Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The End of EtA (2018)

The Material World column from the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Euskadi ta Askatasuna, meaning 'Basque Fatherland and Liberty' in the Basque language, was formed in 1959, when its founders focused on  Franco's suppression of the Basque language and culture. The separatist group has now formally announced its disbandment, almost exactly 50 years after claiming its first victim
The reality and the realisation that their urban guerrilla strategy failed has finally prevailed amongst the ETA leadership. The vast majority in the Basque people clearly rejected the tactic of terrorism nor did it force either the Spanish and French governments to make substantial policy concessions.
The Basque region has a greater degree of autonomy than any of Spain's other 16 regions, with its own police force, education system, language and a special financial relationship with Madrid. However, it is questionable if these powers which were granted to the region by the 1978 constitution, were as a result of ETA's actions. ETA has come to the conclusion that terrorism is generally an unsuccessful way for perpetrators to attain their demands.
ETA is said to have killed more than 800 people between 1968 and 2010, the year before it announced a permanent ceasefire. In January 2011, ETA declared that their September 2010 ceasefire would be permanent and verifiable by international observers, later in October announcing the cessation of armed activity. In April 2017 it staged a disarmament ceremony.
For the terrorist the most pressing incentive is belief in the virtue of their cause. The fact that ETA had high-sounding objectives like freeing the population from the tyranny of Franco's fascism and obtaining the rights for Basques does not make any difference to the end result as far as the working class are concerned.  Terrorism uses violence, or the threat of violence, to achieve its ends. It is designed to have far reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target. That is the bottom-line despite trying to disguise the fact.
Political movements which rely on non-violence are more likely to achieve their objectives than are those movements that resort to force. After all, violence usually results in retaliation and counter-violence. The Socialist Party explains that the only one way to achieve lasting peace across this planet involves discarding nationalism and forgoing violence as a means of accomplishing nationalist goals. The case for political violence is the case against the possibility of working class consciousness. On the whole, the Basque workers were viewed by ETA as an unthinking mass that the force of events, guided and accelerated by the hand of the self-appointed elite, would result in a sovereign Basque state.  Success by ETA would have only produced a change of masters.
The concept of the 'nation-state' and those who promote it are the enemies of our class and there will be little hope of lasting peace around the world until the workers refuse to support and sympathy for nationalism.
The Socialist Party certainly hopes that ETA's demise brings a permanent end to the political violence, the killing, and the maiming in the region . Violence and terrorism are not instruments which can be used in the building of socialism.

Running Commentary: Capitalism in Cuba (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism in Cuba
The overthrow of the hated Batista regime in Cuba, and its replacement by that of Fidel Castro, has provided a glut of romantic nonesense on which the left wing has feasted for the past twenty years.

Castro — bearded, bereted, camouflage jacketed — has been a sort of Biggles to these people and his henchman Che Guevera was even more glamourous — after all, he actually got himself killed fighting a guerrilla campaign.

So the Cuban uprising had to be proven good; after all it was supposed to have brought socialism to Cuba and so everyone should be happier, healthier, more free.

What actually happened was that Cuba suffered a fearsome bloodbath, many of the victims being Castro's own supporters. Only now are they being released from gaol.

And now, twenty years after that event, Cuba is going through a process predictable to anyone who can recognise capitalism even when it wears a red star. Cuba concedes that it was not after all a socialist revolution and that its economy operates on the universal principles of capitalist society.

Cuban industries — all of them state owned — now operate under the goad of something called the "economic calculus”, which is another way of saying an obligation to produce profit. Any which fail this test are liable to be allowed to expire, like the industrial lame ducks which the Heath government once said they would abandon to their fate.

Efficiency and economy have now become favourite watchwords in Castro’s Cuba; industrial managers work under an ever heavier threat of dismissal if they fall below the expected standards — and perhaps hope that the sack is the worst that awaits them.

The rcalease of Castro’s political prisoners may well be linked to Cuba's plans to develop a tourist industry, for which they are hoping to attract foreign investment, including substantial amounts from their old enemy the United Slates.

And — the final irony — little Cuba, which once nearly brought the world to its third — and perhaps its last — great war, is now flexing its own imperialist muscles with troops in Africa on the well worn pretext of protecting some small, defenceless power but in reality in order to establish a sphere of influence.

After twenty years of Castro the nature of Cuban capitalism is revealed starkly enough to convince anyone except those who subject themselves to a massive act of self deception.

Lock Outs
There are many ways, apart from referring to the official statistics, of judging the current state of health of British capitalism.

For example in times of rampant inflation many people will buy all sorts of rubbish rather than hold onto money. Hence the boom in the “antiques" trade, which leads to some very ordinary stuff being sold for pounds more than it costs in Woolworths.

Another guideline is the way in which employers deal with disputes with their workers. In the twenties and thirties it was quite usual for workers to be locked out, notably in the great battles in the coal mines which caused such suffering among the miners.

But of course the lock out is something an employer will consider only when trade is bad. When a boom is in swing he will be inclined to give in to his workers’ demands; only when in a slump will he see some advantage in shutting down the works rather than surrender.

