Friday, January 20, 2017

The Blind Directing The Blind (1917)

From the July 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are so often told how naughty we are because we so bitterly oppose the pseudo-Socialist parties that we feel doubly pleased when such organisations readily themselves hand us the weapon wherewith we smite them. The following extract from the organ of the Socialist Labour Party, an organisation which for months past has tried to explain how very much alone it has been in defining the true Socialist position in its relation to the war, is distinctly good when compared with its companion of earlier date. It reads as follows:
What with capitalist development and the S.L.P. propaganda the I.L.P has a painful feeling that it s been on the wrong track. That the I.L.P. has decided to re-examine its policy at the forthcoming Summer School deserves nothing but praise; and we wish it every success. The S.L.P. sends its best wishes.-—"The Socialist," June 1917.
That the I.L.P. is on the wrong number after 25 years of shouting is a sad thing indeed—-for its supporters. But the idea of the S.L.P. taking upon itself the task of putting its sick relative upon the right track it frankly amusing, as will be seen from the following gem published by the S.LP. in the same journal in November 1914 :
That there arc differences of opinion in the S.L.P. as in other parties, on the question of the war must have been apparent to most readers of “The Socialist." Last month I tried to show what the different views were, but I have not been able to find out what support each side has, consequently I cannot say definitely what the official attitude of the Party is.
Three months after the declaration of war and still ignorant of its attitude toward that colossal butchery of the working class in the interests of their inveterate enemies! Could anything be put more clearly? The attitude of a Socialist party needed no discussion among its members at such a time. A true Socialist party would automatically fall into its only groove, as the S.P.G.B. did. This party did not find it necessary to discuss even for a moment what its attitude should be, or to adopt any other method of getting it defined. The path was made clear, the contingency fully provided for, by its formulated principles, and an examination of the Socialist Standard from August 1914 will show conclusively how steadfastly our position has been maintained, and how clearly our attitude of bitter opposition to the present war has been presented to the world. The workers themselves shall be the judge and jury- -our position is impregnable.
B. B. B.

Captain Anarchy (1982)

A Short Story from the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Skip was squatting on a bedroll amid the wellingtons, tweed jackets, tractors and mud of a farm auction; bearded, longhaired and wearing a floppy hat, like a relic from the hippy revolution. He was on a sponsored walk from Land’s End to John O’ Groats and had come to the auction in passing. So I invited him home for tea.

You don’t often meet round the world sailors on top of a Somerset down, particularly not one with a badge on his hat that read “One World for One People”. 1 asked him how we could get such a world and shyly he put his case.

He was an anarchist down to his toenails, with a butterfly mind that flitted from hatred of the rich to contempt for the law he’d served seventeen months for vagrancy and theft. “I’ll be hitching at a roundabout”, he said, “and every police car will stop and tell me to move. They even tell me where I ought to stand on this earth! That’s really bad news! We’ve got to do away with those pigs and all their rules. We don’t need them. Everyone knows right from wrong. The law doesn’t help you in a force seven gale on the Atlantic.”

Incongruously he was a trained boat designer and builder who, as well as refitting yachts for capitalists (the bastards!), had planned and made his own dory and a junk-rigged yacht that was destroyed at anchorage in a storm. Now unemployed, his dream was to get enough money out of penny-a-mile sponsors to build a new yacht for a circumnavigation; proclaiming pacifism by example, against all the talk of politicians, with a crew of fourteen, in a boat called World Peace.

“We’ve got to destroy the concept of war” he said, warming up. I pounced: “No good, they’ll invent a new one. Even if you get rid of the rockets, tanks and guns, the armies, navies and air forces of all the nations of the world, it wouldn’t destroy war. It’s the competition between nations for markets, materials and spheres of influence that brings armies into being and drives each towards war". It was a bit too concentrated for him and he returned to the topic of his voyage.

The springs of anarchist thought are truly amazing. His boat was going to be designed and launched according to the principles of the Cabbala or Talmud! The most magical of all numbers is seven. So his boat had to be seventy-seven feet long, seven times longer than its beam, with a seven-sail schooner rig. His last boat had been launched at 7 minutes past 7, on 7 July 1977! Pressed for a reason, he twinkled and said, “it just happened that way”.

