Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Question of Class (1994)

From the October 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Exploitation is now a thing of the past. If you don’t like your job you can always leave it.
Exploitation exists because of the very fact that there are jobs. Employers buy our capacity to work, for a wage or a salary, and then extract more work out of us than it costs them to pay as. This unpaid surplus work is the source of their profit. So there’s a conflict of interests at work: they want to get as much out of us for as little expenditure as possible, and we need the money in order to live. It’s the only way this competitive organisation of society can work, since their success depends on our exploitation. It’s nothing to do with morality or low wages. It’s all do to with the employers owning the workplace and us earning our livelihood by being wage slaves. And it really is a form of slavery, because although you may leave your particular job you cannot usually leave that class of people who are compelled to get a job or do one of the various roles involved in wage-slavery.

I am unemployed/a student/a public-sector worker/pensioner. I produce no profits for an employer, therefore I am not exploited.
The lifeblood of this economic system is the making of profits through the exploitation of the whole working class. This is a social process which necessarily involves the vast majority of people in a complex division of labour, Throughout our lives as workers we may take on a number of roles in this division of labour. All of these roles are part of this economic system: all of them are as equally exploited as those who produce profits directly for an employer. Together this class of people runs society from top to bottom. They do not run it in their own interest, however. They run it for the profit of the employing class, a minority of people but with most of the power and wealth and the freedom this gives them. 

I am not working class: I earn a good salary, own a big house and expensive car. I have been to university, take a foreign holiday every year and work in an office.
For workers, there can never be anything fair about the wages system, since this is the mechanism for our exploitation. It presupposes that workers do not own or control the workplace. Wages and salaries are the price of the value-creating ability workers sell to employers. Workers can then produce goods and services worth more than they receive in pay, whether the pay is high or low. This socially-produced surplus value is the source of the employers’ profit. Employers operate in a competitive world economy and will, regardless of the size of their profits, pay their workers only what they must. And, without the resistance of workers, wages and salaries would be lower than they are. So we have a class struggle at work.

Class is a redundant issue. Now workers control the workplace, not the employers.
In this society people are divided into those who possess the workplace in the form of capital, the employers or capitalist class, and those who produce but do not possess, the employees or working class. It is the working class who keep the workplaces going, but lack the effective control which would enable them to produce solely for need. Of course there are other social groups such as the self-employed, but these are incidental to capitalism. As a system of society which predominates throughout the world, capitalism is based on the extraction of surplus value through wage-labour. Even if there has been some separation of ownership and control of capitalist enterprises, the capitalists still benefit in terms of power and privileged income. It does not affect the inherent class antagonism of wage-labour and capital.

There will always be classes: there will always be rich and poor. It’s only human.
Capitalism has not always existed, nor has there always been classes. It is class society which operates against human nature. Capitalist exploitation creates rich and poor people, together with their opposing interests. However, there is no reason why our rational desire for mutual aid should not allow us to establish a classless society. To end class exploitation requires revolutionary and democratic control of all the places of work. This will do away with the wages system and wage- slavery, and open the way for work based solely on human need and abilities.
Lew Higgins

Are we all "middle class" now? (1994)

Editorial from the September 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over the past couple of decades (especially since 1979) many commentators have argued that the working class is a “dying" class. The general argument goes along these lines: "manufacturing is in terminal decline and being superseded by the service sector of the economy. The result is an occupational shift that now sees the majority of people working in white-collar as opposed to blue collar jobs.

This process of “de-industrialisation", they argue, means that because the majority of people now work in offices they are no longer working class but "middle class". These people predominantly "feel" middle class, identify with their bosses and are living proof that capitalism has changed for the "better".

The corollary of this, is that there cannot be a socialist revolution because capitalism has sorted itself out. Society is becoming increasingly more affluent and we now live in a "property-owning, share-buying democracy". John Major believes that this provides the basis to his vision of a “classless society".

Socialists oppose this superficial analysis.

All that’s happened is that the nature of wage-slavery has changed. Instead of standing on a production line it is now common practice to sit in front of a VDU.

Although many workers have gained from this occupational shift and have done reasonably well out of the “affluent" eighties, another phenomenon has occurred — the underclass.

We are all very familiar with the statistics that show the poorest section of our society has become poorer in real terms since 1979. With high unemployment, welfare cuts and regressive taxation policies, the not-so-fortunate of society have become a mass of low-skilled, low-waged, desperate people. This has lead to even reactionary commentators regarding this as a potentially volatile situation.

It is the task of socialists to arm themselves with a view of class which is correct and up-to-date. The idea of the "middle classes" should be knocked on the head.

If you have to work for a living because you do not own the means of production, you are a member of the working class. This includes teachers, doctors and lawyers. Far from becoming “ middle class” the vast majority of the population who make all wealth under capitalism, remain working class by definition and will continue to be whilst the wages/salary and profit system exists.

Talking about the “middle class” merely divides the working class and weakens our class analysis. We should oppose it at all costs.

About Books (1953)

Book Reviews from the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

A number of novelists, from time to time, have written books that revolve around some particular industry. The stories, if they are the product of a knowledge of the industry plus good writing, can be both informative and entertaining.

A really first-class book of this kind is “The Weeping Wood,” by Vicki Baum, published in cheap edition by Michael Joseph for 6s. Here is the story of rubber from the days before the discovery of America, when the Amazon Indians found the tree which they called Cahuchu, meaning weeping wood, up to recent times, when the German I.G. Company and the American Standard Oil Company competed and cooperated to produce a synthetic rubber. 

