Thursday, August 25, 2016

Leninist State vs. World Socialism (1987)

From the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

What can one say about the Socialist Workers Party except that they do quite rightly respond with indignation to the iniquities of capitalism and they do understand that there is a class struggle going on—even if their idea of the working-class is hopelessly narrow, including mainly manual workers rather than all people dependent upon selling their labour power in order to survive. The SWP is a radical party, in the old sense of not liking society as it is and wanting something to be done. This "something" they call socialism but despite their claim to be a socialist party, their speakers are conspicuously silent on, and their literature notably empty of any definition of socialism.

The Socialist Party has a clear definition of socialism; it will be a society of common, not state or private, ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution; there will be democratic and not minority control of social affairs; production will be solely for use rather than for sale or profit; there will be free access by all people to all goods and services, without the fetters of the money economy. All of that is clear and anyone who cares to go back to 1904 will find all of our literature advocating the same principled and unequivocal socialist aim.

What sort of society is the SWP aiming for?

The so-called socialist aim of the SWP has always been obscure. They regard the Bolshevik coup d’état in Russia as an example of a successful socialist revolution, yet they argue that after ten years of its happening Russia had become a state capitalist country which should be opposed by socialists. They have told workers to elect Labour governments whenever elections have taken place but they argue that Labour governments are anti-socialist. They have tried the opportunist policy of supporting courses of action and then dissociating themselves from the inevitably unpopular consequences. But now, after years of refusing to tell anyone what socialism means to them, the SWP has published a pamphlet The Future Socialist Society in which all is explained. They would have done themselves a favour to have kept their confusion a secret. They have done us a favour, for now we can see quite clearly that the SWP does not stand for socialism, but for a Leninist state—which should be resisted by all workers.

The Socialist State
There will be no state in a socialist society. The state is the body which has existed for as long as property society has existed, in order to defend the propertied ruling class against the propertyless majority. Socialism will be a classless society, without exploiters and exploited, rulers and ruled, coercion and submission. Not so, according to the SWP:
. . . the working class will have to create its own state. This state, like any other, will be a centralised organisation exercising ultimate authority in society and having at its disposal decisive armed force (p.8).
There is no point in having a state unless there are people to be bullied and coerced. According to the SWP, the new state will be bullying and coercing the capitalists—the exploiters who live by robbing the working class. But if the workers can dominate the capitalists with a state, why allow them to continue exploiting and robbing the workers? Why not immediately dispossess the parasite minority? Once the capitalists have been stripped of their power to exploit workers economically there will be no need to control them with a state: there will be a classless society without the need for a body of class rule. The SWP argue the absurd case that this all-powerful workers' state will "exercise ultimate authority in society" but for the authority over the most crucial aspect of society in which the capitalists will still be having power. In order to have authority over the exploiters on behalf of the exploited—it is like a proposal for the prisoners to be given control over the screws—there will need to be a new "socialist army":
The old capitalist armed forces . . . will be replaced with organisations of armed workers—workers’ militias (p.8).
Conscription will be re-introduced:
. . . service in the militia will be on a rota basis so as to train and involve the maximum number of workers in the armed defence of their power . . . (p.9).
We do not know whether the SWP would allow conscientious objectors to refuse military service under the new state or whether such dangerous subversives would be sent to "socialist prisons". The new militia will not only be an army but a police force also—a military police, in fact:
The militia will also be in charge of everyday law and order . . . they will perform far more effectively than the capitalist police (p.9).
No more getting away with breaking state-imposed laws under the new state: the crime detection rate of the "socialist police" is already guaranteed to be better than at present. There will be officers in the militia—no doubt they will have little red stripes on their uniforms to show us that they are "socialist" super-thugs, and
All officers in the militia will be elected . . . (p.9).
So, there you have it: establish SWP-style socialism and you get to vote for the Chief Inspector at your local nick.

