Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Unpaid Work (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘British people do more than £1tn of housework each year – unpaid’, read the headline in the Guardian (3 October) reporting on a study by the Office for National Statistics, and went on: ‘Unpaid household work, such as looking after children, doing laundry and cooking, is worth £1.24tn per year.’

Many, including socialists, have pointed out that, in only measuring paid work, GDP omits whole swathes of work as the exercise of mental and physical energy. Not all work is employment.

The ONS arrived at its figure by calculating what people would have to pay if they got someone to do the work, not just of looking after the children, cooking and doing the laundry, but also of cleaning, repairing and maintaining the home (and garden), caring for an adult at home, and driving to and from work, the supermarket and school. Also included was voluntary activity outside the home.

To make the figures more understandable to the general public, the ONS divided the total figure of £1.24 trillion by the total UK population of some 65.7 million, to arrive at the figure of £18,932 literally per every person including children. This can be broken down by activity. Perhaps surprisingly the largest is transport at £5459 (29 percent). Next is child care at £5358 (28 percent). housing services (cleaning, etc) is £3037 (16 percent); food preparation £2400 (13 percent), laundering £1355 (7 percent), adult care £898 and voluntary activity £365.

The Times reported the survey under the headline ‘Washing Up? That’ll be £12,000, darling’, with this as what a ‘stay-at-home spouse’ could claim for household chores. But it is not just women who do this unpaid work as is obvious in the case of people living on their own; all the work will be done by them, whether a man or a woman.

Apart from adult care and voluntary activity outside the home, the work covered by the ONS survey is work in connection with recreating the mental and physical energies people sell to their employer and with bringing up a future generation of wage workers. This means that, strictly speaking, it is not really unpaid. The work itself is unpaid, but not what the person doing the work has to consume to be in a position to do it. This has to be paid for, and is out of wages or state payments such as child benefit and carer’s allowance. This is most obvious in the case of the stay-at-home partner; the food, clothes, etc they consume has to be paid for out of the wage of the working partner. The same applies to everyone carrying out the unpaid work, including those in paid work. Provision for them to create the mental and physical energy to carry out the unpaid work is included in wages.

This brings out the fallacy of the ‘Wages for Housework’ campaign. If the Times’ £12,000 were paid to the stay-at-home partner then the working partner’s wage would come to be reduced by the same amount. In fact if all this work were paid then wages would tend towards 16.2 percent of their current level as the percentage of consumer spending that the ONS says ‘was spent on direct costs for providing unpaid work services, mainly spent on fuel, renting and food.’ This means that in the ONS’s figure there’s double-counting with the greater part of people’s income from work and state payments. This does not make the statistics invalid or useless. They are interesting in revealing what goes into recreating labour-power – which when used by capitalist employers provides them with the unpaid labour that is the source of their profits.

Human relationships in socialism (2018)

From the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

By nature ‘human nature’ is gregarious and co-operative. It is the class division of society that has produced the ongoing alienation, competition and anti-natural behaviour we see. It has criminalised society. Socialism is the negation of capitalism which will be the last class society in history.

With socialism, gangsters’ cliques will lose their socio-economic breeding grounds. Their anti-social and anti-natural survivalist tricks – ‘the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest’ (Karl Marx) will fall into oblivion. Competition for possessions will give way to cooperation for life. Humans will regain their lost original nature once again by demolishing their ‘fear of freedom’ in a knowledgeable coherent relationship among themselves and with their surrounding nature, moving on to a higher phase of social progress, reaffirming equality, freedom, peace and happiness in unison, in harmony. ‘The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism’ (Karl Marx). According to him, with the dissolution of the power of money, private exchange and private property will cease to exist; ‘then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc …’ (Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844).

Marx and Engels held genuine socialism to be ‘Communismus, Socialismus, Humanismus’ (German Ideology, Chapter 4).

Engels clearly set out the progression: ‘State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous and then dies of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’, it withers away’ (Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).