The idea of promoting an alternative way of living by high adventure is not new. In the 1930s the lone climber Maurice Wilson hoped to encourage his own brand of asceticism, fasting and peace, by conquering Everest. John Harlin, who died on the North Face of the Eiger in 1965, was a more modern example:
He was convinced that through the gospel of climbing, which he would preach in his International School, a panacea for the world’s sickness would emerge. Differences of race, colour and creed would disappear in the collective search for the truth and beauty of life as revealed by the climbing of mountains. (D. Whillans and A. Ormerod, Don Whillans, Penguin, 1976, p. 266.)
Internationally mixed expeditions are often commercially promoted using a weaker form of this sentiment, as with the Thor Heyerdal raft and boat journeys. Anyone who has read the literature of the attempts on the South Pole before the First World War must be impressed by the incredible idealism which drove men to trek across a thousand miles of ice. Yet all this heroism means nothing as far as creating a new world goes. Scott was a leader who inspires followers and patriotic death or glory boys. Harlin was a climber of incredible strength, reach and drive. Skip is a phenomenal sailor, who ran the teak-built Virtue class yacht Jan Guilder from Britain to the Azores and back in a race. Each in their own way prove only what exceptional people can do in extraordinary fields.

But the new world that Skip wants must be one which the majority can form and take full part in; what then is the use of example? The attempt to change from competitive capitalism to co-operative socialism, has nothing to do with the heroic striving after impossible goals by supermen and superwomen. It is a task for ordinary people, and must fall within the scope of ordinary lives and experience.

The romantic impulse, wherein a hero dares to do something against all the odds, while it may have spurred the early socialists to press their analysis of capitalism past the awful point where state power was challenged, has little relevance for a democratic social revolution. Socialism requires that men and women, safe in their terraces and semis, should dare, against all the heroes of capitalism who failed, to change the world, using only the ballot box.

Still, Skip and his crew might achieve something worthwhile. An anarchistic circumnavigation would knock a great big hole in the myth of the essential captain on the high seas, the capitalist of sailors ruling the waves.

Good luck Skip. I hope you get round the world. On a cold assessment your example will confuse and divert workers from the simple democratic and political solution of abolishing capitalism. Yet unreliable and quixotic as you are, I feel you will be with us on the day of revolution.
B. K. McNeeney

Alcoholics Anonymous (1999)

A Short Story from the September 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Idly browsing through a magazine not so long ago I came across a questionnaire on people's drinking habits. The questionnaire, which was headed "Are You An Alcoholic?" suggested that anyone answering with a total of five "yes's" out of twelve questions had a proclivity towards alcoholism. I was stunned to discover that my score was eight. Alcoholics Anonymous here I come, I thought.

Several days later I took stock and reflected that in all seriousness I could hardly believe myself to be a true alcoholic. I could, by a sheer effort of will, abstain from drinking for weeks at a time, though I was honest enough with myself to own up to the fact that as soon as I resumed the habit I seemed to be making an unconscious effort to make up for lost time. The questionnaire advised that this was not good news. It pointed to bingeing, it said. I made enquiries about the next meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and took myself along.

On the night if I thought I would be entering a room occupied by red-nosed, broken-veined down-and-outs, carefully concealing their hip flasks and uttering in slurred voices, then I was certainly in error. I am not sure that I did think that, but still my expectations were such that I imagined alcoholics not to be "normal" people going about their daily lives just like everybody else. A couple of people introduced themselves to me and I was offered a cup of tea. I heard friendly banter being exchanged between those who were regulars and knew each other. About twenty people had gathered, their ages ranging between twenty-five and sixty. (Later I was to learn that a few of the older people hadn't "touched a drop" for ten to fifteen years.) We stood round a large table, linked hands and in unison (except for me; I didn't know the words) recited a kind of litany, which talked about life and what our attitude should be to it—presumably to contribute to keeping us sober. What I remember most about the litany was a phrase which said we should learn to "accept that which we cannot change". My hackles were up. I found that idea too fatalistic, believing that most things can be changed, apart from the fact of death, that is. Then we sat down and the meeting began.

People who felt moved to speak gave their case histories—all in matter-of-fact tones, rather as though they were relating an assortment of experiences common to us all, events likely to overtake most people during a lifetime. Marriages and partnerships had come to an end because all money coming into the house had been, either surreptitiously or openly, squandered on booze. Some people had lost their houses, businesses and jobs, their careers, the love of their spouses and children. A few of those present had spent nights on park benches often landing up in hospital to be dried out. Some were not regular drinkers but were now and then compelled to go out on nights of carousing, seeking asylum in pubs and in the company of other drinkers, consoling themselves and each other in their addiction.