The new state will have a "socialist government" which will probably be run by "the party which has led the revolution"(p.9). But not everyone will be allowed to vote for the government:
There will not be complete universal suffrage because the nature of the system will exclude the old bourgeoisie and its main associates from the electoral process (p. 10).
So capitalists will not have the vote. If there are still capitalists in the SWP's "socialist society" they would not need to vote, for capitalists have economic power already and the only use which voting performs is to get hold of that power. If the capitalists are abolished as a class, then firstly there is no need for a state—because there will be no contest between classes—and secondly it would be stupidly anti-socialist to deny votes to ex-capitalists who are now equal members of a classless society. Worse still, the SWP proposes to deny votes to the "main associates" of the old capitalists. Does that mean that all previous supporters of capitalism will have no right to vote? Or will the right to vote be denied to active anti-SWPers—including The Socialist Party, which would be working actively to democratically overthrow the new state? The Socialist Party need be in no doubt about our place in this horrific new state, for we are told that political parties will only be allowed to operate freely "providing they accept the basic framework of the revolution" (p.9). Quite simply, the new state will be undemocratic—and once there is a state of such power anyone can be placed in the role of one of the enemies of the state, denied the right to vote or to oppose the regime. All too often the first people to be persecuted by new states are the ones who helped to created them. Take the example of the SWP "promise" about the freedom of artists:
There will be no repetition of the disastrous Stalinist policy of proscribing particular artistic forms or proclaiming that only one style of art . . . has validity. Apart from reserving the right to prohibit direct counter-revolutionary propaganda, the revolutionary government will promote the maximum freedom in this area (pp.33-4).
Let us consider a practical case. Suppose there is a socialist film-maker under the new state who makes a good movie about the way in which life under a militia is not freedom but just another form of oppression. At the end of the film there is a scene in which a socialist makes a speech against the new regime, pointing out that wherever the state exists there is an absence of freedom. The new state bosses might conclude—quite rightly—that such a film could turn workers against the state, make them feel unfree, make them ungrateful to the government which had led them to supposed freedom, incite revolutionary activity which the state would regard as counter-revolutionary. The film would have to be banned, or parts of it censored. These are the inevitable requirements of running a coercive state. As the SWP tell us now, before we could be foolish enough to grant them such power.
. . . it has to be frankly stated that some repression, some use of direct force, will be necessary not only to overthrow the capitalist state but also after the revolution to maintain workers’ power (p.11).
As they say of their heroes, who established a previous "socialist state": "The Bolsheviks had no choice but to introduce a highly authoritarian regime" (p.12).

All of these absurd ideas about socialism are based upon three basic errors. Firstly, that "The class struggle does not come to an end with the victory of the revolution" (p.11). For the SWP, socialism is a class society in which one class rules over another. In fact, once workers gain control of the state our one simple task will be to abolish both classes and the state by means of the immediate dispossession of the capitalist minority. This will put an end to the class struggle forever. 

Secondly, that workers can take power in one country alone. The only action a socialist majority in one country can do is to use all its might to hasten the process of developing class consciousness of workers across the world. It is not possible to do that by setting up a so-called workers' state which would be forced to run capitalism in one country—state capitalism—and in doing so would set back the development of socialist ideas in other countries as workers looked on to see the failures of the "new socialist state". The SWP states that ". . . a workers' state cannot survive indefinitely in one country" (p.17). In fact, it would be fatal for workers ever to take responsibility for running a state in any country. The sole task of the workers against whom the state is used is to use the state for one purpose and then get rid of it.

Thirdly, the SWP accepts the ideas of Lenin about revolution as an act of leaders taking the majority who are led to a new social order: such an authoritarian revolution could only be like all previous revolutions in history, ending in the domination of the leaders, forming a new state over the led. So it was that the Bolsheviks promised to set up a dictatorship of the proletariat but in fact constructed a dictatorship over the proletariat. The SWP aim to do the same thing, with their own pathetic band of leaders in the 1980s role of the Lenins, Trotskys and probably plenty of Stalins. This is not a socialist vision, but a nightmare of Leninist state dictatorship which workers should not be tempted by but should resist.

The New Economy
Most of the SWP's pamphlet is devoted to describing the role of the new state. Conspicuously little is said about the economic arrangements under "the workers' state". It is admitted that "Socialism cannot be built in one country" (p.17). But the new state will exist in one country. So we must assume that it will be running capitalism—state capitalism. There is plenty of evidence in the pamphlet to suggest that this is what the SWP has in mind. We are told that "The formal mechanism through which economic power will be established is a familiar one, namely nationalisation" (p.14). Indeed, it is all too familiar: nationalisation can be simply translated as state-run capitalism. Not all of the means of wealth production will be nationalised: ". . . the working class will immediately . . . take into its hands all the major means of production in society" (p.14). Only the major ones, included among which will be
. . . nationalisation of the banks and the imposition of strict exchange controls backed by other revolutionary measures to prevent the inevitable attempt at a flight of capital abroad (p.14).
So, there will still be banks and capital under the SWP's "socialism". But some capitalists will be spared from being taken over by the new state capitalist: "Small businesses employing only one or two workers can mostly be left to later" (p.14).

