Tuesday, January 1, 2019

‘Transition period’ (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

One thing Brexit has done is to familiarise people with the term ‘transition period’. Dictionaries typically define it as ‘the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another’. Socialists were already familiar with the term in the context of the change from capitalism to socialism. Of course the transition to Brexit – which Theresa May prefers to call an ‘implementation period’ – is a trivial change compared to the social revolution that the change to socialism will be.

Marx himself used the term in some private notes he wrote in 1875:
  ‘Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one to the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’ (Critique of the Gotha Programme).
This statement has been subject to various interpretations but its basic meaning is clear. The change from capitalism to socialism (or communism, the same thing), or ‘the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production’ as he called it elsewhere in the same notes, is revolutionary in two senses. It is a radical change in the basis of society, from class to common ownership of the means of production, and is brought about rapidly and decisively.

This second point is important in that some have imagined this ‘transition’ as lasting decades. However, once the material conditions for ending class ownership have evolved – once production has become ‘socialised’ in the sense of being the collective, co-operative effort of the whole workforce – then the change can be made rapidly. The contradiction between socialised production and minority ownership can be achieved by ending the monopoly control, whether in law or in fact, of the minority over the means of production. What is required to do this is a political decision to withdraw state protection (via the law, police, armed forces, and courts) for this monopoly. There is no reason why this should take any length of time. It just requires a political decision and its implementation; which of course assumes that the working class has won control of political power and is organised to implement its decision.

In this quote, Marx called this period during which political power would be exercised to abolish class society ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, a term that was current amongst revolutionary socialists of his generation, though perhaps unfortunate in today’s context as ‘dictatorship’ has come to have a different connotation to the exercise of full powers that it then had. In the quote Marx prefaced the term by the word ‘revolutionary’, indicating that its aim was to revolutionise the basis of society. This done – and socialist (or communist) society established – then this period of the revolutionary transformation of one society into another comes to an end together with its corresponding political form.

This was not how Lenin and the Bolsheviks came to see it. Having seized power in a country that was not ripe for socialism, they had to justify staying in power while the conditions for socialism developed. Lenin openly said that this period would be one of state capitalism and that dictatorship meant dictatorship in its modern sense. His follower, the leading Trotskyist Ernst Mandel, went even further and made it a new system of society which he called ‘transitional society’ and which he expected to last an ‘epoch’.

This was to move away from Marx’s conception of the ‘transition period’ as a temporary, short period of rapid change brought about by political means. Perhaps we should follow Theresa May and call it an ‘implementation period’. That way it couldn’t be misinterpreted as lasting an epoch.

The Futility of Compromise. (1931)

From the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Straws,” we are told, “show which way the wind blows.” The results of recent Parliamentary bye-elections and the municipal elections in November indicate a marked diminution in the number of enthusiastic supporters of the Labour Party. Already "the flowing tide” has commenced to ebb, and the prospect of the Labour leaders forming a “majority” Government fades rapidly away. Wherever one turns, one discovers disappointment in the minds of life-long workers for the Labour Party at the manifest failure of these leaders to make an impression upon the various evils of the worker’s life. Past masters in the art of blowing radiant bubbles of Utopian promise, these successful climbers of the political ladder are helpless in the face of increasing unemployment and wage reductions.

The Conservatives are jubilant. Mr. Baldwin sees prospects of another lengthy term of office to commence in the not far distant future; but it is not, perhaps, that prospect which pleases him and his supporters most. He is a wealthy man, surrounded by wealthy men, to whom office is a secondary consideration. What is of first-class importance in their eyes is the stability of the social system which guarantees to them a livelihood of ease and luxury without the necessity of working. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, Conservatives (and, for that matter, Liberal) spokesmen are chanting of "the failure of Socialism.” Their logic is as simple and convincing as their assumptions are spurious. "The Labour Party is a Socialist Party. The Labour Party has failed !” "Socialism has failed !” Thus runs their argument.

Of course, it is not their business to point out to the workers that the Capitalist system is still running, that the Labour Party has done nothing to interfere with it, that the Labour Party has not even shown any intention of interfering with it. The leaders of the Labour Party have pleaded that they are helpless before the operation of world causes on the one hand, and the absence of an “independent majority” on the other.

