Sunday, July 30, 2017

Showing Up Shaw (1974)

From the June 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

George Bernard Shaw, as well as a playwright, was a reformist who debunked silly ideas and embraced even sillier ones.

In 1943 he wrote an article in the Labour Daily Herald headed What would Marx say about Beveridge? Our comrade Clifford Allen criticized it in the American Western Socialist. A copy was sent to Shaw, and he sent a letter beginning: “I am much indebted to Mr. Allen for having, by his article in your issue of May, called my attention to The Western Socialist.” He went on to say that Marx "had no experience of the daily drudgery of government”, and that Allen ought to try it too.

Allen responded with a detailed examination of Shaw’s political claims — his belief that Russia was "a new civilization” and that the Socialist revolution would be heralded by shootings on all sides; his Fabian theory that Socialism would come by instalments; and his comprehensive misunderstanding of Marx.

Was Shaw "much indebted” for this further commentary? Far from it. He wrote again, this time with great petulance:
The packet of your issues since May with which you threaten me has not yet arrived. I hope it never may . . . My time — of which there is so little left — is too precious to be wasted on Mr. Allen whose utter ignorance of the real world created a vacuum into which Marx (what he could understand and misunderstand of him) rushed with irresistible force. Experience alone can drive it out.
Allen pointed out that Shaw had made no attempt to answer the arguments but fell back on anger with anyone who took up his "precious time” by daring to criticize him. The Western Socialist’s last word was a quotation from Arthur M. Lewis’s essay The Social Revolution, dealing with the "professional intellectual”:
Should he take up socialism and enter the movement, his first and greatest surprise is to find himself surrounded by hundreds of working men who are fundamentally and undoubtedly his intellectual superiors.
Incidentally, a book called Shaw the Chucker-Out, published in 1968, quotes quite lengthily from the Western Socialist criticism but does not mention Shaw’s replies. The reader is not told of Shaw’s pique when he himself was "chucked out".

Haven Your Cake (2017)

Book Review from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Dirty Secrets: How Tax Havens Destroy the Economy'. By Richard Murphy. (Verso £12.99)

A tax haven is a place that provides tax advantages for someone who does not live there. Some are further described as secrecy jurisdictions, as they also enable secrecy for those who utilise these tax arrangements. Tax havens rely on the notion of an offshore transaction, which is recorded in one place even though all the parties to it reside elsewhere. As one, admittedly extreme, example discussed here of the use of a tax haven, in 2013 Barclays Bank had nearly 55,000 employees in the UK, where on paper the company lost over £1.3bn, but in Luxembourg it had just fourteen employees and made a slightly larger profit.

Tax havens are not just places such as Jersey and the Cayman Islands, for the US and the UK are enormous tax havens too. The US state of Delaware was perhaps the first tax haven, in 1898, and nowadays over half of US corporations have their legal home there. Clearly one consequence of the use of tax havens is that vast amounts of tax that ‘should’ be paid to governments are in fact not paid; estimating the extent of such tax avoidance and evasion is extremely difficult, but Murphy suggests it may be as much as £120bn a year in the UK.

He argues, however, that loss of tax revenue is not the only problem resulting from the existence of tax havens. Since they also involve a great deal of secrecy relating to ownership, accounts and profits, they undermine the workings of the market, as people do not have the open and accurate information needed to act rationally, allocate resources properly and estimate risk. As a result tax havens reduce productivity, growth and profits, and so prevent the ‘proper’ working of capitalism. Doing away with tax havens would mean, as Murphy puts it, ‘saving capitalism from itself’.

Tax havens are used not just by companies but by super-rich individuals as well. One estimate is that in 2010 nearly half of all offshore wealth was owned by the world’s richest 91,000 people (0.001 percent of the global population). These people owned at least a third of the world’s private financial wealth. Tax havens contribute to increasing inequality and the continuance of ownership of massive amounts of wealth by the privileged few.

Murphy is associated with the Tax Justice Network (, and his proposal is to do away with tax havens, thus reducing inequality, making countries more democratic and improving the rule of law. It would also, supposedly, make markets fairer and more efficient. Perhaps this signals one of the problems with tax havens from a capitalist point of view: with their secrecy and lack of transparency, they make it harder for smaller firms to compete and for companies to enter a new market. This is hardly an issue for workers, though: taxes are a burden on the capitalist class, and arguments about tax havens are in reality disputes as to how much of this burden different capitalists should bear.

