Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lenin - "Shoot the idlers" (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the July 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Yes indeed, Lenin did say, "One out of every ten idlers will be shot on the spot" (Gary Cubbage's letter, June Socialist Standard). This is from his "How to Organise Competition" written in December 1917, well before Stalin or the market economy of the NEP had provided Trotskyist excuses. It is also quoted in the article, "Lenin & Blanqui, Victims of Self-Deception” in the Nov/Dec 1984 issue of “Socialist Comment” journal of the WSPA.

In researching that article and checking through the three volumes of the Moscow edition of Lenin's Selected Works, I was struck by the numerous times that Lenin made statements that differed depending on the type of audience. One of the most significant is his address to the Conference of Political Education Workers in 1920 admitting that it is a “utopian view that workers are ready for socialism” contrasting with his more optimistic statements to a wider audience.

This demonstrates the opportunism forced on leaders trying to capture and hold onto power, and to influence events in the face of working class lack of understanding, cooperation and support. And the Russian working class was, in addition, a minority class.

Of course, if majority understanding existed it would negate the need for leaders anyway and change the whole concept of the revolutionary capture of political power and its implications, and to come back to Gary's letter, also of the question of 'the lazy man'.

Latter-day Leninist parties have learned little from Lenin's experience as revealed in his writings, of trying to deal with those problems to which he, his tactics and his hopes ultimately succumbed. A few months before his death, a disillusioned Lenin admitted, 'we lack enough civilisation to enable us to pass straight on to socialism”. Coining a new confusing definition of the system in Russia, he bemoaned the fact that “Not a single book has been written about state capitalism under communism. It did not occur even to Marx to write a word on this subject; and he died without leaving a single precise statement or definite instruction on it”. Why Marx should have written instructions for running state capitalism Lenin doesn't say.

In thus finally, and perhaps unwittingly acknowledging the vast gap between his and Marx's concept of a post-capitalist revolutionary society, Lenin also gives the lie to those of his followers who hold the opposite view - that they corresponded.

Lenin's life should be read as a cautionary tale by would-be revolutionaries, although it could provide a few drastic pointers to those seeking to organise competition.

Yours fraternally,
William Robertson

Bothies: Any Volunteers? (2017)

From the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
When socialists introduce our fellow-workers to the concept of common ownership, of making work voluntary, we frequently meet with the response, 'It's all very well but it can’t happen in practice'. This often makes socialists rock back on our heels with surprise because we can see all around us where the principles of cooperation and mutual aid are applied by ordinary folk with a shared need.
A 'bothy' was traditionally a building constructed for the accommodation of farm or estate workers. However, these days it means a building used as shelter for hill-walkers and climbers, mostly in remote areas. The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) maintains about 100 shelters across Great Britain. These shelters are unlocked and are available for anyone to use. The maintenance and upkeep is carried out by volunteers.  Users are asked to follow a 'bothy code' which prohibits the use of the buildings by commercial groups, for example by guided tours or adventure holidays although they are free to use the bothies as a lunch shelter or in the event of a genuine emergency. It is only profit-seeking commercial groups that abuse this. As the BMA complained in a statement last August:
'There have been incidents when legitimate bothy users have been made to feel unwelcome, inconvenienced or even refused entry when commercial groups have been in residence. Our volunteers who maintain the bothies, not unreasonably, feel aggrieved to know that their hard work is contributing to the profits of a business that probably does not support our organisation in any way.'
As one user explained "Of course, not everyone is going to be your new best pal, and there are people who simply prefer to keep their own company, but the one thing you should be able to rely on from a bothy companion is trustworthiness and mutual assistance. I've both given and received advice in bothies, shared someone's last teabag and seen a drookit (drenched) traveller clad for the night in bits and pieces of several others' dry clothes while his own hung in front of the fire. In a bothy you really are all in it together".
Also we should not ignore how ramblers and mountaineers rely upon mountain rescue volunteers in an emergency. Rescue teams give up their time to provide a free service to people who request assistance. Volunteers save lives and are available 24/7, 365 days a year, in all weather conditions. Some suggest that in socialism unpleasant and dangerous jobs would be avoided but there never seems to be any lack of volunteers for mountain rescue.
And who would willingly place themselves in a life-threatening position? Well, lifeboat crews of the non-state organisation, the RNLI, voluntarily and without recompense risk their lives in storms at sea for the welfare of others and the common good of society. And there exists a waiting list of suitable applicants to join it, so recruitment is not a problem.
Kropotkin, the author of Mutual Aid, pointed out:
'The crew of a lifeboat do not ask whether the men of a distressed ship are entitled to be rescued at a risk of life... One of the noblest achievements of our century is undoubtedly the Lifeboat Association. Since its first humble start, it has saved no less than thirty-two thousand human lives. It makes appeal to the noblest instincts of man; its activity is entirely dependent upon devotion to the common cause, while its internal organisation is entirely based upon the independence of the local committees'. (Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles).
One thing we don't require to be told is people's capacity to organise self-help in support of each another. Along with many other charities these are affirmations of our humanity.

Obituary: Death of L. Jones (1947)

Obituary from the May 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death on April 5th of comrade Lew Jones of Leyton Branch, at the early age of 33. Comrade Jones joined the Party in 1933, and soon showed his all-round capacity and single-minded devotion to the Socialist cause. He studied hard to gain knowledge, and steadily applied himself to becoming a speaker and writer. His quiet and persuasive manner and his care for accuracy of statement made him a very effective propagandist in speech and in writing. He was secretary of the Branch for many years and treasurer until his death. He gave great help in editorial work and for a few weeks this year he was working as part-time assistant to the editorial committee, but owing to a worsening of his health during the recent spell of bitterly cold weather, he regretfully had to give it up. During the war, while working on the land to which he had been directed by a Conscientious Objector Tribunal, he contracted pleurisy.

He was refused a medical certificate and had to continue digging ditches in spite of his condition. As a result tuberculosis developed and he was very ill for the two years before his death. It was only towards the end of 1916 that he was reported to be sufficiently recovered to resume light work.. In spite of the further relapse he was looking forward eagerly to resuming activities in a few weeks and his great concern was that his illness should have interfered with his work. In the last few days before he died he was working on an article. The Socialist movement has lost a fine and valuable comrade.

We express our sympathy with his family.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

They Never Had It So Good In 1860 (1962)

From the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pick up any governmental speech, or article in the newspapers, on the subject of strikes and it is an even chance that a dividing line will be drawn between the “bad old days” when strikes were legitimate and the present time when strikes are said to be unnecessary, useless, dangerous and immoral. Nowadays, they will say, the workers are well off and don’t need to strike; and what is more, “the country” is in such a precarious state that strikes will lose markets for British goods and cause suffering all-round, to the strikers among others.

It is a seductive line but not at all persuasive when you realise that the same arguments were being advanced back in "the bad old days” of a century ago, as may be seen in the Quarterly Review, which in 1860 published an unsigned article on strikes, with particular reference to Papers on strikes read to the British Association in 1838 and 1854.

It started off with some splendid blarney about what a fine worker the Englishman was and how French peasants at Rouen, seeing English railway builders for the first time, gaped in wonder and admiration at the energy, the dexterity and the vast output, (It is possible, of course, that the translator was at fault and that the bench peasants were really saying "did you ever see such clots? ”).

The next thought of the writer in the Quarterly was that it was only right that such magnificent workers should be "liberally remunerated" and receive "a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.” He was not, however leading up to the theme that workers ought to be paid more but that they were already being paid enough:
  At no previous period has so large a number of skilled workmen received higher wages, and in no country are they able to live more comfortably upon the proceeds of their toil, if we except only those new colonies in which land is unusually abundant. There never was a time when skill and diligence received more general encouragement, or in which there was a greater disposition to do honour to the lot of the labour.
Not only were workers well off, but look at the chances they had of becoming really wealthy: “It is notorious that many of our most successful employers, and some of our largest capitalists have sprung directly from the working class . . ."