World socialist society will do away with classes and could be organised on a three-tier system of Local, Regional and Global Councils to deal with the administration of all their respective specific responsibilities relating to life, things, relations and problems. Money will go to the museums beside bronze axes. Private property and all its paraphernalia relating to money, wages, profits, private, joint-stock, state, multi-national, transnational and corporate et al. ownerships, and all selfish private interests as against social well-being, will be things of the past. Under such a global arrangement of things and affairs of life, the crimes of today will also generally be a thing of the past. In the event of any rarely occurring aberrations on the part of an individual member of society, the response could be educative and social correctional and compassionate counselling. Humans will have elevated themselves to a higher stage in history as a new-born humane species, leaving behind their prehistory of competition and conflict.
Binay Sarkar

How Shall We Vote? (1989)

Editorial from the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

All the parties, except the Tories, discussed electoral reform at their autumn Conferences. Labour rejected it, but the minor parties—the Liberals, the SDP and the Greens—came out in favour as the only way of getting more of their members into the House of Commons. They also floated the idea of a pact with Labour to oust Thatcher in return for the introduction of proportional representation. Electoral arithmetic is on the side of the anti-Tory parties since at the last election, as indeed in the two previous ones, Thatcher and the Tories were returned even though four out of every seven voters rejected them. So is there a need for electoral reform?

We might as well give our answer straightaway: No, there isn’t. A majority seeking to replace capitalism by socialism only requires one thing of an electoral system under capitalism—that it should allow a majority opinion to reflect itself as a majority of seats in parliament. We are not interested in whether the system ensures a strong and stable government of capitalism nor in whether it ensures a fair representation of capitalist political parties. As the existing electoral system in Britain does allow a majority viewpoint to be translated into a majority of seats, we see no point in diverting our energies from our task of working towards the emergence of a socialist majority towards working for electoral reform within capitalism.

However, since socialism will be a fully democratic society we do have an interest in what is and what is not a fair electoral system since such a system will be an essential part of the democratic decision-making and administrative structure of socialist society.

From the point of view of democratic theory, an electoral system should ensure that the persons elected really are representative. The case against the first-past-the-post system that applies in Britain is that it does not necessarily do this when there are more than two candidates. This is because it allows a candidate to be elected with less than 50 per cent of the votes (that is to say, against the will of a majority of the voters), as were 45 per cent of MPs, of all parties, at the last general election.

There are various ways of avoiding this. Organising a run-off between the top two candidates in a second ballot (as in France) or, what amounts to the same thing, allowing voters to place the candidates in order of preference (as in Australia) and, if no candidate gets 50 per cent, to eliminate the bottom candidates and redistribute their votes amongst the others until one of them does reach this figure. This system, known as the alternative vote, is widely used in trade unions for the election of their officials and is favoured for parliamentary elections by some in Labour Party and even by some Tories. A variant of it, known as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) is applied in Ireland, both North (except for Westminster MPs) and South. Under it voters again place the candidates in order of preference but in a multi-member rather than a single-member constituency. A candidate is not elected unless, and until, after successive redistributions of the votes of the bottom candidates, they obtain a certain quota of votes. This is the system favoured by the Liberals, the SDP and some in the Labour Party. It is frequently described as a system of proportional representation even by its partisans but in fact it is not. It is essentially a system, like the second ballot and the Australian alternative vote, for ensuring that those elected attain a minimum level of representativity. It is only incidentally that, in a context of competing political parties, it ensures the representation of minority parties enjoying a certain minimum, but not necessarily low, level of support amongst voters.

As all these systems are compatible with democratic theory, no doubt they will continue into socialist society for the various delegate bodies that will form part of its democratic decision-making structure. Proportional representation, properly so-called, is a different matter as it presupposes the existence of competing political parties and was in fact devised precisely for such parties. It requires multi-member constituencies (which can be the whole country, as in Holland and Israel) and party lists rather than individual candidates. A great variety of PR systems exist in the various countries which practise it but these are all based on the principle that the seats should be allocated to the party lists in more or less strict proportion to the number of votes obtained.

The essence of democracy is popular participation not competing parties. In Socialism elections will not be about deciding which particular party is to come to “power” and form the government. Politics in socialism will not be about coercive power and its exercise and so won’t really be politics at all in its present-day sense of the “art and practice of government” or “the conduct of state affairs”. Being a classless society of free and equal men and women, socialism will not have a coercive state machine nor a government to control it. The conduct of public affairs in socialism will be about people participating in the running of their lives in a non-antagonistic context of co-operation to further the common good.

Socialist democracy will be a participatory democracy rather than the choice every four or five years, with or without proportional representation, between rival gangs of professional politicians that passes for democracy today.