Each chapter of this story is a separate episode in the history of rubber; each chapter is a separate story linked by this main historical theme. Only in a few instances do the same characters appear in the different chapters. In the introduction the author tells us that the story,
". . .  contains as much fact as if contains play and make-believe; . . . All the facts and figures, the details of history and background, all notations pertaining to rubber are authentic, as are, evidently, the documentary fragments scattered about. On the other hand, all the characters are inventions, bubbles of fantasy; all save the few historical ones which appear briefly in the course of these tales, but are also presented in more or less fictitious situations."
The story portrays for us how the Amazon Indians used Cahuchu gum to make toys for their children and how a Jesuit missionary brought a pair of sticky, smelly, moulded shoes to a high priest of his order, only to be outwitted and robbed of his discovery by an unscrupulous church financier and a native boy.

It then swings to the middle of the 19th century to tell of the struggles of Charles Goodyear to raise enough money to carry on his experiments to improve rubber fabrics, to make them impervious to heat and cold and to remove their evil smell whilst still retaining their elasticity.

We learn of the intense exploitation of men and women who lived tough and lonely lives in the Brazilian jungles gathering the gum; how seeds of the rubber tree were illegally exported from Brazil and sent to Kew, where seedlings were raised and shipped to Ceylon to start rubber plantations. The story then transports us to the rubber plantations of Sumatra to tell of planters and native workers; back again to America to show the methods used to intensify the labours of the workers in the rubber tyre factories at Akron and of the workers' struggles to organise in unions to resist their employers; return to Brazil after the crude rubber monopoly was lost to that country to see the effect of the one crop system on the native population; then to Germany during the last world war to tell of the frantic efforts to discover a synthetic substitute. The story ends in Washington, where efforts are still being made to find the perfect synthetic substitute, and where there is political manoeuvring to make America independent of world supplies of crude rubber.

Here is a story that reveals every unscrupulous trick and dirty device that has been conjured from the mind of man to wring profit from the exploited rubber workers, whether in the jungle, on the plantation, in the factory, or in the laboratory; it reveals the total indifference to human suffering in the scramble for profit from rubber; it shows how the booms and the slumps of capitalist trade, as well as its wars, have affected the rubber industry and the lives of the workers employed in it

This is a good six shillings' worth. It is the only book of its kind that Vicki Baum has written. Her other novels may be good, but they have not the same social significance as "The Weeping Wood," they are as different from it as chalk is from cheese.

One of the foremost writers of this type of novel, perhaps THE foremost, was Upton Sinclair. In his early days he wrote magnificent stories round a number of different American industries. Some of them have recently been republished by Werner Laurie.

The Jungle" (10s. 6d.), originally published in 1906, was the first of these books and the one that made Upton Sinclair famous. It caused an international sensation by revealing the horrible conditions that prevailed in the American meat canning industry. It caused an investigation to be made, followed by a revision of the Federal meat inspection laws by the U.S.A. Congress. It is a gruesome page in working-class industry and, despite its date, is still worth reading.

Oil” (10s. 6d.) was first published in 1927 and, as the title implies, it deals with the oil industry.

Little Steel" (8s. 6d.) has as its theme the struggle between workers' and employers in the iron industry. First published in 1938.

The Flivver King” (7s. 6d.) tells the story of Henry Ford and the workers in the American automobile industry. This is a particularly good story. First published in 1938.

These books by Upton Sinclair should not be confused with his “World's End Stories," which he has written in recent years. In our opinion the books in this series do not compare with his earlier work. There are many other books that Sinclair has written which have not been republished in late years, but which may sometimes be found on secondhand bookstalls. “Boston" is one. It narrates the story of Nicola Sacco and Bartelomeo Vanzetti, who were condemned to the electric chair in 1927. The “Socialist Standard" for September, 1927, had this to say of the Sacco and Vanzetti case
“The workers, generally speaking, have assumed their innocence, and have seen in the case the vindictiveness of a ruling class which manipulates the machinery of the law against property-less wage-earners.”
Mountain City" deals with the coal industry; “The Wet Parade" deals with prohibition in America, and “Sylvia's Marriage" deals with venereal disease. There are many more of Sinclair's books that we have never read and some that we have read but cannot recommend.

A more recent author who takes an industry for the theme of a novel is Thomas Armstrong. His first book, “The Crowthers of Bankdam," published by Collins for 10s. 6d., is outstandingly his best. He gives us the history of the English woollen industry during the past hundred years. The story opens at the time of the Crimean War, when hand looms were almost extinct, having been ousted by power-operated ones. Prior to that time many Yorkshire Cottages had boasted a hand loom, but with the application of steam power, those who could muster a little capital brought small numbers of workers under a common roof to produce woollen cloth with the new power looms. Soon the hand looms were discarded and left cluttering up back gardens and waste plots of land where they were thrown, not worth their weight as junk.

This was the period in the woollen industry when small capitalists were laying the foundations of the vast fortunes that were later required to expand their mills and their trade and enable their descendants of today to survive in a world where gigantic amounts of capital are required to launch and maintain an industry.

