Sunday, August 13, 2017

Socialism and Respectability (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is the political expression of the recognition by the working-class of their suppression and oppression under the present form of society, based as it is upon their exploitation, and politically administered as it is solely with a view to conserving, and, as far as possible perpetuating their exploitation and subjection.

Like every other social ideal in which men expressed their wants and aspirations, Socialism has its history, its stages of growth. The working-class, oppressed from birth, have made manifest their desire for human conditions—for liberty—in stages which correspond with the stages of social development by and through which the working-class have arrived at their present numerical proportion to the rest of the population, their present degree of want and suffering, of interdependence and of knowledge, and their present fast developing determination to have Socialism, and with it liberty, and to have it now. The first vague conception of Socialism was born in the study of the leisured philosopher—a suggestion thrown out by men of culture for the better drilling and re-organisation of the non-cultured, common people. And for long it remained the plaything of Culture.

The working-class struggle for emancipation was at first weak, spasmodic, vague. Here a rick-burning, there a machinery-smashing riot; here a tempestuous revolt, there an abject petitioning of king, kaiser, or local magnate, for pity on the poor. But as the working-class grew with the development of capitalism, they learnt the lessons which are best learnt and longest remembered by those who have eaten the bread of affliction and drunk the waters of bitterness. They had tried individual revolt, and by its failure learnt the necessity of organised collective effort. They had tried by begging to obtain concessions, and had been treated as beggars. They had tried political efforts aimed at reform, had had reforms promised by capitalist politicians, had used their votes and voices to help these capitalist politicians wring the last vestige of political power from the aristocracy—only to find that promises have a proverbial use that the little finger of Rehoboam was thicker than the loins of Solomon. Thus the working-class learned that their emancipation could only be achieved by a collective effort, organised and intelligently aimed at the conquest of the political power and the effecting in the teeth of their oppressors of a Socialist Revolution. The intelligent movement of the working-class towards emancipation reached maturity in the struggle for Socialism and the lessons learnt in their life of struggle and suffering are crystallised in the Principles of The Socialist Party of Great Britain. Bearing in mind this process by which Socialism was brought into being, nourished and developed, we have a scientific touchstone by which to discover the real inwardness of any one of the many volumes (professing to expound Socialism) which have been launched upon a suffering public.

And the “latest born and (more or less) loveliest far” of these is “Socialism and Society” by Mr. J. R. MacDonald, a leader of the I.L.P (a body whose ruling delusion is that it is a Socialist Party) and secretary and high priest of the L.R.C., whose “independent” “working-class” Members of Parliament hang loyally on to the tail of the Liberal Party.

The book seems to have been written in order to justify the round-about road to the Liberal rump which these two bodies conjointly think it necessary to follow, but probably few even of his friends will be able to unreservedly congratulate Mr. MacDonald on the result of his efforts, while an entirely unbiased critic may well set to marvelling why he wrote the book at all.

The first obstacle to front him is the Revolutionary ferocity of the angry working-class, and the old, old, scientific lumber is trotted out; the blessed word “evolution” is many times invoked to show that “revolution” is a dark impossibility, and that the class-struggle does not exist and, with much magical muttering of “science” and “Darwin,” that the establishment of the State of Socialism must be the work of a select company of cultured persons, elected by a grateful working-class who will wait patiently while the Elected Persons solemnly proceed to discuss, and perhaps to pass, a series of measures of experimental amelioration—“laboratory experiment, not revolution, is the method of Socialism emerged from its Utopian and pseudo-scientific stages.” (p. 179.) “Public ownership, after all, is Socialism.” (p. 59, footnote.)

In writing a complete explanation of what Socialism is and bringing it to this conclusion, Mr. MacDonald is compelled to fall foul of most of the recognised classics of Socialism. Especially is he dogged at every step by the grim and terrible spectre of Marx. At least a fourth of the book is given up to a detailed attack upon Marx and Engels, but, as usual, the criticism does not betray even a nodding acquaintance with the writings criticised. Mr. MacDonald reads “the emancipation of the working-class must be the work of the working-class itself.” This is enough. It is revolution! It is Utopian! It is not scientific! It is vulgar! It is not “respectable!” Marx, it seems, is not the first of the scientific Socialists: he is the “last of the Utopians.” And the first of the scientific Socialists is Mr. J. R. MacDonald, who has made Socialism respectable!

Mr. MacDonald has put into words the thoughts of the small middle-class. To understand what this class think it is necessary to look at the relative social position they occupy, viz., sandwiched between the working-class on the one hand and the capitalist-class proper on the other. They are threatened with extinction from both sides. Every move forward of capital flings a section of them down into the ranks of the working-class. Every day that brings the working-class closer together and impels them to the grimly inevitable battle for emancipation threatens them with extinction. Hence the small middle-class (the class of small producers, shopkeepers, house-owners, journalists, and professional Respectability generally) is in word the most Insurrectionary, and in deed the most Reactionary of all existing sections. They shriek against capital—because of their imminent bankruptcy—and call upon the workers to help limit its power. They shriek at the working-class for its revolutionary tendency, and call upon capital to help them preserve “Law and Order,” “Property, Religion, and Respectability.”

And the nearer their end the louder their screams.