There never had been such working class affluence, indeed, the writer clearly thought it had been a bit overdone. ’’Will it be believed that the annual earnings of many families engaged in the cotton manufacture amount to more than the average incomes of the clergy of England?"

And London engineering workers were getting more than "the whole body of dissenting Ministers": iron workers being paid as much as an army captain with ten years’ service: and other workers with a larger income "than falls to the lot of most professional men." The figures given for these Staffordshire "ball-furnace men” were £300 to £400 a year (“when trade is brisk”). At current prices this would be equivalent to between £1,500 and £2,000: “Yet the houses of these favoured labourers are scenes of disgusting untidiness and squalor.”

But in 1860, as now, all was not well. The affluent workers did not always appreciate their good fortune, or understand how easily it could be destroyed. Some of them formed unions and came out on strike, whereas if well advised they would have been abstemious, saved money and joined the ranks of the capitalists.

If these workers came out on strike they were, said the writer, flying in the face of all experience because, as he sought to show with lots of examples, all strikes are either defeated or else they gain only temporary victory or they drive trade into the hands of foreign rivals. (He omitted to explain how the French could capture English markets in view of his quoted evidence that one Englishman did as much work as eight Frenchmen).

He summed up his arguments about the futility of strikes with the declaration: “Indeed there is not an instance of any extensive strike, no matter how well organised and supported, having ended otherwise then in suffering and defeat to the workmen.”

But he was not at all confident that workers would be convinced by what he thought he had proved. He feared that though you might prove "by political economy" that strikes were useless, some workers just would not be convinced. He quoted the case of a trade unionist who “boldly declared in Hyde Park"—"If political economy is against us, then we are against political economy! ”

There were other workers trying to resist machinery—he noted in passing that the workers were often encouraged to do this by rival employers.

It was all there, just like today, and not forgetting the final gentle admonishment to the employers:
   At the same time, employers ought not to stand too strongly upon their rights, nor entrench themselves too exclusively within the circle of their own order. Frankness and cordiality will win working men’s hearts, and a ready explanation will often remove misgivings and dissatisfaction. Were there more trust and greater sympathy between classes, there would be less disposition to turn out on the part of men and a more accommodating spirit on the part of masters.
Edgar Hardcastle

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Capitalism against apartheid (1987)

Book Review from the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism and Apartheid. South Africa 1910-1986. by Merle Lipton (Wildwood House. 1986). 

Defining capitalism as what we would call private capitalism, Merle Lipton argues in this well-documented book that capitalists (both private capital in South Africa and international capital with investments there) do not want, and never really did want, apartheid. In particular they do not want its application to the labour market (job reservation for whites, pass laws for blacks), seeing it as a costly and cumbersome brake on capital accumulation.

Lipton makes the point, however, that it would be a mistake to see capital in South Africa as a monolithic bloc with a single interest: different sections of the capitalist class have different interests and in the beginning some sections did support some aspects of apartheid:
   Capitalists in SA have never been unanimously or wholeheartedly in favour of apartheid. During the first half of this century, the economically and politically more important farmers and mine-owners supported some major apartheid policies, which the less important manufacturing and commercial capitalists had less interest in or opposed. Over time, particularly since the mid-1960s, opposition to apartheid increased among all capitalists, particularly those in the fast-growing manufacturing and commercial sectors.
Today most sections of the capitalist class in South Africa are opposed to apartheid. Thus in 1975 the then President of the Chamber of Mines. A.W.S. Schuman. said "aside from the human rights argument — the right of a worker to sell his labour on the best market — I doubt whether we can afford restrictions which prevent the market from finding in a capitalist fashion its own level and a sound balance between supply and demand", while the Natal Sugar Farmers declared in evidence to a government enquiry in 1977 that "workers should be allowed free labour movement and choice of employer . . .  no undue restrictions should be placed on the right of employers to employ whom they like . . . the abolishing of the present system of restrictive legislation and the encouragement of a free system of competition in an open labour market will ensure better utilisation of available manpower".

But the demands of the South African capitalists go beyond merely instituting a free labour market in South Africa. They want, as a logical development of this, to give the black urban working class that has emerged a permanent stable situation. As Lipton puts it. speaking of the 1970s:
   Increasingly, urban businessmen wanted their workers to have a stake in society, to live with their families in their own homes, and to be well supplied with shops, amenities, and entertainment. They believed this would reduce black turnover and increase competition for white jobs, and also make for a less explosive situation and a more contented black working and middle class, enjoying higher standards of consumption and providing a larger domestic market for their goods.
But even this would not be enough for the logic of capitalism in South Africa:
    The strategy pursued by capital in response to black unrest therefore went beyond a reformist welfare programme; even when it did not explicitly embrace political reform, it envisaged a restructuring of society that involved a shift from the hierarchical racial structure to a class structure, which would be difficult to reconcile with separate political rights.
This case for a non-racial capitalism in South Africa (which Merle Lipton herself supports) has of course been consistently put over the years by Harry Oppenheimer. until recently chairman of the giant Anglo-American Corporation and by MP Helen Suzman, author Alan Paton and others, and is now explicitly advocated by the main white opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party. 

But if, as is the case, South Africa is a capitalist country and if, as is also the case, apartheid conflicts with the interests of capital, why was apartheid introduced and why does it still exist? Here historical and political, and not merely economic, factors must be taken into account to explain that, although the capitalist class is the economically dominant class in South Africa it has not (except for two brief periods in the 1920s and 1940s) and still does not exercise complete political control.

The political party which has had an iron grip on state power since 1948 - the National Party - came to power as the representative of backward sections of the owning class in South Africa, in particular Boer farmers, with the support of poor white Afrikaner workers in the towns, mobilised under the banner of anti-English, anti-black and anti semitic Afrikaner nationalism. The NP used its control of political power to codify and legally enforce the already existing social and residential segregation (racial classification, ban on mixed marriages, separate facilities, etc), but also to try to go further and impose an economic segregation by preventing the emergence of a permanent African urban working class.

Naturally this eventually failed since, although political power can slow down for a while the economic changes that capitalism brings (in this case, the emergence of a permanent African urban working class) it cannot hold them up indefinitely. All that the vicious NP governments of the 1950s and 1960s were able to do was, at enormous human cost, to put the clock back for a while. Eventually, even within Afrikaner nationalism, an openly pro-capitalist wing emerged, based on the modem Afrikaner capitalist class that had developed with investments in mining, manufacturing and commerce and not just agriculture. These exerted pressure for "reform" for the abandoning of economic apartheid (ending the job colour bar. relaxing the pass laws, granting property and voting rights to urban Africans, and so on) which recent NP governments have accepted and implemented. The current state President. P W Botha, is in fact a representative of this verligtes ("enlightenened") wing of Afrikaner nationalism.

The next step which the South African government is sooner or later going to be obliged to take will be the granting of political rights to Africans at national level. Botha has already conceded this in principle but, as Merle Lipton explains in the last part of her book and as is evidenced by the daily news bulletins, he has certain political difficulties in managing an orderly transition towards it. When it happens this will represent the end of the attempt, so costly in terms of additional human misery, to impose a colour bar inherited from colonial times on a modem capitalist economy. But the non-racial capitalist regime that would then emerge would still leave working class problems unsolved. It would merely mean that South Africa would have caught up historically with the rest of the modern capitalist world.
Adam Buick

Monday, May 22, 2017

Drum (1957)

From the September 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received a recent edition of the magazine Drum, published in Accra, in the new state of Ghana, edited by Mr. Drum and claiming the “Biggest Sale in Africa.”