The lock out has recently begun to come back into favour. The most publicised example has been the action of the employers at The Times and the Sunday Times; less publicised, but equally interesting, has been the lock out of 1400 branch managers and supervisors by the Provident Finance Group.

The Provident, whose credit cheques are well used — indeed often essential — in working class budgeting, recently offered its managers an 8 per cent rise, which they rejected. The managers began a campaign of obstruction, which the company responded to by sacking the lot.

Workers who get supervisory jobs often become strangely blind to their class standing and to the realities of capitalism. Perhaps the Provident lock out will turn out to be more than another symptom of capitalism's malaises; it may teach a few workers that, although they wear suits to work and sit at a desk all day they are members of the exploited, degraded class who are constantly at war with their employers.

Chinese Deal
Ar there any simple minded people left who still think that there exists between powers like China and Britain an ideological divide and that, until the Triumph of Right (whatever that may be) the twain shall never meet?

If so, recent events must have caused them a lot of discomfort. When Callaghan announced that Britain was going to sell the Harrier jump jets to China (in the teeth of opposition from Russia) he was showing only a fraction of the picture.

Trade between the two countries has been running at about £166 millions a year, with a big balance in China’s favour. Among the exports from Britain are heavy capital goods — chemical processing equipment, coalmining machinery and a steel plant from British Steel.

Last November a cheery Chinese Vice Premier, Wang Chen, took back to Peking a draft agreement which was designed to increase the trade between China and Britain to between £4,000 millions and £5,000 millions a year and to put British industry on a more equal fooling with the French and the West German.

The Harrier deal was a dramatic confirmation of these developing trade relations. No wonder Callaghan, as he left the Guadelope meetings with the other leaders of Western capitalism, could say “we have welcomed China into the community of nations . . .”

What Callaghan meant was that he welcomed China into the normal day by day trading — which also means the normal competition and disputes — of international capitalism.

He was also saying that China is just another capitalist power (although one which threatens to be a lot more powerful than many of its rivals) interested in the customary commerce of imports and exports, of investment and the building of factories where workers will be exploited, and in developing its armed forces to fight the wars of its ruling class.

He did not mention that at one time the contact between British and Chinese capitalism was supposed to be inhibited, even prevented, by great differences of principle over issues like democracy. In face of the facts, that would have been too much even for Callaghan.

Obituary: H. E. Hutchins (1942)

Obituary from the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we record the death of the late Comrade H. E. Hutchins, of Colchester, on September 26th. A foundation member of the S.P.G.B., Comrade Hutchins maintained his work and interest in the party to the end.

“Old Hutch,” as he was affectionately known amongst a wide circle of comrades and friends, was always a hard worker. For a large number of years he was a member of the Tooting Branch, and when Tooting Broadway was a strong propaganda station, “Old Hutch” was always there with the platform and literature, ready to assist in any way he was able. Sometimes he would act as chairman, occasionally he would address a meeting, but always he would have a keen interest in the literature sales.

He was a persistent and most successful seller of the party’s literature, and built up a large circle of readers for THE SOCIALIST STANDARD. At meetings and demonstrations, he was always on the spot with bundles of SOCIALIST STANDARDS and pamphlets.

Throughout his membership, he displayed a great interest in the internal organisation of the party, and many suggestions for the betterment of the organisation was contributed by him. At Conference Delegate Meetings, and other party gatherings, there was cause for comment if he was absent, so familiar a figure had he become.

During the past few years he lived away from London, but despite old age and distance, his interest in the party never flagged. He set about the task of introducing the STANDARD to many readers in that district with the zeal of a young man.

His efforts for Socialism merit our sincere appreciation, and our regret for the loss of a hardworking comrade.

To his widow we offer our sincere condolences.
H. G. Holt

Correspondence: Does Parliament Matter? (1979)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Does Parliament Matter?
As a lifelong dissenter from the parliamentary system extolled as democracy I totally disagree with SPGB contention that the only road to socialism can be the parliamentary one, as your September issue—The Power of the Vote—propounds.

Parliament since its inception just over 700 years ago under Simon de Montfort has never been anything but the visible manifestation of the power of vested interests—be these rapacious sovereigns, pillaging barons, extorting merchants or exploiting capitalists. Mistaking the accidental for the substance can in certain circumstances have fatal consequences for the unwary!

Parliament has ever been a purely administrative instrument devised by ruler and ruling class for wielding power. But it is not an indispensable instrument, as a study of history testifies, nor can it in any way be described as "the seat of power”. Kings have ignored it in the past, transnational corporations do so now. When “sanctions" can be circumvented quite simply, though decreed by Parliament, and "unauthorised” military or police actions are either ignored or, if impossible to do so, retrospectively “legalised” then clearly the notion that Parliament is the scat of power is a mistaken one.

