Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gradualism and Revolution (1947)

From the September 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The constant description of the Labour Party’s programme of Nationalisation as an example of Socialism in action has brought into prominence again the old controversy between “Gradualism” and “Revolution” that raised a ferment in the Social Democratic movement towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. An examination of the contentions of those who argued for revolution at the time shows that even they were impregnated with a good deal of the gradualist outlook, which was based on the assumption that Socialism, as a practical proposition, was at the back of beyond and then some.

The divergence in ideas between gradualists and revolutionists was assumed to be a divergence in outlook as to the method of obtaining a commonly agreed upon object—Socialism. In fact, however, it was partly a difference in conception of the object itself, in spite of the general use of such expressions as “Common ownership,” "Collectivism,” etc. Gradualists defined their views as evolutionary, but this was obviously inaccurate as evolution involves sudden changes, catastrophic changes, to which they were opposed.

The extreme expression of gradualism at the beginning was the Fabian Society, formed in 1884. It was mainly composed of people who were drawn together to discuss the “higher life” ideas of Thomas Davidson, and the discussions were infused with a complacent atmosphere of “Intellectualism”; the smug and self-satisfied members were acutely conscious of their mental superiority to the rest of society, both bloated bourgeois and ignorant workers; they had a heartfelt and, it must be added, a sincere desire to improve the poverty stricken conditions of the latter class. The Fabians were opposed to sweeping changes, proposing to gradually permeate society, both “upper” and “ lower” layers, with a leaven of “advanced” ideas until it had imperceptibly changed its form. The ultimate aim they had in view was a form of state capitalism and was summed up in one of the phrases in their report to the Second International Congress in 1896: “the Fabian society, far from desiring to abolish wages, wishes to secure them for everybody.” Naturally the members of the Fabian Society were to be the intellectual leaders of the bovine, though sometimes awkward, herd. Most of the early members of the Fabian Society were government officials and their occupation led them to believe that they were in a position to influence legislation in the direction of their aspirations. One of their members, Ramsay MacDonald, became the first Labour Prime Minister and others rose high in government and diplomatic service.

The propaganda of the Fabians was partly instrumental in the formation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893, whose principal spokesman, Keir Hardie, was opposed to the historical and economic theories of Marx, holding the view that socialist revolutions had been occurring throughout the whole period that followed the disintegration of tribal communism. To him “Socialism, like every other problem of life, is at bottom a question of ethics and morals.” (Page 35, “From Serfdom to Socialism”). According to Keir Hardie the road to Socialism was as follows:
  “In like manner it is conceivable that the transference of industries from private hands to the State will be a gradual and peaceful process. Already, in fact, the process has advanced to a considerable stage. The property held and worked and controlled by municipalities already exceeds £500,000,000 sterling in value, and it is being added to yearly. This process has but to continue long enough to ensure that every industry will pass under public control, and thus State Socialism will become an accomplished fact, by a gradual process of easy transition.”
By State Socialism Hardie meant, as can be seen, Nationalisation; and that even that process has been gradual no one can deny as it is now forty years since Hardie wrote the above words and the process is far from being completed. But even that which he aimed at has been clearly revealed to any who will give it an hour or two’s realistic examination as a system in which the Capitalists own industry collectively, and live upon the interest they draw from their bondholding ; so that the system that was to come silently, like a thief in the night, is only a thieving system after all.

The position of the gradualists was given a semblance of a scientific basis by Edward Bernstein in his book “Evolutionary Socialism.” Bernstein attacked the chief tenets of Marxism, but we have not sufficient space to discuss his criticism. The object of his criticism was to induce the Social Democratic Parties to concentrate upon such immediate questions as that of “democratising” the state and removing the worst evils that afflict the workers, on the ground that Socialism was an ideal beyond the most distant horizon. Before he died Bernstein recanted his most vigorous criticism, and he at least has the merit of having opposed the first world war.