To this see-saw striving of this class can be traced all the elements of confusion in present day politics:—Single Tax and Land Nationalisation, Free Meals and Farm Colonies, Passive Resistance and Municipalised Milk. And hence also Mr. J. R. MacDonald’s self-contradiction is the clearest proof that his “Socialism” and his “society” are the “Socialism and society” of the Respectable Small Middle-Class. Mr. MacDonald denies that a class-war exists on one page and on another proves its existence:—“Thus we see how machinery which might lighten labour, supplants it when used in the interests of a capitalist class. . . . Thus we see how tools, a dead factor, rule men, the living factor in production, and how a class engaging in production for profits controls the class which takes part in production in order to maintain life. ... A pillar of Sabbatarianism can prove satisfactorily to himself that his works must . . . go seven days in the week. The owner of the land and the means of production is the owner of the lives of the people. He holds society in the hollow of his hand.” (pp. 52-53). And of course there must be no revolution: the working-class must patiently endure while MacDonald & Co. “experiment.”

I should have liked to have gone over Mr. MacDonald’s critique of Marx in detail, but the Editor of T.S.S. says he doesn’t want serials. However, Marx has retorted on MacDonald and his light by prophetic anticipation:

“He wished to be the sympathiser; he is a composite error. He wished to soar as a man above the Bourgeoisie and the proletariat; he is only the petty bourgeois, tossed about continually between capital and labour, between political economy and communism.” The Poverty of Philosophy.

And again:—“A part of the bourgeois is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working-class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole and corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of Socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems.” We may cite Mr. J. R. MacDonald’s “Socialism and Society” as an example of this form. “The Socialistic bourgeoisie want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They desire a bourgeoisie without, a proletariat. . . . Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when and only when it becomes a mere figure of speech. Free Trade: for the benefit of the working-class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working-class. Prison Reform: for the benefit of the working-class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of Bourgeois Socialism. It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois—for the benefit of the working-class!”—Communist Manifesto.

The ethics of Socialism, says J. R. MacDonald, are provided by Evangelicalism; its politics by Liberalism. We leave the courteous reader to the task of picturing a Holy Trinity compounded of “General” Booth, Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, and Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald!
T. A. Jackson


The Clarion Vanner vs The Truth (1905)

From the December 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the "Clarion Van" was in the neighbourhood of Paddington, the speaker, E. R. Hartley, was asked whether it was true that Keir Hardie accepted the class-struggle when in Amsterdam in order to gain admission to the International Socialist Congress, and immediately denied the existence of that struggle upon his return to this country.

Hartley replied that it was not true. Our readers may judge of his ignorance or dishonesty from the following facts.

The resolutions agreed to at the Brussels Conference of 1899, which complete the conditions of admission to the International Socialist Congress as adopted at the London Congress, are as follow:

Are admitted 
  1. "All associations which adhere to the essential principles of Socialism : socialisation of the means of production and exchange: union and international action of the workers: Socialist conquest of political power by the proletariat organised in a class party."
  2. "All corporate organisations which, placing themselves on the ground of the class-struggle and acknowledging the necessity of political action (legislative and Parliamentary) which do not, however, participate directly in the political movement.”

Keir Hardie's renunciation of the basic principle of modern Socialism — the class-struggle — on his return to the country in which a Liberal capitalist pays part of his election expenses, shows him to be playing a double game; for he acquiesces in the class-struggle only in order to pass muster with the international proletariat.

Will Hartley apologise ?

Who Wrote The Bible? (1994)

From the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bible dates from 700 BC but many Genesis stories are based on ancient Mesopotamian myths. The Garden of Eden was Mesopotamia’s fertile flood plain, the "Edhen". This dried up when the Persian Gulf withdrew 200 miles southwest causing the people to believe that they had offended the gods. Hence the "Fall of Man” myth.

John G. Jackson in his work the Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth comments:
  "There are liberal Christian apologists who no longer subscribe to the literal belief in the Fall of Man. But if there is no Fall, there is no need of an atonement, and no Redeemer is required"
Amorite people from Mesopotamia — known as the Habiru or Hebrews — entered Northern Canaan about 1500 BC and some were possibly taken as hostages when the Egyptians reconquered Canaan in 1468 BC. In about 1400 BC. the monotheistic Cult of Aten first appeared in Egypt only to be destroyed soon after Tutankhamun’s death c. 1300 BC. Pears Cyclopedia states: "From the historical point of view an important influence on Judaism may have been the monotheism of Akhen-aten".

The Exodus refugees may have been expelled Aten cultists. Professor Richard Friedman, states in Who Wrote the Bible?:
    "Some have concluded that only a small proportion of the ancient Israelites were in Egypt. The names, Moses, Hopni and Phineas are all Egyptian, not Hebrew. The group that was in Egypt and then in Sinai worshipped with god Yahweh. In Israel they met Israelite tribes who worshipped the god El. The two groups accepted the belief that Yahweh and El were same god."
The people of south Canaan eventually became known as the "Yahudi" and the land "Yahuda" or Judah. The name is possibly derived from "Yahweh” or its variant "Yah" (as in "Halleluyah”). The people of north Canaan — including the Hebrews — worshipped the Canaanite god "El", which may explain the name "Ysrael" - Israel.