Sitting amidst all this tragedy, endless cups of tea and overflowing ashtrays, I stayed silent but tearful. One thought, however, persisted in my mind and I knew I should be ashamed of it; it was that if we could all have a cosy drink together then we would, at least temporarily, be able to forget all our misery. It was fortunate indeed that what little wisdom I had prevented me from voicing this absurd, and somewhat revealing, notion.

Some alcoholics had sought refuge in religion, others in a simmering hatred of the social system under which we live. "I couldn't get a job" was one refrain. "I felt the world was a cruel place and there was very little compassion in it" was another. Politicians failed people and so did religion and much of what happened in our social order appeared not to make sense.

As a socialist I recognised what had sustained me over the years (as well as frustrating me and causing me enough rage to find me reaching for the bottle on occasion). I understood something about social alienation and if I had not been so overcome with emotion at the sad stories I heard that night, then maybe I would have told my own story, of years of reading and learning to analysis, at least to some extent, the capitalist system and the effect it can have on people's lives. If the propensity for alcohol is innate (and that is debatable) then the profit system, the National Lottery with its appeal to selfishness and greed, this grab-all environment against which we are expected to function, will always be a hindrance to the cure of sensitive people who bend under the strain of so much social tension.

I never returned to Alcoholics Anonymous, though I did kick alcohol for seven months. The truth is that I lacked the courage to re-visit the place where I had listened to so many harrowing stories . . . and so many heroic struggles with the demon drink.
Heather Ball

Another Life of Marx: Queues at Truth (1929)

Book Review from the October 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx,” by Otto Ruhle. Translated by Eden & Cedar Paul. Allen & Unwin, 15s.

This book has been written with a heavy hand. It is a curious mixture of contradictions, bitterness, excellent quotations and “modern” psychology. When a man gets on his hobby horse he is apt to leave the world of reality and ride off into the realm of dreams. The author of this book has a hobby horse and when he gets astride of it his dreams are ugly ones. Such was my view when half-way through the book, but as I read on I began to get suspicious. The blacks in the picture were put in a little too thickly and too often. The last two pages supplied the key, and I have come to the conclusion that the book was written for its last two pages and is, in fact, an apology and an excuse for the actions of German Social Democracy. However, I will deal with this last point later.

Now there are. already a number of Lives and Monographs of Marx in existence, including Liebnecht’s, Spargo's (the photos in which are practically identical with those in this book), Beer's, Ryazanoff's and others. Why then this new one, which, apart from mud spattering and some new quotations, adds nothing to what has already been done?

