Monday, December 31, 2018

50 Years Ago: German Social Democratic Party is not Socialist (1969)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

For years we have pointed out that the Social Democratic Party of Germany—now called the “Majority Socialists’’—was not a Socialist Party. Its persistent support of the capitalist parties at elections, coupled with its advocacy of capitalist reforms, marked it off as merely a reform party similar to the Labour Party in this country, though it carried a Socialist name. And there was another important fact concerned with its growth.

The capitalist class in Germany has always been somewhat nervous of the working class there, having, as Engels points out, something to learn from the English capitalist class in this respect. This nervousness was shown in various repressive measures culminating in Bismark’s Anti-socialist laws. Repressive measures for the working-class, however, also hit the small capitalists and traders in their operations. These latter, who usually form an active part of the Liberal Party, found the main body of their organisation too timid to fight over these measures, and saw them slink behind the more determined Junker section when there were any signs of trouble ahead. Mr. Small Capitalist had to look for another organisation that was really prepared for the Liberal reforms, and it was at hand in the shape of the Social Democratic Party. Since the days of its famous “Gotha Programme", so trenchantly denounced by Marx, it had always fought for those reforms, and had even challenged Bismark’s rulings. So the small capitalists joined this organisation in large numbers till the total votes ran into millions.

It is as clear as noon-day that those votes were neither Socialist nor intended to help forward the cause of Socialism. The "acid test" came with the war. Then, as with the Labour Party and the Hyndman section here, the German Social Democratic Party supported this capitalist war on their side.
(From an article by Jack Fitzgerald on the German Elections, Socialist Standard February 1919).

The Human Nature Myth (1969)

From the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

“It won’t work. You can’t change human nature”. How often has the Socialist heard this objection! It is easy enough to answer because it is a catchphrase whose meaning is unclear and whose implications the objector won’t have thought through.

What, first, might “human nature” be? The usual answer is that human beings are greedy and lazy and are out to get as much as they can with the least possible effort. But this should more accurately be called “human behaviour” and few will say that human behaviour doesn’t change. It is easy to show that throughout history and pre-history human behaviour has varied from society to society. It is easy to show too that people don’t in fact act from such simple motives. The whole objection thus falls. If the objector is particularly persistent or particularly foolish, he will try to argue that greed and laziness are built-in human characteristics, that they are part of what is more properly called “human nature”, that is, the biological nature of homo sapiens that distinguishes it from other animal species. But here biological science is insistent: such patterns of behaviour as greed and laziness are not and could not be inherited. Besides, a little thought will show that the idea of greed or laziness has no meaning except in society. A man can have black or white skin independently of society; but he cannot be greedy or lazy except in a social context.

Social science tells us that human behaviour changes. Biology tells us that traits like greed are not built-in and are not transmitted by heredity. So the human nature objection hasn't a scientific leg to stand on. It's a myth. But why does it persist?

There are at least three reasons.

The argument “you can’t change human nature” was developed as an answer to those who wanted social change in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The real purpose was to argue not so much that you can't change human nature as that you shouldn’t try to. Too loose use of the phrase “human nature" to cover human behaviour and psychology dates from this period. Which is not surprising since neither sociology nor biology nor psychology were far developed at that time. Previously thinkers in England and France had worked out a materialist theory of knowledge which saw man as the product of his environment. Change the environment, they said, and you will change human behaviour. Human nature could be improved! This was the message of English and French materialism and was taken up by social reformers everywhere. The reactionary supporters of the old order could only come up with the human nature objection.

Most of these reactionary thinkers were religious and, in the Christian dogma of original sin, they had a ready-made argument. Many of the reformers rejected this dogma; some even were atheists. But religion in preaching that man is born “evil”, "depraved”, "corrupt”, “wicked”, "sinful" and the like is clearly a powerful source of the view that man’s nature would be a bar to Socialism.

The rising middle class in England in the 17th century developed its own ideology (which was transmitted to their colleagues in America by the Pilgrim Fathers). This was part Puritanism and part what has been called "the theory of possessive individualism”. The originator of this theory, in a coherent form, was Thomas Hobbes in his book called Leviathan. Politically, Hobbes was a supporter of the King (Charles II) and an opponent of the middle class. All the same his theory well suited capitalist society. He held that in nature there was a war of all against each and that this was only ended by a contract to set up a government which would restrain everybody, save for the governor or governing class. Abolish the oppression of government, said Hobbes, and all Hell would break loose.

The human nature myth, like the religious dogma of so-called original sin, has long been used as an argument against social reforms, let alone social revolution. Now integrated into the theory of possessive individualism they are part of the ideology by which capitalist society seeks to justify itself.

Human beings are quite capable of co-operating as free and equal men and women, to produce this wealth they need and to run a social system in which the satisfaction of these needs will be the guiding principle. Men are not naturally lazy. Quite the contrary. Working (which after all is only the expenditure of energy) is a biological as well as a social must. Socialists assert that men and women can so organise the conditions of work that they can get pleasure from working and making useful things. Nor are men naturally greedy. Grabbing and hoarding are signs of scarcity and insecurity. These are certainly features of capitalism, but they won’t be of Socialism —the society of abundance. Where men and women have free access to what they need to live and enjoy life, there will be no reason to take more than you need. To do so would only clutter up the place where you live. You might as well leave what you don’t want immediately in the local store, sure in the knowledge that you can always get them whenever you want. And of course human wants are not really insatiable.

Socialism is a practical possibility. Human beings are capable of better things than the priests would have us believe.
Adam Buick

The Shrike is a Smallish Bird (1969)

From the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Shrike, or Butcher-Bird, is a smallish bird of fairly wide distribution throughout the world. Its main colouration is black, white and red. It lives on a varied diet of large insects, small lizards, mammals and birds. Having little holding power in its weak feet these birds impale their living victims upon nearby thorns: then at leisure they tear to pieces their victims in order to feed themselves and their young. So much for a little bit of nature study.

In social life we find something of a parallel. The social shrike is the master class and is also coloured black, white, red, and, in addition, yellow. And its victims? Well during December 1968 one of these, the Melbourne Tramway employees’ union, found itself impaled upon the spike of $1,000 a day fine for every twenty-four hours, or part thereof, of the strike continuation. And bit by bit the union principles, strength and dignity is bitten off while thus impaled. The case upon which we are commenting arises from a dispute over a tram driver who is accused by the Union of scabbing during a stop-work meeting. Male and female conductors refuse to work with him and request that he either be transferred or dismissed. With this request the Tramway Board (another “socialist” institution) refuses to comply. As each conductor thus refuses duty he or she is stood down without pay. Also each one is liable to $100 a day fine for indiscipline. The union, impaled as it is, is quite helpless to organise their undoubtedly superior numbers to aid their individual members subjected to victimisation and isolation.

Here, however, ends the similarity between the Capitalist Shrike and the one of nature. The living victims of nature's Butcher-bird are presumably unwilling to be impaled and then helpless to prevent themselves being torn apart piece meal. Those victims of the Shrike of modern society however, clearly reveal they are willing to allow themselves first to be impaled and then rendered member from member. For in election after election. Federal, State and Council, these workers in their immense superiority of numbers vote for the continuation of the Shrike Victim System—for the capitalist wage labour system. Thus declaring their willingness to continue as the victims of this social drama.

Another difference too, is that the natural Shrike feeds directly off its immediate victims; the social shrike feeds off surplus or unpaid labour of the victim class. This surplus or unpaid labour when suitably transformed into sociably acceptable terms becomes rent, interest, profit, dividends.