Murphy’s book gives a broad coverage of various points relating to tax havens, but is overly-optimistic about what abolishing them would lead to. The book could also have done with an extra round of proof-reading, as there are rather too many typos (including an unfortunate reference to ‘on pubic record’).  
Paul Bennett

Corbyn: What He Did Achieve and What He Could Not Have (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Jeremy Corbyn has shown one thing – that contesting an election on a manifesto promising to tax corporations and the rich to pay for improvements in health, housing and education for ‘the many’ is not the vote-loser most pundits assumed. Most, including many Labour MPs themselves, thought that contesting an election with such a programme would be suicidal. In the event, it was one of a number of factors that enabled the Labour Party to increase the number of its MPs by 30 and its share of the popular vote to 40 percent. They didn’t win of course but they were originally supposed to have been annihilated.
The election was still one to decide which group of politicians should run the political side of UK plc, but this time it wasn’t, as in recent previous elections, just a contest between two groups both pleading that their team would be the better managers of capitalism as it is. This time it was between one group still offering this (the Tories)  and another saying that they would make some changes to capitalism (Labour).
That an increased number of people voted against things as they are is at least better than voting, unenthusiastically or cynically, as if having to choose between two brands of more or less identical soap powders. If people weren’t dissatisfied with the status quo and didn’t hope for something better then the prospects for socialism would be hopeless.
There is a difference between being able to win votes on a comparatively left-wing programme for reforming capitalism and being able to implement it. If the Labour Party under Corbyn had done even better and actually won the election, past experience of left-wing governments has shown that it would fail to make capitalism work ‘for the many not the few’.
This is not because its ministers would prove to be incompetent or sell-outs but because capitalism is a social system based, precisely, on the exclusion of the many from the ownership and control of the means of wealth production. These belong to the few, who employ the many to operate them. Under capitalism as an economic system wealth is produced for sale on a market with a view to profit, the source of this being the unpaid labour of the many appropriated by the few.
Promising to make the economic system work for the many not the few assumes the continuing existence of ‘the few’. So, the Labour Party was saying in effect that under a Corbyn Labour government the few would remain in their privileged place but some of their money would be taken from them and used to benefit the many. The trouble here is that the source of the income of the few is profits, and the pursuit of profits is what drives the capitalist economic system. Threaten profits and the economic system stalls. A left-wing government which taxed profits merely to improve the lives of the many would come up against the basic economic law of capitalism of ‘no profit, no production.’
Been there before
The historically-confirmed scenario for a left-wing government is: it is elected and begins to implement its programme; an economic crisis breaks out; the government reacts by backtracking on its reforms and accepting, reluctantly or not, that profits have to come first, and implements this. They lose popularity and at the next election are either voted out or re-elected on a quite different programme (not of radical reforms but merely that they won’t be as bad as the other lot).
This is why we could not be enthusiastic about Corbyn. However well-meaning he might be in some ways (and, despite the smear campaign against him, he did come across as more well-meaning than most politicians), his programme was undeliverable. Capitalism simply cannot be made to work otherwise  than as a system where profits have to come before people. That’s the way it works and the way it has to work.
This means that politics and general elections are in fact based on an illusion – that who controls the government can control the way the economy works, whereas in fact it is the other way round; governments have to accommodate their policies to the way capitalism works. So, in the end, it doesn’t matter which group of politicians is elected to form the government. Whoever they are, whatever they have promised, they will have to govern on capitalism’s terms.
Put another way, if people vote to improve their lot under capitalism this will be frustrated by the operation of the economic forces of capitalism. Capitalism is not a system that can accommodate the democratic will of the people, as expressed in an election, to improve their conditions. The voters might propose, but capitalism disposes. This is the basis of the saying that changing governments changes nothing.
The aspiration to improve things is all to the good but it can’t be realised within the framework of capitalism. What is required to realise the hope of those who voted for  Corbyn is not to tax the few for the benefit of the many. It is to abolish the division of society into the many and the few by converting the means of wealth production from ownership by and for the few into the common property of all for the benefit of all. That would provide the framework within which to re-orient production from profit- making to directly satisfying people’s needs. Not the reformist ‘People before profits’, but the revolutionary ‘People not profits’.
Adam Buick

Fascism, Violence and the Left (1974)

From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Saturday 15th June in London the National Front held a march to a meeting to protest against an amnesty for illegal immigrants. An attack on the march was made by left-wing groups, culminating in a battle with mounted police in Red Lion Square, and a young student was killed.

The inevitable accusations of “police brutality”, the headlines and questions in Parliament ensued. All this followed the National Union of Students’ resolution to prevent “fascists” and “racists” speaking. On 18th June the International Marxist Group announced that unless a July march of Orangemen supported by National Front is banned, it will attack that too.