Simeon Crowther was one of those early capitalists, a hardworking, frugal-living, astute business man who, with his wife and family, worked in his mill beside his employees, building for the future the firm of Crowther and Sons, of Bankdam Mills.

Ben Pickersgill was a weaver, the father of a dozen children. As a sickly creature of four years of age he had been brought to Yorkshire amongst hundreds of other pauper babies.
“In the mill, he with rows of other wizened tots, had slept miserably under coarse brown blankets and horse covers until before the dawn during the greater part of the year, the brats' overseer had clattered down the long, chill room, to rouse again to toil overstrained little bodies which often, so mercilessly driven, wilted and died . before there had been an adequate return on the capital outlay.” (page-48) .
But Ben survived and we find him in his kitchen, where,
“Abysmal poverty cried aloud from everything in it, from cracked pottery to makeshifts of all kinds. Poor tattered rags of underwear hung from a line over the fireplace. A torn strip of rug, a pitiable ameliorative striving to give some warmth to the damp stone floor, served but as a danger to the unwary walker.”
Out of child labour and the long hours of toil of the poverty stricken workers, the early capitalists were enabled to amass wealth and accumulate. That is where the story of the Crowthers starts and it proceeds down the years from generation to generation. Trade slumps and booms, wars, tariffs, bankruptcies—all play their part in determining the vicissitudes of the Crowther family fortunes. By the end of the story the firm owns a number of huge woollen mills, various subsidiary works and factories and has offices and representatives in many parts of the world.

The story, in the main, centres on the capitalist family, not on the workers. It shows the sharp practice, the double-dealing and the downright fraud that capitalists use to exterminate one another, even friends and relatives, in the cut-throat competition born of capitalism.

Mr. Armstrong has also written a lengthy novel on the cotton industry called “King Cotton.” We must confess, having had two bites at this book, we have given it up as indigestible. It fails to hold our interest, despite the loud acclaim of the critics when it was first published.

No matter what any of these authors claim for themselves, they are not Socialists. It has not been their task to find remedies for the evils that they have depicted or solutions for the problems that they have revealed. But in very entertaining form they have shown us the evils and brought us face to face with the problems! They have something to teach, we have much to learn.
W. Waters.

Changing history (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

It seems that one of the biggest obstacles Socialists come up against is the idea that things "can’t/don’t change". It is easy to understand where ideas like that come from. Capitalism seems to have been with us forever, but is only about three centuries old. Despite the reforms (more crumbs) the ruling capitalist class has given us such as the welfare state (now under attack), the basic structure of capitalism has remained the same. The vast majority of us still fulfil the role of wage-slave. So despite attempts to make capitalism more human the majority of us still have to work ourselves into an early grave in order to pay the mortgage, the rent, clothe our children, buy enough food, on wages that never seem to be enough. Those are the lucky ones. Let’s not forget the unemployed that capitalism keeps in reserve.

From the conception of the inevitability of capitalism follows the common misconceptions about the ideas of socialism. These misconceptions fall into two broad categories; the Labour Party and the old former Soviet Union.
In the case of the former, the working class has seen the Labour Party fail time and again in its attempts to give capitalism a smiling face. Its reform programmes have either been woefully inadequate or resulted in disasters such as higher unemployment. The fact that the working class elected Thatcher in 1979 to get rid of a bankrupt anti-working class Labour Party would seem to prove the point.

The case of the former Soviet Union being Socialist or Communist is the other great myth. The fact that the Soviet Union was perhaps the best example of state capitalism at its most brutal leaves shocked expressions on many people’s faces. Leninist groups such as the SWP do not help the situation by claiming that the 1917 Russian Revolution was a democratic socialist revolution which went wrong and that workers should vote Labour.

The case of Bolshevik Russia and the Labour Party are arguably the two biggest ideological obstacles many workers have about socialism.

They remain the two biggest lies about socialism of the 20th century.

However, even in capitalism’s relatively short existence there have been many attempts by the working class, albeit unsuccessfully, to overthrow existing orders. Examples such as the 1871 Paris Commune and the 1917 anti-Tsarist revolution in Russia, hijacked by the Bolsheviks, spring to mind. More recently workers have kicked down the Berlin Wall and the rest of those horrible state-capitalist tyrannies of eastern Europe. Unfortunately the result has only been to establish a "freer" form of market capitalism.

So who says things can’t change? History is indeed the history of change. This being said, it is up to our class to create the biggest and the most significant change in all history. The democratic, peaceful overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of real world-wide socialism without leaders and without states.
Dave Flynn

But Which People? (2016)

Book Review from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class'. By Selina Todd. (John Murray £10.99)

This is intended as a history of the working class in the UK from 1910 to 2010. Although Todd’s view of who counts as working class is not always clear, she appears to see it as primarily manual workers, so only part of the story is presented here. However, she is quite right when she describes class as ‘a relationship defined by unequal power, rather than a way of life or an unchanging culture’. 

The narrative she provides can be summarised as follows. In the early part of the last century, there were nearly one and a half million domestic servants, the largest group of workers. Factory workers tended to be regarded as unskilled (and so lower-paid) if any of their work involved using machinery. In the First World War, domestic servants almost disappeared as women went to work in munitions factories and joined unions; they often resented being forced back into ‘service’ after the war. The defeat of the General Strike meant that the labour movement supposedly became committed to constitutional change, with workers’ strength not being used as a political weapon.