Now let us glance at the attitude of some of those who were the professed opponents of gradualism and who have been esteemed as outstanding theorists of the socialist movement and Marxists. Emile Vandervelde was one of these but his definition of Socialism does not work out much differently from that of the Fabians and Keir Hardie; he also had in mind gradualism, nationalisation, and unequal rewards for those living under the new system. Here are examples of his views taken from “Collectivism and the Industrial Revolution":
  “By the very fact of its magnitude, this revolution can only be the result of a long and complex series of partial variations; 'radical changes cannot be sudden: sudden changes cannot be radical’. (Page XV).
   "In fact there is nothing to prevent us imagining a socialist state, in which individual ownership and labour would co-exist with collective ownership and labour.” (Page 47).
   "In the proportion in which it would be socially useful from the point of view of production to allow special advantages to certain workers, or to certain categories of workers, in order to stimulate their energies and their power of labour, nothing would prevent a collectivist society from maintaining — mutatis mutandis —the graduated scale of salaries which exists today in the public services. Collectivism does not then necessarily imply equality of remuneration.” (Page 177-178).
The last statement merits comment from another point of view. Vandervelde wrote his book in 1907, when he was a leading official in the Second International, and a comrade of Lenin's until 1917. Lenin however supported equality of remuneration and regretted that the Bolsheviks had to take a step backwards and introduce inequality; it was left for his successor, Stalin, who could hardly find words strong enough to vilify Vandervelde, to glorify unequal remuneration as one of the distinctive achievements of the soviet state and a hall mark of its socialist basis.

Even Kautsky, who was the outstanding opponent of revisionism, accepted the revisionist (and gradualist) concentration upon immediate demands, nationalisation, and even inequality of incomes under Socialism:
     "All forms of modern wage-payment-fixed salaries, piece wages, time wages, bonuses—all of them are reconcilable with the spirit of a socialist society; and there is not one of them that may not play a role in socialist society, as the wants and customs of its members, together with the requirements of production, may demand.” ("Class Struggle,” page 149).
Although the opponents of gradualism paid lip service to revolution in fact they were identified with the former by their platforms of immediate demands and their support for nationalisation. As Robert Hunter put it in "Socialism and Violence” (1916)
   "There is not a socialist party in any country that has not used its power to force the State to undertake collective enterprise. Indeed all the immediate programmes of the various socialist parties advocate the strengthening of the economic power of the State. They are adding more and more to its functions; they are broadening its scope; and they are, without question, vastly increasing its power. But, at the same time, they are democratising the State. By direct legislation, by a variety of political reforms, and by the power of the great socialist parties themselves, they are really wresting the control of the state from the hands of special privilege . . . State Socialism is in itself undermining and slowly destroying the class character of the State.” (Page 257).
Of course the reference to all socialist parties excluded the Socialist Party of Great Britain (we were the awkward squad that must not be noticed) and the alleged practical achievements mentioned above are all moonshine, as the workers under Labour Government are beginning to glimpse. Under nationalised Capitalism the workers are no less in the grip of Capitalist conditions than they were before.

The reform measures included in the programmes of the various social democratic parties (the number and variety of the reforms were bewildering) caused some of their members headaches as they seemed out of harmony with a socialist objective. Ernest Untermann (who translated the second and third volumes of "Capital”) made an attempt to solve this contradiction. In an article in the December, 1903, tissue of the "International Socialist Review” he claimed that the confusion would be cleared up if the socialist parties of the world adopted a common platform separate from the immediate demands and that, as the latter were only instructions issued to members of parliament to act upon while they were in the minority, they should not be published. He suggested that the socialist party in each country should issue a booklet to its members of parliament with instructions about the immediate demands they were to formulate and support. In this way, he argued, the election programmes would be without these immediate demands and thus the candidates would be sure of a vote upon Socialism alone. But he took the backbone out of his proposal by declining to lay down what constituted a socialist programme, claiming that the delegates to the international conferences were quite competent to do this. As these delegates were people who held a variety of views upon Socialism, mostly anything but accurate and overwhelmingly reformist, the result would have been a programme little different from those in existence at the time, and it is worthy of note that, in the course of time both supporters of gradualism and professed supporters of revolution alike became members of both capitalist and labour governments.

What bogged a brilliant theoretical exponent of Socialism, like Kautsky, and vitiated his conception of the road to Socialism was, on the one hand, the desire to improve the capacity of the workers to engage in the struggle by accomplishing practical ameliorations of their conditions and, on the other hand, the fear of antagonising certain sections of the population such as small farmers, independent craftsmen, and small proprietors of various descriptions. He did not realise that the immersion in practical programmes would inevitably result in these demands becoming ultimate ends in themselves and, by occupying all the energies of the social democratic parties, would submerge the socialist objective and tie these parties to the tail of capitalist parties. The history of the past fifty years has demonstrated the accuracy of this view, for Socialism has become identified with reforms and with State Capitalism; even Marx, the founder of Scientific Socialism, has been degraded with a place in the pantheon of capitalist fame.