Take note of that if you are currently working in a shop or sweatshop. Workers will continue to be in the working class, selling their labour power. Therefore they will need trade unions 
and the trade unions will also retain the right to strike, since even under a workers' state sections of the working class may need to defend their interests against abuse and should keep this ultimate weapon (p.13).
Incidentally, after the so-called workers' state was formed in Russia Trotsky told the workers that their trade unions could only be used to make the state-run industries more profitable and we have no guarantees that the new state rulers would not do the same if they had power.

If you are a "technical expert" who does not support the new state the SWP has some bad news for you:
. . . they will simply work for and under the direction of the factory or industrial council just as today they work for the bosses . . . If absolutely necessary they will have to perform with workers' guns at their heads . . . (pp.15-6).
We are referring here to scientists, auditors, architects, surgeons—all  of whom are now workers—people forced to sell their labour power in order to live. They are being told that life for them will be “Just as today", working for bosses and possibly having to do so with guns pointed at their heads. Workers will still be wage slaves, dependent on wages or salaries:
. . . the supply of goods will remain limited and workers will still work for money wages which in turn they will use to purchase these goods  (p.21).
So the workers under the new state will still have to buy the goods and services which they produce. From whom will they buy them? From the state which, like any other capitalist, produces nothing and sells what the workers produce to the workers.

A socialist society, based on the common ownership of all resources by all the people, would have no resemblance to what the SWP describes. There will be no classes, no banks or exchange controls or capital, and no money—for what use could money have in a society where everything belongs to everyone? The SWP simply do not understand this conception of a moneyless society of common ownership. Instead they offer confusing notions, such as that
in order to move, people will either transfer to vacant accommodation or exchange houses instead of buying and selling them (p.22).
The SWP is proposing the establishment of a system of barter to replace the buying and selling system. But it gets worse. Rather than the abolition of wages and money, which Marx pointed out is essential to socialism, they propose the gradual abolition of wages and money:
Buying and selling will fade away. Money . . . will steadily lose its usefulness to the point where it can be dispensed with altogether (p.22).
Now, either society is based on property in which there is buying and selling and a need for money or on propertyless common ownership. The two conditions are mutually exclusive: you can no more have a bit of both than you can be a bit pregnant. The SWP pamphlet writers know, because of their reading of Marx and their knowledge of The Socialist Party, that it would be a major mistake for them to try to describe a socialist society without mentioning the abolition of money and buying and selling. But they are petrified by the thought that this would make them appear utopian. After all, they are always telling The Socialist Party that although they know we are right in stating that socialism will be a moneyless, wageless, classless society it is folly to tell the workers that because they will reject socialism. That is Leninist arrogance: only some people—the leaders who monopolise theory—can be told the truth: for the workers it is better to offer palatable nonsense. That is why the SWP , in a confused and embarrassed manner, have inserted a few words alluding to the abolition of money, buying and selling—but only the gradual abolition, with money fading away—presumably one tenpenny piece at a time.

The SWP's picture of socialism would be a joke if the future of humanity was something to laugh about. In fact, given the supreme urgency of the need for socialist transformation of society, the nonsense being sold as socialism by the SWP is an insult to the intelligence of those who read it and a sinister picture of a Leninist state under which no worker should want to live.
Steve Coleman

Leninism v Anarchism (2012)

Book Review from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anarchism. A Marxist Criticism. by John Molyneux. Bookmarks. £4.

John Molyneux is the SWPer who wrote their 1987 pamphlet on The Future Socialist Society in which he stated that the first thing that would happen on the establishment of such a society would be that wages would be increased and also that engineers would be forced, if they refused to co-operate, to work with a gun at their head. Obviously, he was talking about a future state capitalist society.

His earlier pamphlet is still listed as ‘further reading’ in his new, 80-page booklet in which he criticises anarchists from an SWP viewpoint. His basic argument is that ‘through its rejection of parties in general and the Leninist party in particular anarchism merely contributes to the organisational and political disarmament of the working class’ (p. 29).