The thirties saw Depression, unemployment and the Means Test, and the number of servants increased slightly, as women whose fathers were out of work had to find employment somewhere. Families were broken up, and many people slid down the social ladder, with apprenticeships rarely leading to a skilled job. By the mid-thirties, things were improving for many workers, though by no means all. Mass production on assembly lines was a new development, imported from the US.

The Second World War was ‘the people’s war’, and many workers benefited from increased wages and job security. Their lives improved even more after the war, with higher wages and ‘full employment’. One area where there was little progress, however, was housing, with not enough houses built and council housing generally inferior to private building. By 1951, the metal industry employed 15 percent of male workers. By the late fifties, many working-class families experienced a reasonable standard of living, but only if they had two parents working overtime and relying on debt, especially hire purchase.

From around that same time a cultural revolution took place, by which being working class supposedly became fashionable (as seen in novels such as Room at the Top). In the late sixties, workers became readier to strike for higher wages, and many women got involved in rent strikes as council rents rose. In the eighties, the government attacked unions, most notably in the miners’ strike, and cut social security, leading to increases in inequality. It was no longer clear that children could look forward to better lives than their parents had known. By 2000, 70 percent of workers were employed in non-manual work, yet a growing number of people saw themselves as working class.

As this suggests, there is a lot of useful material here, enlivened by reference to, and quotes from, surveys and interviews with workers, many carried out by Mass Observation. But there is an unfortunate tendency to romanticise the post-1945 era and exaggerate its ongoing effect on the lives of the great majority. We are told that ‘[b]etween 1945 and 1951 the lives of working-class people greatly improved’, but then that ‘the 1950s were a decade of insecurity and fear for many people’. And the book is a bit naive in places, such as the claim that by the end of the seventies the main political parties had made a ‘decision to govern in favour of capitalists rather than in the interests of the majority of the electorate’: when was it ever any different?

An afterword takes the story up to 2015, and is in some ways rather more convincing, as in the statement that ‘class arises from the conflicts between different groups, who are defined primarily by their relationship to the means of production. In capitalism, the profits of the few depend on the exploitation of the many’. A consistent approach to class, with little or no reference to a vaguely-defined middle class, would have made this a better book. 
Paul Bennett

The First Oppressors in England(1928)

From the July 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time, many thousands of years ago, when this country was covered with forests and swamps and there was no sea between it and the rest of Europe, a race of rather small, long-headed dark people roamed in the river valleys living on wild fruits and the flesh of what animals they secured in hunting. Their homes were caves and rabbit-like burrows. Their neighbours the mammoth, the woolly rhinocerous, the reindeer, the elephant, the hippopotamus and the lion. Life was very hard for them as their acquirements were few. They made tools and weapons out of stone roughly chipped into a form that helped to some extent in the struggle for life. Of boatbuilding they knew nothing beyond the skin boats in which they hazarded their lives on the watercourses. Of property they were equally ignorant, for they had none. Their social organisation was the horde with women at the centre.

These people may not have been the first inhabitants of England, but, according to Sir Arthur Keith and others, they are the people who have persisted down to the present day and now form the bulk of the population of this country. They had come from the East with hungry stomachs and no other object than the obtaining of food. They were savages who painted their bodies and shivered at the sight and sound of the workings of the forces of Nature. They knew neither gods nor devils for, like the child, they saw in inanimate things the power to reason and act as they did themselves.

For thousands of years they lived their lives here unmolested by others of their kind, until one day, again from the East, there came another race of people, tall and fair. These fair people came by water, as the vanishing of the ice ages had left behind a channel of water between this country and the Continent. The newcomers had climbed high in human culture. They were people of the new (polished) stone age, with a knowledge of agriculture, pottery-making, spinning and weaving, boat-building, and had learnt the art of domesticating animals.

Between the old inhabitants and the new there was one tremendous difference—the former had come to satisfy their hunger, the latter came to satisfy their trading instincts. The former had no property, the latter has left behind evidence, for instance, in the shape of tombs, showing that an inequality of wealth had already forced its way into their social conditions.

The fair people came searching for stone, for amber and, in a lesser degree, for pearls. They colonised, like the later English in India, Africa and America, and, like the latter, also they looked upon the people they found here as fit subjects to rule and exploit. Few in numbers they were at the beginning, and the objects they obtained they sent back along the trade routes they had made to the mother country. They found their new home a promising one. With their improved tools, particularly the polished stone axe, they commenced to make inroads on the forest that still covered the land. The change in the climate had already driven away many of the fierce animals that terrorised the older people. More and more of the fair people were attracted to these shores. They cultivated the ground, dug for tin, and built huge stone circles and temples, relics of which Stonehenge and Avebury still remain to mystify and amaze us.

Who were these fair people? Ah, there is the rub! To Monroe and others they were a somewhat mystifying “Celtic” people whose origin is clothed in mist. To Elliot Smith and Perry they were colonists from Egypt. To Waddell they were Phoenicians of Aryan origin. But upon one point they are all agreed—they came and subjected the aboriginal race to their domination. Here you have the commencement of class domination in England. There you have the beginning of what brought in this country the manorial lord, the feudal baron, the power of sovereigns, and ultimately the domination of the capitalists.