What is it like, this paper of the rising continent? Is there anything fresh about it? Hardly. Here are all the well-known features of the less-respected and therefore well-established British journals. Consider the advertisements. A Negro woman applies, with a fetching smile, the same brand of skin cream as a million budding English roses. Successful men (Negroes, sitting at many-telephoned desks) underline their success with the right shoe polish. And here is the father and wife and picaninnies, beaming vigorously and full of a popular laxative. Detergents and blood tonics jostle on the page with disinfectants and pep-pills.

There is an interesting article alleging the existence of slavery on the Spanish-held island of Fernando Po, in the Gulf of Guinea. This article reproduces a poster issued by the Anglo-Spanish Employment Agency, which promises a life of sophisticated leisure on Fernando Po. the poster sketches a Negro in traditional pukka-sahib garb, complete with topee and carrying an umbrella! A few pages are taken up with a chillingly meticulous description of the procedure followed in executions in James Fort Prison, Accra, including pictures of a doctor and a priest leaving just after a hanging. There are comic strips (one of them about a Negro boxer taking on a Chinaman in, of all places, Switzerland), some tit-bits, jokes, and a mystery story. 

A heartbreak column is run by Dolly. A young man complains that his girl-friend drinks heavily, swears at him, has secret love affairs. Dolly's advice, If the girl is given to having secret affairs, forget her, . . .  as such a situation is not a desirable one” To a teacher who has fallen for one of his pupils she says: “To have an affair with one of your pupils would be abusing your position. Maybe when she has completed, yes. ” And there is the usual heavily guarded reply to the anonymous, desperate one whose problem cannot be discussed in the column, but who had better tell her mother.

Many African nationalists think that the developing independent states of Africa will throw up some vague and far-described moral and cultural superiority over their European counterparts. Drum gives the lie to that. Apart from the black faces and crinkly hair of its illustrations, it would not be out of place in the hands of any typist on the rush-hour tube to the West End. Capitalism always must fill the workers’ leisure with the inferior and shoddy, for to encourage them to think is dangerous. Hence the growth of die trash-press in this and other countries.

Now capitalism, lured by the markets and minerals, is developing in Africa. The markets it will exploit and the minerals develop. It will bring industrial organisation and the harsh, acquisitive sophistication that we in England know so well. That is in the future. For the present, if a reading of Drum is any guide, it has already brought, among other things, constipation and rheumatism, indigestion and neurasthenia.

Odds and Ends: The Workers’ Paradise in Russia (1957)

The Odds and Ends column from the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Workers’ Paradise in Russia
When a Communist or Communist-dominated delegation visits the Soviet Union they generally publish a report containing much praise and wonderment at the marvels of the Moscow Underground, the Kremlin Palace, the Church of St. Basil, and the new Moscow University building; but they say very little about the life—and living conditions—of the ordinary workers and peasants of Russia. When a non-Communist delegation visits the Soviet Union the position is often reversed.

Last year an official Mineworkers’ delegation went to Russia. They have just published their report, summarised in the Manchester Guardian (15/3/57). They visited Moscow and a number of other towns, where they found that “an average of sixteen people are housed in a living space equal to a British council house.”

They report that hours of work exceed those worked in the mining industry in Britain; and “women in the Soviet Union are in many cases required to do work that is the hardest of manual work—to work in the pits, to do the heaviest types of jobs, including the handling of heavy materials and the mixing of concrete on the surface.”

And this the Communists call “Socialism.” Some Socialism!

Smash ’em up!
Socialists have always claimed that things are not produced to satisfy people’s needs, or to last long—if it can be helped. Most things today are cheap and shoddy. But if it was not for the fact that things are produced primarily for profit, some things if desired, could last virtually for ever. For example. The New Scientist (14/3/57) brings us an interesting story about glass—and tableware.

A leading glass manufacturer is producing some tableware which is very strong: plates can be crashed together like cymbals, and nails knocked into wood with the bottom of a glass with little or no damage done. But, continues the New Scientist, even stronger glasses and plates could be produced. But this would be uneconomical for the producers.

During the last war drinking glasses used by the American marines had a life of only seven trips to and from the kitchen. A specially strengthened glass was then produced which lasted nearly one hundred trips. But, alas, the manufacturers found this unprofitable. Eventually, a glass was made toughened only round the rim which lasted an average of twenty-three trips. Such are the workings of our present society. A sane society would produce glassware—and everything else—solely for people's use. because they wanted it; and only the best would be made.

The Perversion of Science
It has often been claimed that scientific discovery and development is misused and perverted in our modern capitalist society. The following passage from The New Scientist (14/3/57) bears this out.
  "In Europe, the search for better navigational methods arose from the desire for trading and from the warfare that ensued. Harrison's famous chronometer, which he perfected in the eighteenth century, was made in order to win an Admiralty prize of £20,000 for a method of determining longitude at sea. Even today progress in navigation is usually to meet military needs, and now it is the development of guided missiles which is throwing up the commercial navigation of the future."

Calypsos Next?
According to the people who are supposed to know—in Archer Street and Fleet Street—Rock 'n' Roll is on the way out, and the Calypso is in. But, so far, those who have cashed in on “Rock”—Tommy Steele, Winnie Atwell and others—are still “coining the loot,” and very few Calypsos have been heard yet on the radio. This writer does not think that the Calypso will be such a money-maker as Rock Y Roll with its simpler beat and lyric, its noise and gimmicks. Anyway, if the Calypso is going to take the place of Rock 'n' Roll it will have to be “cleaned up” a bit, since many of its lyrics are hardly suitable for the B.B.C., or the record companies. For example, “Chinese Children Calling Me Daddy”:—
“Since I am small I am living with women
And all I can get from them is false children.
Some with blue eyes and some like Chinese,
Any kind of child my girl make she stick me.
But I'm waiting on her patiently.
Its about ten months now she aim't kissed me.
And you know the bold-faced woman is telling me.
Any kind of child that born in my house. I'm the daddy.
I'm so ashamed I don't tell nobody
Chinese children calling me daddy.
You know my mother does want to beat me when
Chinese children calling me daddy.
For I black as jet and she just like Tar Baby, still
Chinese children calling me daddy.
Left, right, in front and behind,
Chinese children calling me daddy. ”
For the time being it looks as though we shall be stuck with Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog or Bill Haley's Don't Knock the Rock. There's more money in it; and it won't upset anyone's moral susceptibilities!

The Church and Socialism
In Britain only about 10 per cent. of the population regularly go to Church, although many more say they believe in some sort of a god or Creator, whereas in the United States about 60 per cent. are Churchgoers. The American workers, it seems, are more superstitious than their British counterparts. But even in Britain, one Church—the Catholic Church—claims 3,000,000 members (including the backsliders?). All the various Christian churches and sects oppose Socialism, but the Catholic Church is possibly the most vociferous in its opposition (and misrepresentation) of Socialism.

In a pamphlet called Socialisation, and “published with the authority of the Archbishop and Bishops of the Catholic Church of Australia,” we are told that “Socialism, in its strict sense, is a theory which advocates that the State should take over and operate the entire machinery of production, distribution and exchange.” That this statement is a complete lie from beginning to end does not worry our Catholic Bishops and Archbishops. For the information of any Catholic who may read this column, Socialism means the common possession of the means of life; an absence of a state apparatus, and no machinery, or means of exchange.

Man will no longer pray for his daily bread; he will just make it and consume what he requires!