Those who argue that Socialism is a long way off make it farther off by muddling the workers’ heads with complicated reform programmes; those, on the contrary, who argue that Socialism can be here tomorrow keep their theoretical ideas and practical policy clear and fresh by concentrating solely upon Socialism, leaving no doubt in the minds of the workers about what Socialism is and the practicability of its immediate application, providing the workers understand it and want it. Socialism is revolutionary and therefore its advocates are fundamentally opposed to Capitalism and its policies. Hence the revolutionists were opposed to the first world war, on the ground that it was a capitalist war, while the gradualists and the professed revolutionists of the social democratic parties united in the main in flocking to the support of their respective governments on both sides of the conflict. From that time onwards the professed revolutionism of the social democratic parties practically disappeared, except in odd theoretical disquisitions, swallowed up by the controversy over dictatorship and democracy, and the revolutionary phrases of these parties have been polluted by being used to bolster up the gradualism of the Russian Bolsheviks, and, in a round-about way, the gradualism of Labour governments.

The basis of all gradualist pretensions is that we can have a little bit of Socialism existing alongside of Capitalism, and that this little bit can grow and grow until Capitalism is absorbed in the new system. The confusion is partly due to mixing up the concentration of industry with Socialism and partly to the idea that a government, whose personnel consists of direct representatives of the workers, can radically alter a system and its effects whilst leaving untouched that which is really the basis of the system—capitalist production with its division into two classes of people, one of which depends upon wages for a living and the other upon bond and share holding. Such people get what they ask for—economic blizzards. Socialism, on the other hand, means an immediate and fundamental revolution in the basis of society; the abolition of capitalist ownership of the means of production and its replacement by common ownership. This change will be catastrophic in the sense of a complete break; it cannot be accomplished gradually, no matter how excellent may be the intentions of the gradualists. It involves the capture of political power by the workers and, in the meantime, permanent and unswerving antagonism to Capitalism, its spokesmen, and those who try to dress up Capitalism in more alluring garments. The final fate of all gradualists is to lose themselves in the camp of the enemy. Revolution alone, and not reform, is the only policy to which a socialist party can adhere.

Aden: The Cost of Oil (1964)

From the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is nothing the press loves so much as a bogy man. Whenever Great Britain is in dispute with another country, almost without exception the newspapers spill their inky venom in caricatures of the "enemy” leader, showing him as stupid, or bloodthirsty, or power mad, or in some other, equally unpleasant, way.

So it is at the moment with President Nasser, who, ever since he first pressed the claims of Arab nationalism against the entrenched British interests in the Middle Past, has been one of the principal stand-bys for the headline writers and editors of Fleet Street.

"Get Out! Says Nasser” bellows one headline, and workers in bowler hats and boiler suits all over Great Britain feel their hackles rise as they read a carefully bowdlerised, pepped-up version of a speech by the Egyptian ruler. How dare he, they fume. It's about time we sent in the paratroops. A pity we stopped at Suez when we did. What he's asking for is an H-bomb on Cairo. And so on.

In this atmosphere, the story of the beheading of two English soldiers by the rebel Radfani tribesmen—who are said to be armed by the Egyptians—found a hysterically receptive audience. Big, slashing, screaming headlines, supported with the boy-next-door pictures of the soldiers and details of their families, blazoned the story across the nation's breakfast tables.

It did not seem to occur to any of the newspapers that, even if the story were true, they were adding an intolerable burden to the grief of the men's families by their eager publicising of it. Or, if this did occur to them, the papers ignored it. They, after all, had a job of muckspreading to do and in that great enterprise what concern can there be for an unimportant detail like human feelings?

This was one of the most squalid aspects of the affair, in which not only the press but the men's commanding officer and the government were implicated. For the alacrity with which the first story was accepted, without checking by reliable observers on the spot, suggests that those who noised it may have suspected its total veracity—but had objects in mind other than publishing the truth.