We can agree with his criticism of anarchists for their refusal to participate in elections and for their theory that it is the existence of the state rather than of capitalism that is the cause of working-class problems. But that’s about it. On the other hand, we can agree with the anarchist emphasis on the need to establish a stateless society and with their criticism of Leninism as the theory and practice of a would-be new ruling class.

Having said this – and Molyneux notes this too – some anarchists are themselves in effect vanguardists in that they seek as an ‘active minority’ to lead the working class in an assault on capitalism and the state. Molyneux appeals to such anarchists to be consistent and join a properly-structured leadership organisation.

Our appeal is to those anarchists who are committed to the concept of a self-organised majority revolution without leaders to be consistent and abandon their dogmatic opposition to the working class forming a political party to contest elections and eventually win control of political power, not to form a government but to immediately abolish capitalism and usher in the classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society that real socialism will be.
Adam Buick

The SUS Vagrancy Act (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently there has been a series of wrathful protests by various black-community pressure groups and capitalism’s left-wingers about the police abuse of the so-called “Sus” charge. “Sus” is the offence under s.4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 which provides for the arrest and punishment of “suspected persons” who “frequent or loiter in” a public place “with intent to commit an arrestable offence”, usually an alleged intention to steal.

Several features of this charge make it particularly susceptible to police abuse: “loiter” can refer to any presence except a direct expeditious passage through the place in question; it only requires two policemen to testify (on a book of archaic anecdotes from the Middle East) that they saw the accused “acting suspiciously” on two occasions which need only be minutes apart—first establishes the alleged offender as a “suspected person” the second constitutes his offence; conveniently for the police the accused has no right to trial by jury. Most of capitalism’s exasperated reformers and apologists were even more indignant to learn from Home Office statistics that 42 per cent of those arrested under this charge were “coloured” although this pigmentation-group only accounts for about 3 per cent of the population.

Somewhere in England a man is arrested and incarcerated by a blue-hatted member of his own species for being suspected of intending to take some food from a market stall and . . .  eat it. The hand-cuffs snap shut in the shadows cast by Europe’s huge food mountains. This fleeting moment typifies a social system fraught with contradictions: poverty alongside prosperity, prisons alongside palaces. Modern capitalism has produced tension between human development and political restraint: a man with a twenty-function, battery-operated, liquid-crystal display watch on one wrist and a handcuff on the other, linking him to a policeman leading him to a cell. The digital wrist watch evidences a level of technological advancement and, because it is produced in a factory, our capacity to provide for social needs. Our technology and productive capacity is, however, manifestly NOT being used to maximise the health and welfare of humanity. This global system with its motto of “no ’profit, no production” draws reins on the existing manufactural potential. This tension was explained by Karl Marx:
At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations, within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into fetters. (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Preface)
For capitalism to continue the notion of property must stand unassailed, but as the system works on minority ownership of the means of life (the land, factories, mills, mines and offices) a factory owner or state will need more than scrolled title deeds to defend a use of the factory which serves the interest of the owner at the expense of the non-owning working class. As the interests of the owner and the non-owner are necessarily at loggerheads — the non-owner is given a wage or salary which has to be worth less than what he has produced in order for the owner to make a profit — capitalism requires constant enforcement of its property ideology. With the advent of industrial production in the early nineteenth century an increasingly comprehensive force was required to maintain the private ownership of society’s means of production.

Since the days of the Bow Street Runners, organised by Henry Fielding after his appointment as a magistrate in 1749, the principal function of the police has been the protection of property. From the cradle we are fed the idea, often in unwritten, unspoken axioms, that the protection of property is in the best interests of everyone. Yet, while for a member of the working class “property” relates to such things as an inquest at school when a pair of plimsolls goes missing; savings he must declare as a supplicant at the Social Security Office, or the semi-detached house for which his mortgage demands a lifetime of payment, “property” for a member of the capitalist class means the enforceable right to use his land, factory or office for optimum profit irrespective of human need.