From the October 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

The extraordinary lack of apprehension by the superficially “educated” middle-class mind, even of a woman of genius in her own limited sphere, as compared with the depth of insight and forcible characterisation of a great scientific thinker informed by and applying the materialist philosophy is strikingly instanced by the following extracts:—

Sarah Bernhardt, according to the “Strand Magazine" for August, when contrasting her first impression of fashionable life in London with life in Paris. says:
“The carriage road between the riding track and the foot passengers was filled with dogcarts, open carriages of various kinds, mail coaches, and very smart cabs. There were powdered footmen, horses decorated with flowers, sportsmen driving, ladies, too, driving admirable horses. All this elegance, this essence of luxury and this joy of life, brought back to my memory tho vision of our Bois du Boulogne, so elegant and so animated a few years before, when Napoleon III. used to drive through in his carriage, nonchalant and smiling. Ah! how beautiful it was in those days—our Bois de Boulogne, with the officers caracoling in the Avenue des Acacias, admired by our beautiful society women!   "The joy of Life was everywhere—the love of Love enveloping Life with infinite charm. I closed mv eyes, and I felt a pang at my heart as tho awful recollections of 1870 crowded to my brain. He was dead—our gentle Emperor with his shrewd smile; dead, vanquished by the sword, betrayed by Fortune, crushed with grief."
Karl Marx exposes the real Bonaparte (this “gentle Emperor") in the following characteristic and forcible passage in his work, “The Eighteenth Brumaire” (see p. 41):
“Along with ruined roués of questionable means of support and questionable antecedents, along with the foul and adventure seeking dregs of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, dismissed soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, sharpers, jugglers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, sleight-of-hand performers, gamblers, procurers, keepers of disorderly houses, porters, literati, organ-grinders, rag-pickers, scissors grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, that whole undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass that the Frenchmen style “la Bohéme.” With this kindred element, Bonaparte formed the stock of the “Society of December 10," a “benevolent association,” in so far as, like Bonaparte himself, all its members felt the need of being benevolent to themselves at. the expense of the toiling nation. The Bonaparte, who here constitutes himself Chief of the Slum-Proletariat; who only here finds again in plenteous form the interests which he personally pursues; who, in this refuse, offal and wreck of all classes, recognises the only class upon which he can depend unconditionally—this is the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte without qualification.”

Against the market? (1994)

Book Review from the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique. By David McNally. Verso. 1993.

The title of this book is wrong. David McNally is not against the market. He is only against the regulation of the production and distribution of wealth by the free play of market forces. He goes out of his way to deny that he is suggesting "that markets can be eliminated overnight" and states that "the issue of contention, therefore, is not the use of market mechanisms within the framework of socialist planning". So, despite his repudiation of so-called "market socialism" as an absurd contradiction in terms he too is one, seeing "a continuing role for some market mechanisms within a socialist society".

This sort of position only makes sense if you conceive of socialism as being the state ownership and operation of the means of production, which, as a Canadian academic who supports the SWP in Britain (he has written a pamphlet for them), McNally does. But of course this is state capitalism not real socialism.

If this is your idea of socialism then the market can be seen as one possible way of allocating consumer goods and services, and it is here that McNally sees a continuing role for the market. He is, however, informed enough to know that Marx envisaged socialism as being a society entirely without markets, money or any buying and selling, but gets round this by arguing that a "socialist" government should pursue "the logic of demarketization, decommoditization and demonetization of economic life". In other words, that these basic economic categories of capitalism should be abolished but only gradually.

What he has in mind is the progressive introduction, as economic circumstances permit, of free services such as health care, education, nurseries, water, heating, lighting, electricity, local transport and housing. In addition people are to be given coupons which they can exchange for a growing range of basic foodstuffs and clothes as well as an increasing supply of free tickets to the theatre, sports matches and long-distance transport; individuals would be able to swap with other individuals coupons they don’t want ("eg transport coupons for cultural events"). Finally, they would be paid a sum of money to purchase luxuries and non-basic items which as today would be produced for sale.

Whatever this is, it isn’t socialism and in some respects would be worse than today. Imagine the extra paperwork involved in administering the coupon system, and why give people coupons that they can only use to get certain goods? Why not give them the money to buy them? As for swapping coupons . . . 

What this is in fact is a proposal that the government, as virtually the only employer, should pay people partly in kind, partly in coupons — increasingly in kind and coupons — and partly in money. Socialism does indeed involve the disappearance of money, but not in this way, which would replace the limited choice people now have in being paid in money rather than in goods.

But it wouldn’t work anyway. Implicit in the idea of the state ownership and operation of the economy is that this is established on a national scale. Which means that the state is not at all the free agent in economic matters that McNally’s scheme assumes.

Today there is a world economy on which all parts of the world are dependent for some of their raw materials, components and consumer goods. So a national statified economy would have to purchase these; to do this it would need money and the only way to get this would be to offer some of its products for sale on the world market. But to find a buyer their prices would have to be competitive, and this could only be achieved by cutting costs through investment in the up-to-date machinery and methods of production.

In this way the world market would restrict the amount of resources the state could allocate to the consumption of its workforce and so impede McNally’s cosy image of a steadily expanding provision of free goods and services. If, alternatively, the state decided to try to isolate itself from world market conditions by trying to produce substitutes for the needed imports, this would raise its costs of production and so, once again, restrict the amount available for consumption.

The fact is that there is no way-out on a national scale. And if McNally is not convinced he should read the two latest books of his fellow (but more independent-minded) SWPer Nigel Harris (The End of The Third World and National Liberation).