Modern Technology and Socialism (1989)

From the December 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of its catastrophes and its social idiocies, industrial capitalism goes on from strength to strength. It establishes itself in new countries, turning more and more of the world’s population into members of the working class. It exploits increasing amounts of the Earth’s resources for commodity production. It turns out a growing mass and range of products to throw on to the market. It harnesses new discoveries, inventions, techniques and systems to expand and speed up production, distribution, travel, and communication. At the same time, of course, it pollutes and wastes and kills and oppresses on an ever-increasing scale.

Modifying Socialism
So far from casting doubt upon the socialist analysis of historical development, this accelerating and expanding progress provides daily confirmation of the inevitability of social change and the powerful impact of technology upon social structures and individual lives. The driver of a JCB is a different man from the navvy with his pick and shovel, not only in the way he does his job, but also in the way he views society and his place in it.

What is of particular interest to socialists is the way in which developments in capitalism modify ideas of socialism. Marx, and to a lesser extent Engels, was especially cautious about envisaging socialist society; and the wisdom of this is borne out by the fact that, in spite of their careful historical perspective, it is clear to us that even they could not help seeing the post-capitalist world broadly in terms of the conditions of their own times.

This applies just as surely to us today. We need to exercise the same caution when we allow ourselves to speculate upon the changes that the abolition of capitalism will bring about. Nevertheless, I do not believe that it is illegitimate to do this. What we must do, however, is acknowledge the relativity of our views. If each generation of socialists, then, sees the new society in a slightly different way because of changes that have taken place in capitalism, we shall be able to sustain a dynamic, rather than a static, conception of the liberated world for which we are all working.

The Dynamic of Technology
The underlying dynamic of social development is that of technology. While the relations of production, the class structure, within a social system are fairly rigidly maintained by the ruling class, the means of production are in a process of continual development, undermining that social structure.

In capitalism the rate of change has been incomparably greater than anything before in human history. In the hundred years since Marx’s death, the technological developments have been, if anything, more far-reaching in their social implications than those of the previous hundred years. In Marx’s day there were no motor cars or lorries and no road system which could have supported today’s mass of high-speed traffic. There were no aeroplanes or helicopters. There were no farm tractors, combine harvesters, milking machines or tuberculosis-free cattle. There was little domestic gas and virtually no domestic electricity so that there were no household machines such as vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, washing machines, or food mixers. Electronic engineering, with its wide range of applications from radio and television to computers, microwave ovens and automatic control systems, had not yet begun. There was no automation, no laser and fibre optics, no space engineering, no biological engineering, no atomic engineering, no man-made fibres or plastics, no stainless steel or even aluminium. It was a society of horse drawn vehicles, domestic servants, heavy manual work, cast iron and steam power.

Change in Perspective
The sort of socialist society which could have been erected upon such a technological base would, it has been argued, have had a relatively inflexible monolithic structure, with centralised units of mass production, centralised planning, limited consumption and ease of movement, and still a great deal of hard work. The changes that the working class of the world has developed since those days, under the whip of capital, have modified conditions of living and working, and particularly the prospects for future society, in a fundamental way. They have made the production of abundance a real and obvious social possibility. At the same time, of course, they have introduced the possibilities of obliterating all civilisation on Earth or making the planet itself uninhabitable. There is now very little that modern science and technology can not do, given sufficient resources and effort.

Small Dispersed Production
The technological progress that has been made in the last hundred years has, as is always the case, been the result of improvements, not only in devices or machines, but in materials, techniques and systems as well. One of the principal factors which made Victorian textile mills and engineering machine shops so large and noisy was their dependence upon single huge power sources such as steam engines or the early electric motors driving miles of overhead shafting and belting. Steady improvements in design, materials and precision engineering made the production of small electric motors easy and relatively cheap, so that every machine can now have its own—often a number of them—performing different functions.

Similar improvements in steel alloys, welded fabrication design and techniques have made massive cast iron frames for machines obsolete. Indeed, almost every process of production and distribution today uses less energy and a smaller quantity of materials than a comparable process did a hundred years ago, and, apart from the logistics of transporting materials to, and products from, a machine, it can now be sited almost anywhere within reach of a three-phase electricity supply.