Every time an arrest is made on “sus”, a number of points should be apparent. First, that the daily enforcement of the laws of ownership in the arena of personal chattels in cases of pickpocketing, shoplifting or mugging is remote from the real focal point of property: the fact that the property of some is society’s means of life. Second, that “crimes" which at first sight have no connection with property—like crimes of violence—are an upshoot of this society which aches with splendour amidst squalor, glorified butchery in war, the shackle of institutionalised monogamy and where, perhaps anaesthetised with alcohol or drugs, sporadic violence is wrought by many of those ditched by capitalism’s competitive chaos.

If the Vagrancy Act which affords the “sus” charge were to be repealed tomorrow, what would be the result? It would be of scant relief to the hundreds of people, mostly black youths, who were likely to be seized by the police every week while the Act was in force. Capitalism would continue as normal. The need for the Accounts Book to always aim for profit would keep nigh on two million people unemployed, and racism would continue to simmer as scapegoats are sought. Blame would still be cast on the “coloured immigrant” despite the fact that areas most blighted with unemployment like Glasgow and Belfast house virtually no such “immigrants”. Coloured people would still find employment harder to obtain than “whites”, would still be left to do about the most anyone can, with no work and the dole-pittance—loiter; would still be bullied by the police who would then resort to a whole range of Statutes and common law precedents to authorise street searches and arrests. Wage-slave policemen eager for promotion or simply to taste the “action” glamourised in recruitment commercials would still abuse their powers.

Policemen with softer truncheons, or reduced powers, will solve no working class problem. While the idea of property reigns the police will remain to protect the minority ownership of the means of life and to maintain the morality and discipline in the working class which is necessary if the majority is to abide the system which offers them employment, unemployment and sometimes conscription while dividends, rents and profits are pushed through the letter-boxes of the capitalist class.
Gary Jay

Roy Jenkins and his “new” Centre Party (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rise of the Labour Party towards the status of the Other Government of British Capitalism has been marked in many disreputable ways—among them their nurturing of an alternative aristocracy. Alternative, that is, to those High Tories who grew up in the comfortable assumption that they are fitted to rule through a superiority which cannot be made or bought or imitated because it is inborn. The components of this superiority typically include an education at Eton, followed by one of the more select colleges at Oxbridge like Balliol or Kings and perhaps what is known as service as an officer in a Guards regiment. Backed up by the ownership of a few thousand acres and a lucrative share portfolio, this is what raises the Tory aristocrats above upstarts like Peter Walker and Ted Heath who, although they are both rich and cunning, plainly lack the uncommon touch.

The Labour version of aristocrats have similar assumptions about their fitness to rule but the components are somewhat different. For them, it is advantageous to have been born in some humble Welsh mining village, to have gone to the local grammar school and won a place at university perhaps after a couple of trade union-sponsored years at Ruskin College. Then they are fitted to move into Parliament, and the government, and to set about organising the more efficient exploitation of the workers they have left behind in the valleys.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Occasionally some hard-handed worker from the docks or the gas works will embarrass the Tories by believing what they say about this being a classless society and insisting on becoming one of their propagandists. When the opposite happens, when a member of the landed gentry or some effete lover of the high life joins the Labour Party, the embarrassment is less acute—which says a lot about what Labour is in business for.

One exception who has caused the Labour Party considerable anguish is Roy Jenkins, who is now threatening to inflict upon the British working class yet another political party to compete for their vote on a programme compounded of platitudes, evasions and lies. Jenkins, we are told, is someone we should all be grateful for; his name can hardly be penned by Fleet Street hacks without being preceded by adjectives like urbane, elegant, cultivated . . . He is said to like duchesses and fine food and wine and was once derided by his arch rival on the Tory benches, Iain Macleod, as one whose “. . .  disdain for his political opponents is only matched by his contempt for his political friends”. But not all his friends; when Hugh Gaitskell was Labour leader, it was said that Jenkins was a regular guest at his Hampstead home where, with people like Crosland, Douglas Jay and Gordon Walker, policy was settled over generous drafts of wine.

Jenkins is one who was born into the alternative aristocracy, a Welshman whose father was a miners’ MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Clement Attlee. Unlike some Labour Members — for example Neil Kinnock — he has never made a profession (or should it be religion?) of his Welshness. For one thing, if he ever had a Welsh accent he must have worked hard at eliminating it. (Perhaps that is why he has trouble with his Rs; his supporters must tremble at the prospect that one day he will claim that his Centre Party is ‘‘wesponsbile, wadical, weforming”.)

