Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Revolution (1966)

Book Review from the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peaceful Revolution versus Violence by Frederick Engels (Socialist Labour Party, Is. 10d.)

The SLP have republished the introduction that Engels wrote in 1895 to Marx’s Class Struggles in France. They have changed their title from The Revolutionary Act.

Engels argues that the armed uprising as a means of winning political power has become outdated. The power of the military has so increased that they have the upper hand every time in street battles. The most practical means to political power has become the vote, as the Social Democrats in Germany were showing. There the working class were beginning to use the vote as “an instrument of emancipation.”

One passage is particularly worth quoting:
"The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act.”
This the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain has argued all along, against anarchists and those who back the theories of Lenin and Trotsky. Before Socialism can be established the immense majority of the working class must understand and want it and democratically set about getting it.
Adam Buick

Making Nationalists (2016)

From the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The world is divided into almost 200 different countries and most of them celebrate some type of annual ‘national’ day.
The most widely known examples are the 4th July Independence Day of the United States and Bastille Day on 14 July in France. Mexico has its ‘El Grito’ in September which celebrates the beginning of its struggle to end Spanish rule and Cuba has its Liberation Day to mark the advent of the Castro regime. Britain is unusual in not having any widely recognised national day although the Queen’s Official Birthday and St. George’s Day (at least in England) partly fulfil the role. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day on the 17 March is generally accepted as the national day (especially in the Republic) although Easter Monday (the date of the Rising in 1916) is also a calendar date of importance. National days usually commemorate the formation of the country in the sense of gaining ‘freedom’ from a governing colonial power, as in the case of the USA, or else mark some major change (erroneously called a revolution) in the social structure of a country as with France. Sometimes they have their roots in and take their context from cultural, religious or historical events. For countries that have experienced much social and political upheaval over the last 100 years, such as Germany or Russia, the day considered as the national day, has changed many times over the years.
In Ireland, this year being the centenary of the Easter Rising, the day was given a more pronounced significance. For the previous year, the government planned a whole series of ceremonies with the major commemorations held on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday; 27 and 28 March. What’s a socialist perspective on this? As the articles in the March Standard suggested, in spite of all the rhetoric of the state and media, there really is very little tangible to see in the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland that is connected to the Rising apart from the fact that most major railway stations in Irish cities are named after some of the leading participants.
It’s interesting to compare this centenary celebration with the commemoration that occurred in 1966 on the half centenary. The centrepiece on that occasion was a traditional old style military parade of the Irish Army down O’Connell Street in Dublin whilst being reviewed by Eamon De Valera and other elderly survivors of the Rising. Watching old film of it is very reminiscent of observing the May Day parades that the leadership of the Soviet Union indulged in with the massed ranks of marching troops, the armoured columns and the flypasts of combat aircraft. Of course for  Ireland, the military hardware on show was on a much smaller scale.
For this year’s anniversary, the aim was to be much more ‘inclusive’ with family events, educational lectures, historical re-enactments, street festivals, etc. Of course the underlying nationalist message was still present though in a more muted form; an example being that in the weeks prior to Easter, the Proclamation was read out in all school playgrounds under the Tricolour.
The correct attitude to adopt to the Rising has always been somewhat problematical for Irish Governments. While Irish Independence is nominally taken to have begun with the rebellion, in fact the origins of the state really date from the unplanned and erratic series of events that occurred from the Conscription crisis of 1918 to the end of the Civil War in 1923.
The undemocratic and vanguardist nature of the military operation of Easter 1916 has unpalatable parallels with the more recent campaign of the Provisional IRA. In fact during these more recent troubles, apologists for the Provisional movement liked to justify their struggle against claims that it had little popular support by reference to the minority action of 1916. The authorities in Dublin were keenly aware of this and certainly during the 1970s and 1980s there was little official observance of the date on any grand scale.
The participation of James Connolly in the planning and execution of the Rising has always given it left-wing appeal even though he was in a clear minority in terms of his political outlook compared to the other leaders. Connolly had an admirable record prior to the Rising as a social agitator and resolute campaigner against capitalism and militarism. The other leaders, while some of them had vaguely progressive ideas, were more straightforward cultural nationalists who envisaged the new state that would be formed as replicating other nascent European nation-states. For many of them, the aim of the Rising was to give Ireland its own lag, anthem, currency and  language; the usual trappings of a sovereign capitalist nation. A well-known phrase from the Proclamation ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’ has since been used to vindicate the claim that it was a progressive event even though that wording was placed there more for grandiose political purposes than a call to any specific programme of social action.
What’s the view from today? It can be debated over and back whether the 26 counties that eventually went on to form the Republic of Ireland would have been better or worse off if they had remained as part of the UK. It’s a calculation that has been and continues to be put forward to the Scottish people by the governing SNP in Edinburgh. To an extent it’s similar to the current debate in the UK about its own membership of the larger European political union.
While we constantly hear that we live in a globalised world, national sovereignty still resonates with many people. As socialists we reject the concept absolutely. The delineation of national boundaries within a system of world capitalism is just a reflection of the nationalist consciousness that currently prevails amongst the people of this planet. The celebration of national days, the supporting of the national team at international football tournaments, the organised remembrance of common history etc. are all manifestations of the constant encouragement to us to make identification with our fellow countrymen as the primary determinant of our political consciousness. This is a false proposition. The problems of the Irish people were not solved by independence; the hundreds of thousands of emigrants who left Ireland since 1922 are proof of that. The same will hold for the Scottish people. In the long term, the maintenance or relinquishment of membership of the EU will not improve or worsen the overall position of the majority of the people of the island of Britain. As socialists we say the only political allegiance we should give is to our fellow workers and our objective should be to finish with countries and their bogus ‘national’ days.
Kevin Cronin