Some historians now believe that the kingdom of "all Israel” never existed and that Israel and Judah emerged separately. In 722 BC Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and its sacred writings to El were subsequently combined with similar Judean scriptures to Yahweh. These were further combined in about 622 BC with Deuteronomy when this long lost Book of Moses was supposedly "rediscovered" in the Temple. The German scholar, De Wette, described the "rediscovery" as a "pious fraud".

In 586 BC Judah was conquered by the Babylonians who in turn fifty years later were conquered by the Persians who made Palestine a province in 458 BC. This, therefore, marks the real beginnings of Judaism a combination of the declining Yahweh cult and Persia’s official religion. Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrianism introduced to the Jews the concept of a god of love whose good would triumph over the Devil’s evil. Heaven was for the righteous and Hell for the wicked. Zoroastrianism also introduced the concepts of angelology, the soul, a Messiah, Resurrection and a Judgement Day. "Paradise" is derived from the Persian for an "idyllic afterlife” - “Pairidaeza".

The archaeologist, John Romer, in his work Testament, writes:
    "The influence of ideas that once filled the mysterious faith of ancient Persia runs through the Old Testament and continues well into the pages of the New Testament; an influence that leaves a trace even in the words of Jesus. "
In 332 BC, Palestine was conquered by Alexander the Great and a Greek influenced Jewish priesthood eventually emerged, the Sadducees. In 152 BC the Jewish Maccabean uprising occurred, out of which emerged the Pharisees whose apocalyptic ideas stemmed from the Book of Daniel. E.E. Kellett in his History of Religion states that "it was, as is now fully acknowledged, from the Pharisees that Christianity drew much of its inspiration.”

Perverted temple
A third group also emerged — the Essenes — who introduced the concept of a holy community temporarily replacing the "perverted" Temple worship of the Sadducees.

Kellett describes the apocalyptic philosophy’s development:
  "The idea of a 'new heaven and a new Earth' had hitherto been materialistic. A gradual transformation of this view look place in the last century before Christ, and prepared the way for his ideas. Apocalyptic ideas asserted a catastrophic end of the world. It is needless to prove that this conception, also, was taken over by early Christianity."
The first Christians were probably Essenes living in Jerusalem called Naasenes or Nazarenes. The Essene Dead Sea Scrolls describe a schism between the followers of the Essene leader, the "Righteous One", who strictly adhered to the Law of Moses and a breakaway group led by the "Wicked Priest" who wanted faith to replace Jewish Law.

This parallels the New Testament schism between the Jewish Christians of James the Just and the Greek Gentile Christians of Paul. The New Testament refers to Jesus as the "Righteous One” and is the only non-Essenian literature to use their term for the Devil "Belial". Jesus, James the Just's brother, clearly says: "Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law. I did not come to abolish but to complete." (Matt. 5:17 20). But Paul claims: "Christ bought us freedom from the curse of the law"! (Gal. 3:8-18)!

Similarly, the conflicting genealogies of Jesus attempt to show that Jesus was virgin born and descended from the Jewish "House of David". Jesus confirmed his Judaistic cause in Matthew (15:24 26): "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel and to them alone".

Christians claim that Jesus's so-called "Doctrine of Love" is unique, but Zoroastrianism's god was a god of love and the Old Testament Book of Leviticus says "Love they neighbour as thyself". (Levi. 19:18). Rabbi Hillel, the Liberal Pharisee who died in AD 9 preached "Love thine enemies". Jesus later hijacked the phrase, falsely claiming the Old Testament said "Love your neighbour, hate your enemy". This is curious given Jesus’s own statements: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, he cannot be a disciple of mine" (Matt. 5:43-44). In fact, some disciples of Jesus were Zealot insurrectionists. At Gethsemane, some disciples were armed with swords and one attacked the High Priest's servant.

The accounts of Jesus’s life are all riddled with numerous contradictions. For example, Matthew claims that Jesus was born before Herod’s death in 4 BC but Luke says the birth occurred when Cyrenius governed from AD 6.

Given the many contradictions it's no surprise that there is not one genuine contemporary account of Jesus's life. As Gibbon says in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
    "During the age of Christ the lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled but the sages of Greece and Rome appeared unconscious of any alteration in the moral or physical government of the world."
Christianity’s real founder was Paul. His writings which make up 44 percent of New Testament were written many years before the Gospels.

In AD70. the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, its Temple and dispersed the Jews. Four years later they overran the Fortress of Masada and 960 Zealots committed suicide.

This final destruction of the Jewish Messianic movement meant that their doctrines were totally reversed. The Gentile Christians made their Holy Community, as symbolized by Jesus, a permanent Temple replacement. Jesus promised salvation in the next world and Mosaic Law was replaced by faith in Jesus as the central doctrine.

Christianity survived by accommodating Rome’s influence on its teachings. Hence the whitewashing of Pilate’s role in Jesus’s death. In AD 325 the Council of Nicae fixed the Canon of the New Testament. The Emperor Constantine arbitrarily decided the location of Jesus’s birth, death and ascension, and built a church on each site.

Professors Eisenman and Wise in their work The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered state that some Essenes were known as "The Children of Salvation". The Hebrew for "salvation" is "yesha" - and the noun "yeshuato" means "his salvation" ("his" = “Righteous One") — and "Yeshua" is Hebrew for Jesus. Eisenman and Wise further state: "The personification of this concept in the Gospel can be considered a most revolutionary development and one that has not ceased exercising its influence on mankind even now."

