From the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
Between the wars and later the word Socialist was used to describe all manner of things which had nothing to do with Socialist or Socialism. Such were the pathetic utterances on the subject by Snowdon and Ramsay MacDonald in the first Labour government of 1924 that King George V felt bound to admit that “he too was a bit of a Socialist”. We have had “socialist” millionaires and dukes from the Daily Express; “socialist” Lords and Ladies; “socialist” policies of nationalization and taxation. The TUC was at one time referred to as a “socialist” institution. Also, Russian and Chinese capitalism has been described as socialist, as were Adolf Hitler and Oswald Mosley. The parties which were largely responsible for this distortion of the word socialist were the Communist and Labour parties, aided and abetted by the press barons.
However, as time has gone by it is clear for all to see that the appellation of socialist really meant someone who disagreed with the Tory and Liberal parties, and when we got down to cases we found the Labour and Communist parties were just some other kind of Conservatives who had been misunderstood as to their original intentions. To accuse the Communist and Labour parties of being revolutionary, because that is what Socialism means, is virtually asking for a writ to be served for slander. Somehow or other we in the SPGB got the impression that those who misused the word were not as ignorant as they pretended. First among the phoney ignoramuses we place the BBC. This institution has been very careful not to confuse the respectable “socialist” — they know Stork from butter and can tell the difference; so much so that consistently over the years they have discriminated against the SPGB by never allowing it to to answer the gross misrepresentations of its case, nor to allow it to give talks on the subject of Socialism.
Today we have a new phenomenon. As practically everybody outside of the Carlton Club is a “socialist” of some sort or other (the late Mr. James Robertson Justice referred to himself as a “mild socialist”), the word has lost its impact, so the press have invented a new word which is calculated to put the fear of God into their easy-going readers — the word Marxist.
Where there’s a strike there’s a “Marxist”; where there’s a terrorist there’s a “Marxist”; where there’s sabotage and subversion there’s a "Marxist”. “Marxist” kidnappers, bank robbers, in fact everything socially undesirable is represented as “Marxist”. The fear of the Devil is replaced by the fear of Marxism. Luckily, we have some balancing factors in the shape of “Marxist” generals, “Marxist” admirals, “Marxist” bishops and politicians, and no doubt as time goes by we shall have “Marxist” funeral undertakers and “Marxist” mid-wives. But the saving grace, the spice of respectability, will be finally bestowed should Birmingham City Education Authority start teaching “Marxism” in their schools, as they have threatened.
We shudder with apprehension as to what atrocities will be perpetrated on the poor captive school-kids under the guise of learning “Marxism”. The only redeeming factor is that the press will have to find another name to denigrate the dissidents, as everyone will now become a “Marxist”.
|Cartoon by Robert Barltrop.|
We in the SPGB have been in politics for a very long time and we have more than a nodding acquaintance with the theories of Karl Marx, but we must confess our ignorance when we say that the Marxism referred to by the press and the BBC is unknown to us. What’s more, there must be a secret store of Marxist information to which we have no access, for try as we may we can never square the press’s description of Marxism, nor of the motley bunch who masquerade under its name, with the Marxism that we have known and advocated for over seventy years.
Marx discovered the reason why social systems change and what were the factors that would cause capitalist society to change. He also made a detailed analysis of the nature of capitalism and showed that anarchy in production would produce crises, war, unemployment and social problems. According to Marx and Engels capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction by bringing into being a wage-working class without property in the means of production. That the intolerable conditions of capitalism weighing on those workers would cause them to consider their future role in society. The true Marxist associates with other Marxists to propagate and persuade workers in the majority all over the world to abolish capitalism and the wages system as a matter of urgency, and to establish a democratically-run moneyless system based on common ownership. The whole essence of Marxism is that the working class must be conscious of its historical role, act purposefully, and not trust in leaders. Their organization should be concerned with getting control of political power constitutionally without violence, state-smashing, insurrection and other minority action.
This is what constitutes a Marxist. How many of the “press Marxists” hold and work for these ends? Not one. Most of them are intense nationalists, frustrated politicians, or just plain thick-headed Communists or narrow-minded trade unionists who have never had a Marxist thought in their heads. As regards some of the self-styled Marxist organisations like IMG and IS, the least said the better. We can only agree with the old proverb that “Empty vessels make the most sound”.