Except for large products, such as ships or rolled steel girders, enormous manufacturing plants are no longer technically necessary. Capital may be able to obtain a few remaining economies in management and administration in large industrial agglomerations, although modern communications systems have overtaken most of these, but otherwise the trend is towards smaller and more dispersed factories. Capital resists this process at every step, striving to achieve economies of scale, but technology is pointing the way to a pattern of industry very different from the dark satanic mills of Victorian England.

Machinery and Profitability
One of the things that Marx draws attention to in Vol. III of Capital is that particular inefficiency of the capitalist mode of production which is caused by capitalists’ reluctance to install superior machinery. No surplus value is extracted from constant capital itself—this dead labour embodied in means of production. The fixed portion of it, represented by plant and machinery, is imparted to the commodities, little by little, as these items wear out. Even under the pressure of competition, therefore, the capitalist tries to extract the last penny of value out of his fixed capital before replacing it.

What improved machinery must do for the capitalist, if it is to justify its cost, is to increase the productivity of his workers (his rate of extraction of surplus value from them) to give a rate of profit equal to, or above, the average. The greater the outlay on fixed capital, however, the more dependent such profitability is upon the continuing buoyancy of the economy. But, of course, capitalism is incorrigibly cyclical and unpredictable. Expensive machinery lying idle in a slump represents growing losses for capital, to be set against the profits made in better times. In slumps, too, the real price of labour power is driven down—as we have seen in the first half of the 1980s. This makes more labour-intensive processes relatively cheaper and more profitable, offsetting the advantages of capital-intensive methods. Moreover, labour can be dismissed with a week’s notice. Machinery can not.

Automation
These considerations have made capital particularly slow to introduce automation, especially when wages are low, because automation is a highly capital-intensive way of using machinery. But this is only the distorted capitalist measure of its cost, in which, to survive, every individual company must extract its measure of surplus value from its workers. In social terms, as a means of using crystallised past labour to supplement and ease the toil of living labour, it is not much more expensive than other ways of using machinery. The potential of automation for post-capitalist, democratic society is enormous. When used in conjunction with computers it is virtually limitless in its possibilities.

The principle behind the wide range of devices and techniques used in automation is not a new one. Whereas tools, instruments and devices like wheels and levers may be said to supplement human limbs, and machines—themselves using tools—can be thought of as amplifying human energy and speed, automation represents an extension, an amplification, of the human nervous system and, with computers, the brain. Automation makes decisions and gives instructions for them to be carried out.

One of the famous examples of early industrial automation was James Watts’ steam engine governor. He used two iron balls attached to linkage to control the speed of his steam engines. Rotating with the engine shaft, the balls were spun outwards with centrifugal force. At a pre-set speed their outward movement, through the linkage, began to close the valve which fed steam to the engine and so reduced the power, and consequently the speed, again. The principle involved here is that of using error, and the extent of that error, to correct the error. Whether mechanical, electrical, electronic or optical devices are used, that underlying principle remains the same. The essential components are suitable sensing or measuring devices to monitor the behaviour of a particular aspect of the machine or process, communication links from those devices leading to servo mechanisms which control what is going on.

Computers used in situations like this add another dimension of sophistication. Instead of a number of monitoring devices feeding their quite independent instructions to the overall process—as, for example, in multiple domestic central heating thermostat—the computer receives these various inputs and makes a programmed decision based upon the information from all of them. Modern motor cars have computer fuel and ignition control systems like this.

Information
A point worth noticing about this sort of technological development is that the new element in the employment of machines is information. The information revolution, as it has been loosely called, is not just a matter of improved means of communication and recording systems amongst people. We now control an increasing number of machines purely by information. There is, for example, hardly a heavy lorry left on today’s roads in which the driver turns the front wheels for steering through direct gearing from the steering wheel. The size and weight involved is far too exhausting. Instead, his movements of the steering wheel are transmitted as instructions to the servomechanism which does the actual work. Of course, this is not an example of automation. Here, it is the driver who is sensing and making decisions upon the conditions of the road and his vehicle.

Guided missiles, on the other hand, do use automation principles of self-correction. By a process of constant checking they seek out the destination with which they, have been programmed and deliver their warhead to it. Bizarre as it might now seem, a socialist society, with no need for weapons, might well find this expensive method of transport appropriate for delivering some types of urgent supplies.