R. Cox—“The Parliamentary Road to Socialism” — whose championing of the cause of parliamentary democracy (as in a previous issue) is such as to produce a most un-Marxist statement “this fallacious belief that class rule is based on economic power,” holds that “parliamentary democracy is sustained by a general concensus of support for such a tradition." Another instance of mistaking the accidental for the substance. Given an anti- or extra-parliamentary TV network, a mass circulation newspaper and a paperback publishing house the superficiality of such "concensus” would quickly be seen. The pre-conditioned "turn outs" at elections and the media contrived "interest" in Parliament belie the widespread cynicism and contemptuous scepticism about it which most people feel.

Even with 600 plus candidates, which is a necessary prerequisite for winning an election in order to bring about socialism (your theory), how is it envisaged that the working class can see through the one-liners, the potted cliches and the TV-pop press electioneering standards to understand and embrace the socialist case? For the "how" and "why” of the SPGB formula that the great majority of the population will be disposed favourably to socialism before the final election is always glossed over.

More reasons are adduced by ALB, to his own satisfaction, for the need to vote our way to socialism in "Violence and the State." While clutching at a single straw to insist that Marx recognised that workers can achieve social revolution by peaceful means the writer makes a preposterous claim in refuting Lenin’s view that violence was inescapable by suggesting that political changes in the last 100 years have been "in favour of using ‘the force of law’ rather than the ‘law of force’. . .” There has been no change of system in any country where force has not prevailed during this period whereas the converse is true. Every political change, outside of North America, has on the contrary been either a direct or an indirect consequence of world war, civil war or armed insurrection since 1870. But in debasing his argument, poor as it is, with cheap sneers at those who oppose his ‘peaceful road’ theory AI.B forfeits respect and the right to be taken seriously.

In conclusion I would suggest that every objection and criticism made of the anarchist position (in an unconvincing side-swipe at them in your "election issue") can be levelled at the SPGB. What will the police and armed forces which maintain and defend the capitalist status quo be doing when the working class is voting in socialist delegates—playing football against each other? What will the owners of capital and the transnational corporations do when the socialist majority decrees the abolition of money —play Monopoly with pounds sterling?

"As long as capitalism lasts, workers will be plagued with well-meaning idealists who rebel against the double standards and violence of the system.” A fitting description of the SPGB today.
B. J. Clifton 

Of course Parliament cannot make something happen simply by passing laws: otherwise there would be no crime. And some laws — for example, parking regulations — are widely ignored. (It is not yet safe to class "sanction busting” along with these however — there may still be prosecutions.) But Parliament has the power to enforce its decrees and to punish those who go against them; if Parliament chooses not to use its powers, that is not evidence that that power does not exist.

Parliament controls the state machine, which means the armed forces, the police, the prisons, and so on. If socialists were to ignore this and seek to seize power by some means other than capturing Parliament and so controlling the state machine. we would be courting disaster.

The passage from the article "The Parliamentary Road to Socialism” should not be read out of context; the article went on to point out, correctly, that the capitalist class have economic power only because ". . . . the immense majority support capitalism by voting for capitalist parties . . .”. If the working class ceased to vote for capitalism, the economic power of the capitalist class would also cease.

If there is cynicism and scepticism about political activity and about the power of Parliament (which is not borne out by the large turn-out in important elections) this is a side effect of the evident futility of what Parliament does. And far from "glossing over" the problems of persuading the working class to see through the propaganda for capitalism and to consciously opt for a new society, this is our preoccupation (and at times a frustrating one) as the only socialist party.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding former revolutions, the fact is that they have all been in the interests of one minority against another (we assume that by "political change" is meant “revolution"). The overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by Socialism must be the act of a conscious majority of the working class and will therefore be democratic and not based on violence — although, if a minority were to try to obstruct the will of the majority, they would of course be dealt with.

Workers who are in the police and armed forces are as susceptible to the case for Socialism as anyone else. With the development of socialist consciousness the state machine’s power will progressively decline to the point at which, when the majority are socialists, it will disappear. The few policemen or soldiers who are left may well prefer to play football to trying to defend a discredited inhuman system at death’s door.

Finally, the case for socialism is based on a materialist interpretation of the evidence of history. Idealism, well-meaning or otherwise, it certainly is not.

Smug Self-Righteousness
Where are you SPGBers? OK, your paper is excellent, your theory is excellent. But while you are sitting around discussing the social surplus value, Asians are being stabbed, women are being attacked and gays are being intimidated. While you are sitting on your backsides in a smug, self- righteous way, the National Front could win electoral power and your paper and meetings will be smashed like those of other organisations who are working for a humane society. You may be right in saying that capitalism breeds racism, sexism etc., but capitalism also breeds parties like the National Front and the threat of the removal of the limited freedoms we now have.

You have a wealth of knowledge and understanding — don't be selfish and keep it to yourselves. Hardly anyone has heard of the SPGB, let alone supports its principles. You can't expect the people to seek you out, you must go to them. Get involved with those who care what is happening even though they may be confused as to why it's happening. Move yourselves before they remove you".
Yvonne Howard 
Hendon NW4

In the left's view, Socialist Party members are intellectual theorists, indifferent to the struggles and sufferings of workers. From the time of the foundation of the Communist Party, through the years of war and CND, to the Campaign for "The Right to Work", the accusation has been levelled that we are divorced from the "real” class struggle; pressing problems of the day had to be tackled before, or to assist, the Fight for Socialism. To-day we are asked to "Rock against Racism".

