of the sort which regards religion as the opium of the people, for "Scargill says he is a Christian ..." (p. 142). Perhaps the Bishop of Durham will soon be joining the Christian Marxist Movement and the Pope will be signing up with the Secular Society. In 1955 Scargill tried to join the Labour Party in Barnsley, but could not get a reply after writing twice. He joined the Young Communist League the following year, and when the denunciation of Stalin became fashionable found it necessary to defend the old dictator because "he did play a valuable part during World War Two".

In the early 1960s Scargill left the YCL. but it is not clear precisely why. In one interview quoted by Crick, given by Scargill to John Mortimer, he "objected to the moving of Stalin's body outside the mausoleum and changing the name of Stalingrad. It would be like us trying to pretend Churchill never existed. It was distorting history." Other reasons for his departure from the ranks of British Stalinism were that he objected to the Russian government not allowing dissidents to leave the country and that he was not happy with the strict party discipline of the CP youth section. We are told that "Cuba seems to come nearest to Scargill's idea of a model socialist state" and Scargill is quoted as saying that Cuba is "a 100 per cent improvement on what you have in the Soviet Union" (New Left Review, July/August 1975. p.33). In fact. Scargill's conception of socialism is state capitalism: "all the means of production would be brought into public state ownership" (p. 141; this is Crick s summary of what he thinks is Scargill's view). The wages system would still exist in the "Socialist Britain" envisaged by Arthur Scargill: "the wages of workers — mineworkers or any other section of the working class would be determined on the basis of discussion within the central system" (BBC2. Futures, 30 September 1982).

Arthur Scargill is not a socialist — at the moment — but he does have more than a little experience and understanding of the class struggle. He recognises that class war is inescapable within capitalism: regarding the successful mass picket of Saltley Gate in 1972 he wrote. "We took the view that we were in a class war. We were not playing cricket on the village green, like they did in '26." He realises that in strikes "We had to declare war on them, and the only way we could declare war was to attack the vulnerable points . . . " (Quoted from the New Left Review article, cited above). He is also perceptive enough to realise that schemes for so-called workers' control, often advocated by the Left, should be opposed by workers:
I reject the argument that you can have some kind of workers' control within capitalism What you can have is class collaboration within capitalism. Once we've put workers on the boards they become bureaucrats . . . those who actually sit on the boards of directors . . .  begin to think with a completely different outlook from when they were workers' representatives (Marxism Today, April 1981.)
This contrasts with Scargill's predecessor as NUM President, Joe (now Lord) Gormley, of whom Crick writes that he "loved meeting and doing deals with Prime Ministers Conservative or Labour — or with Sir Derek Ezra, the Coal Board chairman. Often the NUM Executive was excluded altogether from negotiations with the government as Gormley stitched up some deal at Number 10, or at Hobart House, the Coal Board headquarters" (p.71). In short. Gormley was a typically undemocratic leader — but we do not recall the Fleet Street hypocrites crying for NUM ballots when the Lord-to-be was collaborating with the bosses behind his members' backs. The problem for Scargill if we accept that he recognises the inevitable antagonism between classes in society and is opposed to collaborating with the master class — is that he must face up to the revolutionary struggle beyond trade unionism which the media accuses him of wanting to further, but we suspect he does not yet comprehend.

Crick's book refers repeatedly and tediously to divisions in the NUM between the Left and the Right. He is not to be blamed for using such sterile terminology, but socialists are bound to point out that such political cliches convey little about ideas. Sadly, it is characteristic of the journalistic analysis of society to see social movements in terms of political intrigue at the top: leader-watching. It would have been more useful for Crick to consider why various ideas have arisen among workers at different times — to realise that the militancy of many miners during the present strike has been a response to priorities imposed by capitalism and cannot be understood by reading the minute books of NUM committees. Indeed, the pages of the book dealing with the history of trade unionism in Nottinghamshire (Spencerism, the Tory miner and the economic reasons for the class collaboration of the miners in that area) are the best in the book (pp. 113-18). It is a pity that Crick's need to publish a media story prevented him from pursuing the kind of serious analysis presented on these pages.