It is not only the Catholic Church which propagates the figment that State ownership of the means of production is Socialism. Political parties, such as the Labour and Communist Parties, also make the same claim. The Communist Party, which, when it suits, boasts of its support of the theories of Marx and Engels, is perhaps the most shamefaced. For did not Engels explode this hoary old idea for all to read. In his book, Socialism : Utopian and Scientific (which all workers should read), he writes:—
   "But the transformation . . .  into State ownership does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. . . . The modem State, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage workers—proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution” (pp. 71-72)
With the establishment of Socialism the State dies out. “State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and by the conduct of processes of production” (pp. 76-77).
Peter E. Newell

Another 1926? (1962)

Editorial from the March 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The background of industrial unrest and resentment at the Government's wages policy, highlighted by the stoppage of work by three million engineering and shipyard workers for one day on February 5th, led many newspapers to surmise that perhaps we may see a repetition of the ”general strike” of 1926, when upwards of two million workers came out in support of the miners who were on strike against a reduction of pay. The Government, under cover of a Declaration of Emergency, used troops and the courts and its control of propaganda to defeat the general strike in nine days, and the miners, though they endured semi-starvation for nine months, eventually had to go back on the employers’ terms. The propertied class had won, though it cost them £100 million.

Could it happen again? The Government possibly thought that it might and according to the Sunday Express (28/1/62) a plan to meet that eventuality was prepared last July at the time the Chancellor announced the "pay pause.” If the Government had wanted to provoke a repetition of 1926 it could probably have got it by enforcing an immediate freezing of all wages for an indefinite time some of its self-appointed advisers in the Press said that it ought to do this in the name of “logic” and “fairness.” But perhaps the outward appearance of muddle, uncertainty, vacillation and illogicality were not just stupidity but a flexible Government policy of dragging out the dispute, dividing the workers and preventing what they failed to prevent in 1926.

They bought off the teachers, then the electricity supply workers, and got the miners and railwaymen negotiating over small offers made to them—it is, of course, absurd to suppose that the Government, if it had really wanted to, could not have barred all concessions in the three nationalised industries. In January they announced the restoration of powers to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. except the right to back-date awards past April 1, 1962, thus inducing the civil servants to call off their “work-to-rule”; brought the main Post Office work-to-rule to an end and left the Post Office engineers working-to-rule on their own.

Then came the White Paper, The Next Step, with its prospect of small wage increases in stage two of the wages policy. Six months respite had been gained, six months nearer to the time, they hope, when some improvement in exports will ease the position. This left the Government and the employers still facing the main threat, a possible prolonged strike in the engineering industry. But in the meantime they had induced the TUC to join the National Economic Development Council, thus further lessening the possibility of any united trade union support for an engineering strike. True, the TUC had declared that it would not endorse the Governments' pay pause, but the Sunday Pictorial (4/2/62) discloses that the TUC rejects the pause because it is considering the alternative of replacing wage increases at the present time by increased old age pensions or sick benefit, or by allocating savings bonds redeemable within three to five years. By contrast, the TUC had in 1926 been pushed by the rank-and-file into leading the general strike.

While we are on the subject of comparisons with 1926 some other aspects ought not to pass unnoticed. The railwaymen. miners and electrical workers were then demanding a “solution” of their problems by nationalisation: now they have it and are not so sure, but the engineering workers and builders still cherish the same delusion.

They were all longing for blessed relief in the next Labour Government which turned out to be the great debacle of 1929-1931. And then, as now, the economic journals carried the outpourings of the “new men” who had, they said, at long last discovered how to manage Capitalism, rid it of crises and make it function smoothly.

The more Capitalism changes, the more it is the same thing!

A Push For Socialism (1929)

From the June 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

A friend has written asking our advice as to what he and his friends are to do on May 30th. Are they to vote for the “do-nothing Labour Party,” or to write the word “Socialism” across their ticket once more. Our friend confesses himself tired of waiting for the Socialist Party to put up candidates, and expresses his wonder that the teachings of Karl Marx and Engels are not more stimulating on such occasions. It is unfortunate, but this issue was not published in time to help our friend to make up his mind, but if he is a regular reader of our paper, he will have perused our April number, where this point was purposely dealt with in ample time for the General Election. It may comfort our friend to know that we are more tired than he, awaiting the opportunity to vote for the first Socialist candidate. That opportunity would have occurred last week but for one thing: the workers were not ready. We had the candidate and the constituency. All we wanted was the deposit money. The Representation of the People Act provides that a candidate must deposit the sum of £150 on nomination, and be prepared to forfeit that sum if he fails to poll an eighth of the total vote cast. Among the differences that distinguish the Socialist Party from the Labour Party is the marked paucity of millionaires, majors, peers, professors and divines in our ranks. We therefore have to rely solely and entirely upon the voluntary coppers of the poor. We have not, nor would we desire, a loose arrangement with the Trade Unions by which they provide the funds and we the candidates. Nor do we receive subsidies from the Russian Government. So that until a sufficient number of the working-class want the Socialist solution of the poverty problem, and further are prepared to stint themselves to provide the immediate sinews of war, we can only do what is within our powers.

Our Correspondent is disappointed. So are we. But in our disappointment there is no despair. On the contrary, we were never more hopeful. To anyone who can read the portents, the future is full of promise. Although these lines are written before the General Election, it is obvious that we are in for a politically livelier time for the next generation. It is extremely doubtful if any Parliament in the immediate future will last the time or have the heavy majority of the last one. Political instability, coupled with economic worsening should, as rationalization proceeds apace, give us the audience we wish for. Five years of political torpor dulled concern in things parliamentary, but with interest keyed up by change and economic insecurity, we believe the working-class will respond to the message of the Socialist. Our overwhelming concern of the moment is to get that message across, and to keep hammering it home. Thousands of pamphlets, thousands of leaflets, monthly, weekly and daily journals, those are what we want. Then will follow thousands of members, hundreds of thousands of members, and then — Socialism.

Perhaps our correspondent will feel more hopeful if he learns that after years of patient and crippling effort, we have succeeded in getting offices a little more worthy of the Party. With a building of four stories and a basement, we shall be better equipped to make our name and message known throughout the world. When one thinks of the work that has been accomplished in the old cramped premises, and contrasts what should be confidently anticipated from the new, one feels youthful again and filled with golden hope. When we are settled down, we hope our friends and those interested will come and see us. But more of that another time.

And what about our motor propaganda van? Ah! you have not heard of that. There is every possibility that you will see it in your district before very long. Does not that open up visions of wide and rapid propaganda; of our message being earned wherever a road exists; of provincial towns; of relays of speakers and batteries of literature? The possibilities are immense. Why, instead of feeling disappointed, we know that we are just about to commence in earnest. We see that things are moving and that we are about to take a great leap forward. There is one great and pressing immediate need: MONEY. If we were presented with a whole fleet of motor-vans to-morrow, not one would turn a wheel without petrol. And petrol is not bought with promises. As our dear friend the Prince said recently, "Sympathy is not enough.” It won't buy an eyeful of petrol. So if there is any friend, sympathiser, or well-wisher, who would like to see not one, but a hundred Socialist candidates at the next General Election, let them implement their good wishes with something more solid in a Capitalist world—money.

It can be done in hundreds of small ways. Remember the Thames has been flowing night and day for thousands of years, and it is made up entirely of raindrops no larger than a pea. Buy an extra "Socialist Standard” every pay-day and give it away to a pal. Buy our pamphlet, "Socialism,” 48 packed pages, for twopence; better value than Benns’ sixpenny booklet, three times the price and only double the number of pages. Keep on buying the pamphlet and sending to your friends. They will never become Socialists if they never hear about it. Above all, no matter how small the effort you can make, be regular. A regular income to the Party means regular progress, and regular progress means Socialism — in our lifetime. Look out for the Socialist Van, but if it does not show up soon enough for you, reflect that we have petrol and oil to buy, and tax and insurance to meet. And then, be practical.
W. T. Hopley

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Why is the world so cramped? (1988)

Cartoon from the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Campaign-Against Prohibition in the U.S.A. (1932)

From the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing arrangements are being made to hold a big parade, and it is claimed that many trade unions and working men have applied for permission to march in it.