The Dead Sea Scrolls referred to were suppressed for 40 years because, as Eisenman and Wise state, it is impossible to distinguish them from the doctrines of the Jewish Christians. Christianity’s origins in the violent xenophobic Jewish Messianic movement contrast vividly with the demure picture painted by today’s Christians. Today’s Christians may equate "Loving your neighbour" with the so-called socialism of the Labour Party, but as has been shown such sentiments did not even originate with Christianity. As Socialist and Materialists we reject the notion that our destiny is ultimately determined by something outside the material world. The ideas that the existence of a complex universe presupposes the existence of an even more complex creator/designer/god — whose own existence does not — answers nothing.
Richard Layton

Necessary Illusions (1994)

Book Review from the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. By Noam Chomsky. Pluto Press.

Like other socialists, I was impressed by the Channel Four documentary on Noam Chomsky shown last summer. So much so that I bought this book. Its subtitle gives a good idea of its content. In closely-argued detail, Chomsky shows how the media reflects the interests of the capitalist system. Whilst he doesn’t declare himself a socialist his views on the media fit easily with ours.

Chomsky’s examples are taken from the American media but are applicable to Britain (or any other country for that matter). Basically the media reflects the interests of capital despite the media’s self-image of acting on behalf of the people. Whilst the press is often accused of being anti-government or anti-business, this doesn’t hold true on closer inspection. Views about the media range from it being anti-government (or left-wing) to it being independent and representing the public interest. There is no acknowledgement that the media might be pro-government. Anyone who makes this observation and attempts to engage in discussion on it is either ignored or marginalized.

Therefore the thought control is that of portraying the interest of big business as the "national interest". It doesn’t necessarily favour any particular government, as whoever is in power will act in the interest of capital:
    What is at issue is not the honesty of opinions expressed or the integrity of those who seek the facts but rather the choice of topics and highlighting of issues, the range of opinion permitted expression, the unquestioned premises that guide reporting and commentary, and the general framework imposed for the presentation of a certain view of the world.
This "certain view of the world" can be found in the media’s portrayal of, say, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan compared with US aggression in Indo- China or Central America. This agenda-setting helps to influence the population as conflicting views are not allowed air time, or if they are it is "a three minute stretch" in which "it is impossible to present unfamiliar thoughts or surprising conclusions with the argument and evidence required to afford them some credibility".

In order to achieve true democracy, full informed participation from the people is required but this is dangerous to any government. Chomsky quotes a government study which urged "moderation in democracy"; his definition of this is "the general public must be reduced to its traditional apathy and obedience".

His views on free speech led to him defending a neo-nazi historian. The excellent point Chomsky makes is that genuine free speech is hearing views you don’t agree with. A review of the Chomsky film by the SWP missed this point but if free speech is just what you agree with then one could say that Hitler and Stalin believed in free speech. This is worth remembering when the Left calls for censorship of the BNP (who would probably welcome such martyrdom).

A short review can’t do justice to Chomsky’s ideas so I would urge readers to explore his books for themselves.
Nigel Green

Profits before homes (1994)

From the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you were to hear of a country where one in 25 of the inhabitants were affected by homelessness — two million people — what country would spring to your mind?

You might imagine a Third World country, or a war-torn one. It is neither. The country in fact is . . . England

The figures above are an unofficial estimate by the housing charity Shelter (Homelessness in England — The Facts, information release, October 1993). The official figures are hardly more cheery. In 1991/2 a total of 196,039 households were officially accepted as being homeless in England and Scotland together. This understates the case, however.

There are no comprehensive figures for single homelessness nationally. Shelter estimate there may be around 50,000 single people homeless in Britain. Official figures exclude the majority of the single homeless, and only include households deemed in "priority need", for instance, those with children.

It can be easy to conclude that either there is a dreadful lack of houses, or many feckless people exist. Certainly, many believe so, especially those who think that our capitalist society is the only world possible.

The truth, though, is blindingly and tragically plain. It involves the perennial co-traveller of the working class — poverty. It doesn’t matter that an individual or family needs a decent, warm and comfortable house, if they do not have enough of the rationing vouchers that capitalism calls money, then tough. Capitalism has one driving force, and that is to make profit, not to supply resources to prevent pressing social need.

Poverty
Capitalism is run in the interests of those who own the means of making wealth. The working class, who own nothing in the way of creating wealth, have no choice but to work for the capitalist class for wages or salaries, and through their labour create every last penny of profit for the privileged class.

Yet many members of the working class have been able to buy a home. At a time when nearly three million people are unemployed, they are indeed fortunate to have a job and an income to secure a mortgage. Or are they?

Many believe they own their home, little realizing that in reality the bank or building society does. "Owning" is a misnomer, in that "ownership" can so easily be removed. In 1992, in England alone, 68,540 houses were repossessed. In the first half of 1993 courts in England and Wales awarded a further 53,436 re-possession orders.
In addition, a large number of people live on the knife-edge of being repossessed, with the resultant toll of stress and misery. A Roof magazine survey claims that 800,000 home owners are in mortgage arrears, with over a third of a million in arrears of six months or more.