In 1982 Scargill stood as NUM President on a manifesto declaring unequivocally that he would support the implementation of national NUM policy to strike against pit closures; he won 138,803 votes — his nearest rival receiving 34,075 votes, and the other three contenders collecting between them less of the votes than those cast for Scargill. To explain the miners' strike in terms of Scargill undemocratically hoodwinking the NUM membership is both facile and not easily demonstrable Nonetheless, the recorded statement by Jack Taylor, President of the Yorkshire Area, that "I will tell you what worries me about ballots .  . . We don't really trust you" (NUM Special Conference Report, 19 April 1984) is indicative of an arrogant vanguardism on the Left from which the leadership of the NUM is by no means immune. (The "you" in question was not all NUM members, but just the Nottinghamshire ones.)

Scargill and the Miners is a book about a man who is a leader. The miners, mentioned in the title, are hardly discussed in the text. Crick's outlook is symptomatic of the journalistic leader-vision which blocks up the means of mass communication in society today, and you have seen in this article most of what is worth reading in the book (but for pages 113-8. which you can read in the library). Send the £2.50 to the Socialist Party instead — we can use it to print some real analysis.
Steve Coleman

To the NUM . . . (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party sent the following letter to the National Union of Mineworkers on 14 January.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands in solidarity with all our fellow workers in struggles against the capitalist class, and whilst recommending trade unionists to offer their utmost resistance to the worsening of conditions, points out that under capitalism the pressure on workers is inevitable. The continuing struggles of the miners arise from the class division in society about the ownership and control of the means of life, and therefore such struggles can only be ended through the political work of organising to take over the entire means of production including the mines. On the basis of common ownership the mining communities could co-operate democratically with the rest of society in producing energy, goods and services solely for the needs of the whole community.
   We therefore point out that trade union struggles can only be defensive, cannot alter the basic position of workers under private or state capitalism. Whilst ownership and control of the means of production, and control of the forces of the state are conceded by workers to the capitalist class, our class will inevitably remain in the position of being exploited according to the economic dictates of capital.
    Therefore it is the clear responsibility of all workers, whether in trade unions or not, to take the political offensive with the principled aim of taking over the means of production and abolishing the state on behalf of the whole community. The immediate steps to be taken are those which ensure the rapid growth of the World Socialist Movement, as this is the only practical action which can ensure that the problems of the working class can be finally solved.

The Right to Strike (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Norway — luxurious serfdom? (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Norway is now among the five wealthiest countries in Europe even though the sky-high expectations of the early years of North Sea oil exploration have not been realised. In the recent past it was seriously believed that when the oil started flowing, all Norwegians would be wealthy and the country could allocate large sums of money to third world aid.

Realism has descended on these would-be Northern sheiks since then; not because the reserves of oil and gas are smaller than expected — on the contrary, new oil and gas strikes are being made all the time — but because this new-found wealth does not penetrate down to the grass-roots:
. . . The petroleum reserves on the Norwegian shelf belong to the country and the profit gained from it is intended for the benefit of the whole community. However, the man in the street doesn't see the riches which are supposed to be flooding the country. He is told repeatedly that the authorities are short of money, that hospitals must be closed for lack of funds, that municipal transport services are being reduced, that dues and charges must increase and that pay increases cannot compensate the increase in cost of living . . .  It is admittedly difficult to understand that seriously sick people have to sleep in hospital corridors in such a rich country and that all services are poor but expensive . . .
("How does Norway spend her oil revenues?”. The Norwegian Journal of Commerce and Shipping, August 1984 )
It is a common belief in Norway, as elsewhere, that the state operates in the interest of the ordinary man and woman: "the state is every one of us". The Norwegian state has certainly been very active in the oil fields of the North Sea, both through its own oil company Statoil and when it comes to extracting tax revenues from the foreign companies operating there. The high taxation and stringent licencing demands of the Norwegian government are resented by the big oil companies; ESSO, for example, reckons that the average tax and royalty burden during the production life of a field is 80 per cent or more. Another grievance is the so-called Sliding Scale which allows the government to take back 60 per cent of a company's licence to operate in a field if a commercial development is made.

It is believed there are vast reserves of oil and gas under the Norwegian continental shelf as yet unexploited, but most of this is not "economically viable” at the moment. Most of these are in deeper water in the harsher weather conditions further north. Because of the higher inputs of technology and know-how necessary to operate these fields, they are unprofitable compared with present fields where extraction is a lot less complicated.