Socialism "Exposed" (1908)

Book Review from the January 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Exposure of Socialism, by Max Hirsch. 48 pp., 2d.

In contrast with most so-called exposures of Socialism this one is readable and even interesting. It consists, nevertheless, for the most part of rhetorical pyrotechnics and of perfervid appeals in the sacred names of Liberty, Purity, Justice and the like, illustrating both the astuteness of Max Hirsch and the power that such ambiguous abstractions still wield over the sheep-like multitude.

The pamphlet (which has not been sent to us for review) consists of three addresses originally delivered by Max Hirsch in Australia. The “exposure,” indeed, amounts principally to assertions by Hirsch that the ultimate outcome of Socialism:
is deplorable in every direction. Industrially it means retrogression, enormous loss of productive power, and poverty for the whole of the people. Politically, it means absolute despotism on the one hand, and absolute slavery for the great majority on the other. Socially it means the loss of the monogynic family, sexual license as bad as in the declining days of Rome, and the loss of all the highest and purest joys men and women are capable of. Ethically, it means the loss of all the virtues that a thousand years of the struggle for freedom have developed among the nations of the world, and a return to the vices which distinguish slavery everywhere.
How familiar it all sounds. With the word and content of capitalism inserted in place of Socialism, the above might be the conclusions of a Socialist pamphleteer in scathing condemnation of the present social disorder. Let us apply it to the facts of to-day.
“Industrially, owing to the wasted labour force of the unemployed, the waste of competition and the competitive barriers to the complete and efficient organisation of production, the continuance of the present order means retrogression, enormous loss of productive power, and poverty for the overwhelming mass of the people. Politically it means the absolute despotism of the propertied exploiters and the absolute slavery of the whole of the wage workers. Socially it means the loss of family life by compelling husband, wife and children to sell themselves as wage slaves to provide subsistence, while low and insecure wages, which are insufficient to enable a man to keep a family and compel women to sell themselves upon the streets, engender inevitably sexual licence; while accumulated wealth joined with idleness and degeneracy at the other end of the social scale lead, as is known, to the practice of vices as bad as during the declining days of Rome. Ethically, capitalism means class antagonism, chaos and crime through the poverty and slavery of the mass compelling many to robbery and violence, and degrading them mentally and physically, while among the class that lives by exploitation there is inevitably inculcated all forms of swindling, poisonous adultery, robbery and murderous repression, leading in very truth to vices worse than any which distinguish other forms of slavery.”

