Monday, June 19, 2017

Milner Tries To Excuse "Intervention" (1919)

From the January 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Government are now making a frantic effort to throw dust in the eyes of the people on the question of what they are pleased to call the “British intervention in Russia.” The Secretary of State, Lord Milner, claims to have received a letter on the subject from a correspondent, and whether this is a put-up job or not, his statement purporting to be an answer to this letter is such a wishy-washy production as to be little else than a subject for derision and laughter.

Lord Milner states that:
    . . the Bolsheviks, whatever their ultimate object, were in fact assisting our enemies in every possible way.
    It was owing to their action that thousands of German troops were let loose to hurl themselves against our men on the Western Front. It was owing to their betrayal that Roumania, with all its rich resources of grain and oil, fell into the hands of the Germans.
These are deliberate lies. The facts are plain enough to view. Russians were beaten to a standstill under the regime of that advanced and enlightened ruler whom our bosses’ papers at that time referred to as “our Gallant Ally,” and some time previously had honoured with the name we still love to know him by—Bloody Nick.

It was under Nick’s generals that the “Russian Steam Roller” was reduced to impotence. The poor, unlettered moujik played his unwilling part in the war “according to plan.” He was the cheapest cannon-fodder in the whole arena, in the sense that there were enormous numbers of him, and he was probably the only soldier in the whole conflict who could be driven half armed and ill equipped into the slaughter merely as a stop-gap, a. mass of quivering, valueless flesh to keep the "enemy” busy while rival generals and statesmen squabbled over the questions command, and personal and “national” dignity.

So, in spite of the Allied liars who are casting about for excuses for attacking those who are threatening capitalist interests in Russia, defeat, complete and irretrievable, was the legacy left the Bolsheviks by their feudal and capitalist predecessors. Even had they desired it; even had the capitalist revolution not completed the ruin of the giant Russian military machine, the Bolsheviks had not the means to carry on the war against the powerful, victorious, and perfectly equipped German host. Already, under the capitalist Premier, Prince Lvoff, in 1914, the Russian forces had begun to melt away. Skulking Kerensky and his fellow butchers tried to keep them together by the usual means of wholesale slaughter, but their failure was ignonimous. It was not for want of the will to murder that they failed. “General Kornlioff is given orders that deserters and runaways are be shot,” declared the “Daily Chronicle” on the 24th July 1917. The war-mongers had their opportunity, and their failure proves beyond all refutation, that peace was the ardent desire of the Russian peoples. The very success of the Bolsheviks is based on this almost universal desire of the people of Russia for peace. No honest man with a knowledge of the facts can contend that the Bolsheviks find their chief support among those who understand Bolshevist principles. They found a war-sick people—a people who had been driven to war by organised military brutality and tyranny—they promised them peace and—wonder among politicians!—kept their promise. And this our British capitalist apologists call treachery, and "helping the Germans.”

The fact is that neither the Bolsheviks nor the Russian people ever made any promises to the Allies, or entered into any compact or treaty with them. All such contracts were entered into by the Tsarist gang. These ghouls did not represent the people, and the Allies knew it. They did not worry in those days about “only negotiating with governments representative of the people,” nor did they think it “an obligation of honour”—what language from one of the central figures of the South African outrage) “to save” those with whom they entered into the treaties. For they rushed to congratulate those who overthrew their allies, co-plotters, and partners, Bloody Nick and his circle. It never entered into their heads when they expressed gratification at the downfall of their partners in this awful crime, that “it would be an abominable betrayal, contrary to every British instinct of honour and humanity” to, “simply cause our own immediate purposes have been served, leave them to the tender mercies of their enemies.”