The primary object of the state — in Norway as elsewhere — is not to look after the man in the street but to see that the economy is run in the interest of the capitalist class. How, then, is the Norwegian government planning to spend their gains? It could be used to help Norwegian firms setting up subsidiaries abroad or buying up foreign companies. A debate has also been going on as to whether Norwegian banks abroad should be allowed to use these currency reserves for investment. In other words, the income will be used in the service of capital to yield profit and interest.

The Scandinavian countries have for a long time been considered to have a high standard of living, to be fairly "egalitarian" and to be much more "socialist" (meaning state controlled) than many other Western nations. Certainly a visitor coming to Norway, even before the oil was found, would get an impression of space, cleanliness and relative affluence. Homes are on the average more spacious and of a higher quality than in Britain. Home "ownership" is high (74 per cent, mostly financed through the state operated House Bank) and 19 per cent rent privately. Public places like cinemas and railway stations seem luxurious and clean compared to Britain.

Norway has gone from being a "backward" country in economic terms to an ultra modem society within the last hundred years. Industrialisation did not take off until just before the turn of the century and many parts of the country remained relatively unmodernised until well into this century. For the many landless people scratching a very meagre living working for the big landowners, employment in industry offered a chance to improve their situation a little. A relic of Norway’s not so distant agrarian past can be seen today in the fact that they still have a distinct Farmers' Party.

For people who view social differences in terms of "middle" and "working" class, these appear to be a lot less distinct than in Britain. There are no private and council estates; a manager and a factory worker are likely to live next door, have similar interests and homes. This is not to say that competition and snobbery do not exist; on the contrary, people are very much aware of who has got the slightly better hi-fi or the more up-market car. But in one respect, it is easier to see class relations as they really are in Norway for it is not such a problem explaining that the "middle" and "working" class are really the same, forced to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer in order to live — that is to say, they are all working class.

Only a small percentage of Norway's firms are state owned, but on the other hand, the two largest. Norsk Hydro (oil. petrochemicals. aluminium, fertiliser) and Statoil, belong to the state, as well as two armaments companies with a very large turnover. It is in the interest of the capitalist class to control certain industries and services vital to them all. This is why telecommunications, the postal services, transport, energy sources (coal, oil, electricity) and armaments factories tend to be nationalised in a lot of countries, including Norway.

The standard of living may be much higher in Norway today than a few decades ago. But Norwegians still work their lives away to pay for their homes, their car loans, their educational loans and all the while mental illnesses are on the increase. The before mentioned article puts it as follows:
The standard of living is high in Norway, but most Norwegians are heavily indebted even so. Many live in a kind of luxurious serfdom, depending on a secure income and the benevolence of their banker. Their freedom to move about, to change their life situation, is often renounced for the shallow benefits of keeping abreast with the Joneses.
Torgun Bullen

World Without Money (1984)

From the December 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The idea of socialism as a world without money can be found in sources covering a wide historical span and a great diversity of authors. Below we publish for the first time our own translation of part of the "Communist Catechism" written in German by Moses Hess in 1846.

1. What is money?
It is the value of human activity expressed in figures, the buying price or exchange value of our life.

2. Can human activity be expressed in figures?
Human activity has no price, any more than has man himself, since human activity is human life, for which no sum of money can compensate; it is priceless.

3. What is the man who can be sold for money, and the man who sells himself for money?
He who can be sold is a slave and he who sells himself has the soul of a slave.

4. What must we deduce from the existence of money?
We must deduce the existence of slavery, for money is the very mark of the slavery of man since it is the value of man expressed in figures.

5. For how long will men remain slaves and sell themselves, with all their abilities, for money?
 They will remain slaves until society provides and guarantees to each the means he needs to live and act in a human way, so that the individual is no longer forced to acquire these means by his own initiative and, with this in view, to sell his activity in order to buy in return the activity of other men. This trade in men, this reciprocal exploitation, this enterprise which is called private, cannot be abolished by any decree; these can only be abolished by the establishment of a communist society, in which the means will be available for each to develop and use his human abilities.