Nor is it only the Melbourne Tramways' Union that is impaled upon a $1,000 a day fine for each day of strike action. All Australian Labour unions are similarly threatened and many have experienced this impalement. Some of them so often have been fined this full amount that they are hopelessly indebted to the Commonwealth Government for many thousands of dollars. The Tramway Union itself is financially bankrupt on this account; and this perhaps. is the reason why it is inhibited, apparently disheartened and apathetic. But then of course this goes for all unionism, aggressive or otherwise, which commits itself to maintaining an economic policy where wealth is produced in commodity form, and remains indifferent or antagonistic to the class call of common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution.

The idea of a wagelcss, moneyless society terrifies the victims, up till now at any rate, as much as it does the Shrike. After all, how would the latter get his living without surplus labour to feast upon? We can understand his resistance to social revolution — even though he must speed it on — the Shrike is conscious of class interests. We also understand the resistance of the victims to this same change and this is due to his ignorance of his class position.

While unaltered the Shrike and its victims in nature continue, the social shrike will continue only as long as its social or class victim permit.
C. Peter Furey.
(Socialist Party of Australia).

Letter: Let's Change This Planet (1969)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people on Earth live in one of two quite different worlds. There is the world of sumptuous palaces for an opulent, parasitical few which the unemployed rich enjoy and there is the world of overcrowded slums for the poor, dispossessed multitudes.

‘Unemployed rich’ may seem an odd phrase at first sight. ‘The unemployed’ is a term used exclusively for poor people who are on the dole, and it signifies disappointment, frustration and financial hardship. But unemployment is the natural state of existence for the really rich—yet to them it is no hardship. Multi-millionaires never have to join a dole queue or submit to a means test. Those indignities have no place in their world. Having to work for wages is a sure sign of social degradation, although no politician would say anything to suggest that fact of life. That is because none of the verbose politicians who spout about the miracles they will work if we vote for them want to change the present social system.

Capitalism is a brutal, deranged social system which splits the human race into two distinct classes: one a tiny, unproductive minority able to wallow in the best of everything because of their ownership of the means of production and their unearned income from investments, and enormous legions of confused, propertyless workers who are restricted to shortages, lack and exploitation in spite of the fact that they are the actual creators of all the world’s real wealth.

The vast majority of people today are wage-slaves. In order to eat they are forced to work for the master class who own and control all the instruments of production. The masses who produce but do not own are robbed by the few who own but do not produce. They are robbed because they are paid in the form of wages only a small part of the value they create when they process raw materials into commodities. The workers must be paid less than the true value of the goods they produce for if they were paid the real value of those goods the master class would not be able to sell them for'a profit. The profit which keeps the robber class in idle luxury come from the unpaid labour of the working class. That is what Capitalism is all about and it cannot work any other way.

Capitalism cannot operate in the interests of the vast mass of Mankind. It is a crazy system which allows an insignificant handful of drones to amass fantastic sums of unearned money while countless millions go cold, hungry and homeless. Capitalism cannot satisfy the needs of the overwhelming mass of humanity because it leaves the means of production—and therefore everything which is produced—in the hands of a privileged minority while the deprived masses who do all the producing can never own more than their wages allow them to huy.

What the poor cannot buy they must do without. If they cannot afford to buy food then they must starve, and Capitalism will let them starve to death outside warehouses which are crammed full of good food which is rotting because the needy do not have the money to purchase it. Profit comes before people. Capitalism decrees that goods which cannot be sold for profit must not be produced, no matter how desirable and necessary they may be in order to make the world a better place for humanity. It also decrees that, at times of so-called glut, goods which cannot be sold must he destroyed as there is no money to be made by giving commodities away. That is why ‘surplus’ food (surplus only to the demands of die market, that is) is burned or dumped into the sea while underprivileged people are dying of hunger.

Capitalism causes unemployment, slums, poverty, famine, crime and war. Those social cankers are built into Capitalist society and cannot possibly be eradicated as long as Capitalism lasts. They are the natural and unavoidable consequences of the money system, the profit motive and the private property basis of society—the three fundamental rocks of Capitalism. War cannot be charmed out of existence by reformist measures such as peace treaties and disarmament agreements. It is spawned by the national economic rivalries inseparable from Capitalism. The structure of society must be altered in order to get rid of the social system which causes all the trouble. History proves that reforms achieve next to nothing—what we need now is a world-wide social revolution.

Instead of goods being produced simply to be sold to make a profit for the Capitalists the privately-owned means of production should be converted to the common property of all Mankind so that everybody can have free access to everything that is produced. That would make money unnecessary as people would have no need to buy what they already owned. The working class would own the goods because they would be the people who had produced them. They produce everything now but Capitalism deprives them of the fruits of their labour and relegates them to wage-slavery. But once production is organised to satisfy human need money will be superfluous and social equality will become a reality for everyone in the world of abundance which science could make possible tomorrow in a different social set-up. And when men have free access to all they need there will not be anything for them to fight over.

Naturally the Capitalists want to keep the system which lets them live off the fat of the land at the expense of others. Therefore they employ every trick in the book to kid the misled masses that Capitalism is the best of all possible systems. Which it is—for the rich. But for the robbed millions who are the only useful, essential members of society Capitalism is a curse.

Unfortunately it is easy to dazzle the unthinking masses with all the ostentatious parading and ceremony the rulers stage for that rascally purpose. The master class knowhow to divert the workers' attention from social conditions to childish irrelevancies. They know that if they doll up a woman in some crown jewels and send her through the streets in a golden coach the population will rush out to cheer and forget all about the rank injustice and contemptible inequity of the system of legalised robbery which degrades them. While the have-nots are hypnotised by shining symbols they are not asking embarrassing questions. It's the old bread and circus stunt.

Man does not steal, cheat, lie and murder because he is tainted with Original Sin or influenced by the Devil. People rob and defraud because our present social system makes it profitable to do so. A moneyless social system would alter all that. It is another dirty lie to say that men make war on each other because killing is part of human nature. It is nothing of the sort, which is proved by the fact that conscriptions laws have to be passed by the master class to coerce the underprivileged to do their dirty work for them. When the robber class disagree amongst themselves about how the loot should be split and the world’s territory carved up they declare war against each other but pretend that the war is for ‘Democracy’ or ‘freedom’. The wage-slaves do not declare wars—they are merely the suckers who march off to fight and die for property and profit which does not belong to them. Wars are always declared by government spokesmen or Great Leaders (and fully approved by the Church), which is appropriate as they are the mouthpieces of the master class in whose interests all modern wars are fought.

There is only one cause of war today: Capitalism. Once that is replaced by a classless, moneyless system of production for use which grants everybody free access to the essentials of life war will cease, but until then human blood will soak the ground wherever Capitalism’s profits are at stake.
D. Shaw
Hull

Bolshevik anti-socialism (2018)

From the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently, the electronic journal Anti-Capital published a stinging review (issue 13) of our publication Centenary of the Revolution (2017), a collection of articles from the Socialist Standard, dealing mainly with the so-called Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath. We are accustomed to having our views caricatured but this particular review seems to have plumbed new depths of misrepresentation.

Amongst the numerous inaccuracies littering the review one in particular stands out:
  ‘A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism)’.
Anyone familiar with the Socialist Party would instantly know this is simply untrue. You only have to look at our Declaration of Principles in which the notion of class struggle, far from being ‘explicitly rejected’, is explicitly acknowledged.

What seems to have riled these Leninists is the Socialist Party’s repudiation of the claim that what happened in 1917 was a socialist revolution. We share Marx’s view that the emancipation of the working class must be done by the working class itself, not some Leninist vanguard. For that to happen, workers en masse – not just in one country but across the world – need to want and understand what this basically entails. In other words, there needs to be a conscious socialist majority.