All the Allies' reasons for invading Russia, as put forward in Lord Milner’s letter, since they turn on the alleged German exploitation of Russian resources, cease to afford any pretext for the continued occupation of Russian territory by the Allies in view of the present military position of Germany. The only shred of excuse offered is that they must not leave the “thousands of Russians” who, ‘in the course of this Allied intervention" have “taken up arms and fought on the side of the Allies,” to “the tender mercies of their enemies before they have had time to arm, train, and organise so as to be strong enough to defend themselves.” This cant might go down but for the light shed upon it by other events. These (probably mythical) Russians are not the only people who have fought on the side of the Allies. To use a phrase Lord Milner is very fond of, “I say nothing of the poor, cast-off crippled soldier at home abandoned to the tender mercies of private charity. There are others. The Armenians, for example, they fought on the side of the Allies, yet the latter have not scrupled to abandon the poor remnants of an agonised people to the tender mercies of their enemies, the vengeful official Turk.

What Lord Milner really means can be read in his reference to the arming, training, and organising of the Russians who have fought on the Allied side. These Russians are the Russian capitalists and their hireling butchers. It is to arm and aid these, and to establish capitalist rule in the vast domains now under Bolshevik administration that our lads are now being kept from their homes. It is to assist in crushing out a working-class rising, that British sailors are firing at Bolsheviks on the shores of the Black Sea.
A. E. Jacomb

Communist Measures? (2017)

From the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Guardian (10 May), Ellie Mae O'Hagan wrote of Marx, 'plenty of his proposals – just as radical when he wrote them – are common sense today. These include free education, abolition of child labour, a progressive income tax, a national bank, and closing the gap between town and countryside.' This is true but these, taken from the Communist Manifesto weren't what he meant by 'communism', as we explain here.

The main thing to realise about the Communist Manifesto is that it isn’t. It was originally published in German in 1848 and its title was Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (Manifesto of the Communist Party). The Manifesto was issued in the name of the Communist League, a loose grouping of German refugees in London, and no author was credited. In the previous year the Central Committee of the League had commissioned Marx to write a statement of general principles and issued him with editorial guidelines. The Central Committee then authorised it for publication. There was no Communist Party as we now understand that term but there can be little doubt that their Manifesto was a rallying cry for such an organisation.

The Manifesto was published in late February 1848, at about the same time as the revolutions of 1848 began – first in Paris, then in Berlin and many other European cities. The occurrence of widespread uprisings throughout Europe owed nothing to the Manifesto, though members of the League were not alone in anticipating such an event. The contributory factors were food shortages and starvation brought about by the spread of potato blight, chronic unemployment and falling wages caused by recession, frustration at the feudal bastions of reaction in government and revolutionary nationalism. In most cases it fell to members of the ‘petty bourgeoisie’ (shopkeepers, artisans, small farmers) to organise revolution. They had suffered economic hardship in the last few years, had the most to gain from a more progressive regime and potentially had the political clout to bring it about. The big capitalists had no such incentive, having done well in the recent capitalist industrialisation sweeping Europe, and so tended to ally themselves with the forces of conservative reaction. It was in this context that Marx and the League issued their Manifesto.

In the Chartist weekly newspaper Red Republican, in 1850, Helen Macfarlane produced the first English translation — only they gave it the title ‘German Communism: Manifesto of the German Communist Party’. To the Chartists, at least, the insertion of ‘German’ twice in the title indicates that the purpose of the Manifesto was obvious. In Macfarlane's translation the Manifesto begins: ‘A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe’. After 1848 it was soon translated into numerous languages and in different countries. It was again translated into English by Samuel Moore (who had translated volume 1 of Capital) and ‘revised in common’ with Engels for the ‘authorised’ 1888 edition. In that edition Engels claimed joint authorship, but he was not involved in writing the Manifesto. In the ‘authorised’ edition the opening declaration ‘A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism’ was something of an exaggeration. Marx borrowed this already well-known imagery from Lorenz von Stein's book on communism in France, published in 1842.