6. In a society constituted on this basis, is the existence of money possible or imaginable?
No more than is the existence of human slavery. When men are no longer obliged to sell to each other their energies and abilities, they will no longer need to estimate their value in figures, to count, or to pay. In place of human value expressed in figures will then appear real, priceless human value: in place of usury, the flourishing of human abilities and the pleasures of life; in place of competition by unfair means, a harmonious cooperation and a noble emulation; in place of the compound interest table, the head, the heart and the hands of free and active men.
Moses Hess

Wage-slave blues (1984)

Editorial from the November 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nine-o’clock on a Monday morning, and the next five days yawn ahead like an endless chasm. Whether it is the toil of manual work, the drudgery of pen-pushing, or the desolate pointlessness of signing for the dole, the great majority do not find their lives thrilling or even satisfying. Why is this? Does the running of society have to mean a boring and second-rate existence for the vast majority and exclusive comfort and luxury for a small minority?

Why is it that for most of us the working week is something to get through, something we wait with baited breath to see finished and behind us . . . only to start the same process again, with just a day or two to recover in? It is because our productive lives are being subjugated to needs which are alien to ours. We do not live for our work, cherishing every creative moment of our co-operative efforts to produce and distribute wealth. Instead, we are forced by the most crude form of bribery to work for a living, to sell our abilities on the labour market for a price, called a wage or a salary. The entire world today is organised on the basis of property, and its accumulation by a small minority of shareholders or state bosses.

What does it mean to be in the working class? It means that you possess no property substantial enough to yield an unearned income to enable you to avoid seeking employment. Those who are not in the working class are able to live secure and comfortable lives on the backs of others by owning companies, shares, government bonds, land, finance-houses and so on. Their income, in the form of dividends, interest on loans and rent, represents the unpaid labour of the workers they employ, directly or indirectly. The owning minority are in no doubt about which class they belong to. The wages we are paid cover only part of the value of wealth we create. The surplus is grasped out of our control by the legitimised robber-class, under the protection of the state, and accumulated by that robber-class. This is how the richest one per cent in Britain today have come to possess more accumulated wealth than the poorest eighty per cent of the population put together.

Having said that we are paid for only part of the wealth we collectively produce and distribute, it might be suggested that the answer is to insist on being paid the full value of what we produce. This, however, would be a nonsensical proposition, for one simple reason. The capitalist system of society which prevails throughout the world at the moment is not based on “fair deals” of that sort. A wage is not offered as the price of the goods a worker might produce; it is the price of hiring that worker’s energies for a week, regardless of how much might then be produced. And it is the role of the employing class within capitalist society to try always to maximise the difference between the price at which they hire us and the amount of wealth which we produce for them. Faced with their determination to cling on to their precious profit margins in this way, there are two things which workers can do about these social parasites we are subsidising so heavily. First, we can use the power of trade union association as a bargaining weapon to prevent the bosses from depressing our standard of living as much as they would otherwise do. Second, and more importantly. we can use our organising ability (which cannot be taken from us), and the time we have managed to keep free from wage labour, to build up a movement which stands for running society on a different basis.

What must that different basis be? Complicated utopian schemes to try to make wages equal or to try to raise wages high enough to put every boss out of business are simply attempts to run capitalism along modified lines — and crackpot attempts at that — which capitalism will not be able to accommodate itself to. and which socialism is above. Socialism, when it is established, must be a democratic and worldwide society in which the wages and profits system has itself been abolished.

In place of selling our working capacity to the highest bidder in the labour market, we could freely co-operate to produce the things that society needs. The basis of production must be human needs and the direct, free use of the world’s resources by all the people of the world. The institution of wage and salary employment served a relevant function for a particular historical epoch, but is a transitory phase in human history. Now that technological advance would allow us to produce an abundance of the necessities of life for all, the rationing system of class division between owners and non-owners serves no useful purpose, but merely holds back human advance. Every scientific innovation, however useful it might appear to us, is having to be measured in the distorting scale of profitability. But before we can change all this and start to produce wealth purely for human use according to our self-determined needs, we must democratically dispossess the minority in whose interests production is currently organised.