The policies and attitudes of the National Front are detestable. So are those of the International Marxist Group and its collaborators. The latter include the Communist spokesmen for the National Union of Students who have expounded its policy of forcible suppression, and the Labour fools in the scarcely-known but ill-named “Liberation” group.

Their assertion is that unless “fascism” is crushed we are in danger of the rise of a dictatorship party, which would suppress democracy and persecute its opponents and those it did not favour. If that danger exists it is represented equally by the IMG, the Communist Party and other organizations of the left. What is THEIR aim ? To suppress democracy and put down rivals.

Like the Communist Party when it made a policy of attacking British Union of Fascists marches in the nineteen-thirties, IMG hope to obtain support by posing as the defenders of freedom. But the CP’s policy then did not apply only to fascists. At one period Labour Party meetings were ordered to be broken up. At other times our own meetings have been shouted down and disrupted. Make no mistake about this: these protesters are not Marxists or liberationists or democrats, but power-seekers wanting to suppress whoever disagrees with them.

What have the National Front, IMG and the Communist Party in common? It is not simply that all are would-be dictators; they all uphold capitalism, each aiming to run it in a particular way. A safeguard against them is needed, but it cannot come from force. The only safeguard is Socialist understanding : let any of them state their case, and have its worthless stupidity publicly demolished.

That is what these “defenders of freedom” fear. When the Socialist Party held a debate with the National Front, members of International Socialists came to shout down BOTH speakers. They did not want the fascists’ claptrap exposed — because it would have exposed theirs too. To them, a brawl in the streets is preferable to argument, and the support of hooligans acceptable because they cannot get that of enlightened working men and women.

The problem for the working class is not fascism but capitalism. Racism and other forms of oppression are symptoms of it. Socialists feel as strongly as anyone about them; and we know the solution of them to be the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement with Socialism.

AUEW Supports Labour, Rejects Socialism (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following Composite Motion and amendments were carried at a Conference of the AUEW held at Blackpool in May:
This Representative Council demands that the Parliamentary Labour Party carry out policy formulated by the organised Labour Movement and decided by the Labour Party Annual Conference and in pursuance of these demands recognises the necessity for a Labour Government to pursue a clear socialist programme. 
FIRST AMENDMENTAdd at the end:- This programme should be committed not only to the pursuance of social justice but also to the maintenance of the basic freedoms of thought, speech and association and the people’s rights to be ruled by a freely elected government. 
SECOND AMENDMENTAdd at end:- Conference therefore calls upon the NEC to demand a change in the Labour Party constitution such that the parliamentary party is duty bound to advocate and implement policies determined by Annual Conference. 
FOURTH AMENDMENTAdd at end: - Furthermore, in pursuance of these demands and recognising the necessity for the next Labour Government to pursue a clear socialist programme, Conference calls on the EC to campaign both within TASS and the wider trade union movement for the active participation of workers in the Labour Party. Conference considers that this is the way to ensure that the Labour Party and the next Labour Government adopts these policies. 
As a contribution to the debate our Comrade J. E. Flowers opposed the Resolution as follows:
  Mr. President and fellow delegates, I wish to oppose the substantive Resolution and also to its being sent anywhere, TUC, AUEW or the Labour Party, for the following reasons. 
  As a Socialist recognising the class struggle, I am sympathetic to the struggle of the International working class, whether it be in Chile, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Russia, USA or Great Britain. So I am an active Trades Unionist, although knowing that TU activity is purely defensive against the Master Class. But I find the Labour Party and our Union this week only interested in reforms of capitalism not in its abolition. This abolition can only be achieved by political action by the overwhelming majority of the working class understanding and desiring it—i.e. the establishment of Socialism or Communism. These words mean the same thing, a classless, moneyless society. 
   Socialism therefore means: A system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution by and in the interest of the whole world community. This has not been the object of the Labour Party, supported as it has been recently by Lord Soper, Paul Foot, Tariq Ali, and now Enoch Powell, none of whom define what they mean by Socialism. 
  The Labour Party since its inception in 1906 has never had as its object the establishment of Socialism as described earlier. It has been reformist and supports the retention of capitalism, State or Private. The sale of the tools of war is as much a normal aspect of capitalism as is poverty, unemployment, racialism, sex discrimination, capitalist-oriented education, and housing shortages, from which technicians, as workers, suffer. 
    Marx and Engels, the founders of Scientific Socialism, insisted that the slogans for the working class should be “The abolition of the wages system” and “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.” 
     I ask you to reject this Motion and its submission to the AUEW or the Labour Party.