Capitalism, however, did not become a world system last year; it has been a world system for generations. The evils of Capitalism, which the Labour leaders professed to be able to remedy, have been world-wide in the scope of their operation for an equal period. Are we to understand that these leaders were such simpletons that they have only just realised this? Or did it require the responsibilities of office—and the salaries—to awaken them?

As for an “independent majority,” what is the difference between depending upon Liberal votes inside the House of Commons and depending upon Liberal votes outside in the constituencies? The Labour Party has from the time of its foundation depended upon Liberal votes. MacDonald, Snowden, Hardie, and others sat for years for double-membered constituencies with Liberals as their fellow M.P.’s, on the "one-and-one” principle.” The I.L.P. made a speciality in its election campaigns of capturing the support of Liberal Trade Unionists by offering them a programme slightly more liberal than that of the official Liberals. This policy of compromise was styled "practical politics,” and the present situation of the Labour leaders is no mere accident, but a logically inevitable result of their entire political career. Incidentally, these facts dispose of ‘the puerile nonsense recently indulged in by the Communists, to the effect that "the Labour Party has ceased to be a Socialist Party.” It never was a Socialist Party and none of its responsible representatives have ever claimed that the majority of its members and supporters were "Socialists,” even in the false sense in which they frequently use the term. The Labour Party’s election programmes have never contained any principle which made them fundamentally distinct from Liberal programmes, and the Labour Party has therefore in practice never been anything more than a substitute for the Liberal Party. It has taken over that party’s role of trying to keep the workers quiet by promises of reforming Capitalism.

Some supporters of the Labour Party appear to consider that their leaders’ failure is personal; that it is due to not having the right men in .office. It is plain, however, to anyone understanding the above facts, that no shuffling of ministers in the Government can accomplish any vital change. Neither Mosley nor Maxton in the place of MacDonald could ignore the Liberal vote in the Commons and the constituencies without undermining their whole position. Any attempt to interfere with the normal operations of Capitalism could only introduce chaos and intensify the very evils of which the workers complain, thus bewildering their supporters and producing an even more rapid reaction than that at present in progress.

Economic laws cannot be set at defiance by emotional orators, however sincere they may be. The only logical alternative to Capitalism to-day is Socialism, and as the majority of Labour Party supporters are not Socialists, they will not support any fundamental attack upon Capitalism.

The present leaders of the Labour Party are astute enough and experienced enough to realise this, and they possess sufficient control over the party’s wire-pulling machinery to hold the "rebels” in effective check. The Liberals (and, if need be, the Conservatives) are quite ready to save MacDonald from any embarrassment at the hands of the Maxtonites, so long as MacDonald serves their turn. Indeed, it is difficult in the circumstances to take Maxton’s threats of independent action seriously, and the fate of Bailie Irwin at Renfrew shows that numbers of erstwhile Labour supporters cannot do so.

Compromise appeals to two types of politician for what may appear to be two reasons, but which are, in reality, two aspects of the same reason. The place-hunter practises compromise because it is the quickest way to reach office. We do not deny the statesmanlike skill which MacDonald and Snowden have exhibited in rising to the two principal offices of State. On the other hand, compromise enmeshes the unstable sentimentalist, because otherwise he would feel lonely. He wants to be "with the masses,” to do something for them! And seeing that he can only try to do as they wish (however ill-informed they may be at the moment), he eventually finds himself assisting the place-hunters into office; for the workers, in turn, can only act in accordance with their knowledge or their ignorance, as the case may be.

At present the majority of the workers lack the necessary knowledge to organise for Socialism. Only economic development coupled with intelligent propaganda can teach them. In the meantime, all the efforts of calculating schemers and well-meaning blunderers can only bring them disappointment, disillusion and despair. The Socialist Party has said this for a quarter of a century, and it is prepared, if necessary, to go on repeating it for a similar period; but it looks as though we shall be saved the trouble. Day by day the truth of our contention is being vividly demonstrated. The bitter fruits of compromise are setting the workers' teeth on edge. The immediate result may, perhaps, be apathy and reaction on the political field, strikes and violence on the industrial field. The attempts of reformers to gloss over and patch up the class-struggle will be mocked by its virulent re-assertion.