Finally, then, what about that sinking feeling which is a weekly ritual for us within the present system? As soon as the productive resources of the world are owned in common by the whole human race and democratically controlled and administered there can at last be a true harmony of interests. If the work you do is for the benefit of the community as a whole and if you, a member of that community, have an unlimited opportunity to share in the benefits which you and others are helping to provide, then the most uplifting and exciting emotion known to us will be released in abundance: the reality of global unity and human solidarity. It is then that human history will begin.

Socialist state? (1984)

From the October 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Confused Leftists, who advocate state capitalism in the name of socialism, often speak about a so-called socialist state. Such a concept indicates a profound misunderstanding among such people about the nature of socialism.

The state is the product of class society. It is the institution with which the propertied class defends itself against those who are propertyless. The existence of the machinery of state coercion (government, police, courts, prisons) is not socially inevitable. but “is a product of society at a certain stage of development: it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms, which it is powerless to dispel". (Engels, Origin of Family, Private Property and State). To put it simply, the state is the body which imposes the oppression of the exploiting class over the exploited class.

Every time in history that one minority class has attempted to take economic power from another it has needed to gain political control of the state. In the case of the capitalists of the last century the workers were often conned into fighting for capitalist control of the state in place of that of the feudal aristocracy. For example, in 1831-2 in Britain there were riots in several British cities in which workers fought for the right of the industrial capitalists to have representation in parliament; in France in March 1848 the Parisian workers manned the barricades for the sake of the capitalists. But the new capitalist rulers in Britain after 1832 (the Whigs) used state power to oppress the workers who had fought for them; similarly, in June 1848 the Parisian workers were slaughtered at the barricades — the capitalists had achieved power by then and were no more willing to concede the workers’ demands than their aristocratic predecessors had been. The history of the struggle for state power is a history of one elite gaining control from another.

Leftists often cite one exception to this: the Bolshevik coup d'etat of 1917. It is suggested that the so-called Russian revolution — which was in fact no more than a seizure of power by a vanguard — was the first example in history of a majority taking political control of the state. That this was not the case was even admitted by the Bolshevik leader Lenin, who stated that “200,000 members of the Bolshevik party are imposing their proletarian will on the mass . . .  in the interests of the latter". (Lenin, The New International, April 1918). The Bolshevik state reflected the rule of the minority; it was not, as Leftists foolishly assert, a dictatorship of the proletariat. but a tyranny of the party over those forced by state coercion to obey it. Stalinism was not an aberration which emerged in the late 1920s — as Trotskyists pretend, without the slightest evidence — but was a continuation of the undemocratic statism of Leninism.

With the Bolshevik coup, enacted in the name of socialism, the idea of a socialist state gained popularity. It was suggested that the Russian state was controlled by the workers and peasants. The Leftists of Europe argued that workers’ states should be set up in other countries.

Let us consider the confusion of such an idea. If the function of the state is to defend the legal power of the exploiting class, and if the working class is, by definition, the exploited class, then a workers' state would be one in which the exploited control their own exploitation. Such a proposition defies logic. Quite obviously, once the exploited majority are in a position to take power away from the exploiting minority there will be no need for a state. As Engels explained, "As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection . . . nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary."(Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific)

A distinction is always made by Marxists between the state — a body of class coercion — and administration. Of course, socialism will require administration. This will be organised democratically, without the need for an elite or bureaucracy who would be in a position to administer the lives of others. When we refer to the state we are not referring to merely administrative features, such as social services for the old or traffic control.

Leftists sometimes claim that the state will gradually die out under socialism. This view is based to some extent on the ideas of Marx and Engels about the need for a transition period between capitalism and socialism in which the state would be used to develop the productive forces so as to make socialism feasible. The Socialist Party does not endorse Marx and Engels' ideas on this matter, which may have been appropriate to the less developed state of capitalism of the last century, but have no applicability in the modern age of potential material abundance. There need be no transition period between capitalism and socialism: once a majority of workers understand, want and take democratic political action for socialism the new system will be established at once. It is the Leftists’ failure to understand the possibility of the immediate creation of a classless society which leads them to talk nonsense about the gradual decline of the state.