That there was no such majority, or even a significant minority, in Russia (or elsewhere) in 1917 is indisputable. Lenin himself noted that ‘the majority of the population in Russia are peasants, small farmers who can have no idea of socialism’ (speech at Seventh All-Russia Conference of the Party) and that the ‘proletariat and semi proletariat’, had ‘never been socialist, nor has it the slightest idea about socialism, it is only just awakening to political life’. In another speech, he frankly admitted ‘We know how small the section of advanced and politically conscious workers in Russia is’ (Second All-Russia Congress of Commissars for Labour, 1918)

This was precisely Lenin’s justification for his vanguard party, supposedly drawn from this small and politically advanced section of the working class, to take matters into its hands; the great majority of workers and peasants, in his estimation, were not yet imbued with a socialist consciousness so the vanguard had to take power and act on their behalf.

Yet, oddly enough, the Leninist reviewer in Anti-Capital rebukes us for saying much the same thing as Lenin in this case – namely, that there was no mass support for socialism – and goes on to assert: ‘In place of the living dynamics of the real-existing class struggle as it actually exists and the course it actually takes at the heart of Marxist materialism, the SPGB substitutes metaphysics.’

But how is it ‘metaphysics’ to question whether the majority of the Russian population in 1917 were mentally prepared for socialism? If anything seems ‘metaphysical’, it is the belief that you can somehow conjure a stateless non-market socialist society into existence without a majority wanting and understanding what that means beforehand. On the other hand, if you agree that a socialist majority is first needed in order to implement socialism how can you then go on to describe a revolution as ‘socialist’ when demonstrably – as in 1917 – such a majority was conspicuous by its absence?

The plain fact is, given the paucity of socialists at the time, the Bolsheviks, with the best will in the world, had only one course of action open to them, given their determination to seize power – namely, to embrace some form of capitalism. Furthermore, there is only one way in which capitalism can be administered – that is, in the interests of capital and against the interests of workers. That is why the 1917 uprising was nothing like the idealistic picture that Anti-Capital paints.

This is the conclusion any ‘Marxist materialist’ would draw yet, according to the Anti-Capital reviewer, it is precisely ‘Marxist materialism’ that the Socialist Party has renounced. We are accused of ‘crass economic determinism’ for erasing from history the ‘millions of organized workers who were fighting under the red flag for socialism’. How we can be charged with the crime of ‘economic determinism’ while attaching such importance to the subjective preconditions for socialism, is not explained.

Class struggle
The reviewer shows a complete lack of understanding of the relationship between the goal of socialism and the process of class struggle itself – the suggestion that propagating the former somehow ‘substitutes’ for the latter. On the contrary, the former arises out of the latter just as Marx’s ‘class-for-itself’ arises out of his ‘class-in-itself’. Socialist consciousness separates the one from the other. Far from being divorced from the class struggle, putting forward the case for socialism is, in fact, the most politically efficacious way of prosecuting that struggle from the workers’ standpoint. What could possibly be more revolutionary than advancing an objective that directly challenges, and calls into question, the rule of capital itself?

Moreover, the whole point of the class struggle is surely to end it, not indefinitely prolong it out of some misguided masochistic desire to be endlessly exploited by our capitalist employers. You can only end it by eliminating class ownership of the means of producing wealth and establishing socialism and for that, as stated, you first need a conscious socialist majority. There is nothing noble or edifying about the idea of class struggle for its own sake. We demand the right to live as human beings, not mere ‘hands’.

How little the Anti-Capital reviewer understands our perspective is also borne out by the comments about our supposed views on industrial struggles. According to the reviewer this is further evidence that we reject the class struggle:
  ‘There are a series of bizarre contradictions arising from this rejection of the class struggle. At the same time that they claim that struggles for higher wages, shorter hours and improved working conditions are inevitable and necessary under capitalism, they also claim that the workers’ party has no role in these struggles.’
This is a complete muddle. If anything, the contradiction lies with the reviewer in admitting that the Socialist Party says such struggles are ‘inevitable and necessary’ under capitalism and then bizarrely claiming that it rejects the class struggle. The fact that we do not think it is appropriate to directly engage, as a political party, in the industrial conflicts that workers are embroiled in, in no way means it repudiates class struggle itself. That is a completely unwarranted inference to draw which, moreover, is entirely at odds with our own stated position of principled support for industrial militancy along sound lines.

It is simply that, unlike opportunist Leninist sects that have a habit of wanting to cynically exploit industrial disputes in order to recruit more members, the Socialist Party recognises that workers engaged in such disputes come from many different political backgrounds. Consequently, to sow political divisions among workers (which is precisely what direct party political intervention would do), rather than concentrate on the immediate issue at hand would, ironically, weaken the collective strength and unity of the trade union itself. As individuals, however, many members of the Socialist Party are active trade unionists and there is no contradiction whatsoever between this and their espousal of revolutionary socialism.

Revolution
However, it is the question of what constitutes a ‘revolution’ that perhaps most sharply separates us from the Leninists. For us, and fully in line with Marxian usage, what this term denotes is, simply, a fundamental change in the socio-economic basis of society.

It is not about how you achieve that change – the methods you use. For the instance, the use of violent force does not necessarily signify a revolution if all it results in is the overthrow of one particular ruling class and its replacement by another. If nothing has really changed substantively in terms of the basic social relationships that define a given society then you have not really had a revolution; merely a pseudo-revolution.

Nor does a revolution have to do with the class character of its agents or participants. No capitalist revolution was ever effected solely, or even mainly, by members of the capitalist class. Invariably, the capitalists called upon the assistance of the far more numerous subordinate classes – like the proletariat or the peasantry – in their bid to overthrow the then existing pre-capitalist social order.

This is true even when the overwhelming majority of the participants in a ‘revolution’ were workers – as in Russia, 1917 – when traditional bourgeoisie were dispossessed only for the Bolshevik regime to step into their shoes, functionally speaking. Indeed, in almost uncanny anticipation of the outcome of that particular event, Marx once noted how the mass mobilisation of workers in a struggle against the bourgeoisie can, in the end, serve only to entrench the rule of capital:
  ‘If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its movement, the material conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule’ (Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality, 1847).
So it is not the methods or the class character of the participants, involved in a revolution that determines its nature but, rather, its outcome – whether it results in a fundamental change in the organisational structure of society. There are basically two ways you can talk about a ‘revolution’. You can call it an ‘event’ – like the political act of replacing capitalism with socialism – or you can call it a ‘process’ (providing such a process is consciously aligned, or congruent, with the desired outcome of establishing socialism). In this latter sense, we can say ‘the revolution’ has already begun and will (hopefully) gather momentum in the form of an expanding movement for socialism, leading up eventually to the revolutionary ‘event’ of capturing political power.

According to Anti-Capital, however, we allegedly maintain that ‘Marx never saw fit to promulgate the seizure of power by the organized working-class in their conception’ – meaning a revolution in the sense of an ‘event’. This is simply untrue. Of course we are fully aware that Marx advocated the capture of political power. Moreover, this is something we advocate ourselves and, again, this is enshrined in our Declaration of Principles. We insist, however, that this political act must be carried out democratically by an organised working class that is genuinely socialist in outlook. Otherwise it cannot possibly amount to a socialist revolution. It cannot possibly usher in socialism.

Again, according to Anti-Capital:
  ‘For the SPGB, every revolution is a coup d’etat. February 1917 was a capitalist coup d’etat (Ibid, ‘The Russian Situation’, June 1917, p. 23), October 1917 was a Bolshevik coup d’etat (Ibid, p.31); 1905 was a “capitalist movement” (Ibid, ‘The Revolution in Russia: Where it Fails’, August 1918, p. 37).’
This too is misleading. We do not say ‘every revolution is a coup d’etat’. There have been revolutions in the past fully deserving of the term ‘revolution’. These brought about a fundamental change in the socio-economic basis of society – such as from feudalism to capitalism. However, capitalism is now thoroughly global. Consequently, the only legitimate use of the term ‘revolution’ today (at least in Marxian terminology) must entail a social transformation that culminates in genuine socialism. Anything short of that would not truly constitute a ‘revolution’ in our view.