The reason for the constant repetition of this false picture is to be found in comparison of our and the Left's respective political positions and our contrasting definitions of what is called “a humane society". The Socialist Party stands for the interests of the working class as a whole and not for particular sectional interests within the class, real though these concerns may be. People struggle for socialism because they understand as well as feel strongly about the effects of capitalism. Far from ignoring the latter, our propaganda tries to relate particular social problems to the way in which society is organised. Since the rise of the National Front is a symptom of disease and not the disease itself, the only effective method of opposition is the propaganda of socialism (see the editorial in our January issue).

So while we stand uncompromisingly for socialism, Asians, women and gays may be attacked: but millions of workers are also without jobs, stockpiles of nuclear weapons grow, millions live in slums, the elderly die of cold or work for a pittance to survive, prisons and mental hospitals overflow, and workers' lives are bought and sold like cattle at market. What is there to be complacent about?

What is a Nazi?
In Hyde Park on a recent Sunday, I found myself getting quite friendly with some Israeli questioners until 1 had to point out that the Zionist ideal was as hopeless as any other in the face of the capitalist jungle. I found myself showing the following irony. The father of the Israeli Prime Minister was murdered by Polish Nazis who tied a millstone round his neck and threw him in the Vistula. A Nazi atrocity. Agreed. The victim's only crime was that he was a Jew. Seven years later, in 1948, Begin was himself the leader of a terrorist gang who drowned innocent men, women and children by throwing them down a well in a village near Jerusalem called Deir Yassih. Their only crime was that they were Arabs. When I said that this was just another Nazi atrocity, these friendly and reasonable Israelis just stormed off saying I was “meshugah" (mad).
L.E. Weidberg 

Political Notebook: Gormley the Scab (1979)

The Political Notebook column from the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gormley the Scab
It must be a hard life being a trade union leader. The endless meetings with the Government and the bosses in which they sell out their members’ interests, all those speeches to conference telling the workers to pull their belts in for the sake of the Right For Callaghan To Work campaign. And then there’s the insufferable inconvenience of delegations abroad, especially unmanageable when you consider the five-star hotels, the massive banquets and the tours around the workplaces to observe the sterile lives of those who put their trust in leaders. It is a well known fact that such visits are especially favoured when they are to East European state capitalist countries. Joe Gormley, leader of the National Union of Miners, returned not long ago from an outing to Poland where he met up with his counterpart, the leader of the State-controlled Polish miners’ union. Between cocktail parties the two workers’ representatives discussed the case of a certain Polish miner who was the foreman in a mine and was disturbed by the appalling conditions under which his men were forced to work which were in breach of the union regulations. Needless to say, his union failed to support his complaint so he attempted to set up an unofficial union to fight for better conditions of work in the mines. But real unions aren’t allowed in the People’s Democracy of Poland and the man was thrown into a psychiatric hospital. Recalling the heroic struggles of British workers to form unions like the NUM, one might have expected Gormley to have had a few tough words to say to his Polish counterpart. But. according to a report in the Observer, Gormley accepted that this man’s incarceration was quite legitimate on the grounds that he was an adulterer and a jew — crimes against the people, indeed! Internationalist solidarity and freedom for wage labour to struggle against capital clearly mean less to Joe Gormley than the petty comforts of a free holiday in Poland. By remaining silent while fellow miners arc locked up for demanding the right to organise in a free trade union Gormley has shown himself to be an enemy of the working class. Trade unionists have a name for the likes of Gormley: he is a scab.

Conspicuous Silence
When is a ‘ruthless imperialist invasion’ (Morning Star on the Americans in Vietnam) a case of freedom fighters (equipped with Russian tanks) extending the frontiers of socialism? When it’s Russian-aided Vietnam attacking China-backed Cambodia. Any comments from the Morning Star on this ruthless capitalist invasion in which many innocent people have been slaughtered for the sake of territorial expansion? How about a demonstration outside the Vietnamese embassy? Or even a ’Hands Off Phnom Penh' campaign? Communist Party hypocrisy?

Front Bench Socialists
Here’s a story which might turn a few faces red in the corridors of power. Not long after his resignation. Sir Harold Wilson was due to appear on a certain BBC radio programme for young people in which he was to answer questions from members of the public who made up the audience. Like most BBC operations, the audience was not entirely unselected and members of the ’youth sections’ of each of the major parties were invited to attend. At least, that’s what the BBC think happened. In fact, the producer of the programme mistakenly phoned the Head Office of the Socialist Party instead of the Labour Party. He asked for a bunch of ‘keen young socialists' to go along to Broadcasting House for the recording of the programme. He even said that Wilson was particularly anxious that the socialists should sit in the front row where he could see them. Never ones to disappoint the old and needy, a group of young members of the SPGB turned up at Broadcasting House. Wilson’s smile temporarily dropped when one SPGBer asked him how he had the nerve to call himself a socialist. Oddly enough, no one else from the front row was asked to speak after that.