For ourselves, however, not having based any hopes upon a cheap “Labour victory," we find no cause for despair in its coming debacle. The need for our existence becomes plainer than ever. Out of a realisation that compromise is futile will grow the conviction that the Socialist policy of unswerving determination to end Capitalism by attacking unceasingly its political props is the only fertile one.

We do not fear the temporary reaction. We shall not see some other Capitalist party solving the insoluble antagonisms within Capitalism. The failure of Labourism is but the echo of the failure of Conservatism and Liberalism. It is Capitalism which fails to permit the workers to enjoy the fruits of their labours. The interests of the workers demand a social change, a change from the private ownership of the means of living to the common ownership thereof. To that end we summon those workers whose scales are dropping from their eyes to organise for the capture of the powers of government in order to achieve their emancipation.
Eric Boden

The Review Column: Take Over (1969)

The Review Column from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Take Over
Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest and church-going. In fact, it is the day when about ten million British people excite themselves by reading in the News of the World all about sex sins of famous actresses and obscure country vicars.

The paper recently described itself as “as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding" and perhaps, in a way, that is true. Little wonder, then, that when Pergamon Press launched its take over bid the fight for the shares was a matter of popular concern.

It was one of the hardest fought of all take overs. The News of the World warned darkly that “Mr. Robert Maxwell, a Socialist M.P., is trying to take . . . over” and was careful enough to remind its readers that Maxwell (who was responsible for the Back Britain campaign) was “formerly Jan Ludwig Hoch."

The NOW, it was clear, thought that the worst thing that could happen to British workers would be to have their favourite Sunday scandal sheet taken over by a naturalised Labour M.P.

Maxwell himself has never been famous for a reluctance to join the infighting. His delicate description of the man who defeated him — Australian newspaper owner Robert Murdoch — was “mothbeaten kangaroo”, and after the shareholders’ votes had gone against him he (of all people) mourned that “the law of the jungle has won.”

These dignified exchanges should be remembered, the next time Maxwell, or the News of the World, complain about the alleged childishness of striking workers. In the meantime, let us extricate ourselves from the mire of the battle between rival capitalists so anxious to protect their bank balances and take a look at the real issue.

Modern capitalism is a society of unrelenting insecurity and poverty. Such is the degradation of its people that millions of them greedily swallow the muck dished out by rags like the News of the World.

It pays to produce this muck. The real issue is not who owns the muck-making machine, but what about the nature of a society which makes it worthwhile to produce it, and which stimulates the need for it?


The Dark Side of Space
Space flights, we are promised, have brought us all sorts of benefits — anti-corrosive fluids, improved transistors, non-stick frying pans. That seems to be the limit — no space technician has yet been able to show that, say, a solution to the deadly riddle of cancer is likely to result from the exploits of those daring young men circling the moon.

But before we start cheering about the frying pans we should reflect on the other results of the space programme. One thing which is obvious is that no world power is ever willing to spend the sort of money which is being poured into the Apollo flights in order to make life any easier.

The only justification capitalism will recognise for that sort of spending is military or economic. We already know that any improvements in rocket power and guidance systems are applied to the delivery systems of nuclear missiles. We have also heard that the space powers can now orbit nuclear bombs above the earth, selecting the point at which they will come back through the atmosphere and onto their target.

There is also the possibility — and how strong this may be is one of the things the Americans and the Russian are not in a hurry to publicise — that the moon and other planets contain valuable minerals, it is not far fetched, then, to imagine a power struggle for possession of the planets, in space and so for dominance over the space lanes.

These should have been sobering thoughts for the world, as it goggled at the fantastic pictures coming back from Apollo 8 over Christmas. The glamour and excitement of it all obscured the cold, unpleasant realities but one day they will have to be faced, just as we have had to face the realities of the exploits of the Wright brothers.

The crew of Apollo 8 are brave men, dedicated to what they believe is the advance of humanity. This is not the first time capitalism has taken such useful instincts and perverted them for its own inhuman purposes.


Getting Tough
Whenever she is pressed on the point, Barbara Castle stubbornly insists that she is a left wing socialist — which in her vocabulary means the very opposite of someone who acts as she does in her job as boss of the Department of Employment and Productivity.