The story started at a Press conference given by Major General John Cubbon, the General Officer Commanding British Land Forces in the Middle East. General Cubbon, who seems to be one of the less subtle of military minds, said that the report of the decapitation was based on “reliable information”. And he went on to hint at the reason behind it all; “If this is true . . .  It will have a profound effect on our troops."

As it turned out Gibbon's story was only partly true, which caused a lot of red faces for a time but did nothing to put the affair in a better light. General Cubbon, with his musing upon the effects which atrocity stories are likely to have on his troops, is only the latest in a long, undistinguished line. The world is accustomed by now to the methods which are used to inflame the patriotism of the working class - although unhappily it is not inured to those methods.

There was, for example (and we shall probably be hearing more of this during the next few months), the atrocity myths which came out of the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. The usual "reliable sources” reported that the German soldiers were running amok, raping women of all ages, bayoneting babies and cutting off children's hands.

(At the same time, the German ruling class were feeding their workers on similar lies. In their version, Belgian soldiers made a sport of tearing out the eyes of wounded German soldiers. Entire hospital wards were said to be filled with men who had suffered this fate and one small boy was reported to have seen a bucketful of gouged out eyes.)

These stories probably did their evil work effectively enough and persuaded many a man, who later in the trenches came to doubt the truth of what he had been told, into khaki. In fact, there was no reason at the time to believe the stories. In 1914, when the British propagandists were weeping crocodile tears over "poor little Belgium”, the world had only just recovered front the shock caused by the revelation of the atrocities which the Belgians themselves had committed in the Congo. The extent of the outrages are difficult to ascertain, but there is no doubt—and there was none in 1914 -that literally millions of Congolese natives had been murdered, with the active connivance of (he Belgian government, in the mad hunt for the Congo's rubber.

All of this was forgotten. There was no real evidence to support the 1914 atrocity stories, hut nobody bothered about that. In their hysterical patriotism the working class were eager to gobble up any rubbish. As late as 1917, Belgium was still considered good for a propaganda theme. An American poster of that year showed a lecherous, helmeted Prussian dragging an innocent young maid off to a fate worse than death, all silhouetted against burning houses and topped by the caption- "Remember Belgium.”

This sort of propaganda finds a lush breeding ground in the basic ignorance with which most people regard Capitalism. It is this ignorance which persuades many of them so readily to see the inevitable conflicts of capitalism in terms of the personalities of national rulers. It persuaded them to see 1914/18 as a consequence of the Kaiser's imperialist ambitions, 1939/45 as a result of Hitler's murderous insanity, and the endless small clashes in the Middle East as the fruits of President Nasser's insatiable conceits.

This ruinously naive conception does not permit of the asking of any penetrative questions. The British worker who regards Nasser as a comical, but dangerous, dictator does not ask himself why the Egyptian ruling class is nowadays so often in conflict with their British counterparts. He does not ask why British troops are in the South Arabian Peninsula, in the same way as his father did not ask, in 1914, why the Britain which had so recently fought the small Boer Republic became suddenly protective of the rights of poor little Belgium.

So let us ask the questions for him.

It is difficult to unravel the politics of the Arabian Peninsula, complicated as they are by the feudal structure of a multitude of sheikdoms and sultanates. It has long been British policy to exploit these complications—to play off one ruler against another and to conclude deals with some of them, if necessary helping them to stamp out any republican or embryonic trade union movements.

If Egypt is at the moment the big threat to British interests in the Middle East it is only because the Egyptian ruling class want to unite the various countries there in a common stand against foreign domination. Several attempts at formal unity have largely come to nothing, which has meant that the workers and the natural resources of the area are to some extent still exploited by foreign capitalists, instead of exclusively by a native ruling class.

A glance at any map shows the strategic importance of the Arabian Peninsula, standing as it does at the outlet of the Red Sea, which is part of Great Britain's vital sea route to the Far Fast and Australia. Another sort of map will show up the peninsula's abounding oilfields, which are by no means a pacifying ingredient in an area which would have been inflammable enough without the discovery of thick, black, vital ooze beneath the hot sands. All of this explains the existence of the British base at Aden, and the deep and longstanding British interest in what is incorrectly called the Aden Protectorate—incorrectly because the troops are not there to protect the people of Aden. They are there to safeguard the interests of the British capitalist class, which means that they might be used in all manner of enterprises which have nothing to do with protecting anybody.