Unfit
Renting a house, or flat, might seem a safer and more affordable way of getting a decent home to live in. But the facts of life here are not very enjoyable either. The 1991 Housing Conditions Survey for England and Wales (covering private, rented, local authority and housing association houses) revealed that 1.5 million occupied houses were unfit to live in (Independent, 10 September). It also found that one-in-20 of owner-occupied houses were of an unfit standard.

Misery knows no borders either. The 1993 Scottish House Condition Survey found that one-in-20 of occupied houses were unfit to live in. Also, nearly a third of Scotland’s occupied houses were found to suffer dampness, condensation and mould. These figures were reinforced by the 1993 Glasgow Housing Survey. It found one-in-5 of private rented housing was unfit, "Below Tolerable Standard" to use the official term.

Millions are affected by homelessness, the threat of homelessness, and living in "Below Tolerable Standard" housing. Multiply these figures across the whole of the developed world, and the amount of human misery connected to housing problems due to working-class lack of means is phenomenal. Capitalists don't have housing problems, other than getting more, or bigger, mansions for themselves.

None of this is new, of course. When capitalism is in recession — which is a permanently-recurring feature of the profit system — levels of poverty rise. But poverty, and its symptoms like homelessness, don’t go away when capitalism is booming. It — they — only stand slightly in the shadows.

Many construction workers are currently unemployed; there are large stockpiles of bricks and building materials, while the figures above tell of the number of people who need a decent home to live in.

A caring, people-based society would readily see the solution: apply the skills and resources to the problem. That will not happen in our capitalist society, for the missing ingredient of profit cannot be made in sufficient quantities. And it makes no difference that society becomes more aware of homelessness, and wishes to do something about it, for the capitalist rule is: No Profit, No Solution.

Pretending
Capitalist politicians — be they Conservative, Labour or Liberal — periodically latch on to the plight of the homeless and pretend that something is being done, or that they know what the solution is.

My own constituency MP spent a night in December camping out on the street in Edinburgh in his sleeping bag, with like-minded people, to draw attention to homelessness. Amazingly, our capitalist opponents are always saying that we are the wooly-minded idealists.

Capitalism runs governments, not the other way round. Reforms are a redistribution of poverty, not wealth. And reforms are reversible. Remember the Welfare State? Real Socialists do know the solution and it’s the only one that tackles the real problem, not merely the symptoms. Capitalism needs to go.

Homelessness, and just about every other social ill, will never be solved in a capitalist world. That is not mere pessimism on our part, it is a fact you can confirm by reading your paper every day, then looking to see how the world around you really is.

Meanwhile, workers everywhere can only keep their fingers crossed that illness, unemployment, and poverty don’t pull them into the misery of homelessness. Or they could be thinking how Socialism could be a move to something better than the mess capitalism is.
Sandy Wilson

Who will be the winners in South Africa? (1994)

From the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard 

It was in 1652 that Dutch settlers first went to the Cape of Good Hope. This began as a supply station to service the ships of the Dutch East India Company. It also began 350 years of conflict which has now produced a very different beginning. In April, new constitutional arrangements will start with all adult South Africans having the vote and the election of a transitional government.

The struggle of mainly black workers against that bigoted, racist ideology, "apartheid" has been long and bitter. The struggle to get the vote has required determination and sacrifice. Socialists support that struggle. Without the power to capture control of the state by democratic means, socialism is impossible. This raises an important point. Getting the vote is not the end. Now that it has been won, how is it to be used?

Inevitably, in the first flush of the expected ANC victory in the election there is a lot of optimism amongst its supporters about what the ANC in power will do for them.

Great expectations
They foresee not just the end of race discrimination but the end of the grim poverty in which most of them have lived. They expect their living standards to rise on the basis of jobs and good wages for all. They expect decent housing, health care, education, pensions and other benefits. In fact, this will not happen.

This is not a question about the sincerity or good intentions of Nelson Mandela and his associates. It is about economic realities. The ANC leaders are now being fitted into the mould of reforming capitalist politicians and as such believe that when in power they will be able to do all sorts of good things for their supporters. They believe they are the right men and women for the needs of the hour. It has been a popular misconception that if only workers are able to get the right people into the right positions of power at the right time then everything will be alright. This false idea has led to failure and disillusion in almost every country throughout this century and it won’t be any different in South Africa. By now the reason should be obvious.

Committed capitalists
The ANC leaves no room for doubt that it is committed to running the capitalist system. For example, in the ANC "Freedom Charter" Nelson Mandela has written:
   "Under the Freedom Charier, nationalisation would take place in an economy based on private enterprise . . . [this] would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change . . . nor has it.. . ever condemned capitalist society " (page 179).
This means that in a South Africa run by an ANC government it’s going to be capitalist business as usual. Class differences, with a great gap between rich and poor, will continue. Black workers will still be exploited alongside whites. Through their labour they will continue to keep the wealthy and the privileged in a society which puts the profits enjoyed by a few before the needs of the whole community.

If a movement has at last managed to form a government to run capitalism, as Nelson Mandela says the ANC is going to do, it has no choice but to work within the economic limitations and class objectives of the market system. Particularly at this time of world slump most governments are in financial difficulties and this is the situation that the ANC will have to take on.

One of the first promises to go will be the promise of jobs for all black workers at good wages. No government can control the level of employment or wages; this is impossible. The promise to provide decent housing for everyone along with health care, education and pensions will also be forgotten.