Remote Control
Operating machines by giving them information opens up other possibilities too. Information can be sent over almost any distance, as the control of the various exploratory space vehicles demonstrates. There are also a number of methods of ensuring that imperfect transmission systems do not allow garbled information to get through. Remote control of machines in dangerous or humanly inaccessible locations is now, therefore, becoming common practice—but only where capital finds it profitable to use it.

Remote control of more mundane machines, however, has a very low priority in capitalism. Except for control rooms in things like power stations or ships, capitalism tends to keep workers as close to their machines as possible so that they, themselves, can be under control. At the moment, the few applications of this facility involve peripheral uses such as telephone instructions to domestic machines at home by a few highly paid workers with not enough free time to get home themselves. The potentialities of remote control for the free society of the future are, in contrast, rich and liberating. A person who had taken on responsibility for a particular production process or service could monitor its progress and make adjustments from wherever he or she happened to be. With good satellite radio links, machines and equipment in isolated stations, performing a variety of environmental control or supply functions, could be supervised from almost any distance.

Memory
Immediate instructions to machines, however, become less and less necessary with the development of memory devices. From the punched card system of the Jacquard loom at the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present generation of computers capable of recording and storing immensely complicated programmes of instructions, the development of information storage in a form suitable for controlling machines has turned a quantitative difference into a qualitative one. Even the common computer programmes which can play chess against a human opponent have so many thousands of possible moves and countermoves stored in their memories that playing against them can seem like playing against another human being. In the same way, immensely complicated and subtle programmes of instructions for machines—programmes which learn from experience—can be devised to do almost everything that human operators can do.

Robots
The microminiaturisation and mass production of computer circuits on tiny silicon chips has made it possible to incorporate millions of small computers into everyday machines, just as we now use millions of small electric motors. Now all the human working functions have been simulated in machines. The skills of craftsmen and the diagnostic knowledge of doctors and other experts can now be fed into computerised machines which then operate like craftsmen and experts. Even speaking and understanding speech is in the rudimentary stages of development.

While most people are hardly aware of it, therefore: they are living in a world containing a rapidly multiplying number of increasingly sophisticated robots. Of course, the robot of early science fiction, walking on legs, using fingers, and even looking like a human being is a rather pointless product. It has all the limitations of the human being and none of its advantages. Real robots are purpose designed and greatly exceed human capabilities for each particular purpose.

One way of looking at this trend is to consider the modern generations of machines as an evolving population of slaves. As far as the technology is concerned, there is now no reason why human beings should do any of the dull, dreary or dirty jobs that are necessary to provide the wealth and services of an advanced, affluent society. Machines can—could if they were under the control of a free democratic society—do all of these tasks for us.

The Social Structure
Even to speak in these terms, however, points up the enormous disparity between what is possible and what capitalism is actually doing with these technological advances. There are already, for example, many millions of small personal computers in the world. But the vast majority of them are dedicated to playing games, mostly of the “shoot-em-up” or “shoot-em-down” variety. Escapism, which has made so many billions of pounds profit for the record industry and the film, television and videotape market, has now moved beyond the passive entertainment phase and is opening up a vast new field of interactive pseudo-experiences.

The other area in which all the sophistications of modern technology are being given almost unrestrained freedom to develop is very closely linked to the computer games market. It is that of fighting wars. Modern weapons and fighting equipment not only enhance human capabilities to an almost unlimited extent with their destructiveness, speed, accuracy, infrared vision, radar and laser location, and so on, but they can also “think” for themselves with the computers they incorporate. Capitalism is therefore distorting and diverting a very large part of technological potential away from the satisfying of human needs.

Paramount amongst those needs, once nourishment and health have been obtained, is that of freedom. But this is precisely what capitalism will not and can not provide, since it is only through restriction, repression and deception that the ruling class is able to continue to exploit the labour of the great majority of the population. As a substitute for freedom, capitalism offers commodities—or at least the chance to earn them—an ever-increasing mass and diversity of gadgets and thrills and sweets.

Socialism Now
The sort of socialist society that has become possible with these developments is already a very different one from that which was feasible in Marx’s day. But, also, the urgent necessity of removing capitalism before it removes us has become far more pressing.