After her determined axing of wage claims under the Prices and Incomes Act, Castle is now getting ready for what might be her biggest fight so far. The government are preparing legislation which, under the name “reform”, will be nothing other than another restriction on the unions.

Castle wants a 28 day cooling off period before some strikes and compulsory balloting before official national strikes, with prosecution and fines for those who break the law.

Both sides of industry are pressing for changes in these proposals; the employers want them tougher and the unions are timidly asking for some relaxations.

Whatever happens, we are clearly in for another step in what may be one of Labour’s dearest ambitions — the control of wages. It is reasonable to wonder whether the government is clinging to office, in face of the humiliating election results, only long enough to attempt that particular piece of dirty work for the British capitalist class.

The government are justifying their proposals with the weary argument that if they don’t do it the Tories will — which is a clear admission that Labour is as much the enemy of the unions as the Tories.

Then there is the case put up for the ballots — that it is the democratic way of doing it, that a national strike which affects millions of people should not be decided upon by a handful of men.

In practice, the ballot might be a two edged weapon. In the meantime, may we ask how far Labour will carry this democratic idea? When they want to take a decision on something which will affect millions of people — like devaluation, prescription charges and so on, will they arrange a ballot before they act?

No prizes are offered for the answer to that question.

State Capitalist Steel (1969)

From the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was a time when the nationalisation of an industry was heralded as bringing it within the ownership of the whole people. Vesting day for the coal industry was marked with many pits be-bannered and placarded with displays recording the claim of common ownership. This delusion long demonstrated by the policies of the NCB, plus the experience of redundant unemployed miners from a declining industry, and the experience of workers in other nationalised industries, probably accounts for the lack of such claims when steel was recently nationalised.

Why then, it might be asked, are industries nationalised if it does not bring them into common ownership? Broadly speaking there are three answers: to control the run-down of a declining industry. (Back in 1948 this was thought to apply to gas); to control an industry best operated as a single-unit for the whole capitalist class because of its powerful position, e.g. electricity: and to rationalise industries in need of re-organisation—railways, coal and steel.

Prior to the nationalisation of the steel industry the British Iron and Steel Federation (Steel Co. owners) had set up a committee (Development Co-ordinating Committee) to look into the rationalisation necessary to meet the industry’s future. The reasons for this enquiry lie in the world’s steel market. Since the early 60’s all over the world there has been excess capacity in the industry. Not too much capacity for peoples needs for steel, but too much capacity for the purchasing power of the world, developed and under-developed countries. Put another way this means that there is intense competition on the world’s steel markets and the producer who can offer at the lowest prices increases sales and profits. Although the industry controls the bulk of the home market and is maintaining its share in world exports, long term prospects are not so favourable.

Based on home coking coal and a high proportion of home ore with relatively small plants, the British industry in the mid-sixties compared unfavourably with other areas with access to cheaper coking coal and ore, and which had constructed larger more efficient plants. The advantages of cheaper British coal went once American coal spread into Japan and with Polish coking coal, into Europe. Although devaluation may have redressed the price levels it is at the expense of lower standards of living for the worker.

Likewise with ore. After the second world war when ore was scarce British ore was cheap. It is no longer so. Using 1957 as a base year (100) by 1965 the index for foreign ore prices had fallen to 72 and home prices had risen to 126. Further, being richer, foreign ores requires less processing and need 6 cwt of coke less to make a ton of iron.

In the last ten years the pace of technological development in steel has been rapid. Plant sizes are expanding rapidly. British steel may be one of the six largest enterprises in the world, but it has no plants with a capacity of 4 cu. ingot tons and over, whereas America has 50 per cent, and Japan 20 per cent capacity in such plants (1968). (Is Big Best — A. Bambridge).


Large imports of ore in bulk carriers of 65,000 to 200,000 tons, plus the possibility of cheap coking coal from abroad and the need for large plants, points to coastal siting. Apart from recommending coastal sites for integrated works the Committee recommended that production be concentrated in fewer plants. In 1966 there were 34 steel works in Britain. If the committee’s recommendations come about, and something like it no doubt will, 90 per cent of capacity will be produced in some 8 to 10 plants.

Such a rationalisation will have a great effect on the levels of employment within the industry. Employment in the steel industry stood at 316,640—December 1965, a figure marginally smaller than 1957. The Report envisages a workforce in 1975 of 215,000 men, when the industry should produce a third more steel with a third less men.