As applied to to-day Mr. Hirsch’s description may undoubtedly be said to fill the bill. As applied to Socialism, however, not a single point is proven. Indeed, Max Hirsch has the audacity to offer as proofs of red tape and repression under Socialism, examples of class repression by capitalists in Colorado and the ridiculous red tape of some royal household!

It would appear from Mr. Hirsch’s statements that Tom Mann declined to debate with him, but while we have at present no means of ascertaining the full facts of this, yet we cannot refrain from quoting and commending to the careful consideration of the British Constitution Association and the rest of our not over brave opponents the following observations of our author on the uses of debate:—
A mere lecture may appeal, not to reason, but merely to prejudice or sentiment. All the difficulties may be slurred over, all the opposing arguments put out of sight without the majority of the audience detecting the trick. But in a public debate, if both debaters are competent men, this is not possible. More or less of the true value of the arguments used, more or less of the weakness of the proposals made if they are weak, must come home to the audience. A man who believes in the truth of his teaching therefore, has no reason to avoid debate; the man who knows or suspects that there are flaws in his teaching has every reason to avoid debate.
It is even now, not too late for our opponents of the B.C.A. to "come on," but it is to be feared that they still let "'I dare not want upon I would,'" like the poor cat in the adage.

It is not necessary - nor indeed is there space - to deal with more than the essential position of Mr. Hirsch. His standpoint, is entirely that of the free competition, free trade and anti State enterprise capitalist, and he endeavours to confuse Socialism with State capitalism and tilts against the latter. Even here, however, his arguments are palpably weak, as when be speaks of the enormous increase of officials and decrease of efficiency in State capitalism. In point of fact State enterprise in practically every case has been found to be more efficient and labour saving than private capitalism (and this is the reason for its adoption by the capitalist class) while the proportion of officials in the branch of industry taken over suffers in general no increase. Thus the nationalisation of the railways would decrease not only the number of wage-workers employed but also, through centralised management, the number of officials required. There would therefore result from State ownership an increase in the number of State officials but in reality a great decrease in the total officials; for the officials of private concerns are not less capitalist officials than the State bureaucracy. This, however, is no concern of ours, for it is not Socialism, nor is it our objective. Bureaucratic tyranny is the enemy and is but the reflex of class rule; our object requires the destruction of this tyranny which clips the political wings of Post Office employees, civil servants, and State railway workers, and the substitution of working-class control as the necessary prelude to the abolition of class domination through all becoming workers in the lighter and happier labour of the common weal.

Max Hirsch’s statement that productivity would decrease under Socialism is at utter variance with the facts. If in the most efficient methods of modern production uniform wage labour is the basis of that efficiency—in spite of the fact that the incentives, so far from being favourable to productivity, are such as to make the worker feel that the more he produces the sooner will the market be glutted and he be thrown out of work to starve - does it not therefore become obvious that through Socialism productivity will increase enormously, not only by the absorption of the unemployed, the idle, the lackeys and the like and the use of the most efficient machinery, but also through the direct incentive given the producers, not as to-day to restrict output, but to increase it in every way so that more wealth and leisure shall accrue to those who produce, instead of more unemployment and poverty? So far, indeed, from the natural incentives to productivity being present to-day and to be abolished by Socialism, the contrary is true, and these incentives are non-existent to-day for the working class, and can only again become operative through Socialism. 

Most of Mr. Hirsch's so-called arguments are belated Manchesterisms, which are given the lie direct by capitalist practice. It is too late in the day to dish up 18th century arguments that were directed against the possibility of joint stock companies, and to endeavour to apply them to State industry, when the question that is pressing ever more threateningly for solution is not the destruction of social production and a return to the middle ages, but whether the workers shall, to their increasing misery, continue as wage-slaves in production that is already social, carrying on production in company, trust, and State for useless idlers, or whether the social powers of production shall be wrested from the capitalists, to be controlled and used by and for all who produce. And the solution of that question in industrial democracy will end bureaucracy and enslavement and poverty, at the same time that the productive forces, released from the forms which impede their useful development, reach a height of efficiency and usefulness hitherto unattainable.