From Abersychan Grammar School Jenkins went first to University College Cardiff and then to Oxford, where he was a very receptive scholar and became chairman of the Labour Club. His first government post of any weight was as Minister of Air, in 1964, followed by Home Secretary and then, when Callaghan resigned in 1967 over devaluation, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In all these jobs, he proved himself to have the qualities necessary to an administrator of capitalism.

First, flexibility: in a broadcast two days before the March 1966 election he commended Labour’s way of planning:
This government has not yet got the problem fully under control but George Brown’s constructive and determined approach offers much the biggest hope.
He then advised the electors:
In our short period of Labour government I believe we have earned a renewal of your support. I ask you to give us that support . . .  and to give it this time, by a clear and decisive majority.
Well the workers took this advice but very soon Jenkins seemed to think that it had been misguided, saying tartly to Crossman at the end of a Cabinet meeting in December 1966, “I’d give anything for evidence that we have a long term plan for any part of this Government’s policy, thank you very much Dick.” (Richard Crossman, Diary of a Cabinet Minister.)

Second, rigidity. As Chancellor, Jenkins won a reputation as the unbending advocate of the familiar, discredited proposition that the problems of the British capitalist class could best be solved by a drastic cut in working class living standards. Thus he was in favour of compulsory wage restraint and agreed to abandon the idea only on condition that the union-restricting laws set out in the infamous White Paper In Place of Strife would be introduced instead. In Cabinet in January 1968 Jenkins insisted on the reimposition of prescription charges, the abolition of which was an article of Labour Party faith, “. . . because the issue had become a matter of confidence with the bankers.” (Crossman). His performance in pushing through, in elegant speeches, Labour’s 1968 programme of public spending cuts, which embraced other historically cherished Labour objects like raising the school leaving age and publicly financed housing, was so valuable to the capitalist class that Harold Wilson felt moved to pay him this tribute: “My greatest asset was the firmness and determination of the Chancellor in the presentation of the balanced package.” (The Labour Government, 1964/70).

No doubt Jenkins carried out his hatchet job with all the civilised manners for which he is famous. Indeed, such was the nonchalance of this dedicated servant of British capitalism that he was suspected of being lazy. "I find it a little strange”, grumbled Crossman, “That on a Monday he can sit in his cottage and that he always finds time to dine out and take life easy. Moreover, he doesn’t know his Treasury briefs as well as Callaghan did.” It was just as well that Crossman kept this to himself for a while; by 1970 the Labour government, and Jenkins’ policies, were unpopular enough without the working class being additionally enraged by this lack of attention to Treasury write-ups.

After Labour’s defeat in 1970 there were signs that Jenkins was getting restless with his party. His friends may have been alarmed at further symptoms of a serious disturbance in his political balance. He began, even in his guarded moments, to do the unthinkable to admit that he was a failure, although he deftly converted this admission into a reason for giving him and his party another chance, on the grounds that they may have learned from his mistakes. In a typical speech to a Labour gathering in March 1972 he made these admissions:
. . .  the poverty and wretchedness in this country are a greater reproach to Mr. Heath, or indeed to myself, as a Minister in a recent Government . . .  In spite of half a century (sic) of effort, our society—and still more our world—is still disfigured by gross unfairness . . .
The poor are still poor. Property speculators—and others—are as relatively rich as were those with an accepted position at the top of the social structure.
(Observer, 12.3.72).
This sudden revelation that Labour government, and he also, had flopped did not persuade Jenkins to abandon his candidature. Nor did it stop him, when Labour came back in 1974, imposing another dose of his failure on the working class by again accepting the job of Home Secretary. It seemed however that he was unsettled in that job, feeling that his svelte talents should have been more gratefully rewarded. He did not applaud Callaghan’s election to the leadership. Callaghan did not go to university, was breezy and avuncular and shows little knowledge of wine or table napery. And Labour’s new leader also showed scant regard for Jenkins; according to Alan Watkins (Observer 15.6.80), “Mr. Callaghan made it clear . . . that in his opinion Jenkins’s career in British politics was over.” This warring, it should be remembered, happened in a party whose grass roots members delude themselves that it stands for working class unity for socialism.