The overall effect of the technological. developments of .the last hundred years, and particularly of the last fifty years, has been the increased potential for flexibility and freedom. Although centralised world-wide planning of production and distribution has become more and more possible with the evolution of electronic and satellite communication systems and the information-handling capabilities of computers, it has, at the same time, become less and less necessary or desirable.

There are bound to be democratic decisions taken about certain aspects of production and distribution from time to time, at local, regional, continental and even global level. But, for the great mass of adjustments and controls, ordinary channels of supply arid demand (real demand) will provide the most flexible and responsive basic system for regulating socialist society’s production and distribution. The almost infinitely complex network of manufacturers, growers, distributors and suppliers will, however, need well-organised communication and co-operation amongst themselves, as well as ready access to a richness of information about research, designs, methods, output, capacity, local preferences, etc. etc., which is simply impossible in capitalism.

The electronic stock control systems now in use in many major stores and the computer-controlled warehousing gradually being installed by large distributors already permit the constant monitoring of consumption of goods to be carried on, future demand to be predicted within quite fine limits and automatic, and almost instantaneous, re-ordering to be carried out. However, the anarchy of the market, the restricted and biased consumption enforced by the money qualification, and the jealous guarding and suppression of information carried on by nation states and almost every type of capitalist company that exists make it impossible to realise the enormous social benefits that could be derived from this information revolution.

Modern information systems make it feasible for anyone, anywhere in the world, who has access to a telephone-linked computer to find out all the specifications and quantities of goods or services that are available or in demand. Instead, today, thousands of programmer hours a year are being devoted to devising blocks to prevent such information being accessed.

In the post-capitalist world it is this greatly enhanced information network which will replace and supersede the market and the price mechanism. The immense volume of information about the daily facts and figures of all production, distribution and services which is in the possession of the working class—and which is today barely used, except to total output figures and compile balance sheets—will be accorded its true value in socialist society as the data for conscious social control of the means of life by every member of society. “Democratic control” will be far more than a matter of voting when contentious issues arise. It will be the continual exercise of informed individual power in the co-operative processes of sustaining and enhancing social life.
Ron Cook

The above article is the text of the Conference Lecture delivered at the Annual Conference of the Socialist Party in March 1989.

The Real Foe (1914)

From the December 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Members of the Working Class,—

Month after month the war goes on; nation after nation is drawn into the maelstrom’s vortex. To the original combatants have now been added Portugal and Turkey, while Italy is arming and Greece, Bulgaria, and Rumania are palpitating with the all-pervading blood-lust. Thus the “European War” assumes the character of a world struggle.

Meanwhile the million men Kitchener asked for at first have become inadequate. The war having developed into a “fortress war,” in which practically every available man and boy capable of carrying a gun, among a population of one hundred and twenty millions, is forced to add his body as a handful of clay to the ramparts about countries which belong to his exploiters, a torrent of blood is needed to flood the “enemy” from their trenches. Hence every “fit” man in these islands is required for the butcher’s job. What a spectacle International Capitalism is preparing!

With such a deluge of blood imminent, with such a colossal avalanche of suffering about to be let loose upon the world, it is pertinent to ask again, as we have asked before, what and whose mighty interest is worth such butchery, such prodigal wasting of precious life, such maiming of strong, shapely and eminently useful bodies, such wrecking of virile minds, such hopeless ruin and black devastation as is being spread over the fairest parts of the earth.

Those who call you to battle give many reasons why you should go. They talk of patriotism who wring fortunes out of the provision of shoddy khaki and rotten boots to the men upon whose boots and clothing the result of the war may ultimately depend ; they talk of the rights of small States who applauded the Jameson raid ; they talk of the sanctity of the bond who flouted the provisions of the “Railwaymen’s Charter” ; they talk of honour whose word swindled electorates have many times found to be as bad as their bond. But in their most candid moments they, realising that none of these vaporous phrases will suffice to cover the reeking, quivering mass of human agony they know they are about to spread over the plains of Europe, proclaim that, whatever the cause of the war, the result will be the smashing of the most serious industrial rival Great Britain knows. To the discerning ear this hoped-for “result” of the war proclaims itself the war’s real cause also.

If there is any sound argument in this for workingmen of this country shooting their fellow-workers of other lands, it will be revealed by logical reasoning. The argument will not, however, stand logical handling from the worker’s point of view. If we are to go out and shoot those who compete with us for work, it is folly to go outside the country to do it, for our closest and most direct competitors are not the foreign workmen, but our fellows in the same street.