This is why the Socialist Party was, technically, perfectly correct in describing the 1917 Bolshevik ‘revolution’ as a merely a coup d’etat. Capitalist relations of production based on generalised wage labour were not introduced under the Bolsheviks but merely consolidated and extended under their rule in the guise of state capitalism. At best, you could describe 1917 as a culminating moment in a protracted process of capitalist revolution that had begun earlier.

After all, even under the Tsar, capitalist industry was making headway in the towns and some of the factory complexes, like the giant Putilov works, were amongst the largest and most modern in the world. Moreover, at the time, Russia was the most heavily indebted country in the world with capital pouring in from countries, like France and Britain, to finance industrial development. The Bolsheviks’ decision to renege on these foreign debts was one reason for the subsequent invasion of Russia by various foreign powers in alliance with the white armies during the turbulent civil war that followed.

In any event, there can be no justification whatsoever from a Marxian standpoint for describing the events of 1917 as a ‘socialist’ revolution. As we have seen, genuine socialism was simply not on the political agenda. What initially attracted the Russian workers – and the far more numerous peasants – to the Bolsheviks was the promise of sweeping capitalist reform, not socialist revolution. Indeed, under the influence of the Bolsheviks the very term ‘socialism’ itself came increasingly to mean something quite different to the original Marxian concept. Instead of signifying a stateless non-market system of society it came to be redefined by Lenin as a form of ‘state capitalist monopoly’.

The Bolsheviks, for their part, opportunistically and cynically exploited the civil unrest at the time to catapult themselves into power but we should not romanticise the unrest itself as something other than it was. It was driven by such desperate concerns as securing waged employment in a context of widespread factory closures and financial collapse. It was certainly not the opening salvo of a socialist revolution, determined to fashion a completely new kind of society on the ruins of capitalism. That is just naïve fantasy, a retrospective construction put on events by ideologues in love with flowery rhetoric.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Bolshevik regime, having first curried favour with the workers, viciously turned upon them, imposing upon them its brutal dictatorship of the vanguard over the proletariat. The roll call of anti-working class measures implemented by the regime is long and impressive: the crushing of the factory committees, the subordination of the trade unions to the state, the imposition of top-down ‘one-man’ management in the factories, the ruthless suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion on fabricated charges, the introduction of the notorious ‘militarisation of labour’ programme under Trotsky and the systematic elimination of all political opponents both inside and outside the Party.

Pathetic
It is, frankly, quite pathetic in this day and age, especially given the benefit of hindsight, that there are still some people around, like those involved in the Anti-Capital project, so deluded as to feel it incumbent upon themselves to glorify and defend the Bolshevik coup as ‘a necessary obligation for all who work toward the emancipation of labor from capital’. All the available evidence suggests the very opposite was the case. It resulted in the ruthless subordination of labour to the goal of capital accumulation – a classic feature of capitalism. Indeed, according some estimates, the rate of capital accumulation out of surplus value in the early Soviet Union, with its concomitant suppression of working class consumption, was among the very highest in the world at the time (Peter Binns, ‘State Capitalism’, Marxism and the Modern World, 1986).

The development of soviet state capitalism prepared the ground for the emergence of the corrupt corporate capitalism of Putin’s Russia today. Indeed, many of the obscenely rich oligarchs of modern Russia were themselves once high-ranking members of the Soviet ruling class. All they wanted in their ‘revolution from above’ that overthrew the old Soviet system was to modernise the conditions of capitalist exploitation to make it more ‘efficient’ and beneficial to themselves.

If we could turn the clock back to 1917, as our Leninist conservatives, wallowing in their misplaced nostalgia, would have us do, the eventual outcome would still be little different to what it unfortunately happens to be today.
Robin Cox

Not anti-Marx (2018)

Book Review from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Radical Political Economy – Sraffa versus Marx’.  By Robin Hahnel. (Routledge, 2007. 110 pages)

Piero Sraffa (1898-1983) was an Italian economist at Cambridge University, best known for his attempt to revive the approach of Classical Political Economy, as represented by Adam Smith and in particular David Ricardo, whose concepts Marx also employed in his criticism of them for assuming that capitalism was the natural way of organising the production and distribution of wealth rather than just a passing historical phase.

Sraffa’s main work, The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, was published in 1960. The title itself was already a revival of Classical Political Economy as he was using the word ‘commodity’, also inherited by Marx, to mean an item of wealth produced for sale; and capitalism is precisely an economic system in which commodities are produced by means of other commodities. What Sraffa was aiming to do was to settle some questions, left unresolved by Ricardo and Marx, about how to square a labour theory of value with an economic system where there were profits and which therefore meant that commodities did not exchange at their labour-time values, i.e., the amount of labour required to produce them from start to finish.

Critics of Marxian economics interpreted Sraffa’s book as showing that there was no need for any labour theory of value to explain how the (capitalist) economy worked and began to use it as a stick to beat Marx. Hahnel (one of the co-architects of the Parecon scheme) is in this tradition. But to see Sraffa as a critic of any labour theory of value is absurd – how could someone dubbed a ‘neo-Ricardian’ reject this when a labour theory of value was central to Ricardo’s economic analysis?

Sraffa’s book is based on assuming that commodities ‘contain’ labour and how the amount of this could in principle be calculated when there are profits. He explicitly states that the labour theory of value as a theory of selling price (exchange-value) is only valid when there are no profits, when the whole product of labour goes to the producer. This was Marx’s view too in an economic system he called ‘simple commodity production’ where all commodities were imagined to be produced by independent self-employed producers. Marx was well aware that, under capitalism, commodities did not sell at their labour-time values but at what he called their ‘price of production’ (a term Sraffa also used) as their cost of production + a mark-up for the going rate of profit. Sraffa goes into this in more detail than Marx was able to in his unfinished notes.

In any event, to counterpose Sraffa to Marx, as in the title of this book, is not justified. There is no evidence that Sraffa was hostile to Marx. Just the opposite in fact, as can be seen from Appendix D on ‘References in the Literature’, Sraffa had as much respect for Marx’s as he had for Ricardo’s earlier work on his subject.

Hahnel gets Marx wrong on a number of points. He commits Marx to a biological/calorie subsistence theory of wages whereas Marx recognised that there was a varying historical and social element in wages (as set out in chapter 22 of Volume I of Capital on ‘National Differences in Wages). Using such terms as ‘total breakdown’ and ‘inevitable collapse’ he attributes to Marx the view that capitalism will eventually mechanically breakdown. He accuses Marx of not identifying a flaw in capitalism that sometimes capitalists do not adopt the most efficient production methods if wages are low, whereas Marx makes this very point, regarding a stone-breaking machine invented and used in the US but not used in Britain, at the end of section 2 of Chapter 15).

Clearly Hahnel doesn’t know his Marx. He also contradicts himself when he insists that profit does not derive only from the labour-power capitalists hire while at the same time explaining ‘profits as the result of denying workers in a productive economy all the surplus goods they produce’.

This said, his book is well-presented and, despite the algebra, very readable. The final chapter in which the capitalists are put on trial accused of being parasites on the producers and their various lines of defence (abstinence, waiting, risk, etc) refuted, ending in them being found guilty as charged, is amusing and to the point.
Adam Buick

Pulling The Trigger (2018)

The Proper Gander column from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Derren Brown’s television shows are both fascinating and disturbing to watch, as they highlight something we usually prefer not to think about – how open we can be to manipulation. The ‘psychological illusionist’s stunts often involve making people ‘choose’ to do exactly what he’s conditioned them to.