In 1976, Jenkins showed what he thought of unity and of Labour’s crisis-ridden attempts to run capitalism. With the government reeling and listing in heavy waters, he was one of the first rats over the side, striking out for the calmer (and better paid) waters of the Presidency of the EEC. Labour’s irritation at this well-publicised evacuation was aggravated when they lost Jenkins's seat at the subsequent by-election. Some politicians fail. Others lose a fight. Some make mistakes. Jenkins proved that he is indeed someone special: he did all three.

Should he then be trusted? From the ashes he rises and invites the working class to degrade themselves under yet another style of capitalism. His 1979 Dimbleby Lecture, in which he spelt out the case for a Centre Party—and for himself as leader—listed the objects which could be “assisted” by such a party: to control the scope of the state; to offer consumers more say; to make the “nation” more “confident” and “outward looking”; to have class divisions “fade” and that same “nation” achieve a “renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose”. These stale platitudes spouted from a man who is supposed to be one of capitalism’s great political thinkers. It is difficult to imagine how anyone, no matter how ignorant, could offer anything less original or efficacious.

Jenkins’ temerity in putting himself, and his proposed Centre Party, forward illuminates one of the persistent fallacies which help to keep capitalism in being. The working class are at present convinced that leadership is necessary. This belief sometimes demands one style of leader blunt, abrasive, overwhelming like Ernie Bevin. And sometimes it demands another type — suave, smooth, underwhelming like Jenkins. It is time the workers rid themselves of this baseless, debilitating theory; the style and the personality of a leader is of no consequence. All of them are powerless to control capitalism, which means that, whoever thinks they are in charge of the system, it will continue to have its dehumanising way with the people who support it and who are deceived by the wheedling of its leaders.

So choosing between Jenkins and his Centre Party and the rest is meaningless; it is like stating a preference for your own executioner. We would do better to keep our heads—and to trust ourselves.

The future of oil (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

North Sea oil and gas once—seen as the saviours of British capitalism—should be seen in relation to British and world capitalism, and to long-term energy requirements. In essence none of the economic and social problems is new, not even the environmental ones. For example, when wood was the domestic and industrial fuel in Britain the government, belatedly, had to step in to prevent the woodlands being entirely destroyed.

The history of this century has seen several big change-overs in the predominant source of energy. Coal, which had been mined on a small scale by the Romans but was then neglected for centuries, came into its own as wood supplies dwindled. Output rose from 5 million tons in 1750 to 60 million a hundred years later, and reached its peak of 287 million tons in 1913. Then rapid decline set in and current production is about 125 million. Now, in the words of a report by the world’s seven leading oil companies: “Oil, which once ousted coal as the dominant energy source, can do little more than meet the current level of demand over the next twenty years. After that it will be down hill all the way.” (Financial Times, 22 April 1980.)

Oil became dominant with the motor age. Imports of oil products into Britain, only 200,000 tons in 1913, were 100 million tons in 1973. Since then the fast development of North Sea oil has nearly reached self-sufficiency and there is the prospect of a surplus for export during the 1980s. Now a new phase opens, following the agreement reached in June at the Venice meeting of seven industrial nations (USA, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Italy) to reduce their dependence on oil by 1990 and to cover the gap by developing coal production and making increased use of nuclear energy, solar energy and other resources.

In view of what has happened in the past to many plans and declarations of intent, this one should be regarded with caution. Indeed, within days, Margaret Thatcher was explaining that the agreement did not mean what it seemed. If, however, British coal production was doubled, it would bring total output to the level of 1922—but with one big difference. It would not increase the number of miners, now under 300,000, to over a million as it was in 1922. With the revolution in mining techniques, the main increase in the number of jobs would not be in the pits but in the industries producing the sophisticated and costly mining machinery and equipment, and the resulting total would be nothing like a million. One result of the coal revival is that all the big oil companies are now making massive investments in coal mining and in the use of coal to make oil and chemicals.

While British oil production has been soaring, in the USA it has fallen. In 1961 American oil output was by far the largest in the world, double that of Russia, which enabled America to be self-sufficient up to 1970. Now, consuming a third of all world oil production, America is the world’s biggest importer, at a cost in 1980 of about £45,000 million. In home output they now rank third, with Saudi Arabia and Russia well ahead; though increased exploration under the stimulus of high world oil prices will result in an increase of production for some time.