Of the excess 100,000 the report states that they need not all be redundancies.
  Properly handled, normal voluntary departures should be sufficient to account for a substantial part of the reduction. Even ignoring the more volatile fringe of the labour force and considering only the relatively stable element, i.e. men over 26 with more than one year’s service—labour turnover in 1965 was 12 per cent, and this is more than three times as large as the average annual reduction envisaged in the labour force over 1965-75, which is 3.75 per cent.
If you are not a wage worker able to make a ‘voluntary departure’, for you there is the promise of reasonable increases in earnings, providing there are ’reasonable’ reductions in the labour cost per ton of steel.

But what does this really mean for the workers? First, we would say, do not be misled by this 12 per cent red herring. Annual turnover cannot be related to a reduction in the work force spread over a number of years. Secondly it is possible that in one or two areas employment opportunities will increase. In others it will decline or cease entirely. A young steelworker prepared to move might find a job in the expanding areas, but competition could be considerable. An older steelworker can see his future by observing the miners in areas where pits have been closed. Further if these plans, or something like them, are to be fulfilled, plant construction must begin shortly and the effects will be concentrated in the later years.

But if you do not get the golden handshake, the mobility bribe, your future is certain. Your productivity will have to rise, that is you are going to work harder, so that you can be paid increased wages to buy commodities the prices of which will probably increase. How well you fare will depend upon your trade union strength, which with a declining membership in a period with a full labour market, will be subject to great pressures.

Since nationalisation British Steel has not announced its plans for rationalisation. However it will have to be on the lines of that envisaged by the BISF Report. The prospects for the steelworkers are redundancy, unemployment, moving homes, harder work, struggle for better wages and conditions. The lot of all workers under capitalism. These next few years are likely to be harder for the steelworkers than any they have experienced since the war. Their day to day struggles will be more frequent and intense, and the outcome a continuing vista of repetitive struggle over the same issues—work and wages.
Ken Knight

The New Year is Upon Us, Folks! (2019)

From the Socialist or Your Money Back blog
The New Year is upon us, folks,
With promises anew,
From so-called leaders everywhere,
The usual motley crew;
That pledge us all the usual things,
That never turn out true! 
The Pope will for the umpteenth time
Pray for world peace once more,
Yet we all know with certainty,
That there will still be war;
Because we've got our heads screwed on,
And fully know the score! 
The Charities will beg for cash,
To end all want and strife,
But we are fully conscious that,
There'll be no change in life;
And that, of course, starvation will,
Continue to be rife. 
The US President will boast,
And carry on the farce,
Of talking cobblers everyday,
And trumping out his arse;
Whilst aided and abetted by,
The Yankee working-class. 
Our P.M. (if it's Mrs May!)
Will lie and no doubt say,
That Brexit, deal or otherwise,
Will herald a new day;
But we all know our problems won't,
Just simply fade away. 
We could, of course, resort to faith,
And Jesus's return,
Or beg Ann Widdecombe, “Come back”,
To waffle and to gurn;
Or else we could think for ourselves,
Before we start to burn.
Richard Layton

"Solidarity": Not so Solid (1969)

Pamphlet Review from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Men will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. “Socialism” means a world-wide society, democratically controlled, without profits, wages or money. This is a practical proposition now.

All attempts to solve such problems as war, poverty, loneliness, miserable and degrading toil, inside a society based on wages and profits are sure to fail. We, alone of all political organisations, use Marx’s slogan “Abolition of the wages system!”

Thousands of people come forward with plans to re-arrange the wages system. They imagine that slavery can be operated in the interests of slaves! They are wasting their time.

One such school of thought is the political group which calls itself “Solidarity.” Their case is presented in a pamphlet entitled The Meaning of Socialism, which declares that the root of misery in work is, not wage-slavery, but the system of management.

The author, Paul Cardan, proposes to keep the compulsion to work through threat of starvation. He even quotes approvingly St. Paul’s injunction “He that does not work, neither shall he eat.” Production for the market is to be retained in Cardan’s “Socialism” but it is to be “a genuine market for consumer goods, with consumers’ sovereignty.” The wages system is to be retained. We are still to be hired and fired, disciplined and dragooned—but with a difference which Mr. Cardan sees as important: instead of the majority of workers being supervised by a specially trained section of workers (management) the entire work-force in each place of production will manage itself democratically, through workers’ councils. The key feature of “Socialism” is that it will “eliminate all distinct strata of specialised or permanent managers.”