Nothing To Fear
Another man who wouldn’t have much faith in Wilson’s ‘socialism’ is Peter Tebbutt. Writing in the January issue of Socialist Organiser he says:
   Over and over again Labour in office shows a distinct leaning towards capitalist organisation. Ministerial advisers and appointees are drawn from the ranks of the business and professional classes. Little wonder that the aspirations of the working classes (sic) never reach fulfilment. Capitalism certainly has nothing to fear from a Labour Government . . .
Mr. Tebbutt is prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party for Falmouth and Camborne. Come the next General Election he will be asking workers to elect a Labour Government which will never fulfil their aspirations. The SPGB agrees with Mr. Tebbutt that Labour cannot solve the problems of the vast majority. But we. oddly enough, advise workers not to vote Labour. Perhaps it’s because we put political honesty before personal ambition.

All Honourable Men?
With the police hoping to persuade Lord Kagan back to England to help with their enquiries into some very large currency fiddles, yet another of the businessmen ennobled in Harold Wilson’s resignation honours list is receiving some unwanted publicity.

The last of Wilson's noblemen to suffer this was Eric Miller, a property tycoon who shot himself as the Fraud Squad were closing in on him.

The Labour ex-Prcmier seems to have had a mutual help arrangement with the likes of Kagan and Miller. Wilson’s affection for his Gannex mac probably did a lot for Kagan's raincoat business and the happy friendship was scaled by his making Kagan a Life Peer.

It was only a few spoilsports like backwoods aristocrats and nasty-minded newshounds who wondered whether this sort of thing was a misuse of the Honours List. Wilson might have reminded them that it was all in tradition: the English aristocracy was largely born from the more successful pirates and bandits of mediaeval England and grew up on such inhumanities as the slave trade and the Industrial Revolution.

Honours are awarded for long service to British capitalism, which is why trade union leaders often find themselves, in the twilight of their days, sitting in the House of Lords. Capitalism is itself a massive crime—the depriving of the majority of people of the wealth they produce—a fact which, to say the least, tends to blur the distinction between what capitalism says is lawful and that which it outlaws.

By capitalism's standards, the likes of Kagan and Miller were ripe to receive some entitlement to dress up in outdated and inconvenient clothes, as a formal recognition of what they represent. Their support for the Labour Party—and the reward they received for it—may give food for thought to that dwindling band of Labour supporters who still think their party has something to do with a society where people will stand in equality.
Steve Coleman

A French CPer on the SPGB (1979)

Party News from the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our attention has been drawn to the fact that a book published in French in 1977 entitled L’extreme gauche en Grande-Bretagne (The Extreme Left in Great Britain) devotes a couple of pages to the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The author, Claude Journés, is a member of the French "Communist” Party and most of the book is an unashamed eulogy of the British CP. But, oddly enough, it gives an accurate enough account of our history and views derived from a reading of the Socialist Standard and our pamphlets rather than from what he would have been told by the CP hacks, Betty Reid and James Klugmann, he mentions.

Journés quotes from our Object and Declaration of Principles, notes that we oppose the Labour Party and are not interested in reforms, that we regard Russia as state capitalism and are "thoroughly committed to a peaceful conquest of power by way of parliament once a majority of the population has been won to socialism”. He omits to mention our opposition to the First World War, though, and makes a couple of tendentious comments about us being a legacy from the past, one of which ("The Socialist Party of Great Britain is an outdated survival from the past which has not absorbed Lenin's contribution to Marxism") is really an unconscious compliment since Lenin contributed absolutely nothing to Marxism but distorted it to try to justify the State capitalism dictatorship the Bolsheviks had set up in Russia under his leadership.

Journés also contradicts himself when he calls us (p.197) "reformist” like the Labour Party whereas earlier (p. 127) he had got our position more or less correct:
  The SPGB is generally hostile to reforms and committed only to revolution. According to it, socialists who want to achieve reforms within the framework of capitalism arc caught in a trap which leads them to fight the working class.
On the whole, being an apology for the latest CP line, the book is not up to much but if it introduces some people in France to the ideas of the SPGB it will not have been completely useless.

50 Years Ago: The Coming General Election (1979)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The year 1929 is the most tremendously important year the world has ever seen. Perhaps that is an overstatement. It could be the most profoundly momentous year the human race has experienced. This year that portion of humanity which inhabits the British Isles will be asked to decide whether it wishes the reign of King Capital to continue or that it should come to an end. The preliminary call has gone forth, and those who say it should end and a saner social system established have banded themselves together in an organisation called the Socialist Party. We cannot, honestly speaking, say the response has been overwhelming. Had it been of sufficient magnitude, the year 1929 could have been the most epoch-making year in the history of mankind.

If . . . you decide that Socialism is desirable and practicable, do not fold your arms and wait for something to happen, but do the only logical thing and join our organisation and help to get it.
(From an article “Imagination” by W. T. Hopley, Socialist Standard. February 1929).