What is also inevitable is that the ANC government will come into conflict with the trades unions. Despite the present links between the unions and the ANC, when in power the new government will be concerned to run and develop a profitable economy. The unions will be concerned with wage increases and better conditions.

Higher profits
The two objects of higher profits and higher wages will be in conflict with each other and as always, this will lead to disputes at places of work with the possibility of the ANC government using the state machinery to smash the workers’ strikes. The function of the state is to administer class society and enforce the exploitation of workers and this is the anti-working-class role that the ANC is about to embrace.

The policy of apartheid was never in the best interests of South African capitalists. The Nationalist government was kept in power by an eccentric alliance of Afrikaner fanning interests and white urban workers who. to their eternal discredit, imagined that it was in their interest to keep black workers out of the skilled labour force and to deny them the vote. Hence the support of white workers for the various job reservation Acts and other forms of discrimination against black workers.

Best interests
Capitalist interests would have been best served by a reform programme aimed at integrating the black population within a multi-racial system of exploitation. The old United Party formed by Smuts might have achieved this but it was obliterated by the success of the National Party which held power continuously after 1948. Latterly, capitalists like the Oppenheimers put money into a new reforming party, the Progressive Party, but this also failed.

For many years it seemed that the Afrikaner bigots of the National Party would be the last people on earth to change their ideas but they have at last caught up with economic realities. Confidence in the economy began to drain away as a result of poor investment returns, the collapse of the Rand and rising commercial and political risks coupled with stagnation. In February 1990 De Klerk told the South African Parliament that "a new South Africa is only possible if it is bolstered by a sound and growing economy, with particular emphasis on the creation of employment".

Before this, the ANC had already been in discussion with South African capitalists assuring them that their interests would be safeguarded under an ANC government. For their part, the capitalists were anxious to emphasise their own non-racist credentials. For example, in 1985, the Chairman of Anglo-American Corporation, one of the biggest in South Africa, told the ANC negotiators that::
  “what we are concerned with is not so much whether the following generation will be governed by black or white people, but that it will be a viable country and that it will not be destroyed by violence and strife" 
he added, 
   "they [by which he meant the ANC and South African business] shared a common interest in maintaining the profitability of the South African state".
At last it seemed that under the ANC a reforming regime could emerge to facilitate the maximum exploitation of South African workers without distinction of colour on the basis of a broad consensus between the main political forces. This leaves the question of whether the groups outside the consensus, Inkatha and the extreme Afrikaners, will be strong enough to disrupt the new arrangements.

So, who will be the victors in this long struggle that has held the attention of the world since the end of Second World War? If the extreme elements are so foolish as to plunge the country into a civil war that will only add new chapters to a conflict in which the main sufferers, as always, will be the working class.

Given that the new arrangements work out on the other hand, we take it that black workers will enjoy greater freedom to organize in trades unions and benefit from the end of political censorship and repression.

We shall see. But the most immediate class beneficiaries of the constitutional changes will be the South African capitalists and those with high investment in the country.

As the Chairman of Anglo-American emphasised, when it comes to the human resources that it wishes to exploit, capital is completely free of racial prejudice.

We should ask whether these results will be worthy of the suffering, torture, imprisonment and deaths which have been the input of black workers into the struggle. It will be a very poor testament to the courage of that struggle, and all the sacrifices that have been made, if its gains are now thrown away in a betrayal in which the great majority continue to be exploited.

Surely, the least that struggle deserves is that those who have won the vote should think long and hard about how it should be used. Since all the main strands of South African history still intrude so forcibly into the present political situation it is useful for black workers to think back to their past. It is worth remembering that working for wages is very recent and that tribespeople had to be forced into it.

A colonial report entitled African Labour Efficiency Survey - 1949 was concerned with the problem of how to force the people of the Kikuyu in East Africa to become wage workers. It said this:
    "The East African comes from a tribal economy in which his human needs of sustenance can still very largely be met. He has not, to any significant degree, been de-tribalised. The East African has not been bent under the discipline of organised work . . .  In respect of the few working activities which in the past occupied him he was free and independent.
     Though the tasks he performed were prescribed by tribal law and custom, he could do them in his own way and at his own speed, for him time had no economic value. The work he did for others was not for wages, but was one of the duties arising from his relationship with his fellows. He gave satisfaction by his work and he derived a measure of contentment from it. In these circumstances he was willing to do what was required from him.
      To work steadily and continuously at the will of another was one of the hard lessons he had to learn when he began to work for Europeans."
This was how African people lived for countless centuries, not working for wages but co-operating to provide for the needs of the community.

Healthy society
Why should black workers embrace and continue the economic forces of capitalism that destroyed that way of life? If the traditional relationships of co-operation are extended to all other workers and are applied using modern technology, modern communications and fully democratic methods of organization, they are all we need to create a healthy society which can serve all our needs without distinction of race or sex.
Pieter Lawrence


The TV Boss Takes Power (1994)

From the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The victory of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia in the recent Italian election should be read as a warning. A year ago neither Berlusconi nor his party existed. The three biggest commercial TV networks in Italy are owned by Berlusconi. These, combined with huge financial resources, were used to sell the hard right, free market ideology which won the election. It is like Murdoch deciding to make the odious Andrew Neil the next Prime Minister of Britain — or Maxwell having used his media power base to do the same for himself: from Labour MP to media tycoon to national leader. The power which can be utilized by those who own and control the media is not to be underestimated.