The blessed words of liberty, justice, and other fraudulent aliases of capitalist interests, constantly recur with our author as with the usual bourgeois politician. In the absence of argument such "wind-jamming" has the aching void and is the occasion of perverted and soul-stirring rhetoric which effectively prevents sound analysis in the mind that falls under its spell, As Lafargue has shown, how the content of liberty, justice, and the like varies with the class, group, or even individual using the words! How liberty of the capitalist to exploit is in contradiction with the liberty of the worker, unless it be to sell himself as a wage-slave, or starve! The facts of modern industrial life are to the capitalists, necessary, rose coloured, but to the workers they become unnecessary, harmful, degrading, impoverishing and dreary.

So the facts of modern life for the working class are the basis of Socialism, and Socialist logic is the logic of proletarian history. And thus it is that, as a London newspaper recently discovered, arguments which appear conclusive to a bourgeois mind, leave the worker who realises his position utterly unconvinced, nay, wondering even that such inane and childish statements could anywhere be accepted as argument. This is illustrated not alone by the above-mentioned “eternal” self-contradictory ideas but also by theories of economies. Thus in common with the usual “ up-to-date” apologist of exploitation, Max Hirsch has a feeble tilt at the labour basis of value, and on this the capitalist attitude is easily understood.

When the rising bourgeoisie were directly concerned in the processes of production, when their personal directing activities were also involved, their political economy, from Sir William Petty to Ricardo, came to recognise labour to the full as the creator of value. As, however, with economic development the capitalists became less and less personally connected with the labour process, as they become increasingly mere absentees, coupon clippers, and ignorant of production, which came to be carried on entirely by hirelings, and as moreover by the culmination of classic economy by Marx the kernel of capitalist exploitation was laid bare, so it became necessary to find a theory of economics that did not lead with inevitable logic to Socialism. At the same time, by the capitalist becoming a consumer solely, so the consumer grew in importance in his eyes and the attributes of consumption in the form of “demand,” “ utility,” etc. — the reflex of the value process — became its foundation from the inverted viewpoint of the parasite. Thus a school grew into prominence which no longer recognised value as a result of the application of labour to useful ends, but held in effect that under the guise of “demand,” “esteem,” and “utility,” the value of a commodity was the creation, not of the producer, but of the consumer!

To the workers, however, in daily contact with the material basis of life, such a theory must ever remain unreal and fantastic, and with them the fact of the worker as source of value must retain its fundamental importance until and unless a time comes when wealth is produced without labour, and when palaces, banquets and motor cars descend ready made from heaven.

Socialism, indeed, apart from its accidental manifestations, is irrefutable from the standpoint of the wage-worker, for the Socialist is in essence only the conscious expression of the economic and social necessities of the wealth producers, adding definite aim, organisation, effect and intensity to the demand born of modern oppression and contradictions. Hence arises both the confidence of the Socialist in the future and the world-wide and inevitable advance of the Socialist movement.
F. C. Watts

Capitalism or Socialism (1973)

From the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is based upon the private ownership of the means of life with all production geared to profit. Socialism is the common ownership also of the means of life but with production solely for use. They are two distinctive social systems, one a class system and the other classless. The aim of one is to maintain in a position of privilege a small minority and of the other to satisfy all according to need. Let us consider further.

Under capitalism there are two classes. The capitalist class owns all the resources of the world: land, raw materials, factories, mines, machinery of distribution, communications, and so on. The working class, the overwhelming majority, do not own any of these things. The division of the population of the world is therefore between owners and non-owners. There are no other classes. The so-called “middle class, upper middle class, lower middle class,” come into one class or the other. The test is simple. If you work for wages (or so-called salaries, the same thing), and are dependent upon them to live, then you are a member of the working class. Do not be under any illusions about this. Anyone enjoying a life derived from ownership of the tools of production, without the necessity of working at all, is in the capitalist class.

The working class must sell their mental and physical energies for wages. But, as always with buying and selling, there is a conflict of interest. The workers endeavour to get the best price possible, i.e. the highest wages for their labour-power, or working abilities. They learnt that in unity there was strength and in the early stages of capitalism, against great opposition, they combined to form trade unions. There has been since, a never-ending struggle with their employers over wages, conditions and hours of work. But the workers do not hold the right cards, whilst they accept the terms of reference of capitalism. After years of class struggle they are still only paid wages to prevailing standards based on age, experience, sex, skills, education and training. They are confined, harnessed and shackled by capitalism. They are in a humiliating position and as individuals they cannot opt out of the system.