Despite this, most of McNally’s book is genuinely interesting. He describes now the ruling class in Britain took measures, through enclosures and abolishing the old poor law system, to create a working class that was entirely dependent on working for an employer for their livelihood. He also discusses the views of Adam Smith (apparently he wasn’t as bad as his present-day supporters make out), Malthus (who was) and of the early 19th century critics of capitalism.

At the risk of being accused of being pedantic, we must point out that someone who presumes to give "the Marxist critique" ought not to make the elementary mistake, repeated three times, of saying that "capitalists pay the full value of labour as established on the market". What workers sell, and what capitalists normally pay the full value of, is their labour-power, which is capable of producing a greater value than its own. If capitalists paid "the full value of labour" they wouldn’t make any profits.
Adam Buick

Tugan-Baranovsky's Criticism of Marx. (1930)

Book Review from the February 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Modern Socialism in its Historical Development," by M. Tugan-Baranovsky, was published in 1910. It was translated from the Russian by M. I. Redmount.

The most interesting feature of the work is the record of working-class efforts and ideas in the early days of the movement. The phrasing is inclined to be awkward, possibly due to difficulties of translation. It is, in places, not easy to get at the ideas. When understood, however, the work presents a rather curious instance of an author losing sight of his own premises, merely because society has failed to act on them. 

On page 14 he defines Socialism as 
The social organization in which, owing to equal obligations and equal rights of all to participate in the communal work, as also owing to the equal right to participate in the produce of this work, the exploitation of one member of the community by another is impossible.
Having laid this down as a working principle—incomplete as it is—the reader might expect that it would, at least, be used to show wherein working-class parties, calling themselves Socialist failed to act up to their name. Instead, M. Baranovsky, confusing labour politics with what he calls Marxism, declares that the latter has departed from its principles. By Marxism he means the principles that should govern the workers in their efforts to emancipate themselves. These principles were broadly outlined by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto.

On page 8 M. Baranovsky says that Socialists recognised that they had to bear in mind the immediate needs of the people and shape their policy on them. In consequence of these ingenious Marxian tactics, he says, Socialism has become the greatest political power of the present. He describes this action as transferring the centre of gravity of the Socialist movement into the sphere of practical politics. The ultimate aim, he says, recedes into the background, whilst the proper ideal continues to serve but as a symbol, without any concrete content, and finally, the tactics of Marxism have in theory resulted in weakening the interest in the final issue of Socialism.

Here, he fails to see that it is the Labour Party that has falsified Socialist principles by their reformist policy. The broad facts of the working-class position, and the principles drawn from them are, in essence, the same to-day as when Marx outlined them in the Communist Manifesto. M. Baranovsky should, reasoning from his declared facts, have noted that the Labour Party cannot, at the same time, be both a reformist and a Socialist party.

This failure to see that a Socialist party must have Socialist principles, and base its political activities on them, vitiates the work throughout. To M. Baranovsky the Labour Party is a Socialist party in spite of its reformist policy and its denial of Socialist principle.

The reason for his shortsightedness is seen after a careful examination of his book. M. Baranovsky has the Utopian mind. Something of the soundness of the Socialist position he glimpses here and there; but in the main he belongs to the period of which he writes most fluently; the period when reformers like Owen, Fourier and St. Simon saw the rottenness of Capitalism and planned new systems to supplant it. In his preface he compares these with Marx, as follows:—
And taking into consideration that Marxism, as I strongly believe, does not embrace all the scientific elements of Socialism, my investigation necessarily assumed an historical character in so far as I was obliged to retrospect and introduce earlier, partly forgotten doctrines of the so-called Utopian category, which I consider deserving of the most serious attention and which in some respects are even more scientific than Marxism.
One of the best-known of the Utopians was Fourier. His plan for the reformation of society was the formation of groups, called Phalanstries, each group to settle on the land and provide for themselves by their associated labour. Fourier himself waited in vain for some charitable millionaire to finance his first group. Yet there have been quite a number of these experiments in different parts of the world. They were all failures. Capitalist society is too strong an organism to be affected by such dreamlike projects.

Wherein can such schemes be termed scientific? M. Baranovsky does not tell us. But Marxism, as he calls it, can tell us why they always failed. Working-men cannot throw up their jobs and form groups to produce for themselves. They have no capital to start with (a necessity under Capitalism) and Capitalists already own the land.

But the Utopians are unscientific in another respect. They say that nothing can be achieved by struggling against those in power. The only effective weapon is persuasion. They turn their backs on the class struggle, instead of recognising it and taking their place in the ranks of the workers. What could be more unscientific than refusing to see what is so evident in modern society. The antagonism between Capitalists and workers is the most outstanding feature of modern times, all over the Capitalist world, and conditions cannot essentially change for the working-class until they get the upper hand in that struggle.

But it is not the early Utopian ideas with which M. Baranovsky is chiefly obsessed. His Utopianism has advanced some what. Sixty pages are devoted to what he conceives as the special forms that the future society may take. He reviews the possibilities of eight different systems. Socialism and Communism have each four alternative arrangements, according to him : Centralized, Corporate, Federal And Anarchical. The Utopian cast of his mind is plainly revealed in the profitless task of reviewing these forms. But even more so is this the case in the last section of his book ,where he says on page 230:—
In the Socialist community, just so as in the Capitalistic, the price of a commodity will rise in the case of demand exceeding supply, and fall in the inverse instance.
In this quotation we see how Capitalist ideas clog the minds of those who try to frame schemes to escape from the evils of the present system. M. Baranovsky would carry over into a future system he has somehow conjured up, the very things that make Capitalism what it is. He would still have commodities and commodity production. Sale and purchase of the necessaries of life.