On page 371 the author sets out his psychological views upon the subject of his biography in the following terms:
   If we translate into psychological terms these principles of the method of historical materialism, we get the following. Man forms his character out of his organic constitution and his social and family position. The biological and social interests that promote his safeguarding find expression (unconsciously) in aims. The main trend of his behaviour arises with reference to these aims. Opinions, conceptions, ideas, manifest themselves as forms of expression of the individual's aim to safeguard his own existence. Decisive for each of us in the formation of character and in the development of trend of behaviour is, in the individualistic epoch, the urge to self-expression as an individuality, an urge dictated by the circumstances of life.
  When, in the light of these guiding principles, we contemplate the man Marx—contemplate him solely as a man, apart from his work—our attention is riveted by three characteristics:—
   First, his persistent ill-health, from which we infer that there was constitutional weakness or organic defect.
   Secondly, his Jewish origin, which he felt as a social stigma.
   Thirdly, his position as a first-born child.
The author then proceeds to elaborate his theory, the essence of which is that Marx suffered severely from an "inferiority complex” arising primarily from a bad constitution, and this was the motive that urged him to outstrip everybody and abhor a rival “near the throne.” The "scientific” nature of the author's analysis of Marx may be gathered from the following further quotation (page 376):
If, in the light of these considerations, we turn to examine the personality of Marx, we see the before-mentioned biological, social and family traits in a new and instructive light. But the traits in question are only the elements, the first crude constituents, of a psychological analysis— with which we have to content ourselves, since we lack more detailed materials as regards the life of Marx. Obviously, they do not suffice for an exhaustive analysis. Many of the gaps in our observation will have to be filled in artificially; a schematic construction will have to supplement the defects of observation. Nevertheless, we can get a great deal further than was possible by earlier psychological methods. Even if we do not achieve definitive knowledge, in this respect psychological analysis is no more inadequate than the other sciences, for science has to leave many ultimate problems open.
What all this amounts to, then, is that his view of Marx is guess-work; there are gaps, but these are filled up by assumptions! But if psychological science has not progressed far enough for an accurate analysis, why guess now? What was the urgency of the matter in this special case—particularly as the enemies of the Socialist movement are at their wits end for weapons with which to hinder our progress? And if so much of it is guess-work, why the particular bitterness of the diatribes against Marx by the author? The following are specimens of the author’s estimate of Marx. I have numbered each quotation for convenience in dealing with them:
(1) He (Grun) had wrongfully accused Marx of not protesting with sufficient vigour against expulsion from France, and Marx, who was always too ready to take offence, had therefore conceived an animus against Grun which formed the undertone of a fierce criticism of the latter's attitude towards the problems of Socialism, (p. 98.)
(2) . . . . One day, when Marx insisted upon the rejection of fanciful and over-enthusiastic schemes for universal happiness (passing by the name of Communism), Weitling advocated the cause of the Utopists, the dispute leading to an open breach between him and Marx. Since the latter had an unhappy talent for introducing personal animus into theoretical disputes, the relations between the two men were poisoned henceforward, and they became irreconcilable enemies, (p. 123.)
(3) There is no use blaming a man for his character. All we are to infer from these descriptions is that Marx, despite his thirty years, his extensive achievements and his reputation as a man of learning and a politician, was still what he had been in youth, one fighting to secure recognition, one doubtful as to his prestige. His arrogance, his self-conceit, his dogmatism and disputatiousness and irritability, must reveal themselves to everyone who understands human nature as masks for a lack of self-confidence, under stress of which he was perpetually trying to avert the danger of exposure. He could not listen quietly to an opponent, because he was afraid that his opponent might get the better of him if allowed to continue. He had to shout down every hostile opinion because he was haunted by spectral doubts lest this opinion should gain adherents and leave him unsupported. He tried to discredit his adversaries because he hoped that personal onslaughts would shake the validity of opposing arguments. He could not tolerate rivals because he was perpetually tortured with the dread lest it should become apparent in one way or another that not he, but his rival, was the ablest of the able, the most efficient of the efficient, the most revolutionary of the revolutionists.
   This domineering behaviour was animated by the unconscious conviction that he would be able to overawe the timid among his opponents. When he made fun of the opinions of others, he was trying to fortify the sense of his own superiority. When he crowned himself with anticipatory laurels, he did so in the belief that this would ensure his triumph, and entitle him to wear the laurel crown.
   Only one person would Marx allow to express opinions—Engels. The sole reason for his tolerance in this quarter was that he could rely on being able to use Engels’ remarkable talents for his own purposes as dictator, without Engels expecting any return or thanks, or grant of equality. As long as a collaborator was a willing servant, he could work on the best of terms with Marx. But when this collaborator expressed an opinion of his own, or claimed to assert his own will against that of Marx, the fat was in the fire. , Marx was a typical authoritarian. (p. 158.)
I will forbear quoting more, but there are numerous similar examples through the book. Now for a few remarks on the above.

(1) No evidence is given that Marx had “conceived an animus against Grun.” Surely an historian who claims to be scientific should at least give evidence for his charges? The justification for Marx’s “fierce criticism” is provided by Ruble himself. On the same page he gives the following description of Grun:
Among the “true Socialists,” perhaps the most notable was Karl Grun, a Westphalian. He had been one of Marx’s fellow students, and Moses Hess had made him acquainted with Engels. His socialist career had started from the radical “small-beer Liberalism.” Then he had coquetted with Fourierism for a time, until at length, having got into touch with Hess, he deviated towards early Socialism. All possible varieties of Socialism were jumbled together in his head. Out of borrowed and undigested thoughts from Proudhon, Feuerbach, Hess and Marx, he had brewed the most amazing elixir of happiness, whose formulas were aesthetically tinted and were couched in a feuilleton style. From Paris, writing hastily and irresponsibly, he sent his lucubrations to the German Press, and especially to the “ Triersche Zeitung.’’
(2) Weitlung, another of those towards whom Marx is accused of having a personal animus, is described by Ruhle as follows:
. . .  when Weitling turned up in Brussels, and joined the Workers’ Educational Society there, it became apparent that his development had proceeded no further, and that he had become infected with inordinate vanity, with an undue sense of superiority. He was continually miking about utopias and conspiracies, and imagined himself a prey to the persecution of envious rivals, (p. 122.)
Seemingly a very easy man to fall out with! But perhaps he also had the stomach-ache!