In Brown’s latest experiment – Sacrifice (Netflix) – his aim is to manipulate his subject into willingly taking a bullet for a complete stranger. He makes this even more of a challenge for himself by choosing someone who is openly against immigration to sacrifice themselves for someone in the country illegally. Not that Phil, his subject / guinea pig / victim, knows this is going to happen. Instead, Phil is told that he’s taking part in a documentary about a new microchip which he agrees to have inserted in the back of his neck. He believes this will make him more confident and decisive, but in reality there’s no microchip and it’s Phil’s conviction, along with Brown’s conditioning which create this attitude. Phil comes to associate a trigger sound and a tap on the head with being fearless and even not feeling pain, demonstrated when a needle is pushed through his hand. Brown also needs to make Phil develop more empathy, especially with people from other backgrounds. Fortunately, his methods here are more honest and benign. To change how Phil sees himself as all-American, a DNA test is arranged which reveals that his heritage stretches back to Scandinavia, Russia, the Middle East and, significantly, Mexico. Even more powerful is a simple exercise where he and a stranger maintain eye contact for four minutes, which ends with tears and a hug.

Phil is told that the therapy and the filming are over, and several weeks later Brown tests whether his real plan has worked. In the middle of the Californian desert, he sets up a fake bar, rigged with hidden cameras and actors playing its staff and customers. It’s engineered that Phil is driven out there and gets befriended by a group of what he thinks are racist bikers. He joins them as they drive off in pursuit of some Mexicans also in on the stunt. The Mexicans are caught, are made to admit they’re in the country illegally and the bikers get ready to shoot them. Waiting in the van, Phil hears the trigger sound played through the radio. He decides to intervene, and indeed stands in front of the Mexicans when the biker fires his gun. Brown rushes out and tells him it’s all been staged. Phil’s relief that he hasn’t really been shot dead presumably overrides any understandable urge to punch Brown’s lights out for what he’s done.

The formula of conditioning someone and then surreptitiously testing its effectiveness was also used in Brown’s 2006 show The Heist. Under the guise of a motivational seminar, Brown implanted the urge to rob a security van in a bunch of middle-managers without them knowing. He instilled in them a ‘just do it’ attitude, associated with the colour green, a song by the Jacksons and the action of rubbing their leg. The seminar was deliberately peppered with words to subconsciously promote taking money, and each of the attendees were given a toy gun to symbolise their new-found gung-ho outlook.

Without the attendees realising, he then tested which were most receptive to authority, and therefore would be more likely to accept his manipulation of them. After challenging them to steal some sweets from a shop, he moved on to re-enact the notorious Milgram experiment, carried out at Yale University in the 1960s. In this, volunteers are asked to administer electric shocks to someone as a punishment for getting answers to questions wrong, unaware that the shocks aren’t real. Over half of Brown’s middle-managers gave what they thought were lethal doses, just because someone wearing a white coat told them to, a result similar to that of the original Milgram experiments.

As with Sacrifice, the actual point of the exercise took place next, when the participants thought they were no longer being filmed. The four who were most suggestible were each invited to a meeting and asked to bring their toy guns with them. Concealed cameras filmed them in turn walking to their appointment in London, past a green poster of a leg captioned ‘do it’, as a car drives along blaring out the Jacksons song. So when the subjects see a (fake) security van parked ahead of them, they’re unknowingly primed to act on all the cues they’ve learned. Three of the four instinctively pull out their gun and hold up the (actor) security guard, running off with the money until Brown stops them.

Brown’s stunts make it look easy to manipulate unwitting people to commit acts as extreme as armed robbery, self-sacrifice and, in 2016’s Pushed To The Edge, shoving someone else off a height to their apparent death. The set-ups may be elaborate, but his techniques – placebos, triggers, conditioning – are unsettlingly straightforward. He doesn’t say that everyone can be so easily moulded, though, as he selects people who are most suggestible and receptive to authority. So is Brown warning us about the dangers of allowing ourselves to be led? He says that his latest show has ‘an ultimately humanitarian message … about stepping out of the [political or social] narratives we live by’ (NME, 15 October), such as Phil’s nationalism. Brown rightly points out that these narratives can be limiting and divisive, and that we can become kinder to others by changing our outlook. Showing a die-hard xenophobe apparently giving his life for someone they would otherwise hate is a drastic way of demonstrating this, and manipulating them into it is a strange and contradictory way to make the point. This seemingly hasn’t bothered those who have taken part in Brown’s stunts, who he says have found the experience ‘the most positive and transformative thing they’ve done.’  If, like them, we excuse how Brown’s techniques are deceptive and even cruel, he teaches us some interesting lessons about how our thoughts, values and actions can be shaped.
Mike Foster

Letters: Taboo (2018)

Letters to the Editors from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Taboo

Hi there!

Yesterday, I went to an Anti Racism conference in central London. On my way home, I popped into a bookshop (Housman’s) , found your magazine and bought a copy.

Let me start by saying that I don’t neatly fit anywhere politically but it’s important to me that everyone has access to the wealth created by this country and contributes to wealth creation in a way that is aligned with their skills, passions and experience. I think that socialist values play a part in that.

I’m writing to you because I was really disturbed by the article on the October magazine on ‘Taboo and Criminality’. You mentioned an acquaintance with someone who was found guilty of sexual crime with an under age female who, after serving a prison sentence and was hounded out of his job by an internet campaign.

The article suggests that serving the prison sentence somehow draws a line for the perpetrator of the crime.

I too know someone found guilty of sexual crime and many, many victims. The man got away with it for decades and it involved children as young as five.

What I would say is that, some victims never, ever recover from sexual abuse. Their whole lives they suffer. It can stand in the way of their ability to really let go in loving relationship, love themselves, their bodies, be happy, whole, functioning people. Recognition of the decades long impact of sexual crime has may be one reasons that your friend was hounded out of his job. I don’t know your friend of the circumstances.

This whole world, irrespective of political leaning, has hypocrisy embedded into it.

I can’t see how a living in a socialist society will remove the activity of sexual exploitation and abuse. Your article didn’t work for me. Hope you can see why.

Rozi.

Reply:
It is in the nature of social taboos that they arouse intense emotions. The abuse of the weak by the strong is repugnant to most of us but it can only be understood if we put aside our outrage in an attempt to comprehend it rationally. Your contention that ‘this whole world, irrespective of political learning, has hypocrisy embedded into it’ implies some type of irreversible evil in human nature, which we don’t accept as being based on the scientific evidence. But if we accept instead that child abuse, like many other destructive behaviours, constitutes an abuse of power then it becomes necessarily a question of politics, i.e. the origin and nature of that power. We contend that authoritarian social structures and hierarchies both motivate abusers and then facilitate their activities. The sexualisation of power is at the root of such behaviour and exists in nuclear family units, religious organisations, public schools, prisons, the military and so on. All of these institutions are part of and reflect the capitalist hierarchical social structure.

Prisons primarily exist to punish rather than to rehabilitate (which, of course, is infinitely more expensive) so we would consider that they typically make matters worse rather than ‘draw a line for the perpetrator’. If in spite of all of this the offender truly regrets their behaviour and tries sincerely to rehabilitate themselves then does he or she not deserve a ‘second chance’? We know, however, that many abusers were themselves abused and so we acknowledge the difficulties involved for both the community (including the victims) and the offender. These are tricky issues and it is possible that some individuals (hopefully small in number) are so scarred by capitalist society and with such fundamentally anti-social behaviour patterns, that they have to be kept away from others if rehabilitation doesn’t work.

But because socialism addresses unequal power relationships at their source, we believe that it can certainly help to ‘remove the activity of sexual exploitation and abuse’, along with all the other examples of this type of social relationship within capitalism, and it is one of the reasons some of us are socialists. – Editors.

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Anger

Dear Editors,

Many times on hearing news like the bombing of a bus in Yemen carrying children, and of other atrocities, frustration and anger has made me feel like throwing a few petrol bombs about too, or somehow getting hold of an AK47 and attempting to assassinate the chairmen/shareholders of the arms companies profiting from it.