Many of the Arab rulers are insecure, faced as they are with the rumblings of nationalist, republican movements. Even King Saud of Saudi Arabia, who was once thought to be safely cushioned by thick wads of Yankee dollars, has been virtually deposed by his brother. The constant dream of British governments has been to stabilise the peninsula under rulers who are amenable to Whitehall's commands. So it was that in 1962 the South Arabian Federation was imposed on the Aden area, part of the border of which faces the Yemen Republic.

The Yemen is one of the Middle East’s young republics whose ambitions are being encouraged and exploited by the Egyptian government. The country has its own internal troubles, in the shape of a dissident royalist movement but this has not, apparently, prevented it supporting the rebel tribesmen just over its border.

The British government has complained that the rebels are supplied with arms by the Yemen, which gets them from Egypt, which gets them from the Soviet Union. The Yemenis in turn charge that the British-supported sheik of Beihar, whose territory borders on the Yemen, has been supplying weapons to the royalist rebels in the Republic.

Both stories could well he true. The Middle East is in jus! the sort of mess we might expect in an area which, ruled by a lot of feudal aristocrats, is of enormous economic and strategic importance to the great powers of capitalism All sorts of despots are propped up by Western arms and money. and many rebel movements are nurtured by material expressions of sympathy from more developed lands.

It is an explosive situation.

And all of this because industry and transport need oil and because Western Europe needs its trade routes to the Far East. Because capitalism, inevitably, has split the world into competing nations and factions, all of them striving lo get the cushiest concession on an oil field, all of them out for the easiest, fastest selling market. These are the basic reasons for the ugly, violent mess which is the Middle East today.

Capitalism causes war and war itself is an atrocity. And part of its atrociousness is the lying which both sides always indulge in, and the receptive ignorance which ensures that the lies are believed—at any rate for the critical period. The story of the beheadings in the Yemen was gruesomely distressing. But there should he no surprise that the propaganda machine fed it out so eagerly.

Instead, there should he disgust—a fruitful disgust—at it all, at the lies and the cynicism and the ignorance which are so essential a part of property society. At such times we see capitalism for what it is and it is not pleasant to look upon.

Deal or No Deal? (2017)

Editorial from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Theresa May called the election to try to get a parliament more compliant to the sort of Brexit her government wanted – No to the single market, No to the customs union, No to the Court of Justice, a stand-alone Britain on the capitalist world stage. In the event she failed miserably and got an even less compliant parliament.

Sensing her weakened position, those elements within the capitalist class opposed to her idea of Brexit – which is most of them – together with their political and media representatives have taken the offensive and are pushing for a much less radical Brexit – leaving the political aspects of the EU but retaining as many of the economic ones as can be.

This makes economic sense from their point of view; which is why they supported joining and remaining in the EU. Being a member of the customs union means no tariffs on goods exported to other EU countries and, also, given the EU's size, more collective clout in trade negotiations with third-party countries and other trading blocs. The single market takes things further and has already made considerable progress in removing non-tariff barriers to inter-EU trade, such as different standards.

Even some die-hard opponents of the EU, who did so much to stir up xenophobia during the referendum campaign, are now hinting that, after Britain officially withdraws from the EU in 2019, they might accept transitional arrangements allowing Britain to stay in the customs union and single market for a period while full withdrawal from them is prepared. They even seem ready to countenance, during this period, some payments to the EU and some role for the European Court of Justice.

Capitalist reality seems to have struck them. No more bluster and bluff about Britain regaining its 'independence' in March 2019.  No more talk of 'no deal being better than a bad deal'. Now, apparently, as they contemplate the economic (and, in the case of Northern Ireland, political) consequences of tariff barriers and customs posts going up on 'independence day' if there's no deal, even a bad deal (from their point of view) is considered better.

There will be a deal of some sort, even one which could leave things much as they are. It will certainly leave capitalism much as it is, as a system of production for profit based on the exclusion of the majority from ownership and control of the means of production with all the problems this causes for the excluded majority and for humanity in general.

Only capitalist interests are at stake in negotiations over trading arrangements between British capitalism, the EU and the rest of the world. Leave those whose interests are at stake to get on with it. It's their business not ours. Meanwhile as socialists we will continue to campaign for capitalism as a world system to be replaced by a world of common ownership and democratic control with production for use not profit.