NHS On The Rocks (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Labour government nationalized private medical service in Britain the state took over. From then on all hospitalization, treatment, dentures, spectacles and prescriptions could now be got “free” on the health scheme. We could even receive specialist and consultant advice without the question of private fee. After-care in convalescent homes by the seaside or in the country was available if specified. It stopped short at such things as recuperation on the Riviera or Swiss Alps.

Thirty years later we now take a look at the state of Hire-Purchase Medicare. Consultants threatening to work to rule. Dentists and General Practitioners threatening to withdraw from the NHS. Technicians, Radiographers, nurses, ambulance drivers, cleaners, kitchen staff, porters, launderers (all but the kind ladies of the Women’s Voluntary Service), having withdrawn or threatening to withdraw their labour. Operations deferred because of the pressure of work or the lack of surgical beds. The government cannot buy enough kidney machines because they are too expensive. Kidney cases just have to suffer. It is reckoned that as many as half-a-million patients are queuing up for beds. Why does an ill person have to wait?

In 1946 Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Government’s Minister of Health, was so concerned about the health of the working class that he forgot momentarily about the health and welfare of those workers who would be running the show. Ever since the loyal servants of the state health institutions had to fight to keep their real wages from being whittled away by the increased cost of living. Now they have started kicking. In order to make it worth while for the consultants Bevan agreed that they should be able to carry on private business. It was arranged that a percentage of private patients be accommodated privately in special wards and wings of the NHS hospitals.

Now apart from the individual worker who insures himself, or the company or Trade Union who insures their employees or members with such bodies as the British United Provident Association or the Hospital Savings Group, who could possibly afford this treatment? When these patients go into hospital one special benefit might be a bed straight away. The general situation will be NHS standard, that is ordinary NHS bed and food. But there are two quite different standards of medical attention and what is the priority? Money of course— what can you afford?

So the great Nye and the Labour Government decreed that the best, or better, treatment during illness will be bought. And here to prove it are some facts. Salmon, steak, strawberries are a few of the tasty dishes you can actually order if you are resident in what’s comically known as the “Fulham Hilton” better known as the new Charing Cross hospital. In addition a bedside telephone and colour TV. That is if you are stingy enough and only wish to pay £174 per week. A better deal may be the London Clinic at £252 per week. This is exclusive of the consultant’s fees. You are expected to employ him if you wish his personal attention. The consultants wish to retain this, not surprisingly.

After thirty years so many people are suddenly piqued about it as if it only started happening yesterday. The present Labour Minister of Health thinks it is unjust and wants a year or so to phase it out. The CP's Morning Star refers to it as “a galling class question”. Yet they support privilege and inequality in Russia.

So no matter what they do they still finish up with two distinct standards of treatment. One of privilege and prerogative and privacy. The other utility, austerity and cheapness.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain had no illusions about this capitalist makeshift health plan for the working class. A patch-’em-up-and-get-’em-back-to-work-as-cheaply-as-possible service. And to think that this cheapskate make-and-mend of capitalism was delivered by the Labour Government in the name of “Socialism”!
Joe McGuinness

China Since 1949: A Survey (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Chinese People's Republic was inaugurated in 1949, Mao Tse-tung was careful to point out that the new society would not be Socialist. His inaugural speech said:
To counter imperialist oppression and raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and people’s livelihood . . . Our present policy is to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it.
The teaching of 1949 was that the workers and peasants of China still had to endure the development of capitalism — “several decades of hardship” (Mao, 21st September 1949) — before the change to “socialism” could be achieved. In the sophistries of the time China was “semi-feudal”; there were “semi-proletarians”, and the peasants were divided neatly into rich, middle and poor. There was also a “national bourgeoisie”, who were considered revolutionary allies, and a petty bourgeoisie who could be conveniently used as either comrades-in-arms or whipping-boys. The bogeys were the big landowners and the Kuomintang bourgeoisie.

Under “the people’s democratic dictatorship” the Chinese capitalists would develop the means of production together with a widening State sector and eventually the whole would fall into the laps of the workers. In the meantime the “democratic” structure would ensure that though a large section of the economy would remain capitalist, the capitalists would never exercise political power. Because the political institutions were democratically elected it followed naturally that the Chinese Communist Party, representing by definition the great majority of the population, would always be m power. It was similar, in fact, to the Chinese Imperial doctrine of “merchant operation, official supervision”.