The parade is to protest against the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), and to demand the legalising of beer. The workers are led to believe that if beer is legalised a lot of jobs will be brought back and this will cause a demand for commodities which will put the workers on the road to more prosperous times.

It is interesting to consider why the Eighteenth Amendment was made the law of the land. We will quote Fort, a member of the House of Representatives, in a speech made before the House concerning the economic causes of Prohibition: —
  With high-speed machinery and increased specialisation in its use, alertness of body and mind became essential for both the safety of the worker and the efficiency of his work.
   With factories organised so that processes were continuous, and a break at any point in the handling chain slowed all the wheels and hampered all the work, each workman’s presence and correct performance must be assured. Midday drinking by one man might cause someone to slip and injure either his fellow workman or the whole system. So, too, the plant must be fully managed every day, each specialised workman at his appointed task. No longer could our industries proceed with a 50 per cent. attendance Monday, 80 per cent. on Tuesday, and 100 per cent., perhaps, by Wednesday noon. In the old days of one or two men it had not been so serious. If necessary the delinquent could work later when sober and make up for lost time. But the eight-hour day and dependence of one man's work upon the other made that impossible.
   . . . Then, too. machines were^st replacing horses. Now a horse would get home with a drunken driver, but a railroad train, trolley car, or an automobile might not . . .
    The swelling power of our new economic era, therefore, had to match swords against the saloon.
(Times, New York February 2nd, 1930.)
Charles and Mary Beard support this view. They say: “ . . . . employers of labour, in their quest for efficiency give money and support to the new crusade, for drunken workers were a danger as well as an economic loss to machine industry.** (“The Rise of American Civilisation," Vol. II., page 733.)

As long as it remained a “moral" issue, Prohibition did not make much headway; but when it was found that drink interfered with the profits of manufacturers, it had to go. The distillery and brewery owners had to be sacrificed for the good of other manufacturers, and their workers lost their jobs. The workers have very short memories, for it is not so long ago that they believed that their poverty was due to drinking, and that if Prohibition were passed they would be better off. But we now find the position of the.worker to be the same as it was before. Prohibition or wet, there is no difference. In relation to the capitalist, the worker is still a wage slave and poverty stricken. Now he believes that Prohibition is the cause of his poverty, but if he would think just a bit and look across the herring pond he would discover many countries in Europe that do not have Prohibition, yet their wage-slaves are in the same condition as in U.S.A., where we do have it.

Thus it can be clearly seen that neither Prohibition nor Repeal is the solution to the wage-workers’ problems. While Repeal might make prosperity for some distillers and brewery owners, the workers will gain nothing.

The contention that the legalising of beer will make more employment cannot be accepted. Although the figures given are not capable of proof there is little doubt that there are more persons engaged in the liquor industry now than before Prohibition. In New York City alone there are more than thirty thousand speakeasies ; it is doubtful if ever there were as many saloons as this. Also, owing to the less efficient methods that have to be used now. than when it was legal, room is made in this trade for extra thousands.

And as for workers not being able to get a drink, this is not due to any lack of beer supply, but that they simply cannot afford to buy it. If you have the price you can get all you want. This state of affairs will continue, whether legally or not. There is not a bit of doubt but that when beer is legalised, Prohibition, or something near it, will still be the lot of many wage-workers. They will be unable to buy much beer owing to lack of money.

Since the introduction of Prohibition, considerable changes have taken place. The capitalist is no longer worried about having to make his workers sober by law. Owing to the unemployment situation, police are now required to control the large numbers of applicants for jobs. The wage-slaves stay sober because they know they can be so easily replaced, and that if they get into the ranks of the unemployed they will have to stay sober, anyway. So the manufacturing capitalist is not worried on this score any longer, and for this and other reasons has changed his outlook. Behind the demand for the legalising of beer is the problem of taxation. This is behind much of the propaganda now being let loose upon the working class.

Making beer legal appears to be in the interest of sections of the capitalist class, who want to shed some of the increasing burden of taxes. They cast about to discover how to shift some of this burden of taxes on to other sections of their class. They see that the brewery owners pay no taxes on beer at present; they know it is being made, so why not make it legal and tax it, thus making the brewery section of the capitalist class pay a share of taxes? They would have less to pay themselves, so they are willing to bring back beer, which, like the poor, is always with us, wet or dry.

The worker, generally, thinks that he, also, suffers from the burden of taxes. So he is easily led to believe that his interests are involved when the question of taxation comes up. If he would examine this point a little more closely, he would find that taxes are a levy on property, and that wage-slaves are, in the main, propertyless. To the workers, as a class, it does not matter a tinker’s damn if the taxes are high or low: all the.worker gets when he works is, roughly, a wage sufficient to keep him in a state where he can continue to. produce efficiently and bring up a family, and no more; just enough to repeat the process of bringing new values into existence, new wealth that did not exist before he applied his labour power. If prices fall owing to lowered taxation, or any other reason, wages tend to follow. The employers, not the workers, gain thereby.

Yet we see that reformer after reformer brings out this question of taxes, which, economically, has nothing to do with the workers. This is done to hoodwink the workers into giving support to this or that section of the capitalist class. That section whose representatives succeed in enticing the workers' support secures political control of the State. In this position they have the power to shift the tax burden to the shoulders of other sections, thus relieving themselves in proportion.

It is not due to beer, or lack of it; nor is it due to high or low taxes, that conditions are as we find them. It is due to the system of society that divides mankind into classes, those who own the means of wealth production and distribution, and those who own nothing but their labour-power.
Taffy Brown
Workers' Socialist Party of U.S.A.

Malthus, Marx and Socialism (1975)

From the June 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

If Malthus could look in at present-day discussions about population and food supply he would no doubt be flattered that he and his ideas are still remembered and that the discussions have gone beyond this country, to occupy a prominent place on the world stage. He would be particularly interested to note that the question now takes in the allegations that world resources are approaching exhaustion and that continued growth of total production is becoming more and more difficult.

Malthus has a special interest for us, both because of Marx’s attack on his theories and because of the purpose for which he published his essay in 1798. Its full title was: Essay on the Principle of Population as it affects the future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other Writers. At that time the British ruling class were alarmed by the spread of revolutionary ideas following the French revolution in 1789. Among those who caused them alarm was the philosophical anarchist William Godwin who propagated the idea that people could live happily together, free from poverty and crime in a system of society based on voluntary co-operation, with no coercive state or other institutions of a class society.

Malthus wrote his Essay to show that Godwin and others who shared his views were wrong because they ignored what Malthus called the Natural Law of Population. This law, as stated by Malthus, was that population, if not checked, would always increase faster than food supplies, and that it always is held in check by the limited food supply operating through poverty, war and pestilence, which necessarily bring misery and vice; therefore the Godwin utopia of universal happiness was impossible.

Having to admit that population in theory might be restricted by what he called “moral restraint’’ he fell back on the argument that such restraint could not be exercised in a society that lacked private property to act as incentive. (Much like the argument now used by Sir Keith Joseph for his “Social Market Economy” capitalism.)

Malthus’s Essay was welcomed by some of the ruling class at the time because it could be used not only against revolutionary ideas but against almost any social change. Malthus made no serious attempt to prove the arithmetic of his law, and the nineteenth century in Britain showed the rate of increase of the population falling drastically while powers of production were increasing fast. Interest in Malthus continued though very erratically, declining when trade was good and unemployment low and reviving during every recession, particularly in the Great Depression of the last quarter of the century.

This was the key to Marx’s attack on Malthus. Marx pointed out that capitalism has its own population law, the symptoms of which are that in a boom the population appears to be too small and in a depression too large. Because capitalism does not produce to meet the needs of people but only to meet the effective demand in the market, capitalism never had produced enough to meet the needs of the whole population.