But I don’t think it’d help. Do we really want to become another RAF/Baader Meinhof terrorist organisation? Bombing the (somehow depopulated) arms factories would perhaps stop it in the short-term, but new ones would be quickly built, and we’d likely as not end up rotting in prison cells.

Same goes for the assassination game. New parasitical fascist scum would soon replace the old. Plus killing isn’t my idea of fun, and I don’t see how brutalising and dehumanising ourselves, by turning ourselves into murdering dogmatic fanatics would help anyone.

We could, I suppose, divert our energies into making working for these people socially unacceptable (I for one wouldn’t work for them, even if it meant starving on the street) but then we’d become nothing more than a mere anti-war party/protest group. And despite years of futile campaigns CND still haven’t managed to ‘ban the bomb.’

We have never been, and I sincerely hope we never become a party pursuing ‘single issues’.

Another consideration is that the people who are born into the ruling class didn’t choose to be any more than we chose to be born into the working class. From birth they are as subjected to their own idiotic ideology as we are.

So who is culpable? Who is to blame? It could be argued we all are: the workers for swallowing the bullshit and not getting up off their lazy arses to end this tragic farce, and the owners, for being both subjected to, and perpetuating a brutal inhuman ideology.

So what is to be done? (As a vile mass murdering dictator once asked)

I am still haunted by the memory of a starving child in Africa (the Ethiopian famine of 1973, I think) who wanted nothing more than to taste a piece of bread for the first time. As a 9-year old child I remember crying to my parents ‘please let me send him my bread’ before the TV reporter announced that even though he was in hospital being treated, he still couldn’t have his dearest wish fulfilled, as eating bread would have overwhelmed his severely malnourished system. Having never tasted bread, that child later died. While the EEC was paying farmers to leave fields uncultivated/fallow, and storing wine lakes and butter mountains.

Eleven years later, in 1984, another tragedy began to haunt my dreams. The image of a dead child’s face, lying staring open eyed through the rubble of the Bhopal disaster. Another easily preventable disaster – if only the safety of people, and the planet we call home, could have been put before profit and the bottom line.

I have been cursed with the burden of a socialist worldview/conscience for 37 years now, and have yet to find a better way forward than ‘Agitation, Education, Organisation’ until we meet a critical mass and undertake the revolutionary change required, whether that be by the ballot box, or some other (peaceful) means. If any one can think of some other strategy/quicker way forward, without compromising our core principles, I for one, would be more than willing to consider it.
Malcolm Ian McKay, 
Cumbernauld.

Rear View: Censorship (2018)

The Rear View Column from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Censorship
The banning of books by governments is a form of censorship which took place in the Roman Empire and continues to this day. ‘No book, it seems, is too substantive or too insignificant to be banned in Kuwait. Recent targets of the government’s literary censors include an encyclopedia with a picture of Michelangelo’s David and a Disney version of The Little Mermaid.  David had no fig leaf, and the mermaid, alas, wore half a bikini. ‘There are no hijab-wearing mermaids’ said Shamayel al-Sharikh, a Kuwaiti women’s activist. ‘The powers that be thought her dress was promiscuous. It’s humiliating.’ . . .  Responding to the demands of a growing conservative bloc in Parliament, the government is increasingly banning books. In August, the government acknowledged that it had banned 4,390 books since 2014, hundreds of them this year, including many works of literature that had once been considered untouchable, setting off street demonstrations and online protests’ (nytimes.com, 1 October).


No to no platform
Socialists, by contrast, oppose any form of censorship. We have always been prepared to give opponents of socialism a chance to express their views from our platform. This is because we are convinced that our views are right and that this will emerge from full and free debate — and if we are wrong we want to know, so that we can stop wasting our time. Censorship, whether through the legalised violence of the state or that of self-appointed political and/or religious guardians is anti-socialist and anti-working class and must be exposed whenever it rears its ugly head. No view (not even religion) should be exempt from being criticised. The main case against censorship is that it considers that people are too ignorant to decide for themselves and so must be protected from hearing certain views. All censors, actual or would-be, consider themselves a cut above the rest. They are not corrupted by reading De Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom but their servants would be. They are not affected by reading anti-Christian or anti-Muslim writings – Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is viewed in this way by many faithful – but their followers would be. They are not affected by rants of the Left or Right but other, less enlightened people would be.


Corrupted by socialism?
The Marquis de Sade died over 200 years ago in an insane asylum, yet much of what he had to say remains relevant today. He championed democracy, was opposed to every form of punishment (‘it is far simpler to hang men than to find out why we condemn them’), saw the class-divided nature of society and sided with ‘those who can only get a living by their labour and sweat.’ Indeed, Geoffrey Gorer in The Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis De Sade (1964) points out that Sade stood in opposition to contemporary philosophers for both his ‘complete and continual denial of the right to property,’ and for viewing the struggle in late 18th century French society as being not between ‘the Crown, the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy or the clergy, or sectional interests of any of these against one another’, but rather all of these ‘more or less united against the proletariat.’ Gorer thus argued, ‘he can with some justice be called the first reasoned socialist.’


End censorship
The Ayatollah Khomeini called in 1989 upon all good Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, a novel with a dream sequence in which the prophet Mohammed indulges in a few last temptations of his own. This fatwa resulted in numerous killings, attempted killings, bombings and book burnings. The Communist Manifesto was banned by Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Along with volumes of Capital, copies were burnt openly in Berlin on 10 May 1933 by students from the Wilhelm Humboldt University, all of them members of right-wing student organisations,  and watched by some 70,000 people. Ironically, it was Marx’s friend, the poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote some one hundred and ten years earlier ‘where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings’ (Almasor: A Tragedy, 1823, as translated in True Religion, 2003, by Graham Ward). By contrast, ‘…communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!’ (The Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels, 1848).




Remembering What? (2018)

From the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every year about this time we get bombarded with exhortations to remember. This year, the centenary of the end of the war that didn’t end all wars, it is going to be worse. People who have no compunction in reporting cold callers to the police turn up on your doorstep asking for a donation in return for a piece of red paper on a green bit of plastic; people who confront you on tube stations asking for money with the word ‘poppy’ are smiled upon, whereas those poor bastards who sit silently with a sign asking for some money to find a place to stay or something to eat are seen as social pariahs. Everywhere we are reminded of the supreme sacrifice for our freedom made by people who will not grow old as we grow old with an exhortation to remember. If you don’t remember in the way expected, you are somehow disloyal or contributing to the demise of civilisation.

For a socialist, I have been to quite a few Remembrance Day parades. As children growing up in the sixties there was not much to do of a Tuesday evening and the Cubs and Scouts seemed like a good option – it was definitely preferable to the more militaristic Boys Brigade. One of the downsides was that we had to attend a Remembrance Day service each year. I remember a two-minute silence which they broadcast from the Cenotaph, but I don’t recall any attempt to understand the causes of what we were commemorating or to see things from the perspective of the Germans – the pantomime villains in the Victor comics that we read.

Fast forward a further thirty years, a period encompassing the involvement in wars in Serbia, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. I went to another Remembrance Day parade. This was also due to the invidious influence of Baden Powell’s organisation. We had, despite misgivings about the duty to God and the Queen stuff, agreed to our son’s requests to join his local Cub group. Again, one of the downsides is that he is expected to attend the local Remembrance Sunday parade each year. I hoped it would not be too bad. The 200 or so from the village in which we live who joined the carnage that was the First World War comprised the majority of the fit and able-bodied men. Of these 42 were killed – for some reason about a third of these are not listed on the war memorial. More recently there had been regular reports of valiant British troops dying in Afghanistan (every one a saint) that might at least provoke the youngsters to think critically about War.