The Capitalists
Of course it didn’t work. The idea of regulating capitalism had to be abandoned, largely because of the weakness of Chinese capitalists; the foreign capitalists who mattered — Mattheson & Lang, Butterfield, Russel & Co. — pulled out to Hong Kong after a very short time, leaving a gap which the Chinese had a hard struggle to fill. It was from this time, in the mid-fifties, that Mao and the CCP began to claim that China was socialist (the prefix “semi-” in front of "feudal” and “proletarian” was dropped at the same time). Chinese capitalists were bought out on terms described by Yuan-li Wu in The Economy of Communist China (1965) as follows:
A nominal ‘‘fixed interest” or “dividend” of 1-6 per cent a year, payable quarterly, regardless of the profit or loss of the enterprises in question, was promised to private stockholders for a period of six years. The amount was subsequently revised to a uniform 5 per cent per annum.
These compensation agreements were in fact extended for further periods, and as far as can be ascertained dividends are still being paid. Many capitalists were also offered State agencies on relatively generous terms. However, the smallness of the area in which these owners operated must be borne in mind. It was the confiscation of banking and manufacturing interests of owners identified with the Kuomintang that gave the Communists, at the beginning of their rule, a nucleus of important financial and manufacturing enterprises in addition to already-State-owncd enterprises.

By 1956 it was claimed that the proportion of the “capitalist enterprises” in the gross value of output of industry had declined to 0.1 per cent. However, as with so much else in China, hard facts are not so easily come by. As in Russia, illegal manufacture and trading have been widespread and persistent. Wu says:
In fact, among the “crimes” the Communist authorities have tried to stamp out are the matter of unauthorized invoices and purchase orders, purchase and sale of raw materials on the black market, and production in “underground factories”. These “deviations" became especially prominent in the spring of 1963 and required the institution of official drives to eliminate them along with the “rectification" of various "individualistic trends" contrary to the spirit of planning. The 1963 drives were reminiscent of similar campaigns in 1952. The Soviet tolkachi (pushers) most definitely have their Chinese counterparts.
It is often assumed that Soviet aid was, before the breach between the two countries, highly important to China. Certainly it was the major source of foreign capital, but its volume was quite negligible. In The Journal of Asian Studies, XXI, 1961, F. H. Mah estimated that only 727 million yuan out of 3 billion yuan loaned by Russia to Communist China during the First Five-Year Plan consisted of economic loans — about 1.5 per cent, of the state capital investment; the remainder was military loans and transfers of assets already in China. Wu estimates the total of Soviet loans between 1950 and 1957 at 5.2 billion yuan. (Exchange rate between yuan and $: 1 yuan = $2.5.) Thus, the principal source of capital investment was domestic capital formation.

Party and Bureaucracy
In an article “China’s ‘New Economic Policy’ ” in China Under Mao (1973) Franz Schurmann says: “The bitterness against the Soviet Union runs very deep in China.” Mao Tse-tung and Hoxha of Albania are the only political leaders in the world today still singing the praises of Stalin, yet Mao can have nothing for which to thank Stalin. When after 1917 the European revolution did not materialise for them the Bolsheviks turned their interest to China. From the time when the Chinese Communist Party was formed in 1921, until 1940, it was under the domination of the CPSU. (The name adopted was the Chinese CP, and not the CP of China: this is a unique distinction among national Communist parties, implying a subordinate status.)

In the ’twenties and ’thirties the advice from Russia to the Chinese Communists in their struggle against Chiang Kai-shek was continually disastrous. When the struggle resumed after the war Stalin gave little encouragement, and at the point of the Communists’ victory in 1949 urged a compromise settlement: a divided China was a better prospect for Russia than a united one. John Gittings says in The History of the Twentieth Century (Vol. 6, p. 2483): “the Chinese knew that Stalin’s foreign policy was dictated by national interest rather than by ‘proletarian internationalism’.” After a few years of alliance marked by well-founded mistrust, the rift came over nuclear weapons. The line taken in China, however, was that Stalin’s successors had departed from the principles of Lenin. An Editorial commemorating the 50th anniversary of the CCP in June 1971 said:
Khrushchev, Brezhnev and company are renegades from the proletarian revolution, and present-day social-imperialists and world storm-troopers opposing China, opposing Communism and opposing the people. It is our Patty’s bounden internationalist duty to continue the exposure and criticism of modem revisionism with Soviet revisionism at the centre and carry the struggle through to the end.
(Translated Peking Review, 2nd July 1971)
The historical oppressors of the Chinese people are the Imperial Despot and the bureaucracy which administered the despot’s will; and, by implication, the Confucian philosophy which sanctioned them. Mao’s declared aim is the abolition of bureaucracy. The ideological quarrel with the Soviet Union is that, according to Mao, it is the interests of the bureaucracy which govern the politics of Russia: the Party must be a wholly separate institution if it is to identify with the interests of the people. Yet all Mao’s attempts to curb the bureaucracy have failed. From the Great Leap Forward, through various rectification and education campaigns, to the Cultural Revolution and the anti-Confucius campaign, immediately the pressure has been eased the bureaucracy has re-established itself. The reasons are only too obvious, given the industrial and commercial structure China is building. Schurmann describes it:
Factory administration has been recentralised, with major decisions once again being made at the executive level, rather than on the production floor. Money is stressed over production . . . much of the talk about economising could come from the mouths of good Republicans in the United States. Concern over money also implies an orientation to some kind of professional or technical élite (bankers, executives, etc.) and so it is not surprising that the present turn toward accumulation has gone hand in hand with a return of authority to the country’s professional intellectuals.
The ideal of every regime is to see ideology and organization go hand in hand. When they fail to do so, scapegoats are usually sought; and since the advent of “socialism” in China Mao’s speeches and writings have been about little else than the dangers of subversion from “capitalist-roaders”.
Workers and Peasants
The living conditions of the Chinese peasant and worker are hard by any western standard. By their own standards, it can be said that things have never been otherwise and would be no different under any other government in China. It can be said, further that millions do not now die every year from starvation. Yet, since China has adopted the devices and modes of organization necessary to being a major power in the capitalist world, it is the standards of that world that must be applied.