Capitalism has not changed in that respect, and UN officials now estimate that about a third of the world’s population are poverty-stricken as measured by accepted standards of nutrition. This figure is quoted in a recent article by a regular columnist of the Financial Times, C. Gordon Tether (1 May 1975). He used it to show the uselessness of leaving the problem to the interplay of supply and demand and defines it as a double one, that of raising the standards of the “poor” and of providing for the expected big increase of world population.

Mr. Tether has at least come some way from Malthus, for whom there was a second “natural law”, that the poor should go on being poor. Mr. Tether is so fearful of “ultimate global disasters” that he demands “a far-reaching re-structuring of the planet’s economic system during the next few years”. He does not spell out what he has in mind, and it would be most improbable that he envisages the social revolution at which Socialists aim. Yet it is the only one that, by eliminating the waste, the limitations on production and the sheer destruction of capitalism would give the big increase of useful production that he knows is necessary.

One last word about Marx and his collaborator Frederick Engels. They were fully aware of the arguments of the Malthusians and Engels wrote in 1844:
Even if Malthus were altogether right, it would still be necessary to carry out this [Socialist] reorganization immediately, since only this reorganization, only the enlightenment of the masses which it can bring with it, can make possible that moral restraint which Malthus himself puts forward as the easiest and most effective counter measure against overpopulation.
(See Marx and Engels on Malthus by Ronald L. Meek, p.109.)
Engels recalled this in a letter dated 1 February 1881 sent by him to Kautsky, in which he wrote:
There is of course the abstract possibility that the number of people will become so great that limits will have to be set to their increase. But if at some stage communist society finds itself obliged to regulate the production of human beings, just as it has already come to regulate the production of things, it will be precisely this society, and this society alone, which can carry this out without difficulty.
Edgar Hardcastle

"A Decent Living Wage" (1950)

From the March 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

"All a man wants is a decent living wage.” How often has this remark been passed by members of the working class when talking to a socialist. Behind it, one can sense the desire for economic security, and the mental peace and relaxation that would arise from it. So, in a form of society where everything is measured in money, those that have so little of it spend the whole of their lives working and wishing.

Thousands, recognizing that only “Lady Luck” can get them out of the drudgery that is their social possession by birth, spend some of the hard-earned cash in an attempt to beat the horses, dogs or cards. Each week-end millions more have a “flutter” on the pools, and others turn to crime, all in a vain attempt to find their way “upwards” (economically). We say vain attempt, for if these workers would reason collectively instead of individually, it would be clear that although one or two may go up, thousands will go down still further. For everyone who wins a pound thousands more will lose it; for everyone who is successful in crime, thousands more are steadily plodding round the prison yards.

It is to this majority of society, the workers, to the people who day after day sell themselves to be exploited by the owners of the tools of production, that the socialist message is addressed. By understanding and co-operation it is possible for us to take the constant drudgery out of our lives, the boredom that herds us together each week-end to get a little excitement out of football or gambling our money on animals. For the philosophy of “Well, you never know, you may be a pound better off” arises directly out of the realisation that if you had another pound or so, you could perhaps break the boredom for a week. But the tragedy is that most of us never win; we lose that pound and the misery is intensified.

The alternative to this barren existence? It is within the reach of all workers. We could send our delegates to Parliament to take over the “State Machinery” by which the owners protect their interests, abolish private ownership of the means of production and introduce common ownership. Did we hear someone say “Then what?”

Why, then would come the end of wars, the end of poverty, the end of monotony, of insecurity, the end of the capitalist class and the end of the working class.

Man will work with man for the betterment of all, subjecting natural forces for social comfort, serving the cry: “ From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Finally, it will put an end to the remark, “All a man wants is a decent living wage.” For wages being the price that is paid by the owners for our labour power, workers will realise that it is only by putting an end to the wage system that we can get a decent living.
Terry Lord

The Social Revolution (1975)

From the September 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

An immediate and fundamental change in the basis of society. Perhaps, when younger and struck with some glaring contradiction of capitalism, you felt the need for a reorganization in human affairs. Eliminating such superfluous stuff as money, you went on to build a model of this new, perfect world inside your head. Its characteristics were peace, harmony, plenty and so on. As you filled in the details the picture grew clearer and more insistent. You began to question your friends upon their views. Finally, you put forward your ready-made utopia and asked them to follow you.

Suddenly it seemed as if everybody had been rehearsing a hundred objections to your scheme beforehand. It won’t work! You can’t change human nature! Who’ll do the dirty work? There’ll be no incentive to produce! What about the lazy people? Overwhelmed by this tremendous opposition, you had to concede the impracticalities in a few bits of your new scheme. Whereupon the completed system became a patchwork of ideas and one of your friends, who was taking O-level Economics, quoted a passage from the Old Testament, proving conclusively that capitalism had always existed as the natural state of mankind.

This onslaught beat your dream world to the back of your consciousness; parts of it to be resurrected only when sardonic comment upon the world was called for. But even a suggestion of your old utopia received so much stick from your friends that it made your position untenable. A year later, upon hearing something reminiscent of your old view from a stranger, you caught yourself saying — “Yes, I wanted to change the world too when I was younger. It’s part of the process of growing up. You’ll learn!’’ — You’d come full circle and disowned your brainchild! What went wrong?

The source of your error lies in history. You stopped short at Fourier, Owen and Proudhon. Though you may never have heard of these people, yet you were tracing, in your mind and conversation, the practical steps which these men and their followers took to remodel a bit of society upon different lines. Like your theoretical notion, they all came to grief.

If you followed the steps exactly you will have dived straight into trade unionism after abandoning Utopias. Owen did. The Grand National Trade Union which he helped to found, grew to a million members and then petered out. The General Strike of 1926 and the ease with which it was crushed makes plain what is the result of trade unions essaying confrontation with the State.

You may have begun your encounter with the union by advocating protracted strikes — “Bring the capitalists to their knees!” Which advice foundered upon the objections of the plodders, who said; “The masters will just starve us out, they can live off their fat in the Bahamas — we can’t. We never get back from a strike what we lose in pay.” Just like the New Model Unions of the 1850s!

Now if you are an archetype you will have remembered that your uncle was once the lord mayor of Louth. After a long talk with him you joined the local Labour Party. Talked to all and sundry about “Keeping our feet upon the floor of the House of Commons. Doing something practical NOW!” It had all the charm of your early utopian illusions — with none of the drawbacks. You could still foment about wicket capitalists, while at the opposite pole, you dealt in wage-price indices and the regulation of “mixed economies”.

Here is where we found you. On a wet Saturday in September, back where you started, an individual member of the working class. Your mind having reached the peak of its political evolution in society; you bought from the SPGB a copy of the Socialist Standard. The solution is now staring you in the face.

At first it seems like a refrain from the past. Common ownership? Abolition of the wages system? Classless, moneyless society? Production for use — not profit? Free access! Only, the details are missing. The SPGB does not paint a picture of the future society. In this journal there is no blueprint for Socialism. We only say to the mass of the population who, whether they know it or not, are in the working class: pursue your class interest.

Human life is essentially practical. Never mind what men say, think or write — in practice they must prove the truth. Can Socialism be established by the Labour Party? No matter how many workers say or think that it can, how do they act? When the Labour Party is running capitalism, do the workers abandon the economic struggle? Do they give up their trade union organizations? Of course not. Thus, their theory is at variance with their practice.

Similarly regarding life under capitalism. Do wage increases cause inflation? Is the “vicious spiral” all the fault of greedy workers? Never mind what economists and governments say, what do they do? Governments, when they have to, can end the inflation which they began by expanding an inconvertible currency. This action will prove all of their post pronouncements on inflation to have been nonsense. A glance at history, however, will show it makes no difference to capitalism and the working class: with or without inflation things are just the same.