The Forum: Does Economic Power Rest Upon Political Power? (1914)

Letters to the Editors from the November 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Boston Rd, Bronx. 
New York.

July 27,1914.

Sir —

I would like to have your opinion on a certain question to settle a dispute between a friend of mine and myself.

Volume I of “Capital" by Karl Marx, Chapter 3, page 152 (Kerr’s edition), 12th line of the first paragraph, states as follows: “In the Middle Ages the contest ended with the ruin of the feudal debtors, who lost their political power together with the economical power on which it was established.”

I maintain that the line gives the inference that the political power is based upon the economic power. My friend says that the economic power is based upon the political power. What I would like to know is whether Karl Marx was wrong.

J. Brandon.

Our correspondent’s question and quotation leaves several previous questions unanswered. And firstly, the quotation is incorrect. Marx's statement is:
    “In the middle-ages the contest ended with the ruin of the feudal debtors, who lost their political power together with the economic basis on which it was established.” (Italics ours.)
It is easy to see that this alters the entire aspect of the question; while it is extremely significant that Marx carefully distinguishes between “political power” and the economic basis on which that power rests. In its correct form no such inference as Mr. Brandon gives can be drawn from Marx’s words, and that inference, therefore, falls to the ground.

But there are still other questions left. Every student of Marx knows how frequently he warned his readers against attempting to apply the conditions of one system as an explanation of the facts of another system. Mr. Brandon takes a factor from the feudal system of society and tries to use it as an explanation of a condition of capitalism. Hence another failure in his attempted argument. Karl Marx was right, but Mr. Brandon is wrong.

Briefly stated the matter stands as follows :

Under feudalism the individual's right of citizenship was based in towns upon his being a master of a craft, and. in the country, upon his being a member of the manor, with certain portions of the arable land for his maintenance, along with rights of common land and woods. When the increasing taxation by King and Government, along with the competition of the new, uprising, commercial adventurers, drove the master craftsman to the money-lender, and he was unable to pay the latter, he lost his position in guild and town and became an outcast. He thus lost his political power along with the basis upon which it had rested.

The peasant in the country had to perform various services for the Lord of the Manor, who, later, began to commute these services for money payments. But here again, money payments meant debts. If unable to pay these debts, then the peasant lost his holdings in the manor, and also became an outcast, thereby losing his political power along with his previous economic position.

Under feudalism the wage working class did not exist. Under capitalism the position is entirely different.

When the capitalist method of production and distribution became the prevailing one, the capitalist class, as such, had no political position they could claim from feudalism Partly they made one by “lending ' and “donating" large sums to needy monarchs in return for, first, trading privileges, and later, political power; partly by purchasing manors and the political rights attached. But the old aristocracy still were an important section politically. Hence the agitation against “the rotten boroughs" by the capitalists, who urged the working class—now fully fledged wage slaves, without any political rights at all—to demand the franchise. At first extended to the possessors of any form of wealth, as distinct from the old landed forms, it has gradually been extended to a point where mere tenancy for a given time at a small rental suffices to place a man upon the voter’s register. Here we see political power existing without any economic power at all, with only the tiniest economic basis to rest upon, and even I hat tending to disappear—in Adult Suffrage without residential qualifications.

The explanation is to be found—as Marx has pointed out—in the economic conditions of modern capitalism, a matter beyond the space at our present disposal to deal with.

Other phases of this matter are dealt with in the “ Socialist Standard ” of May, 1909.
Jack Fitzgerald

Party Notes (1910)

Party News from the August 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Branches of the Party have been formed at Thornton Heath. Nottingham and Frazerburgh (Scotland), for particulars see Branch Directory.

* * *

Socialists in and around Brighton are asked to communicate with G Stoner. 31. Southfield Road, Broadwater, Worthing, with a view to forming the Brighton Branch.

* * *

The Worthing comrades are on the warpath. Routing a Tariff Reformer they turned their attention to the local Liberal I.L.P. branch and challenged them to defend the I.L.P. in debate. After lengthy consideration, however, the local I.L.P. champions reply that they consider "no good purpose would be served by having the proposed debate." We think otherwise, however, and repeat our standing challenge to all other political organisitions in the country to defend themselves in public debate. Let the working class judge between us.

* * *

During July various sections of the enemy have put forward their champions at Watford, Manchester and Paddington, and as a consequence our Party is stronger and happier than ever. The Anti Socialist Union is putting forward another victim in North London , for particulars - wait and see.

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A correspondent informs us that toward the end of June at a meeting of the Whitechapel and Stepney Social-Democratic Party addressed by Mr. E. C. Fairchild (London Organiser), the chairman announced that his branch had challenged the S.P.G.B. to debate, but that after accepting the challenge the S.P.G.B. representative had failed to meet his opponent. No one who knew the S.P.G.B. would believe this for a moment, and we now invite the Whitechapel S.D.P. to put forward their champion and to state the time and place most suitable for him to meet our representative in debate; the subject to be “Does the S..D.P, deserve the support of the working class? ”

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The Whitechapel SDPers must have bad memories. On August 29th 1909 they wrote asking us to supply them with a lecturer to address their branch on "The Futility of Palliatives” We replied that we would send a speaker to address them on “The S.P.G.B. versus all other Political Parties.” They replied (Sept. 2nd 1909) that they would not allow that subject to be discussed in the branch. We then offered to debate with a representative of their Party at any time. Since them we have had no further communication.