Media imagery
This was not just the victory of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, with its smoothly designed media imagery and appropriation of the Italian football song as its theme tune; in coalition with Berlusconi was the ultra-nationalist Northern League, led by the Yeltsin like chauvinist yob, Umberto Bossi, and the cleancd-up neo-fascist party, Alleanza Nationale, led by Gianfranco Fini. The latter is on record as stating that "Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the century”. There is no way that the neo-fascist right would have been able to achieve the respectability of government office without Berlusconi's front to work behind. It was the freshness and media potency of Forza Italia which persuaded many voters to turn a blind eye to the unpalatable historic origins of Fini’s party. As it is, we are now seeing for the first time since 1945 a group of neo-fascist politicians taking their place in the government of a major European nation state. It did not take very long for capitalism to recreate that horror, despite claims that the military victory in 1945 had defeated such an ideology once and for all.

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
But this was not just a spectacular act of trickery by a media tycoon. Nor was it a relapse of millions of Italian workers into the idiocies of the Twenties and Thirties. Once again, the real stimulus to this retreat into right-wing callousness was the utter failure of the left-wing reformists to show any signs of being able to tame the effects of capitalism. Like all reformists everywhere, the PSI and PCI, running in the recent election as a so-called Progressive Alliance, were complete victims of the iron economic laws of the profit system. And like their counterparts in the British government, Craxi and his fellow political leaders were not only extremely corrupt but — sin of political sins — they were caught. So, a discredited left-centrist political tradition provided the very soil in which the simplistic messages of the hard right grew.

In itself, neo-fascists sitting in a government created out of the media power of a would-be President is not of great moment. But it is part of a political trend. In the last US election the rise of Ross Perot, a transparently right-wing crackpot, was based quite simply upon the fact that he was a billionaire with money to buy as much media time as he wanted.

Intellectually bankrupt
Against him were two discredited and intellectually-bankrupt opponents: Bush and Clinton. The most important point about the Perot campaign was not that he lost, but that there was a chance that he could have won. In the USA today the right wing ravings of the media star, Rush Limbaugh, are all the rage. Is he to be dismissed as a future Presidential hopeful? And if not a lunatic like him, what about some other smoother media created demagogue? In Russia the ultra-nationalist ravings of Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party are such that even the thuggish Yeltsin is regarded by political commentators as the most respectable option. In France Le Pen is still on the loose, still winning a fifth or quarter of the votes in the South and around Paris, and still forcing the more legitimate parties of French capitalism to adopt more racist positions so as to compete with the neo-fascists.

Schindler’s List
Anyone who has seen the new film, Schindler’s List, which in the view of the present writer is the finest film to be made by an American director in decades and should be viewed by everyone with a functioning brain, will know what happens when political instability gives way to political crisis and implosion. After the sighs of resentment at useless politicians will often come the desperate rush towards demagogic leaders and the politics of simple hate. In a century which has seen concentration camps, electoral victories by fascistic forces are to be taken seriously.

Mussolini and Hitler won the support of workers on the basis of an economic system in severe crisis and a political system which fewer and fewer people any longer believed in. Both of these factors are clearly present now. But Mussolini and Hitler won power through ritualistic techniques of persuasion essentially more typical of the last century than this one: mass rallies, flag-waving, anthems and military stunts. Today any potential dictator could do no better than obtain control of the electronic media and the press. These "barons” are elected by nobody and accountable to nobody. They are the most obvious sign that capitalism is not essentially a democratic political culture. They should be watched very carefully.
Steve Coleman

My Country (1994)

From the June 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is it that gives us that sense of belonging that allows us to refer to a particular part of the Globe as "my country"?

Only the obsessive would believe that our place of birth is anything more than pure chance. To be born in England, France or Estonia owes nothing to the desire of the newly-born baby, and rarely to the intent of the mother.

So if it's got no intrinsic link to the process of birth, then it must have something to do with what starts to happen after that. In this respect, most of us have probably had pretty much the same experience.

The process of "naturalisation" starts passively enough in the early years at home. It may just be that there are certain things which have the word MY, in front of them. This is easy enough to associate when it’s "my rattle" or "my sweets", but then the association starts to become a little more obscure. "My house" is a big concept for a three-year-old to deal with, particularly as the house represents the greater part of their entire life.

Already, the "my" concept becomes so entrenched it becomes second nature to the impressionable young mind and begins to influence its relationship with others, normally children. "Mine" is good enough reason not to share the sweets or let another have a turn on the swing or to put up with the company of a boorish neighbouring child in the garden.

With the property concept of "My" now firmly established, the child trundles off to school for the real damage to be done. Over the next eleven years a series of key learning experiences will confirm the importance of "My" culture. The school uniform, often the school song and mascot, the school teams all help to form the sense of being part of something difference, something better.

The next bit is easy. It’s taught in the way we learn languages, the way we learn geography and the way we learn history. It tells us that we’re part of something called our country and our country is different from and better than all those other countries. This is confirmed by our history which is taught as a series of wars, battles and great men all which served to defend our country against the envious and predatory desires of other countries.