Underlying all government propaganda on inflation is their basic need to sustain the interests of their capitalist class. Wage increases reduce profits. Capitalism’s apologists may deny that the class struggle exists. But on the annual balance sheets of trading and industrial concerns, evidence of the class war is written. In other words — at the highest level of practicality that capitalism assumes, in its budgetary affairs, the age-old conflict between classes is taken for granted.

Recognize the type of historical process by which changes in society are brought about. To introduce Socialism you must get yourself into an organization with that single purpose. Then help convince other workers that Socialism will be in their interest. But before you can introduce the fundamental change from private to common ownership, you must capture political power; to ensure that the state forces of coercion cannot be used against you. Your numerical superiority must be demonstrated, that means the ballot and the representative institutions must be yours also. This plan of action has been the programme of the SPGB for 71 years. We are the only political party which has succeeded in remaining a revolutionary party. Showing that the centuries-long evolution of political parties has not been in vain. And in practice, that is how you prove the truth in politics.

That viewpoint survives which is best fitted to survive. It must be capable of comprehending the world of the past, present and future. The object and declaration of principles of the SPGB express the working-class viewpoint. Against all comers they have never been found wanting. This organization has adhered to them without compromise or expedient. We urge you to make them your own.
B.K. McNeeney

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Last Fifty Years in Russia (1956)

Editorial from the November 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Elsewhere in this issue we reproduce extracts from an unsigned article: “The Russian Revolution," which, fifty years ago, in November 1906, placed on record the attitude of the S.P.G.B. to events in Russia. In 1904 war had broken out between Japan and Russia over Korea, which then, as today, attracted greedy investors and speculators in the neighbouring countries, and had great importance as a war base. Russia suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of Japan, and this gave impetus to movements demanding political and economic reforms. The capitalists wanted to get rid of the Tsarist autocracy, which hampered their development; workers wanted higher wages; peasants wanted land reforms, and all were able to unite in demanding parliamentary government based on a democratic franchise. Frightened by the wave of strikes, mutinies and riots, the government at first gave way and the Tsar agreed to set up a Duma (parliament); with legislative authority, not merely a consultative body, as had earlier been the limit of concession. But before long, helped on by the lack of unity and purpose in the ranks of the opposition, the Tsar’s government regained confidence and dissolved the Duma. It was while this counter-offensive of the Tsar’s government was in full flood that the article “The Russian Revolution" appeared in our columns, the occasion being the issue, by the International Socialist Bureau, of an appeal on behalf of the Russian workers.

The line taken by the article is for the most part shown by the published extracts, a line that the S.P.G.B. continued to hold when, in 1917, defeat in another war produced more movements of revolt in Russia, though this time they were successful in their aim of removing the Tsarist regime. The victory was to be short lived, because within months the various movements that had been associated in overthrowing the Tsar and establishing a provisional government were themselves overthrown by the Communist Party, which has held power ever since.

Subsequent events have completely justified the declaration made in 1905 (and repeated in 1917) that the outcome of the struggle in Russia could not at that time be Socialism, but only capitalism: what has happened has proved the correctness of the S.P.G.B.’s Marxist approach. Although there are people who know so little about Russian conditions or about Socialist principles that they can still believe that there is Socialism in Russia, serious students have never been deceived; and even the popular impression of Russia held in Western Europe now more or less clearly recognises that it is not a social system better than Western capitalism, but actually worse, because of its dictatorship.

It is an ironical reflection that the anticipation of fifty years ago, that removing Tsarist autocracy would immediately open the way to a democratic republic, should have proved so wrong that it is only now that the “flight from Stalin" promises at least some prospect of progress in that direction. As far as elementary rights of organisation, publication, voting, etc., are concerned, Russian workers might still be living under the Tsars. In 1906 the government of Emperor Nicholas II. dissolved the not very democratically elected Duma, but it remained for the Communist government in 1918 to suppress permanently the first freely elected Constituent Assembly and thereafter forbid all political organisations except the Communist Party.

Along with political reaction has gone the repudiation of early Communist Party ideas about equality, a path along which the British Labour Party has also moved.

But while Russia has, as we forecast in 1905, not produced Socialism, it has built up the modem industries which make it a formidable capitalist, military and industrial Power, second only to U.S.A.

Another saddening reflection prompted by similarity between 1906 and 1956, is that knowledge of and contact with Russian workers is as difficult now as it was then. The Socialist Standard had to admit in 1906 to a lack of information about events in Russia, and this is still true: we do not know to what extent groups of workers in Russia have been able, despite the dictatorship, to keep alive their belief in the ultimate victory of Socialism against all its enemies and false friends in the so-called Communist and Labour Parties.

50 Years Ago: The Russian Revolution (1956)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the “Socialist Standard,” November, 1906 

The Russian Revolution
The other great nations of Europe have long ago burst asunder the feudal bonds on industry and commerce, and the few survivals are more picturesque than effective. The aristocracy, where it has been able to continue in existence, is merged into the plutocracy and forms one compact mass against the workers. Russia, however, lags behind; and her economic backwardness is reflected in her medieval system of government. Hence, in the other nations of Western Europe a straight fight is possible between the proletariat and the capitalist ruling class, whilst in Russia the rising capitalist class has yet its emancipation from autocracy to accomplish; so that, in contrast with practically the whole of civilised nations, the working class and the capitalist class in Russia have, in the abolition of Tsardom’s tyranny, a step to go together. This historical circumstance, which is at once the strength and weakness of the Russian movement, distinguishes it from that of all capitalist countries.

No Socialist, therefore, can withhold his sympathy from the great struggle of the Russian people for the elements of political liberty, and all must heartily wish that the great barrier to economic and political progress, Tsardom, may be speedily broken down. It is satisfactory to note that, in the present communication from the International Socialist Bureau the idea (which was so common at an earlier period of the revolution, and which was proclaimed by many who called themselves Socialists) that out of the ruins of Tsarist Russia the Socialist Republic would arise, is absent; whilst the elements of political liberty, the creation of a Constituent Assembly, or at most the inauguration of a Russian Republic, are taken for granted as the possible outcome of the present struggle. It has been insisted upon in these columns that the Socialist Republic cannot be the outcome of the defeat of the autocracy in Russia, because the economic elements are lacking or insufficiently developed. As Marx said: “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and the new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been matured in the womb of the old society.” The industrial development of Russia is still in its infancy, and vigorous though the infant may be, the greater part of the empire is yet untrodden by it. It is indeed probable that whatever government succeeds that of the Tsar will be compelled, if only to appease the peasants—the bulk of the nation—to bring about the most reactionary state of things in which the land is split up among the peasants as their private property.

*  *  *

Let us then do all in our power to help our Socialist comrades in Russia in the hope that they will not be deceived as to the outcome of the present upheaval: in the hope, also, that they will sternly keep their separate identity and distinct aim, so that the Russian bourgeoise State of to-morrow may find a militant class-organisation of Socialist workers leading the final struggle against the capitalist class, whose defeat must herald the Triumph of Humanity.

Marxism and Dictatorship (1937)

From the August 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Marxism in any way bound up with the idea of dictatorship? This is a question with which we are often confronted to-day.

Hence we are prompted to deal with the matter again, principally because of its repetition from various sides, but partly in view of a statement which recently appeared in England’s leading Labourist-capitalist journal, the Daily Herald.