The primary task for the Communist régime was the accumulation of capital. In Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries (1964) Ragnar Nurkse writes:
External resources, even if they come in the most desirable forms, are not enough. They cannot automatically provide a solution to the problem of capital accumulation in backward areas . . . Greater efficiency in food production is the basic way of releasing human energy for capital construction. The domestic saving potential consists here in an increment of real income, and the task of mobilizing it is to withhold the highest possible proportion of this increment for investment purposes. (Our italics.)
Thus, along with the establishment of “mutual-aid teams” — predecessors of the agricultural communes — in the early years political means were used to curtail consumption. As well as heavy taxation, compulsory saving, and rationing of necessities, "conspicuous consumption” was made a crime. According to Choh-ming Li’s article “Economic Development” in China Under Mao, per capita consumption of food, cloth and housing services declined from 1952 to 1957 and in the following two years “took a deep dive. The severe shortage of staple (rice and wheat) and subsidiary food was nation-wide.” In the rural areas, where 50-70 per cent, of total output was required to be set aside as accumulation, there was considerable discontent. Yuan-li Wu in his book says:
In the course of the programme to establish control over resources for accumulation, a principle of low wages and low farm income was evolved. The system of low wages, according to Communist Chinese authors, is one under which all workers would have enough to eat while improvements in the standard of living would be gradual and would be granted only on the basis of further development in production.
Industrial wage differentials on an eight-point scale were introduced in 1956. It was estimated in 1964 (Charles Hoffman: Work Incentives in Communist China) that the wage rates of the highest grades in Manchurian industry were 2.5 to 3.2 times those of the lowest grades; and in the ’sixties other material incentives — rewards and bonuses — were extended. A social welfare system has been steadily expanded with the familiar range of insurance benefits and including subsidized housing. The role of trade unions is similar to that of other Communist countries: enforcing labour discipline, performing welfare functions, and acting as a department of the government rather than as guardians of the workers’ interests.

All Toe the Line
What is considered one of Mao’s most important theoretical statements is his 1957 speech On the Correct Resolution of Contradictions among the People. It is part of life in China that absolute conformity is demanded; while speaking of the dignity of “socialist” man, Mao encourages every deception for degrading opponents and non-conformists. Though the CCP has not reproduced the slaughtering political purges which took place in Russia in the nineteen-thirties, in another sense a purge goes on all the time in the form of the continual “rectification” campaigns.

The Party in China has probably played a more crucial role than its counterpart did in the early Soviet Union. It aims to be in command in every department of social endeavour. Its legitimacy is its interpretation of Marxist-Leninism, conveyed through “the mass line”. By definition, the correct policy of the CCP must be one which will be acclaimed by its own model worker (assumed to be the overwhelming majority); the mass line is Mao’s attempts to give practical demonstration of this.

The CCP has built an elaborate system of communication. A decision made at the centre is carefully graded as information, directive or instruction; it is elaborated in the newspapers, and suitable correspondents procured to identify the CCP with the mass line. A meeting — the vital part of the system — follows. Pretending the possibility of CCP fallibility, the meetings are market-research exercises at which some notice may be taken of views from the floor. Though local party fractions are allowed latitude in the means they adopt, each exercise is stage-managed to give no choice as to the decision over the mass line. Preparatory open and secret sessions are held, the speakers selected, questions planted and bogeys exploited. In the end, the CCP’s correctness is demonstrated, and opposition becomes the evil intent of recalcitrant workers influenced by bad elements (“poisonous weeds”).