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From various parts come reports of endeavours to counteract the malign influence of the Clarion Vans, whose vanners are travelling the country advocating a mysterious blend of Tariff Reform, Free Trade and Municipal ownership. It is suggested that an S.P.G.B. Van should he got. This however means money still while the Clarion Van business is in liquidation it might be easy to secure some of then before they are sold for ambulance work in the Blatchford-Beresford German invasion. Anyhow, let us raise the money !

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Marx's Theories Debated (1910)

From the August 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard
We take from the Manchester Chronicle of June 18 the following report of a debate which took place at the Rusholme Public Hall between J. Fitzgerald, representing the Socialist Party, and Mr. G. W. de Tunzelmann, B.Sc., M.I.E.E., representing the Anti-Socialist Union. The subject of the debate was "That the theoretic system of Karl Marx is unsound."
Mr. de Tunzelmann said the three doctrines of Marx which he wished to dispose of were first his materialistic view of society; secondly, his economic theory; and thirdly, Marx's views of the "class war." Marx had emphatically declared atheism to be essential to his system; no doubt because materialism was prevalent at the time he wrote. Nowadays materialism was a dead horse, and not even a fifth rate thinker supported it. Without flogging a dead horse he would certainly like to know how the materialist would account for a man's conviction of his own personal identity with what he was twenty years ago, although in that time every particle in his body had been renewed more than once. Thus the very foundation of Marx's economic system was rotten at the very beginning. The foundation of Marx's economic theory was his theory of exchange-value, which was that the exchange-value of a commodity, i.e., the price it fetched in the open market, was determined by the material and the labour put into that material. He admitted the varying quality of labour, and that it must contain brain work and hand work. This was the right view of value, according to which the price or value of any commodity was determined by the amount of hand and brain labour spent upon it, the cost of the material, and the law of supply and demand. Marx, however, dropped out the cost of the material, claiming that this could be expressed in terms of labour only, as though sand could be turned into gold dust if only enough labour were spent upon it. He also stated that brain work could be expressed in terms of hand work. By way of illustrating the utter absurdity of Marx's theory of the exchange-value of a commodity the speaker instanced the case of a trawler which in a haul of an hour took up a large number of fish, and in the next haul a large tree stump which had broken the net and allowed the fish to escape. Yet according to Marx's idea of ignoring the material and counting only the labour, the two hauls were of the same value, nay, the value of the last was even greater, because the time taken up in repairing the net after the second haul had to be included. In fact Marx's theory was only part of the practical exchange value, just as a watch case was part of a watch, and his economic arguments were mere thimble-rigging. In business transactions Marx talked about what he called "surplus-value," which was, he assumed, obtained by robbing the worker of half his wages, and was the equivalent of capital. Afterwards he asserted that all profit, as well as capital, was obtained by robbing the worker of part of his wages. This involved the obvious absurdity that no profit could be made on fixed capital, i.e., buildings, machinery, and so on; but only on variable capital which was expended in wages. He also made the false assumption that the capitalist did no work, ran no risk, and had no share in the industrial process, though elsewhere he admitted that the same capitalist had to arrange the conditions of production and organise the process so as to attain success. Besides this, and without attempting to prove what he said, he stated that all capitalists were simply robbers, and the necessity for a class war between them and the workers followed as a natural consequence. Capital, like other forms of wealth, might be transferred by robbery from one holder to another, but before this could be done it had to be called into being, and no process of robbery could do that. On the basis that all capital was a fixed quantity, and its accumulation only possible by robbing the worker, Marx concluded that the working classes must be growing poorer, and predicted that sooner or later a bloody revolution would be the result. He also contended that machinery gave the capitalist greater power over the workers and increased their poverty. Both conclusions were in direct conflict to historical fact.

Mr. Fitzgerald said his opponent had claimed that no fifth rate thinker accepted Marx's materialistic conception of history, yet Lewis H. Morgan, probably the greatest ethnologist that ever lived, discovered independently this basis of society, and laid it down in his book, Ancient Society. Another writer, Professor Seligmann, of Columbia University, said in his Economic Interpretation of History, "Whether or no we agree with Marx's analysis of industrial society. it is safe to say that, perhaps with the exception of Ricardo. there has been no more original, no more powerful, and no more acute intellect in the entire history of economic science." This was from an opponent of Socialism, and, when taken into consideration with what other economic writers like Jenks, Thorold Rogers, and Loria had said, quite disproved Mr. de Tunzelmann's statement. Men like Bain, Haeckel, and Spencer were materialists, the statements of the last named in his Data of Ethics being rank materialism. If mind remained whilst matter changed, as Mr. de Tunzelmann had stated, then persons whilst passing from childhood to old age had the same mind as they were born with ! To talk of mind being independent of matter was absurd. No one ever saw the two apart, or saw mind acting without a body. Many wild and inaccurate statements were made about Marx, who gave a sketch of the materialist conception of history in his preface to The Critique of Political Economy. Mr. de Tunzelmann disputed Marx's analysis of value and denied that surplus-value came from labour power. That needed examination. All wealth consisted of two elements—the material provided by nature, and the human energy necessary to convert that material into a form suitable for man's use. This was the only source of wealth. If any section existed in society who enjoyed the best of life without doing anything towards its production, obviously they could only do so by robbing the producers. Who were the producers ? The working class. You never saw a capitalist going down a mine to dig coal, nor driving an express engine, nor building the tall chimneys, etc. All these things were done by members of the working class, and by them alone. Hence the wealth the capitalist class enjoyed was stolen from the workers.