Fat chance. I had a bad feeling on arriving at the Village Green, when I saw that the Boys Brigade Band were present. There was an assorted group of men dressed in greatcoats, wearing assorted medal ribbons, saluting each other, and discussing their ‘service’ experiences – or however many Fritzes or Arabs they had offed. I guessed that most had been involved in the Second World War or Korea, although there were clearly some from later conflicts. These past servants of the monarch filed in behind the youth organisations, treated like Gods. I think that Harry and I were the only ones without a poppy.

Not much chance of the band playing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ or ‘I don’t want to join the Army’. Unsurprisingly the youngsters went off down the round to ‘Men of Harlech’, ‘Blaydon Races’, ‘The Dambusters’ and ‘The Great Escape’ (or ‘the Great Round Up’ as the German comic Henning Wehn describes it). Watching them disappear down the road to the Church gave me a vague feeling that this was how regimental bands lead the cannon fodder to meet the cannon.

Anyhow, the service. Surely we would get something based on thou shalt not kill, even if it did not go so far as thinking about whether it is right to covet thy neighbour’s oil. Not much chance from a vicar imbued with a sense of patriotism from his role as a chaplain in the Napoleonic War recreation society. Having said that, it could have been worse. There was some attempt to think about the horrors faced, as the Vicar had got hold of a couple of pieces of shrapnel from the Neuve Chappelle battlefield and passed them round. I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been to have a shell explode above you and for great red hot chunks of metal like that to be flying at you. Unfortunately this was seen very much from the British and Commonwealth perspective and the overall tone of the event was that the British, and whoever was fortunate enough to be their allies at the time, were and still are a non-ending force for good in the world, assisted of course by God. The songs were worse.

It was therefore not surprising that there was no acknowledgement that ‘we’ were equally predisposed to chucking shrapnel as the Germans, despite the fact that it was not possible to tell whether the shrapnel had been made by Krupps or by the factories of one of the hard-faced men who did rather well out of the First World War. Equally there was no attempt to acknowledge that people other than ‘our’ troops had suffered in the various conflicts in which the UK has been involved in the seventy years of peace since VJ Day. The whole thing ended when they read out the names of the glorious dead – or at least those who made the war memorial – and we were required to file past the war memorial and lay our poppies on it. Bit embarrassing that one, but I managed to fade away with Harry whilst the old men in greatcoats continued to talk about those they had offed.

So that was that. I won’t be back. In recent years we have acquired a library of songs by Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson which gives a selection of material to play at loud volume at midday British Summer Time on the second Sunday in November each year. Leon Rosselson’s back catalogue includes a song entitled ‘Remembrance Day’ in which the coarse and ill-bred voice of the fallen and the dead interrupts a service at the Cenotaph with the observation that ‘We do not want your two minutes silence you can stuff it up your arse’. But what is wrong with remembering the unnecessary deaths of anything up to 150 million people in the twentieth century, not forgetting those who have died before or since. It is clear to most people that war’s war and it’s nasty and it brutalises those who participate in it – even if they are not killed or injured. Interestingly, there is evidence of psychological problems faced by those sitting behind desks in Arizona or Nevada, or possibly Barford St John, chucking missiles into Afghan villages and wedding celebrations.

In some ways the losses are so vast as to be impersonal – 35,000 killed on the First Day of the Somme and 11,000 at D-Day. However, each one is a tragedy and has a ripple effect on friends and family across many generations. We went to a church in Malvern recently in which memorials commemorates the loss of three subalterns from the same family in the First World War with the fourth and final one shot by the IRA as retaliation for some mindless act of brutality by the Black and Tans. I can only imagine what that family went through.

On a personal level, one of my greatest fears is that my son will be forced into the forces, and one of my more vivid memories of recent years is the relief on the faces of the parents of one of his friends that their son had flunked his A levels and would not be following his father to Sandhurst but would have to use his undoubted talents and charisma doing something useful, teaching children instead.

You could probably point to some instances in which the working class would probably have suffered more if the outcome of particular conflicts had gone the other way – for example would the SPGB exist today if Hitler had been victorious, and it is arguable that overthrow of Milosovich prevented further genocide in Bosnia. Conversely, would the working class have suffered less overall if the outcome of the Spanish Civil War had been different.

These are interesting historical debates but irrelevant to the socialist cause, which sees war as an inevitable by-product of the capitalist system. Having come from a shortish line of ‘conchies’ and Party members, I have never felt like taking the shilling and am pleased that I am probably now too old to face the undoubted pressure that people faced to do a century or so ago. I don’t pretend that I can relate to the men in greatcoats and do not know how I would fare in the face of real danger – actually I do but I don’t want to say.

There would perhaps be nothing much wrong with either remembering the losses or working to mitigate the horrendous effects that war can have on those who fight it, if remembering the losses and the suffering was accompanied by a genuine commitment that they would not be repeated (even if it fell short of a real understanding of how the system generates conflict).

The work that Help for Heroes does in supporting those suffering from traumas of war is limited to British service personnel and qualified by the strapline exhorting people to contribute on the basis that they would be ‘part of the force for good’. The assumption of the remembrance process is that our boys are the honourable and truthful defenders of truth and justice against barbaric hordes who want to murder us all in our beds. If war ever was fair, it has become increasingly unfair as killing technology has evolved – it is difficult to see how people subject to predator drone attacks could see otherwise. Those who fight against the British do not see things in quite the same way.

So that is about that. We are fundamentally a social species and killing strangers is unnatural and unsettling. War is unnatural as people in war try to kill people who they do not know and who they might well like if they got to know them. The Sunday Times (7 November 2004) reported that the last surviving Tommy, Harry Patch, had gone back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war, commenting that
  ‘It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?’
The pressure to remember as a means to condoning future involvement in conflicts will be more this year, the centenary of peace in 1918. It is depressing that the working class will continue to accept this. I spent some time thinking of a pithy end to all this, but could do no better than an extract from the August 1919 Socialist Standard discussing the Versailles treaty, namely that the causes of war will remain whilst competition between capitalist groups for routes, markets and control of raw material exists:
  ‘Clearer than ever before stands out the great fact that there is no hope for real peace in the world until these various sections of workers recognise the common fundamental character of their slavery and set to work to remove it, thus ending the enslavement of the human race by the establishment of socialism.’
Critch

Letters: Getting Rid of Capitalism (2018)

Letters to the Editors from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Getting Rid of Capitalism

Hi,

Doesn’t seem like there’s much to reply to, you mention the book in the first paragraph (‘How to destroy capitalism’, Socialist Standard, September 2018) but don’t actually discuss any of the points it makes.

A question for you: in the last 150 odd years, Marxist approaches to creating ‘society wide political and workplace action’ haven’t been successful to say the least. Capitalism is still very much alive and kicking. You say ending capitalism will come from a majority vote, but a tiny and shrinking handful of people vote for socialist programmes. What reasons do you have to think the same slogans and organising models will be more successful in the future?

Cheers,

Shahin (author of ‘Capitalism. What It Is and How Can We Destroy It?’)

Reply:
The article was not meant specifically to be a review of your book, only to answer the same question you posed in the title.

We can’t deny that capitalism is still alive and kicking, but this means that all the various theories as to how to get rid of capitalism have not been successful, not just Marxist, but anarchist, syndicalist, Leninist and reformist ones too.

We do indeed say that capitalism can only be ended when a majority is in favour of this and takes deliberate, democratic action to bring it about; which involves more than merely voting for it – it also involves organising democratically outside parliament. This is because socialism, as a society without economic or political coercion, could only be sustained by people willingly cooperating and participating in its running. Socialism is a democratic cooperative society that can only come into being democratically, i.e., with majority support and participation.