On the other hand, the Chinese rulers have discovered what western ones learned: that they can go too far. During the Great Leap Forward workers toiled to the point of exhaustion and produced shoddy goods in the factories, while the bumper crop of 1958 suffered heavy losses from the tiredness, hunger and resentment of the peasants. The disaffection was not confined to economic factors: it concerned corruption, maltreatment by the militia, the threat of labour camps, and the enforced disintegration of family life in the communes. The mass line has had to be accompanied by reforms.

Socialism or Sam's Image ?
What kind of social system exists and is being developed in China ? They claim it to be Socialism:
Article I. The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state of proletarian dictatorship led by the working class (through the Chinese Communist Party) and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.
(Draft Constitution, 1970-71)
The economic, political and social resemblances to Russia of, say, forty years ago are striking — even to the humourless ponderosity of speeches and writings and the endless sloganizing, and their repetition by parrot-brained supporters abroad.

Not one of the economic characteristics of Socialism is to be seen existing in China. The wages system is not abolished but flourishes. Production in its entirety takes place not for use but for accumulation and profit. So far from withering away or becoming an “administration of things” the State has consolidated itself and taken pride in being a dictatorship — of “the proletariat”, which would not exist if there were Socialism.

However, it is not even a question of theoretical shortcomings. The idea of Socialism is founded on the desire for equality, freedom of choice, and the population to be able to claim the fruits of its labour. Because it is opposed to capitalism, there is an over-riding implication that the consequences and concomitants of capitalism — war, economic crises, the shyster dealing between nations — would be absent. And if by some word-magic the theoretical rules for Socialism could be shown to be complied with but the latter conditions were not fulfilled, all Socialists would say that Socialism wasn’t worth having. What they have in China is not Socialist life.

One argument is that though the Chinese system is admittedly not Socialism, it is not capitalism either, because investment is in the hands of the State and a capitalist class in the traditional sense cannot be seen. The obvious point to be made is that, as in Russia, this makes no difference whatever to the social relationships of production; with the State behaving as the capitalist, the working class is exploited to produce interest and profit just the same. Given favourable historical circumstances, some nations can do all the time what others can do only part of the time. Ragnar Nurkse makes plain that this has nothing to do with “socialist” as against capitalist economies:
The country that affords the most notable instance of forced collective saving is Soviet Russia under the five-year plans since 1928. In this case private investment activity was entirely suppressed . . .   I mention it along with the others only in order to bring out the point that in countries with widely different political ideologies the system of collective saving appears to have arisen from basic economic needs which those countries had in common. It worked of course imperfectly, being man-made; but it worked nevertheless. It became very prominent in the post-war reconstruction effort of Western Europe in the 1940’s, but that is an example that does not come from an underdeveloped area.
Moreover, the State can respond to economic needs by admitting outside investment and private enterprise at times. After 1961 (see China Under Mao, pp 222-228) the right of enterprise management to make autonomous use of the capital furnished by the State, so long as quotas and targets were met, was emphasized. The purpose was to overcome defects in the planning system; it was accompanied by permitting open markets to develop, and one immediate consequence was the growth of advertising. Obviously the State at another time will seek to repress what it has licensed and encouraged — leaving the position that sometimes individual profit-makers can be discerned and sometimes not.

The centralized Soviet-type economy is sometimes thought to have greater stability than “free enterprise” and “mixed” economies. This is not true (the difference is the difficulty of obtaining information). It is now generally accepted that the failure of the Great Leap Forward was “a depression, such as in the capitalist world: overproduction, underconsumption, drying up of savings, unemployment, decline in business morale, disruption of the market, etc.” (Schurmann, ibid.) Nor has the Chinese régime escaped the problem of rising prices, or abstained from inflationary “deficit financing” (increasing the note circulation).

What has been set on its feet in China therefore is capitalism: where the privileged smirk and philosophize, and the peasant and the worker bear the burden. The announcement of the American President's visit there in 1971 said :
The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.
It might have been more simply put: Uncle Sam recognizes his own image.
Robert Barltrop

Why Not More Socialists? (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain claims that the majority of the working class are capable of understanding Socialism. This being so we are often asked the question, why then, are there not many more Socialists? At present the vast majority of workers mistakenly can only see the solution to their problems in reforming capitalism in one way or another. Capitalism itself is not questioned, it is only the patching up of its effects that is attempted.