The Manifesto claimed to ‘not set up any sectarian principles of their own’. But what about Chartism? Chartism was a mass working class organisation demanding universal suffrage and other reforms. The Manifesto argued that ‘Chartists are infinitely closer to the communists than the democratic petty bourgeoisie or the so-called Radicals’. And yet, at this point, while the League did see themselves sharing some common ground, they were sufficiently different from Chartism to form a separate organisation. Despite what the Manifesto said, communists could be opposed to other working class organisations if there were important issues at stake. In fact the League had a communist objective which was not shared by Chartism, though some individuals in that organisation did share that objective. At this early stage of their political career, Marx, Engels and others used the term communism for their objective. Later they would use socialism and social democracy, but they all meant the same thing.

The theoretical concerns of the Manifesto are universal, but the concrete demands of the Manifesto were German. In the Manifesto, the League ‘turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution.’ That is the context within which the Manifesto was issued. Later in 1848 the Central Committee of the Communist League issued its ‘Demands of the Communist Party in Germany’. This seventeen-point programme updated the Manifesto's immediate demands to the changed German conditions. It argued: ‘It is to the German proletariat, the petit bourgeoisie, and the small peasantry to support these demands with all possible energy.’ In short, Marx, the League and the immediate measures in the Manifesto were encouraging a bourgeois-democratic revolution.

In the circumstances of the time it seemed logical to Marx and the League that they should accept that for the moment their interests coincided with those of the bourgeois democrats, until such time as the absolutist regimes had been overthrown, and should then continue their struggle against the new bourgeois regimes. It was assumed that ‘the bourgeois democratic governments’ could be placed in the situation of immediately losing ‘all backing among workers’ (Marx's Address to the Communist League, 1850).

At the end of its second section the Manifesto lists ten measures which ‘will, of course, be different in different countries’. And when the Manifesto was reprinted in 1872, Marx and Engels stated in the Preface that ‘no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section 2. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today.’ Germany had become a unified bourgeois state the year before. In fact, some of the measures at the end of Section 2 have since been implemented within clearly capitalist and state capitalist regimes.

Many commentators on the Manifesto only have eyes for the historically specific reformist demands (‘A heavy progressive or graduated income tax’) and are blind to the universally specific communist demands (‘the Communistic abolition of buying and selling’). For instance, in his Introduction to the Pluto Press edition of The Communist Manifesto (2008), while purporting to be sympathetic, David Harvey argues for the universal applicability of some of the reform demands while ignoring communism entirely (Socialist Standard book review, November 2008). His one word response to our astonishment was: ‘Predictable’.

Understanding context is important when reading historical documents. We will never know how history would have turned out if Marx had not written a Communist Manifesto, but the Manifesto of the Communist Party continues to create confusion as well as enlightenment.
Lew Higgins

New Pamphlet Out Soon (1968)

From the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

LABOUR GOVERNMENT AND SOCIALISM 1s. 3d (post free) Details below 

Why are so many Labour voters disappointed? Why is there a swing to the other parties at by-elections? Why do more and more people not trouble to vote?

Why do so many people become cynical about politics and say that nothing makes any difference? Why have some trade unions that are affiliated to the Labour Party threatened to withhold contributions and to form an independent ‘trade union party'?

This new 36-page Socialist Party pamphlet, out soon, answers these questions and exposes the uselessness of this and previous Labour governments. It shows too how Labour’s avowed aim of ‘making capitalism work' leads them to support wage restraint, unemployment and profit-making.

"Experience proves beyond question", says the pamphlet, “that the position of wage and salary earners is the same whether capitalism is administered by a Conservative or by a Labour government. Some workers believe that this need not have happened if the Labour government had chosen to follow a different course. The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not take that view. What we have experienced has been the inevitable consequence of perpetuating capitalism. Within capitalism there is no escape from its economic laws".

You can order copies of this topical pamphlet by writing to the Socialist Party (Dept. SLG), 52 Clapham High Street, London, S.W.4.

What Marx Did Not Mean (1967)

Book Review from the July 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Essential Writings of Karl Marx edited by David Caute, Panther, 8s. 6d.