Having gained control of the state machine for the sole purpose of democratically dispossessing the capitalist minority, the state will be abolished immediately. There will be no socialist state. The government over people will give place to the democratically organised administration of things.
Steve Coleman

Commons - Tragedy or Blessing? (2016)

The Material World Column from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘These forests are our life, but they are being taken from us. Outsiders have a financial view of the land. They see it as money. We see it as life. We have to win... for the future of our people.’ Nicholas Fredericks, Wapichan people, Guyana
‘These lands are our livelihoods. From these lands we were able to harvest resources. The land belonged to us, the water belonged to us. From this, we were able to live. When we had common land we felt free.’ Mansa Ram, from a community in India’s Udaipur where lands are under threat.
In 1968 Garrett Hardin notoriously argued that collectively owned resources or ‘commons’ will be over-used and destroyed because no individual has an interest in protecting them for the long term, while everyone has an incentive to grab what they can before the others wreck it. His pessimistic analysis was that collective ownership doesn’t work and the commons should be privatised or nationalised.
Elinor Ostrom, surprising winner in 2009  of Nobel Prize for economics, from her lifetime’s study of real-life commonly owned lands and resources, concluded that communities can and do successfully manage vital commonly owned resources. A recent report by various NGOs,Common Ground: Securing land rights and safeguarding the earth, summarised below, argues that Ostrom was right.
Indigenous peoples and local communities protect half the world's land, but formally own just 10 percent. Indigenous and community lands are lands used, managed or governed collectively, under community-based governance. This governance is often based on longstanding traditions defining, distributing and regulating rights to land, individually or collectively, and is usually referred to as customary or indigenous land tenure.
Community lands are owned and managed by a variety of women and men, usually farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, fisher-folk and others using resources such as forests, water bodies and pastures as a common resource. But they are not static. Every generation adjusts how they use the land to meet new needs and aspirations. Indigenous and community lands are as important to the future as to the past. The ‘Commons’ are lands that communities maintain as their shared property. As such, they can be considered the heart of indigenous and community lands.
Some indigenous peoples and local communities use all their land as shared property. Others do not, and allocate lands to individuals and families within the community; however, the community exercises jurisdiction over the entire lands, which are held and managed collectively. Lands for grazing and wildlife, forests and woodlands, mountaintops, sacred sites, lakes and rivers are usually retained as shared property. These lands are the most vulnerable to land grabbing.
A frequent charge against collective ownership of pastures and forests is that it locks people into poverty. In reality, community tenure – either through collective rights or individual rights under community jurisdiction – is often much more productive than statistics suggest. This is partly because national statistics typically only count cash sales or income that is taxed. Around half of rural house-holds in India derive part of their income from resources on common or state lands often officially categorised as wastelands. For example, millions of rural Indians live by harvesting wild bamboo. But statistics rarely capture this.
Up to 2.5 billion people depend on indigenous and community lands, which make up over 50 percent of the land on the planet; they legally own just one-fifth. The remaining five billion hectares remain unprotected and vulnerable to land grabs from more powerful entities like governments and corporations. Ninety percent of Africa’s rural land is undocumented, leaving rural communities vulnerable to land-grabbing. The lack of land rights is directly linked, the report says, to the continent’s high poverty rates, where almost half of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. ‘African countries and their communities could effectively end land grabs, grow significantly more food across the region, and transform their development prospects if they can modernise the complex government procedures that govern land ownership and management,’ the World Bank reported. Modernisation, it said, required not the removal of rights from communities but the ‘documentation of communal lands... recognising customary land rights and regularising tenure rights on public land’.
Collectively-owned forests and pastures are better protected and cared for than government lands. A review of 130 local studies in fourteen countries found that community-run forests suffer less deforestation and store more carbon than other forests. Another international study found that state-protected areas are deforested on average four times faster than neighbouring community forests. This evidence contradicts decades of conservation thinking, which long held that forest communities were widely responsible for deforestation through shifting cultivation.
Research now shows that under most circumstances, forests swiftly regrow after cultivators move on. The evidence, says the report, also contradicts decades of conservation practice in which governments, often at the urging of environmental groups, have removed indigenous peoples and local communities from forests in the name of environmental protection. The scale of this dispossession – and the resulting hunger and poverty – remains undocumented, but has undoubtedly affected millions of women and men.