Mr. de Tunzelmann had waxed very eloquent over the risks the capitalist ran of losing his money, and how he deserved rewarding for this risk. Well, which was more important, inanimate things or animate life? And we had just had an example at Whitehaven, where 137 miners had lost their lives for profit, showing how the workers risked their lives in mine, mill, and factory every day. What was the employers' risk compared to this ?

Mr. de Tunzelmann said the contention that mind must be an entity independent of matter was no ground for the absurd conclusion that a man's mind underwent no development during his life-time. Herbert Spencer was not a materialist, neither was Haeckel, and Bain, another authority quoted by Mr. Fitzgerald, was not, in any sense of the word, a first class thinker. Marx claimed that social relations were independent of the will, and that material conditions formed the only factor in social progress. Certainly those conditions formed a factor of fundamental importance, but not the only factor, because, if so, it was equal to saying that the personality of the engineer who changed the face of a country, as, for example, in the case of the Assouan dam, had nothing to do with the result. In regard to Mr. Fitzgerald's closing remarks he would suggest that it was not necessary for a capitalist to go down a coal mine any more than it was necessary or desirable for a general of the army to lead a cavalry charge. It was not claimed that brain work could do away with hand work, or vice versa, though the prices paid for both could be compared. Yet even then it did not follow that one could be expressed in terms of the other. If the capitalist paid for the direction of his capital, then his share was diminished by the amount so paid; it was not taken from the workers. Mr. de Tunzelmann congratulated his opponent on the skill he had shown in reading lengthy extracts which seemed to have little relevance to the subject, in order to plug up the holes that had been made in Marx's economics.

Mr. Fitzgerald claimed that his opponent had given away his case by admitting in the second speech what he denied in the first, namely, that material conditions were a factor of "great fundamental importance." The case of the engineer who designed the Assouan dam certainly proved nothing to the contrary. This was the "great man" theory that had been demolished by Spencer in his Study of Sociology. Spencer said the great man was the "resultant of an enormous aggregate of 'forces that have been co-operating for ages." The engineer was not born with, but acquired, his knowledge during his life, and it was the working class that supplied the things he required in order to live. Moreover, he was dependent upon many others, masons, navvies, and so on, for the construction of the dam, and even he himself was only the servant of the, capitalist. The comparison of brain and hand work was going on daily, and if the brain worker received £100 for his work and the hand worker £10 for his, obviously the work of the former was compared to the labour of ten manual workers. Turning to the illustration of the two hauls given in Mr. de Tuczelmann's first speech, Mr. Fitzgerald asserted that this was a misrepresentation, as it merely showed the waste constantly occuring in manufacturing processes which was generally recognised. In fact, in trying to prove that Marx only counted labour in his calculations and omitted the value of raw material, Mr. de Tunzelmann's own examples flatly contradicted him.

In his third speech Mr. de Tunzelmann said all the examples he had given of exchange-value, to which his opponent objected, fulfilled all Marx's conditions. The conclusions drawn were therefore a logical consequence of Marx's theory, and Mr. Fitzgerald would not be able to persuade people of greater intelligence than that possessed of a row of cabbages that this was not so. Mr. Fitzgerald appeared to glorify egotism, which was rather a surprising position for an avowed Socialist to take up. It was well to remember that the capitalist was not paid for providing the worker with work, but for paying him his wages every week, and providing buildings, machinery, etc.

Mr. Fitzgerald pointed out that his opponent still persisted in saying that Marx stated that the economic was the only factor, and that man was determined by his surroundings, and in view of that he would read Marx's own words, which were : "The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society—the real foundation upon which legal and political superstructures." Marx also said : "Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth." On this point, continued Mr. Fitzgerald, he claimed complete victory. Then again, to say that the capitalist provided the workers with buildings, machinery, etc., was, in his opinion, begging the question. Where did the capitalist get them from? He did not produce them. The workers produced them as they produced all wealth. During the debate Mr. de Tunzelmann had not proved the unsoundness of one of Marx's theories. The materialist conception of history was supported by the great thinkers that had been quoted and by the facts of history itself; the theory of "surplus-value" had been proved by the general surplus in production as well as by the details of wages being less than the product; and finally it was apparent that a class straggle must exist where one class held the means of life and enslaved the other.