Capitalism is based on the class ownership of the means of wealth production and the commodity character of human labour-power. Labour-power is bought by the Capitalists to operate the machinery of production and sell their commodities on the world's market. The energy of the worker is a commodity, he is stamped with the commodity character. He is compelled to suffer all the vicissitudes that distinguish other commodities in the Capitalist world: over-supply, depreciation and physical decay, when he can no longer sell his one commodity.

Throughout the productive and commercial world everything has a practical aim in view. The object of it all is profit. The workers themselves cultivate efficiency, eliminate waste, produce all forms of wealth, and run all the services that minister to the world's needs. Yet they suffer poverty because they do all this for those who buy their energy. Everywhere business is run on practical lines and becoming more rationalised every day. Yet the worker’s mind is still obsessed with the false notion that wealth can only be produced by this arrangement that makes the bulk of human society—the working-class —a class of wage-slaves.

Production and distribution of wealth can be carried on by society without the enslavement of one class. But only the class that is enslaved can possibly want such a system. Consequently, it can only be established by the workers themselves. Moreover, it can only be established in opposition to the Capitalist class. Which means that the workers' first task is to critically examine and understand the basis of Capitalism. He will then know for himself what must be changed or eliminated in order that he and his class may win security and freedom from exploitation.
F. Foan

"Fire Out the Fools." (1904)

From the October 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some years ago. when it was thought by many Socialists that West Ham was about to become in England what Roubaix was then in France —a town whose municipal government was to be controlled by Socialists—it was not anticipated, save by the clearest sighted amongst us, that the tactics then adopted were to prove so disastrous as they have done to the propagation of our principles?

At that time the branches of the I.L.P. and S.D.F. were strong in numbers and full of enthusiasm. But in order to snatch a political victory it was decided to form a Socialist-Labour party, to be called the Labour Group, and to include so-called Labour members and Radicals who were in sympathy with the ‘‘aims of Labour." This move was apparently successful in so far as it gave the Socialist Labour Party a majority on the Town Council, and was successful as long as nothing was attempted with which the non-Socialist section of the party could not agree, but immediately a move was made in a Collectivist direction it was found that the non-Socialists could not be relied on. The consequence was practically the failure of the party to make more than a halting stop or so, and very small steps at that, toward the Socialist goal.

This is ancient history for the older men in the movement, but it is worth repeating in order to emphasise what follows, and to prevent a possible repetition of a similar mistake in any other town or district where we may be making headway.

It is now admitted that this was an error of judgment, but it was a mistake that should not have been made if the S.D.F. and I.L.P. members had had a clear understanding of Socialist policy. "He that is not with us is against us," whether he be avowedly Capitalist or alleged Labour. I say, one such mistake in tactics on the part of any local body of Socialists may be forgiven, but a repetition of the error is a crime against the movement. And this is what we are faced with today in West Ham. There is the same aspiration abroad now as there was then. The aspiration is, perhaps, not yet avowed, but it is expressed in action. The local S.D.F. Councillors, who lead the remainder of the members, are anxious once again to form a composite Socialist-Labour nondescript party, which they hope will lie strong enough to form a majority of the Council. These men are supporting Alderman White, a Liberal Passive-Resister, who is a candidate at the forthcoming municipal elections, because, forsooth, “he is in sympathy with Labour.”

The result of the first mistake was a great set back to Socialist propaganda in Weal Ham. A second such error would have disastrous effects were it not for the existence of a branch of tho Socialist Party of Great Britain, who will keep the position clearly before the people, and publicly expose those who would mislead them. Such tactics undoubtedly cause confusion in the minds of the workers. They are not all heaven born politicians and wirepullers like the S.D.F. members of the West Ham Town Council.

Mr. Will Thorne, of the S.D.F., who was to have been the Socialist Parliamentary candidate for South West Ham at the next General Election, is now, we are informed, to run as the Labour candidate under the auspices of the Labour Representation Committee. Not that this makes much difference, for Thorne already had his hands firmly tied by his pledges to his union, the Catholics, and the Passive Resistors. So even if he understood what Socialism means—which he never did—and was elected—which is not probable—he would be so firmly bound by his pledgee that he would not be able to act as an exponent of Socialism in the House. Our S.D.F. friends have not yet even learned that elementary political lesson for Socialists, viz., to keep free from entangling alliances.

One of the things which Socialists have so fiercely criticised and held up to public scorn, is the corruption which so often obtains on our public bodies, and notoriously so in West Ham. It is reported that a Local Government Board auditor stated that the West Ham Board of Guardians was the most corrupt board in the country. This, to those who know a little of these local governing bodies, may seem to be a rather “large order." But I think he was not very far from the mark. Whether that is so or not, it is absolutely necessary that Socialist representatives (they are not yet delegates, unfortunately) should keep their hands clean and be above suspicion. If not, how can they criticise and expose their opponents ?