David Caute, we can safely say, is unable to understand what he reads. It is now fashionable to cast Marx as some Great Humanist Philosopher and to use this to challenge his claim to have adopted a scientific approach to the study of society, history and economics. Needless to say, Caute jumps on this bandwagon. In his introduction and notes he emphasises Marx’s early philosophical attitude to Man, the proletariat, capitalism, communism and the state. It is quite true that Marx was greatly influenced by the German philosophers of his day such as Feuerbach and especially Hegel. It was in fact his study of the implications of their theories that led Marx to take up the study of society and political economy. His theories in these fields should be judged on their merits and not dismissed out of hand because of his philosophical background.

Caute, as we have said, is ignorant. Let us give a few examples. He says that, in Marxian economics, “the value of a commodity was to be measured by the quantity of labour-time embodied in it”. As everyone who has the slightest knowledge of Marxian economics will know, this is not so. The value of a commodity is fixed by the amount of socially-necessary labour embodied in it. Even Caute is forced to add that Marx “made some qualifications(!) such as the concept of “socially necessary” which Caute then dismisses as “nebulous” (no reasons given).

Another example of Caute’s slip-shod method is this passage in which, to make any sense of it, the word “labour” has to be understood in two very different senses (and even then it's not what Marx wrote): 
Defining labour as variable capital, Marx calls the ratio of surplus value to variable capital the rate of exploitation. A reduction in the length of the working day need not reduce the rate of exploitation, because new machines may extract more labour in a given time.
No wonder Caute is unable to grasp the crucial difference in Marxian economics between “labour” and “labour power”.

Caute attributes to Marx the view that “a falling rate of profit is one of the symptoms of a decaying capitalism” without quoting at all from that part of Volume II of Capital where Marx discusses what he calls “the law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit”. But, having read this far, this is what you will have come to to expect from Caute. In this case he's clearly arguing against the vulgar pseudo-Marxism of pre-war fellow travellers. Perhaps the best distortion is this one:
Nor did he (Marx) regard all labour as productive of value. He excluded the labour of the capitalist, the banker and the merchant. This suggests that his theory of value was not simply, as he claimed, ‘the scientific expression of economic relations of present-day society’ but was also a moral theory.
Quite apart from the fact that Marx was trying to show how people like capitalists, bankers and merchants who did no work were still able to get a living from society, it is no contradiction in Marxian economics to say that if a factory-owner worked in his factory he would be producing value. The case of the merchant and the banker is a little more complicated since the wage-worker in these businesses themselves produce no value but only realise it for their employers. So, if only Caute knew it, some capitalists could produce value while some workers don't, somehow, if Caute ever read that far. If he wishes to get some idea of what Marx’s theory of value is we suggest he read an article in the LSE journal, Economica, of August 1963 by one of his more academic colleagues Thomas Sowell, entitled “Marxian Value Reconsidered”. Besides, Caute's bibliography shows that he is not aware of L. Boudin's Theoretical System of Karl Marx or of Kautsky's summary The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx.

There are many other inaccuracies in the presentation of Marx’s views: that what you think depends on what class you’re in; that surplus value exists outside capitalism; that there is increasing “pauperization” of workers; that there was no state or ruling class in Oriental society; that Marx worshipped violence; that a harsh dictatorship would follow the overthrow of capitalist rule; that crises get worse and worse. Caute also thinks that a “Marxist-Communist” revolution triumphed in Russia. It would take a book to sort out all these errors.

This selection of writings of Marx and Engels, like all of them, suffers from the defect that no attempt is made to evaluate the importance and significance of their various writings—the early manuscripts, letters, unpublished notes, publisher works, popular pamphlets and so on. Yet if you want such a handy collection don't get this Panther Book but get instead the Pelican Karl Marx. Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy, edited by T. B. Bottomore and Maximiliein Rubel, at less than half the price.
Adam Buick