From our point of view, one of trying to make Socialist ideas known, the problem is not one of understanding, but of communication. Today information is mainly passed on by television, radio, and the press, to which the SPGB is virtually denied access. Consequently with our limited resources our activities in spreading Socialist knowledge are confined to what we are able to do in the way of writing and distributing our literature, out-door and indoor meetings, and discussion with people we come into contact with at work or anywhere else. There was a time when political meetings took place in the open on street corners where one could go and listen to speakers almost any day of the week. A minority voice stood some chance of being heard then. With the advent of television those days are gone and minorities without access to the modern forms of mass communication have found it increasingly difficult to make their voices heard.

What is seen and heard in the mass media is the misuse of the word Socialism, and distortions of Marx’s ideas. This means that we are called upon to waste a lot of time in explaining what Socialism is not, that Socialism does not yet exist anywhere. What is important about the mass media is not so much that they create attitudes and values but that they continue to reinforce existing ones. Socialist ideas are not propagated in a vacuum but within capitalist society, meeting all the obstacles and prejudice of capitalist ideology. A great deal of expense and time is spent perpetuating attitudes which maintain the capitalist system. Marx wrote, and it still applies today, that “The prevailing ideas in society are the ideas of the ruling class.”

It may be concluded that there seems little chance of establishing Socialism and such a conclusion would be correct if it were simply a question of the efforts of the SPGB alone. Important as these efforts are, they are not in themselves sufficient to prepare the working class for the establishment of Socialism. Working in opposition to capitalist ideology are the facts of capitalism itself. Capitalism has not only produced the material conditions of potential abundance, where the forces of production conflict with the property relations, but has also brought into being the working class whose necessary task is to act in their own interest in abolishing the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour.

It is also a fact that capitalism will not let workers rest content, it is forever throwing problems in their way. Old problems such as poverty and relatively new ones such as pollution, drug addiction, increasing mental illness and many others. All the time capitalism with some fresh horror demands that we sit up and take notice. Of course “escape”, provided by TV, bingo or the football match is always forthcoming. But it is no solution. The problems, tragedies and frustrations of capitalism are not so easily escaped.

Also capitalism needs to educate and train its workers in order that they may be able to carry out the functions necessary to the ever changing technology and the race for profits. Capitalism puts an emphasis on scientific method and adaptability, yet work on a factory production line for instance requires that a man should be merely an appendage of the machine, with his movements dictated by the machine. In the Daily Telegraph (18th May) Peter Knight wrote, referring to a BBC-2 programme dealing with Ford factory workers:
The programme vividly depicted the noisy, monotonous routine of the production line where men lose their identities as they work with almost robot efficiency. As one pointed out, they are programmed to do one thing and that is the one thing they keep on doing.
For those workers, like many, the kind of job they do is only a source of frustration to them. How many workers anywhere gain satisfaction from their jobs? It is another of the many pressures of capitalism which will continue to drum into the heads of its victims the need to change the system of society which forces many of its members for the best part of their working lives to live like robots.

To those who say “Yes Socialism is a good idea, but you will never get the majority of people to understand it,” we ask: If you can understand Socialism, why not then the majority of people? Members of the Socialist Party are no more or less intelligent than most other people. What we say is that if you think Socialism is such a good idea why not find out more about it? Then join with us in helping to explain it to fellow workers so at least they may have the opportunity of deciding for themselves.

For those who think us idealists and say “Yes it sounds like a very fine ideal, but reality just does not work like that", we reply that Socialism is not an ideal. It is based on the sound facts of the way human society evolves, and the way capitalism works. We are not asking for a change of heart — we are asking for the conversion of the means of production from private or state ownership to common ownership. This is not an ideal but a practical and material demand that is in line with the interests of workers throughout the world. If you still think we are after an impossible ideal listen to Engels who wrote in Socialism Utopian and Scientific:
The final causes of all social changes and political revolusions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy but in the economics of each particular epoch.
The material conditions for Socialism have long been in existence. All that is needed is for the majority of the working class to realise their common interest in abolishing capitalism. That mighty force would then have arisen, the class-conscious working class with one objective — the establishment of Socialism. With this end in view, and armed with Socialist knowledge, the working class will fulfill their role. This great and final act as members of the working class will free them from the chains of the wage-labour and capital relationship which now holds them in its grip. Then they will emerge as men and women in a classless society, securely resting on the sound basis of the common ownership in the means of production. The wars, the rat-race, the poverty and all the other evils which arise from property society would then have gone from the scene of a truly human society. Men, women and children would then be free to develop their potential and their relations with each other as human beings.
P. Young