(3) This paragraph by the author is immediately based on the statement of Carl Schurz relating to a meeting he attended when he was 19. Schurz had hardly reached an age to give a dependable judgment. Besides, in harmony with the author’s theory, would it not be necessary to know all about Schurz and the other opponents of Marx to be able to decide whether their judgments were also vitiated by an “ inferiority complex.” In fact, according to this delightful theory, it would appear that one really “knows nothing about nothing," but just goes on guessing!

The paragraph is also similar in essentials to Bakunin’s description of Marx, the value of which may be gauged from the following:
Bakunin honestly endeavoured to be on good terms with Marx [How does Ruhle know?] and to avoid friction. But he could not entertain cordial sentiments for Marx. The two men differed too much in mental structure, in theoretical trend, and in fundamental attitudes towards the revolutionary problem, for this to be possible. Bakunin loved the peasants; detested intellectualism and abstract systems with their dogmatism and intolerance; hated the modern State, industrialism and centralisation; had the most intense dislike for Judaism and all its ways, which he regarded as irritable, loquacious, unduly critical, intriguing, and exploitative, Everything for which he had an instinctive abhorrence, everything which aroused in him spiritual repugnance and antagonism, was for him incorporated in Marx. (p. 280.)
Evidently another very difficult man not to fall out with! But the strangeness of it! In face of the above, Ruhle yet drags in Bakunin as a witness for the prosecution!

At the period Marx was carrying on his work the working-class movement was youthful; it was honeycombed with emissaries of the various governments, whose mission it was to undermine and destroy the movement. Men of all kinds of opinion found their way in and tried to impose their schemes upon the rest. Political job hunters endeavoured to use the movement as means to personal aggrandisement, and Governments were ever ready to buy off dangerous opposition with either money or flattery. Marx plunged into this welter of ignorance, chicanery and egotism and endeavoured to build-up a movement on sound principles with a clear understanding of the necessities of the time. He met with bitter opposition from the earnest as well as from the treacherous. Always surrounded by intrigue, was it any wonder that he was suspicious and occasionally lost patience? Particularly as his suspicions were proved in so many cases to have been well-founded.

It is quite easy for Mr. Ruhle, in these comparatively comfortable times in Germany, to sit back in his chair and see in Marx’s bitterness only the results of stomach-ache, but surely the accumulations of surrounding treachery and pettiness can play upon the strongest nerves until they eventually produce irritability without such irritability having its original source in a feeling of inferiority!

Ruhle complains of Marx’s attitude towards Bakunin and Lassalle. Surely anyone familiar with their actions must agree that, apart from political and economical unsoundness, they lent themselves to suspicion: Bakunin by his underground tactics and Lassalle by his showy methods. The historian of the present has written information in front of him that was not in the hands of those fighting at the time, and if there is to be praising or blaming then it should be accorded with this in mind—unless the author has the stomach-ache!

That Marx had adequate reason for his bitter hostility to Bakunin is surely borne out by the following quotation, when it is remembered that Ruhle is at much pains to show that Bakunin was professing friendship for Marx during that time:
At the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom. Bakunin had tried to induce the League to adopt a revolutionary programme, and to affiliate to the International. When this attempt failed, he resigned from the League, and. in conjunction with J. P. Becker, founded the International Alliance of the Socialist Democracy, also known as the Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. His aim now was to get this Alliance accepted as part of the International; then, by degrees, to excavate and absorb the International until, at last, the International would be replaced by the Alliance, (p. 283.)
A very pretty plan! He aimed at quietly smashing up the International, and yet Ruhle cavils at Marx for his bitterness! Mr. Ruhle is really too well-mannered a gentleman altogether.

(To be continued.)