Commenting upon the arrest of the leaders of the Spanish workers’ organisation known as the P.O.U.M. (the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity) the Daily Herald took the opportunity to jibe at the Communists and said: —
  We hope the Spanish Government does not intend to listen to the bloodthirsty demand of the Communists that the P.O.U.M. leaders should be executed.
   Doubtless the P.O.U.M. is a nuisance and a danger. Unlike the Communists its members still take Marxism seriously, with the result that they despise democracy, and are not interested in fighting except for a dictatorship of their own.
Now, apart from the question of the internal disputes between the Spanish workers' parties, the point to note in the Herald's statement is the definite and unqualified association of Marxism with dictatorship. Taken as the statement stands the Herald's intention is clearly meant to convey the idea that Marxism is a negation and violation of democratic principle. But, as Marxists ourselves, we most emphatically repudiate this cunningly contrived imputation. Under cover of the Herald's pronouncement there lies one of the many attempts to discredit Marxism in order to justify the anti-Marxian, anti-Socialist attitude of the reformist opportunist Labour Party. It bids fair to lend support to the slogan of the bourgeois democrats that “Fascism and Marxism are the twin enemies of the human race.”

If there is one aspect of Socialist thought which may be said to stand out above all others it is the insistence in Socialist teachings that the principle of democracy is of paramount importance. We realise, of course, that at this statement many a Communist will instinctively smile, at the same time scoffing at us with the usual suggestion that we are “doped with bourgeois democratic ideology." Yet, search as you will the records of Socialist literature from the time of Marx and Engels up to, say, 1914, and the references to the question of dictatorship, or even the mention of the word, are conspicuous by their scarcity. In making this point we include the various public pronouncements of many present-day Communists who, before the 1917 upheaval in Russia, were content to call themselves Socialists rather than Communists. We then heard nothing of the present-time sophistries concerning "bourgeois democracy" and “the dictatorship of the proletariat."

In the year 1848, when Marx and Engels first sent their famous “Communist Manifesto” circulating throughout the world, the keynote of democracy was sounded by these pioneers of modern Socialism.

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities," say the authors of this manifesto. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority ” (page 28).

Later on in the same work we find the equally clear and concise statement: —
   . . .  that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. 
Whatever criticism has been hurled at Marx and Engels their emphasis on the democratic principle underlying the Socialist philosophy raised no particular point of controversy until recent years.

How, then, does it all come about that Marxism has been identified with the idea of dictatorship?

Proceeding from the notion that “there is no smoke without fire" we are ready to concede the point that there is at least some basis, in fact, for the idea, even though it be a distortion of Marx’s standpoint.

It was after the formation of the Soviet regime in Russia in 1917 that we began to hear so much about dictatorship in connection with Socialist controversy.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks, seized the governmental power in Russia under conditions that Marx had not envisaged. In fact there is evidence to show that even the Bolsheviks themselves were more than surprised at their success in obtaining control of the political machinery of the State. Only the peculiar conditions of Russia in 1914 at the outbreak of the European War, its general unpreparedness for the conflict, its lack of military equipment, etc., and its final military and social collapse in 1917 could have possibly given such a party as the Bolsheviks the chance of assuming the control of the government. However, the attempt to apply Socialist ideas and conditions in a country where the great mass of the people were ignorant of even the elementary principles on which modern Socialism is founded failed from its inception; as it was bound to do considering the miserably backward state of the country, both economically and politically. But once the Bolsheviks had gained control in the midst of such conditions there seems little else that could have happened than the setting-up of a dictatorship if they were to maintain their hold upon the country irrespective of whether the people wanted Socialism or not. But the important point to notice is that their dictatorship had in reality nothing to do with Marx’s theory of the working class coming to power to overthrow capitalist domination and establishing the Socialist form of society. Yet Lenin in particular, and his devotees in chorus, have insisted that their action was along Marxian lines, using certain statements of Marx to support their case, and what do these statements amount to, anyway?
In a letter to his friend, Weydemeyer, in 1852, Marx, among many other things, said: —
  And now as to myself; no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modem society nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of the class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular, historic phases in the development of production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; (3) that the dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.
This is a favourite quotation from Marx among the Communists, but whilst we are about it we might just as well give another of like kind which Lenin used in his controversy with Kautsky.

In Marx’s criticism of the “Gotha Programme” of 1875 we find Marx stating: —
   Between capitalist and Communist society there lies a period of revolutionary transformation of one into the other. This period has a corresponding political period of transition, during which the State can be nothing more than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
Now the outstanding feature of these statements is that they obviously refer to a dictatorship in the sense that the working class has achieved political power, and is about to shape a form of society in harmony with its own social needs.

But note the point, Marx does not refer or say that only a minority of the working class would or need take control of political power during the period of the "transformation of the one into the other.”

The Socialist revolutionary act in the Marxian sense is that of the “self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority.” The phrase dictatorship covers a condition of political power being exercised by and through majority will against a dislodged and dispossessed hitherto ruling class.

But this is a point that is generally distorted as a means of justifying the immature action of the Bolsheviks in attempting to impose Socialism on a country unready and unwilling for its adoption. A prominent Communist writer in this country, T. A. Jackson, in his book on “Dialectics,” makes an elaborate show of “squaring the circle” of Russia’s dictatorship with Marx’s conception.

In a chapter on Democracy and "Democracy” he sets forth the fundamentally democratic concept as follows: —
   No revolutionary worker wants to be dictated to; no revolutionary worker wants to dictate personally to anybody else. Every worker not absolutely degenerate in subserviency feels he ought to have a say in the making of the rules he has to obey; and every worker not absolutely degenerate knows that in real practical life co-operation involves plan, rule and regulation. When the ordinary worker calls himself a “democrat,” he means that he feels in this way; he affirms, that is, his right to a say in the government of his personal and communal life.
After this clear and definite statement Mr. Jackson asks the question : —
   What is the difference between “Democracy” in the British working class sense above, and the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” as Marx Engels and Lenin used the term?
Mr. Jackson offers his own answer to the question. He says, “In essence: no difference at all."

Very well then, if there is no essential difference, and on this point we are in entire agreement, our view of the matter is conceded, namely, that Marx’s conception of dictatorship is none other than majority rule, the majority rule of the working class in establishing Socialist society. If this much had been made clear by the Communists from the time of the Bolshevik uprising in Russia the whole world might have learned by now that the Soviet regime was not instituted according to the principle enunciated by Marx.

Further, we should never have heard the claptrap of the Communists in this country clamouring for the seizure of political power by an "intellectual minority."

Of course, Mr. Jackson will, no doubt, insist that the dictatorship in Russia is what Saint George Bernard Shaw said of it, namely, that the dictatorship there is all right since it is for the good of those who are being dictated to; a plea of defence that is put forward by Mussolini, Hitler and every dictator extant.

We repeat that the dictatorship in Russia is not the “dictatorship of the Proletariat" in the Marxian sense of the term. On the contrary, it has been the dictatorship of a party, a party which in the earlier stages of their conquest of power actually deprived its own members of the power of voting.

Russia, of the Soviet system, has undoubtedly had enormous economic, political and social problems to face, problems which in great measure they have responded to with great skill and political acumen, but the State capitalism of Russia, necessitated by its own internal difficulties, accentuated by the outside world of persistent capitalism, is not what Socialists of to-day, or Marx and Engels of the past, have been striving for. We stand to-day, as always, for the democratic ownership and control of the world’s resources. That this can only be effected by way of social revolution is not merely our determination. It is imposed upon us as a law of history, which decrees that when a subject class needs freedom from the shackles which bind it there is no other way than the conquest of power. That this power can only be gained by the great mass of the workers understanding the task confronting them is an inevitable consequence of the need to abolish class rule in its entirety.

When that task takes its initial form of working-class accession to power it must be by majority decision, the condition of capitalist society as we know it to-day indicates no alternative course. It is imperative to Socialism that the great mass of the workers understand and desire it if we are to establish a form of human association in which, to quote Marx once more, “the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all."
Robert Reynolds