But the whole theory that the ultimate competition lies between worker and worker is false. The true competitor of the worker is machinery. It is advancing machinery which provides the unemployed, and will continue to do so tho’ every German is wiped off the face of the earth.

That the masters’ argument may be sound enough from the masters’ point of view only proves the antagonism that lies between the masters and the workers. If German trade were captured, the profits yielded by that trade to German exploiters might pass into British pockets—but not your pockets. Your masters might wax fatter than ever, but at once they would begin to devise ways and means for enabling the extra wealth they had found a market for to be produced by fewer workers. As wages rose consequent upon the greater demand for workers, the advantages of the use of machinery would be extended ; the use of more and improved machinery would follow, with inevitable displacement of workers. This is how the unemployed army is produced, and no victories over foreign armies can alter that.

Since the ultimate competitor is not the German workers, but machinery, it follows that the real foe of the workers are those who own and control the machinery: the master class. It is their control of the instruments of production that changes those instruments from helpful agents to oppressive competitors, whose every improvement is fraught with dread to those who use them.

The banishment of poverty can never be secured by slaughtering wealth producers. The idiotic stupidity of butchering other workers can never improve the position of the working class of any nation. Only by ousting the master class from the possession of the instruments of labour (every improvement in which, under their control, is disaster for the workers) can those instruments be used to bring comfort, security, and happiness to all who labour.
The Executive Committee.

The Real Enemy of the Working Class is the Master Class. Workers Unite!

Anti-Bolshevik (2018)

Book Review from the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Kronstadt Uprising’. By Ida Mett. (Theory and Practice, www.theoryandpractice.org.uk)

In March 1921, after the civil war in Russia had ended with the victory of the Bolshevik government, strikes broke out in Petrograd and other cities demanding an improvement in living conditions, basically the ‘Bread’ part of the ‘Peace, Land and Bread’ slogan that the Bolsheviks had used to win enough popular support to seize power. In Kronstadt, an island fortress and naval base commanding access to Petrograd, the armed sailors went further. They deposed the Bolshevik officials, locked some of them up, and demanded free and secret elections to the soviets (councils), in effect a genuine ‘soviet government’ rather than the one-party rule of the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks responded by sending in the Red Army to suppress this challenge to their rule. At least 4000 insurgents were killed or executed.

This is a reprint of Ida Mett’s classic pamphlet on what happened. Written in French in 1938, it set out to refute the Bolshevik view that it had been a counter-revolutionary plot hatched by the French secret service, led by Tsarist generals, etc. She succeeded well enough in making her case. As a native Russian-speaker (she was an anarchist exile from Russia living in France), she had access to the proclamations and declarations of the Kronstadt ‘provisional revolutionary committee’ and was able to show that they were demanding the ‘soviet’ rule that was supposed to have been established in November 1917 following the overthrow of Kerensky, but which had in fact resulted in the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party. One of the declarations she quoted denounced the ‘state capitalism’ of the Bolshevik party. All of their declarations are now available in English translation on the Marxist Internet Archive website.

Her article was published in 1948 (not in 1938 as stated in this and previous English editions) under the title ‘The Kronstadt Commune: the bloody twilight of the soviets’. Mett explained in a preface to a reprint of the French edition in 1970 that the syndicalist publication, RĂ©volution prolĂ©tarienne, to which she had submitted it turned it down on the grounds that it was too hostile to Trotsky who was then being hounded by the Stalin regime that ended in his assassination in 1940. (It wasn’t as hostile as the Kronstadters’ declarations, though, which denounced him as ‘Field Marshal Lord Trotsky’).

Lenin and Trotsky do come out badly as what happened at Kronstadt showed that Bolshevik Russia was already in their day a brutal one-party dictatorship whose leaders would stop at nothing to hold on to power, i.e. well before Stalin was in control. To this day the very mention of ‘Kronstadt’ makes Trotskyists squirm.

This reprint includes the preface to the original edition published by the old Solidarity Group in 1967 and one by Murray Bookchin to a reprint in 1971. It is not the complete pamphlet as the opening chapter on the revolutionary role of Russian sailors in 1905-6 and in 1917 was not translated and has not yet been.
Adam Buick