Editorial from the March 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the February issue of the “Labour Monthly” the Editor, R. Palme Dutt, adversely criticises the Plebs' League in a review of their text-book on “Modern Imperialism.” He says that the Plebs’ teaching is merely a “substitute for Marxism,” with the “essence of Marx left out”; that their “class consciousness” is abstract,” leading only to “Labour Party vagueness” ; that “Promising young men are sent to the Labour College for two years and come back budding snobs and trade union officials.”

He summarises the difference between the Plebs’ interpretation of Marxism and the real thing thus:—
“Marxism interprets history and politics in. terms of the class struggle. The British-American substitute for Marxism interprets history and politics in the terms of economics (an occupation favoured by many bourgeois historians).”
Palme Dutt points out that in dealing with the “deception of the masses” which took place at the outbreak of the war, the Plebs make no mention of
“the main agents which made the people fit materials for the great struggle—the social patriotic Labour leaders, whose treachery was the real collapse of 1914.”
He partly explains this by suggesting that the Plebs do not care to incur the “ ill-will of Trade Union Officials.”

With his ridicule of “ non-party Marxism” I entirely agree, but is he in a position to throw stones? He is a member of the Communist Party whose "Two Party Marxism” is hardly less ridiculous. The Communist Party claims to be a revolutionary organisation. The Labour Party is most decidedly not a revolutionary organisation, but the Communist Party’s “Marxism” is their justification both for claiming to be revolutionary and for supporting the Labour Party. It will perhaps be urged by the Communists that they must support the Labour Party to keep in touch with the masses, but the Plebs are at least no more inconsistent if they say they must avoid offending the Trade Unionists and Trade Union Officials who give them support. Anyway, some of the Communist leaders who now make this plea in defence of the Communist Party used to make precisely the same plea for the I.L.P.; and others who now quote Marx to justify their endeavour to get into the Labour Party, used to quote Marx just as cheerfully to justify the S.L.P. in keeping out.

Palme Dutt uses against the Plebs their readiness to quote from Walton Newbold in “his I.L.P. period.” He implies that Walton Newbold has now changed. Walton Newbold says he hasn’t, so the charge is equally valid against the Communist Party which now endorses Walton Newbold.
“I, like my comrade Saklatvala, am a member of the Labour Party. Either as a member of the Fabian Society or of the I.L.P. or otherwise, I have been a member of that party without intermission since the autumn of 1908. I have never had any cause to disagree with the Labour Party as such. I believe, as a cardinal principle of my political conviction, in the desirability and the urgency of all political power in Great Britain being in the hands of the Labour Party. I have laboured in season and out of season for the last 14 years to bring about that state of affairs and have rather intensified than relaxed my efforts since I joined the Communist Party in April, 1921.”—(“Manchester Guardian,” December 7th).
Under their standard of “two Party Marxism” the Communist Party at the General Election supported just those Trade Union Official to whom the Plebs ought not to bow the knee, together with people in their “ I.L.P. period ” who make Palme Dutt’s blood boil; choice old Conservatives like John Hodge (O.B.E. and P.C.), Liberal Clynes (of “increased production” fame), and in fact all the men who before, during, and since the war, have betrayed the working class.

The Plebs have not exposed their treachery, but has the Communist Party when supporting these men advised the workers of their record and their intentions?

Palme Dutt should be grateful indeed that the Plebs have not done so, or some of the workers when told by Communists to support Labour men might have asked the reason why.

The policy of helping capitalist candidates into power in order to get “bits of Socialism now,” or to prove to the worker that Socialism is not to be got either wholly or piecemeal by such methods, is so old, so universal, and so invariably fruitless, that Palme Dutt cannot be unaware of its absurdity. Why, then, does he turn a blind eye on the Communist Party?

Is there possibly someone whom he may not offend?

This tactic is not without its humorous side. One of the Labour Party’s true-blue Tories actively assisted by Communists, was C. W. Bowerman at Deptford. Bowerman, according to a Mr. W. Taylor, Chairman of the National Citizens Union (“Kentish Mercury,” 16th June, 1922), “had been communicated with and had promised to support” Sir John Butcher’s Seditious Teachings Bill; and the Seditious Teachings Bill is a Bill for the suppression of Communist propaganda!