That is what we are working towards. There is no other way. If such a majority does not emerge then socialism won’t and capitalism will continue. – Editors.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bone and Mogg

What does the SPGB have to say about the debacle on LBC radio in September about Ian Bone re Jacob Rees-Mogg and his crappy children? From what I heard on LBC Ian Bone called Mogg ‘a horrible person’ and said it to his children. LBC demonised Ian Bone for this.

J.S., 
London SW4

Reply:
Ian Bone and Class War have always specialised in anti-rich stunts but it is the capitalist system that is to blame for the lot of the majority class of wage and salary workers not individual members of the capitalist class such as Jacob Rees-Mogg. He may (or may not) be a horrible person – he comes across as a caricature of a toff and so an obvious target for a Class War stunt – but that is completely irrelevant. Remove him and replace him by a ‘nice’ capitalist and it would make no difference. Should Ian Bone have targeted Mogg’s children? Maybe, but only to tell them that capitalism is a horrible system – Editors.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Correction

Hi,

The September Socialist Standard and its obituary of Ron Stone states that he was a poet and wrote the poem ‘Wage Restraint’ which was published in the Eighties.

That particular poem was actually written by Roger Woddis under the title of, ‘How They Solved the Economic Crisis’ and was published in either the New Statesman or Punch. It later appeared in the book, The Woddis Collection first published in 1978 by Barrie & Jenkins 24 Highbury Crescent, London, N5 1RX.

Richard Layton

Rear View: Class War (2018)

The Rear View Column from the October 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class war
Next year is the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, one of many brutal battles in capitalism’s ongoing class war, which saw a peaceful gathering of radicals in Manchester charged by a gentry militia and resulted in 15 deaths and 400-700 non-fatal injuries. Those attending had come to hear Henry Hunt, who advocated parliamentary reform and repeal of the Corn Laws, and carried banners calling for Parliaments Annual, Suffrage Universal, echoes of the French Revolution’s Liberty and Fraternity. There was, however, a general lack of political clarity, well illustrated when a band played God Save the King before the meeting started. The Times four days after the slaughter was both candid and clear: ‘The more attentively we have considered the relations subsisting between the upper and labouring classes throughout some of the manufacturing districts, the more painful and unfavourable is the construction which we are forced to put upon the events of last Monday…The two great divisions of society there, are the masters, who have reduced the rate of wages; and the workmen, who complain of their masters having done so. Turn the subject as we please, to this complexion it must come at last’. The anniversary is marked early with the release of Peterloo. ‘Mike Leigh’s period drama has immediacy and a sense of anger. It will ensure that the bloody events in St Peter’s Fields nearly 200 years ago are put back on the radar of politicians, historians and cultural commentators alike’ (theindependent.co.uk, 1 September). The film will be released next month, and if it registers with a less exclusive audience, reminding us that the class struggle, which throws up countless victims – from Peterloo to Marikana, Tolpuddle to Gdansk, and Kronstadt to Orgreave – has not gone away, it should be welcomed. The class war will not come to an end until the capitalists are defeated by the workers. That defeat will not require workers to use violence against the bosses – unless, of course, the capitalists have undemocratic ideas about making martyrs of themselves by defying the will of a conscious, socialist majority.


Star wars
The dailycaller.com (31 August) is one of many conservative websites lamenting loudly that a MOVIE ABOUT ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC MOMENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY DOESN’T FEATURE AMERICAN FLAG. ‘The upcoming film about Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s iconic moonwalk does not feature arguably the most important moment of the entire event. “First Man,” starring Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and directed by Damien Chazelle, does not feature a scene of the American flag being planted on the moon’s surface because Armstrong’s accomplishment “transcended countries and borders,” according to Gosling. “I think this was widely regarded, in the end, as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it” Gosling argued. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again, he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.” “He was reminding everyone that he was just the tip of the iceberg – and that’s not just to be humble, that’s also true.” Gosling continued to say that he doesn’t think “Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”’ Hear hear! Worth remembering on the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing next year by those who are amazed and enthralled by the recent space-related discoveries or not is the fact that as long as capitalism remains on Earth, its rockets, its space stations, its whole space technology will be used as a means to solve the problems thrown up in the competitive struggle for markets by the major powers. That is, as the ultimate weapons of war.


Peace on Earth
‘The task of creating a coherent and free society is the mightiest to which man has summoned himself, and it is the task which now presses urgently upon us” (Professor G. D. Herron, Why I Am a Socialist, 1900).

‘What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state, and all this history we have told, form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do’ (H. G. Wells, A Short History of the World, 1924).

‘You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful—to make this life a wonderful adventure’ (Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator, 1940).



Book Received: ‘Clans and Clearance – The Highland Clearances Vol.1’ (2018)

From the October 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Clans and Clearance – The Highland Clearances Vol.1’ by Alwyn Edgar (Theory and Practice ISBN 978-0-9956609-3-9.)

This volume (one of five) says the Preface, ‘looks at the clearances generally, and at some surprising orthodox beliefs about them; and then examines the Highland clans as they were before the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-6, an account which sometimes differs from what is now often affirmed’.

For a previous article by the same author on the same subject see: Primitive Accumulation (1967)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Divide and Rule (2018)

Book Review from the October 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Divide: a Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions’. By Jason Hickel, (Windmill. £9.99)

This is not a brief guide, but it is a very useful and informative one (though it would have been even more so with an index). Hickel’s account deals with the extent and origins of inequality between rich and poor countries, how it is maintained and how it might be removed.

This divide has not always existed, as around 1500 there were no big differences in living standards between Europe and the rest of the world. But European exploration and colonisation led to massive transfer of wealth as well as large-scale deaths, with around 95 percent of the population of what became ‘Latin’ America killed between 1492 and 1650. A hundred million kilograms of silver was transferred from the Americas to Europe, mostly by means of ‘coercive extraction’. Slavery also involved a vast accumulation of wealth in Europe, and thus boosted industrialisation: ‘The emergence of capitalism required violence and mass impoverishment, both at home and abroad’.

In 1820 the income gap between the richest and poorest countries was 3 to 1; around 1850 it was 35 to 1. Furthermore, there was massive inequality within the richest countries: in 1910, the richest one percent in Europe owned 65 percent of the wealth. Many former colonies became nominally independent, but they were still subject to much interference (to put it mildly) from the most powerful countries, from the 1953 coup in Iran to the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965, the coup in Ghana in 1966, the removal of Allende in Chile in 1973 and many more, all of which resulted in authoritarian governments friendly to Western interests.

Inequality in the West increased from the 1980s, and things came to a head in global terms with the Third World Debt Crisis of 1982, following which countries such as Mexico were forced to repay their loans and euphemistically-termed Structural Adjustment Programmes were introduced, which meant countries had to prioritise debt repayments and open their economies to international competition. The World Trade Organisation is one of several bodies that in effect tell poorer countries how to run their economies. These countries receive much in ‘aid’ from the wealthier ones, but these payments are dwarfed by the transfer of wealth in the other direction, via debt repayments, profit repatriation, capital flight, etc. The result of all this is a world where 4.3 billion people live in dreadful poverty, and the eight richest people have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population combined.

The account summarised above is an excellent overview of the history of global inequality, but Hickel’s proposed solutions do not really address the causes. He advocates abolishing the debt burden of developing countries, democratising institutions such as the World Bank, making the international trade system fairer, introducing a global minimum wage and having a universal basic income. All this fits in with his odd and unsupported statement that the problem is not so much capitalism as a particular kind of capitalism (presumably its neoliberal version).

More interesting is his final chapter, which tackles environmental issues and the question of whether everyone in the world can live at the standard of the average person in the richest countries. One aim should be to achieve zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century, another to reduce total production and consumption, which can be done and still increase happiness and health. A Genuine Progress Indicator could replace GDP as a measure of wellbeing, though he sees all this as happening within capitalism. We cannot take a stand now on how such considerations would fare in socialism, but Hickel certainly provides here some ideas to think about.
Paul Bennett