Given all this indoctrination can we really be surprised when the general nationalism of the majority becomes the vicious nationalism of their fellow travellers in organisations like the British National Party.
Judy Reid

Letter: Does Everywhere Have To Pass Through Capitalism? (1994)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peter Newell’s informative account of the history surrounding recent events in Chiapas, Mexico (Socialist Standard, February) started me thinking about the different political responses to this indigenous uprising. In Vancouver where I live, these ranged from the predictable bandwagon-jumping escapades of various Leninist sects to a more interesting - but equally flawed - attempt to create an alliance of "leftist" inspired groups with the aim of supporting the Zapatista-led rebellion primarily by drawing links with "democratic struggles" here in Canada. The latter response, while moving beyond the insulting vanguardism of many groups on the left, was nevertheless typical of the kind of political strategy endorsed by many self-styled "post-Marxist" intellectuals currently resident in University departments. While the democratic decision-making processes of such alliances are, in my view, to be applauded, this post-Marxist political strategy remains mired in the rhetoric of failed projects of social democracy. Instead of challenging the profit-system in its entirety, the talk here is largely of smoothing the rough edges of capitalism by supporting social and environmental, justice and human rights incentives as ends in themselves.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that Peter Newell’s conclusions to his otherwise excellent article takes us a great deal further. According to him the uprisings were based on "backward-looking" ideas which "can achieve nothing of value, neither in the short nor the long run". This euro-centric view ignores the fact that for generations of First Nations’ peoples "violent rebelling" has been pretty much the only course of action available to them in the face of Euro-sponsored slavery and genocide. To sit back and regard their conversion into good little proletarians as somehow inevitable is to be complicit in their extinction. It also forgets that what is at stake for indigenous peoples is not simply higher wages or better working conditions but whole civilizations and ways of life. Do we really want one day to inherit a border-less world with a homogenous global culture where indigenous cultures have been reduced to quaint museum relics or trendy clothing styles for white people?

Part of the problem, I would argue, lies in the apparent unwillingness of many contemporary socialists to move beyond the sterile orthodox Marxist analysis of the effects of global capitalism on First Nations’ peoples. While there is nothing inherently euro-centric about socialism — there are countless historical examples of people the world over who have rejected wage labour and capital in favour of a cooperative, needs-based economy — there is clearly the need for contemporary socialists to be aware of the ways in which commitment to the goals of "scientific socialism", "reason", and the "positive aspects of capitalist development", contributes to the silencing and continued suffering of non-Western peoples. Even Marx himself acknowledged the extent to which capitalism was built on the oppression, slavery, and genocide of people of colour. It would seem to make sense, then, to see the abolition of capitalism as tied up with the overturning of euro-centrism, the elimination of white privilege and continuing opposition to newly emerging forms of colonialism and slavery.

For those socialists who would dismiss this as reformist and nationalist nonsense, I would ask you to consider what the Zapatistas of Chiapas, the Mohawks of Kahnesatake, or the East Timorese are fighting for. For the most part these autonomous struggles are anti-Statist, grass-roots and non-hierarchical movements calling for the return of communal land holdings. They have involved degrees of active participation by women on a scale that puts socialist parties to shame. Furthermore, are there not parallels to be drawn between the struggles of First Nations’ peoples for self-determination, and the economic and political struggles of wage-workers in the West?

Showing critical support for the Zapatista rebels does not imply a step-backwards for socialists; it merely acknowledges the extent to which the abolition of wage-slavery and the emergence of a world community of different cultures is inextricably linked to the self-determination of indigenous people worldwide.
Julian Prior, 
Vancouver, 
Canada 


Reply:
Julian Prior makes a number of interesting points, many of which I do not dispute. Nevertheless, I did not say that the uprisings in Chiapas, at the beginning of this year, were based upon "backwardlooking" ideas, which "can achieve nothing of value, neither in the short nor long run"; although, earlier in the article, I did suggest that, if he was anything, Emiliano Zapata, some 80 years’ ago, "was a rather backward-looking utopian communist".

What I did say was that such a movement will fail against the power of a modern state which, I should think, is obvious (I encountered units of the Mexican army when they were mopping-up the remnants of the "party of the poor" in the state of Guerrero); and that violent rebelling against such a state can achieve nothing of value (to the oppressed Indians) neither in the short nor the long run, although I did comment that it is not surprising that some of the Indians rebelled. Indeed, it is true that, over the last 90 years, almost all struggles and land occupations in Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America, began peacefully and only became violent following state intervention and repression. Recent reports from Chiapas appear to confirm my view that the Indian masses of Chiapas will have achieved no more, and probably less, than if they had used various forms of non-violent strikes, and non-cooperation, against the large cattle ranchers and the pro-government village bosses.

Julian Prior seems to imply that socialists "sit back", and regard the conversion of the Indians "into good little proletarians as somehow inevitable". We do not, of course, sit back, but actively encourage people — all people — in London, Vancouver and Chiapas, to strive for a socialist world, not of conformity and uniformity, but of diversity. Sadly, or otherwise, it is more than true that capitalism is rapidly destroying pre-capitalist culture, some of which, at least in part, may well have been worth preserving — although we should not idealise some of their practices and mores.

Lastly, I agree with Julian Prior that both the original, and the recent Zapatista, movements have involved degrees of "active participation by women that puts socialist parties to shame". Hopefully, however, this is beginning to change.
Peter E. Newell