This surely ought to teach the Plebs how not to be vague and how to denounce the “social patriotic Labour leaders.”

R. Palme Dutt, Communist, condemns the Plebs because they do not expose the men the Communists assist into the House of Commons. "Non-Party Marxism” is clearly absurd, but is "Two-Party Marxism” so much better that Communists can crow about it?

Labour Party vagueness is indeed the grave of revolutionary working class aspirations, but among the workers who reach that state of vagueness, is there really anything to choose between those who foot it behind the "headless horsemen” of the Plebs and those who come mounted on the "double-headed ass” of the Communist Party?

On Leadership (1923)

From the February 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
Experience has shown that no exceptional degree of any other capacity (i.e., fluency, etc.) is necessary to make a successful leader. There need be no specially arduous training, no great weight of knowledge either of affairs or the human heart, no receptiveness, no new ideas, no outlook into reality. Indeed, the mere absence of such seems to be an advantage; for originality is apt to appear to the people as flightiness, scepticism as feebleness, caution as doubt of the great political principles that may happen at the moment to be immutable. The successful shepherd thinks like his sheep, and can lead his flock only if he keeps no more than the shortest distance in advance.
W. Trotter, "Instinct of the Herd,” page 116.

Murder! (1923)

From the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

When two Irish Patriots, in the mistaken notion that they were assisting the Irish people, shot General Sir H. Wilson, they were dubbed murderers. They regarded him as the military representative of an enemy Government, and thought themselves justified in taking his life because they had but recently learned in the British Army that this was a right and proper thing to do; but they were hanged. The judge who condemned them talked some impertinent nonsense about the impossibility of reconciling Christianity and murder, but was apparently unaware that various Christian nations had been devoting the whole of their energies for some years to murdering each others subjects.

The fact is, that there is a double standard | of judgment. Murder by an individual on his own behalf is wrong, and will be punished; but murder by a ruling class in defence of its right to the private ownership of the means of life may be deemed “the preservation of law and order,” and is then not only excusable but highly moral.

The politicians carry out the orders of the ruling class, and are, of course, permitted in the execution of their duty to murder as much and as often as may be necessary.

Recently, ex-President Taft was in this country, and was received with open arms by Society, the Press, the Legal Profession, the Political Clubs, etc.

Ex-President Taft is an honourable man: he was also Governor of Philippines during Roosevelt’s Presidency. When in 1904, Roosevelt was running for the United States Presidency for the second time, much depended on the success of his policy in the Philippines, which America had not long forcibly annexed from Spain. Owing to natural discontent and gross misgovernment, the Islands were in a state of insurrection ; but were this news to leak out, the election might be lost.

To send troops to assist or evacuate those already there would have exposed the true position. What, then, did Taft do?—this honourable man, this confidant of European Cabinets, this lion of the best Society, entertained by Judges, and beamed upon by Royalty?

Stanley Portall Hyatt, an eye-witness, gives the answer:—
  “The insurrection had broken out, or rather, had blazed up, some months before, inconveniently near the Presidential Election, as the leaders knew well. . . .
  “ When the men in red took the field . . .  the High Gods of Manila attempted to keep the news out of the Press by practically cutting off Samar from communication with the outer world, leaving the unfortunate coastal people, the tao or peasantry, to their fate. Yet for months past, those same tao, knowing the Pulojanes were preparing to rise, had been sending frenzied appeals for protection to Manila. A thousand white troops distributed round the coast would have resulted in the saving of 50,000 lives. There was actually a white regiment in the island, at Calbayog, yet even when the Pulojanes were burning and slaughtering a few miles away it was not allowed to leave its camp. Officially, Samar was at peace; and if the 14th Infantry had taken the field the American nation might have begun to doubt the truth of Official statements, which would have meant the loss of votes. So the tao were left to their fate. Within the year, nearly a hundred thousand of the natives of Samar perished, and the island was absolutely ruined; but still the election was won.” (The Diary of a Soldier of Fortune; page 304.)
Even Churchill might envy the man with the above to his credit, and he could certainly never hope to beat for cool cheek the United States Government’s statement that the Philippines are “ happy, peaceful, and in the main prosperous, and keenly appreciative of the benefits of American rule." (Manchester Guardian, December 23rd, 1921.)
H. E.