According to Western observers (where widely different conclusions must however be accepted with reserve) Russian capitalism also has its energy problems. Mark Frankland (Observer, 22 June 1980), after discounting the wilder forecasts, considers that Russian oil production and exports may soon reach a peak and begin to decline. On the other hand, Russia has one-third of world gas reserves, the largest coal reserves, considerable unused hydro-electrical potential, and fast-growing nuclear power.

In Frankland’s view, Russia’s difficulty is that, owing to location, it is becoming “monstrously expensive” to develop new oilfields. Other observers believe that the wasteful use of energy in past years has made it increasingly difficult for Russia to expand its manufacturing and agricultural output. The Financial Times (1 April 1980) says that Russia and her East European dependencies “use twice or three times the amount of energy used in the West for a comparable output”.

Major disruption to all the oil importing countries was caused in 1973 when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) enormously increased their prices. Dominating oil production, and with 80 per cent of all known resources outside Russia, they were able to band together, threaten to withhold supplies and force the importers to pay more. In 1973 they put prices up from $3 to $8 a barrel, and have since raised it to $35. Some forecasters expect $65 by 1990.

After years of weak, competitive marketing, during which the OPEC countries had been accepting payment in fast depreciating dollars and pounds (while having to pay constantly rising prices for the industrial goods they imported), they have learned the old capitalist principle of selling at the highest price the market will bear. Their action was met with sanctimonious accusations of “greed” and “irresponsibility” and with threats of armed force to take over Middle East oil.

As happens with all monopolies, OPEC itself is temporarily in some trouble. High world oil prices, and the depression, have reduced sales and current production is in excess of demand. But OPEC still commands the situation, and the American Department of Energy takes an alarmist view of the chaos that could be created if output by some of the main suppliers declines (as in Iran) or is deliberately cut to raise prices further. Later on in the 1980s it may be, as suggested in the Sunday Telegraph (15 June 1980) that “OPEC’s domination of world oil supplies is likely to be eroded . . .  by the build-up of production in non-OPEC areas, notably Mexico, the North Sea and the Far East”.

Dr. Hammer, Chairman of Occidental Petroleum (Sunday Telegraph 29 June 1980) looks to two big additions to world oil production; first China and, more importantly, the commercial working of shale-oil. According to him, shale-oil reserves in America are two and a half times greater than all the Western world's known oil reserves. In the past extraction has been too costly, but this is changing with the spectacular rise of world oil prices.

New panic broke out when Russia invaded Afghanistan, with the implication, in the eyes of Western observers, that it was the prelude to a drive towards Middle East oil. Exceptionally, The Times (24 June 1980) suggested that the Western Powers should “seriously consider selling equipment to the Soviet Union to expand its oil production, Afghanistan or no Afghanistan".

As regards the problem of world reserves of oil, past experience has been that, in spite of constantly growing consumption, each decade has shown an increase in estimates of total untapped reserves. A survey quoted in the Financial Times (3 June 1980) shows that proved world reserves rose from 554 billion barrels in 1970 to 655 billion in 1979. Other estimates put the ultimate peak of reserves at a very much higher figure before decline sets in.

The real problem is a different one. In oil, as in coal, when the easily accessible sources are worked out, the tendency is for each ton produced to need an increasing amount of labour, showing itself in the enormous investments of capital required for North Sea oil and for the expansion of coal output. Investment in North Sea oil in 1979 was £2,000 million.

One aspect of the current situation is the odd belief of many economists and politicians that because North Sea oil is under British control and does not have to be imported, this spells prosperity for the working class. They forget that they are dealing with capitalism, which does not produce for use but for sale at a profit. They should look at the history of coal production; for decades before 1913, when coal was king, British capitalism had huge coal reserves under its control and a big export market, but this did not prevent miners suffering long spells of heavy unemployment and being forced to accept wage reductions in periodical depressions.

While the Venice conference was in session, the Daily Mail (24 June 1980) announced that doubling of coal production meant “a rosy new future for the miners”. But in the House of Commons the same day Thatcher explained that the increase of output was to take place in America, Canada and elsewhere with lower production costs, and said: “I do not expect what happened at the Venice summit to have any impact on coal in this country unless we have sharply increased productivity and thereby competitive prices” (The Times, 25 June 1980).

For miners it spells, not a rosy future, but having to meet cheap coal imports.
Edgar Hardcastle