Now. the present “Socialist’’ representatives—with two notable exceptions—are not above reproach. Apart from accepting presents from contractors—which no Socialist should ever do—whether it influences his vote when tenders are before the Board or not, they have been parties to what is not at all an uncommon occurrence on this Board, namely, working their relatives into jobs or positions under the Board. They may say that a certain well-known, so-called Labour member has done this, and in so doing they are only following his lead. But our representatives are not on these administrative bodies to follow. They are there to initiate. and most certainly not to follow a lead of this kind. Nor are they there to hob-nob with officials, and to eat and drink at their expense. The excuse that other members do so is no excuse for Socialists, but—and the attention of the public should be drawn to this it—will explain why it is that the members are unable to deal with the officials in a suitable manner when any dereliction of duty takes place and such cases are not uncommon—and why it is that the officials of the West Ham Board are the masters of the members instead of the members of the Beard being the masters of the officials.

The result in West Ham of this political intriguing and these corrupt practices—though perhaps, not legally corrupt, they are from a Socialist point of view—has been to put back the clock for years, and although I am sure that a warning to keep clear of both these practices is unnecessary to members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, this article will have served a useful purpose if it opens the eyes of the members of tho so-called Socialist organisations and the public to what to an unbiassed observer appears to be trickery, which is not even successful trickery, and practices that cannot be condoned.

Down with justice! (1989)

From the April 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are words of which people should have learned to beware. Liberation, meaning it is your allies who will try to kill you this time instead of your enemies. Prosperity, a sure thing you are about to feel the pinch more tightly. Progress, the development of new ways to exploit the majority of people and turn creativeness sour. And justice. In Britain, they say. it is the best that money can buy. Demands and pleas for it echo through history and every day's newspapers So do threats of it: as well as the grail of the oppressed, justice is the first refuge of every oppressor. With each invocation of the word goes the feeling that a moral principle is involved, that there is an over-riding consideration of rights. Is there justice to be had?

One answer might be that it is impossible to get under capitalism, or has to be fought for against odds. On that basis, working-class claims for justice acquire greater weight and passion, because sentiment favours assaults on the inaccessible. Unfortunately, it is a superficial and mistaken answer. The mistake is in the assumption that there is true justice which is simply being with-held or misapplied. If hands could be laid on it, the belief goes, wrongs would be righted and truth prevail. In fact, justice is a concept established and elevated by property society for its purposes alone. Or, as Marx and Engels addressed the capitalist mind in the Communist Manifesto:
. . . your jurisprudence is but the will of a class made into law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of your class. The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property — historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production — this misconception you share with every ruling class that has proceeded you.
What has to be realised is that there is no injustice — there is only justice. Does this mean that appeal is useless, that every personal and social oppression must be taken as inexorable and endured? By no means. But the argument and struggle had better be for concrete purposes, not for the phantom of a moral truth. Indeed, the Communist Manifesto points out that early major gains by organised workers were won "by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself” — not by appeals to humanity and justice. In criminal actions it is only the defendant who asks for justice in court. The police and prosecutors know it is there: what they ask for is the penalties.

The futility of seeking social redress in the name of justice was ridiculed by Engels in Anti-Duhring, in 1878:
If for the imminent overthrow of the present mode of distribution of the products of labour, with its crying contrasts of want and luxury, starvation and debauchery, we had no better guarantee than the consciousness that this mode of distribution is unjust, and that justice must eventually triumph, we should be in a pretty bad way, and we might have a long time to wait.
Underlying the belief that some better kind of justice can be had is, inevitably, acceptance of capitalism s yard-sticks and axioms. The idea of rights and freedoms, the idea of equal opportunity — they sound like emancipated thought, but they denote thought sadly fettered. In effect, they propose alterations and exceptions to the rules; the question not asked is who makes the rules, and why they exist. Robert Tressell's biographer. F.C. Ball, relates how the author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists would suddenly ask men in argument: "What makes you think you are entitled to food and clothing?", "Can you tell me why your children should have shoes on their feet?” This is going to the heart of the matter. When the very means of living are owned by a minority, what can be said of the majority's right to live? What is the point of believing that justice can come true?

This is the difference between the reformist and the revolutionary or socialist. The reformist hopes (at a later stage perhaps pretends, professionally) to find a soft heart and a love of truth in capitalist society. Of course by their own professed moral standards those who rule and dispose in capitalism are perenially cynical, vicious and low; but that reveals only the spuriousness of the standards. The socialist knows that Engels, again, wrote in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific:
According to this conception, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in the minds of men. in their increasing insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the mode of production and exchange: they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the epoch concerned.
The socialist case holds no reference to justice or the rights of man. Its foundation, like that of capitalism, is in material interests. When the great majority who form the working class are ready to establish socialism, it will be not a matter of belief in eternal principle; but because they have had enough of deprivation, inferiority and modern barbarity as all capitalism can give, and propose to run society by themselves for themselves. That this society will be a thousand times better and more satisfying in every way is true — but the drive to it is not a moral one. So far from promising to inaugurate justice, opportunity and the recognition of rights, the revolutionary proposal is to do away with them and replace these slave-concepts with the human relationships of socialism. This too was one of the challenges laid down in the Communist Manifesto. Mimicking liberal-philosophical timidity, the authors say:
'There are. besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom. Justice, etc., that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis: it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.'
And the reply:
But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages. viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms . . .
   In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonism, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.