Under capitalism all must bend their knee to the great god of Profit: their energies too. It is the be-all and end-all of production under capitalism. The surplus that makes it possible is created at the point of production by the working class. Profit is realized when this surplus is sold. Members of the working class have no share of it whatsoever. Their wages are part of the costs involved in the process of production and distribution. They create vast quantities of every imaginable commodity and these are greater in value, much greater, than the sum total of wages paid to them. This is the whole object of the operation. Working men and women, cannot you see that the capitalists only employ you to bring into existence this surplus? They do not do it to find work for idle hands to do or because they are sorry for workers. They want commodities, articles made to be sold to realize profit. The capitalist class want to lay their greedy hands on as much as they can and so far, thanks to the working class and their submission to the wages system, the employing class have got away with it.

In periods of slump, when the markets of the world are glutted, workers quickly learn what the form is. They are made redundant. In plain language they “get the sack”. They are told to go, and where they go is of no concern to their late employers. From office- and shop-boys up to so-called managers and “Company Men” they are all treated alike. There is neither work nor wages until “things buck up”.

But capitalism is an up-and-down system. It has its booms as well as its slumps. Now the capitalist rubs his hands with glee, for is not the whole of the modern world his market place? What he now wants is full order books. Out go his hired agents with instructions to sell, sell, sell. At his behest, the workers make, sell, transport and ship, load and unload the wealth of the world. A crowning insult is that thousands of workers are employed in the useless occupation of reckoning profit and keeping track of overseas investments of the capitalist class in such time-wasting occupations as banking, accountancy, Stock-Exchanges, insurance and so on. The Socialist says to his fellow-workers: This is your life, but what are you going to do about it?

Profit will not evolve into production for use. Private ownership will not evolve into common ownership. Buying and selling will not evolve into free access. Socialism means Social Revolution, a complete change in the basis of society which must be ushered in with full understanding and determination by the workers of the world. When a majority have Socialist knowledge, they will do just this. To vote for a change in government is useless, as repeated experience has shown. As long as capitalism lasts, the fundamental position of the wage-earning class remains the same. The workers of the world must become class-conscious, they must become as one and recognize their universal common interest. They must organize consciously and politically for Socialism. The weapon is already in their hands. It is the vote and, backed with understanding, it is the mightiest weapon of all when it comes to world-changing.

A politically mature working class of the world will establish Socialism which is a world-wide system. They will see to it that the whole earth and all its resources will become the common possession and under the democratic control of all mankind. This is the foundation stone, the rock, on which it will arise. It will transform all human relationships and change our ways of thinking. It will be a society of free association and genuine democratic processes. The views of the majority will prevail and the voice of any minorities always heard and considered. Wealth will be produced only to satisfy human wants and needs as quickly as possible and fulfil all aspirations. Socialism means the end of buying and selling, the end of money, the end of profit and the disappearance of the parasitical capitalist class. No-one will work for wages and the slavery of the working class will give way to freedom and human dignity.
J.C. Gormley

Calculating Capitalism (1981)

Book Review from the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Demystifying Social Statistics, edited by Irvine. Miles and Evans, Pluto Press, 1979.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the census forms that we completed this year contained questions like: are you a member of the capitalist or working class; give an account of all the property you posses and state the income derived from it; if an employer, state the rate of exploitation operating in your firm? So that we could refer directly to one set of official facts to support our contention that social problems arise because ownership of the means of living is private and profit-dominated, while production is public and necessarily co-operative. But official statistics are commodities tailored to meet the demands of capitalist society. One effect of this is that they mask the existence of the capitalist class and are silent on the source of all wealth; all of which is well-described in that piece of this book called The Poverty of Wealth Statistics.

If you pick and choose you should find something of interest in these twenty-two chapters. For instance, the piece on how official statistics are produced is fascinating and informative It leaves an impression of a bunch of moles boring from within the government statistical service in a way designed to make a Daily Telegraph leader writer see red and sensitive people weep over the stultifying boredom imposed upon statistical producers by rambling bureaucratic procedures.

It’s pleasant to record that though most of the authors are academics they do not shrink from drawing socialist conclusions:
We would replace accountancy in terms of money and profit by accountancy in terms of social needs. We would replace the definition of social goals by those at the top of the bureaucratic pyramids, by democratic self-control over all collective activities. We would then require new ways of measuring our needs and goals, which expressed their great variety rather than reduce them to money values or standards imposed from above. (ibid p.36.)
The question is - how do we get a society like that? By political action allied to knowledge and understanding say the authors. Statistics can play a part here, for they are not just commodities produced in government departments, but aids to knowledge (and to damned lies of course). Just what you can construct with statistics does not depend solely upon your politics, for a major theme of this book is that statistics bear the mark of the social conditions of their production. The Registrar-General’s definition of class is tied to dimensions of social stratification by income, but does not provide any explanation, nor much data, on how class inequality is maintained. While the official lumping together of shareholding wealth by capitalists with workers’ possessions, like cars, mortgages and household effects, ignores the obvious difference that workers in general cannot use their meagre possessions to generate more wealth, while capitalists use their wealth to employ workers who create profits.

These then are some of the marks that statistics bear. A good deal of this book is concerned with re-writing statistical information for radical re-use, so that it may bear interpretations other than those dear to the hearts of government departments. The problems involved in doing so are somewhat overblown by the authors and this takes us to the heart of the matter. Can there be a socialist statistical science? Only to a limited extent until society has been revolutionised, as there is a conflict over reforming the statistical practice of government departments and trying to bring about a socialist revolution. The most effective way of ensuring that socialism never comes about would be for socialists to strive to reform the civil service and fall into the bottomless pit of fabianism. So, as far as socialists are concerned, over facts and figures we “simply have to make do with what is available” (ibid, p. 371). Not a startlingly new conclusion for a book of four hundred pages.

Though much of the argument in this volume goes with the grain of the socialist ease, yet a flaw runs throughout, coming out most clearly in the contributions by John Krige, where he says, in effect, that socialism can never become a science:
In contrast to the natural world, social reality is constructed in and by people’s more or less conscious beliefs and practices. Criticism of a natural scientific theory in the light of facts or a rival theory, while directed at the beliefs of those who hold it. leaves the object of the theory (the natural world) as it is. On the other hand, the object of the social sciences is the same as that which is being criticised, namely, people's beliefs and practices. Thus in criticising those beliefs and practices one aims to change both them and the social order which they reflect and reproduce, (ibid. P-60.)
A feature of twentieth century capitalism has been the amount of criticism it can absorb and the amount of reforming zeal it can incorporate, while remaining unchanged in its essentials. Contrary to the last part of the above quotation it is only criticism of workers’ beliefs that aims to stimulate the practice of democratic revolution, which aims to change the social order. Movements like women’s liberation, societies for social responsibility in science and radical statistics groups could well get much of what they want, yet see the current social relations corrupt female and male equality in sordid legislation and contracts; bewilder responsible science with Windscale farces; and obfuscate the best wealth and poverty statistics imaginable.

The only movement that would be proof against this corruption is a world majority of workers determined to get socialism. Once such a body comes into being, then the world changes, capitalism will be viewed as socialists have viewed it all along. But if the socialist majority never is achieved, then what capitalism is remains an open question, to be fought over by Milton Friedman, the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the rest.

The search for finality, for the perfect case about the physical or social world, using only completely demystified statistical data is a vain quest. Consider - would any such truth ever stop scientists from devising questioning experiments? Consider too the possibility that, when socialism is established, historian of capitalism will still wrangle among themselves over things like - 'was the post-war inflation caused by an excess issue of incontrovertible paper currency and could the various governments have ended inflation whenever they liked, or were they prisoners of their own spending policies? The details of what capitalism was are not all to be decided by a socialist revolution. So what? For years now socialists have possessed the information, the arguments and the strategy for bringing capitalism down. All we lack are numbers. This book suggests reasons why we haven’t got the numbers but they aren’t the right ones.’
B. K. McNeeney