The Socialist Party rejects “workers’ management” as a solution to workers’ problems. We insist on the abolition of wages.

It is to be feared that the tyranny of your mates might prove as terrible as the tyranny of your manager, if your mates are equally as bound up with production for sale on a market. This is the crucial difference between “Solidarity” and us. We say that tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet—the permission to live—must be abolished.

The most crucial error in Cardan’s analysis is his belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be guided by “workers’ management” towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and’ imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Cardan that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which members of “Solidarity” ought at least to consider.

Perhaps they will say that the important thing is the removal of the ruling class. It is true that the capitalists, like all ruling classes, live in great luxury and possess immense power. But it is a mistake to think that the workers are poor because the capitalists consume so much. On the contrary, the wealth actually consumed personally by capitalists is an insignificant (and diminishing) fraction of total wealth produced. Taking the consumption of the capitalists and sharing it out amongst the workers would result in a rise for us all of only a few shillings a week. It is a fact that our masters live off the fat of the land, but if they starved in garrets we should still be slaves. Socialists an not primarily concerned, like vulgar moralists and apostles of “fair play,” to indict the caviar and yachts of the Paul Gettys, but rather the misdirection of production: the subordination of consumption to accumulation and the immensity of organized waste and destruction.

Similarly, though the capitalist class has power, we do not merely condemn the arbitrary, irresponsible decisions of those in high places. We condemn also the decisions which capitalists and workers are forced to make as a result of the workings of capitalism’s laws of motion.

“Capitalism without capitalists” could never in fact come about. Should the working-class reach a level of understanding where they could pressurize the ruling class out of existence, they would long since have passed the stage where they would have abolished the wages system and established Socialism. And there are several purely economic arguments why escalating differences in access to wealth would always result from a wages-profits system. But even if we suspend these judgments, and consider “Capitalism without capitalists” in our imaginations, we can see it would be no improvement on capitalism with capitalists. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation not a state of affairs Which Socialist aim for.

Some advocates of “workers’ control” advance the argument that although it wouldn’t solve workers’ problems it should still be supported because workers are too simple-minded to understand the abolition of wages, and must therefore be given “workers’ control” as the sugar on the pill (except that these gentlemen invariably then forget about the pill altogether). Cardan cannot use this line argument, and this is to his credit, for he has quite correct debunked it:
  “The Party . . . “knows” (or believes that it knows) that the sliding scale of wages will never be accepted by capitalism. It believes that this demand, if really fought for by the workers, will lead to a revolutionary situation and eventually to the revolution itself. If it did it would “scare the workers off” who are not “yet” ready to fight for socialism as such. So the apparently innocent demand for a sliding scale of wages is put forward as feasible . . . while “known” to be unfeasible. This is the bait which will make the workers swallow the hook and the revolutionary line. The Party, firmly holding the rod, will drag the class along into the “socialist” frying pan. All this would be a monstrous conception, were it not so utterly ridiculous.”
We would certainly endorse this attack on Vanguardism, but it is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of absurdities which Cardan peddles.

In order to make credible his notion of “Socialism” (capitalism minus capitalism’s laws) he says that modern techniques of production are introduced under capitalism more to reduce the freedom of workers than to increase profitability:
  “Machines are invented, or selected, according to one fundamental criterion: do they assist in the struggle of management against workers, do they reduce yet further the worker’s margin of autonomy, do they assist in eventually replacing him altogether? . . . No British capitalist, no Russian factory manager would ever introduce into his plant a machine which would increase the freedom of a particular worker or of a group of workers to run the job themselves, even if such a machine increased production.”
This astonishing claim is made without the smallest shred of evidence being supplied. Whilst it is possible that a few shrewd managers may accept a cut in short-term profits for the sake of insuring long-term profits by fragmenting workplace organization, the intricate conspiracy necessary for Cardan’s sweeping statement to be true would be humorous to contemplate. It borders on paranoia to attribute “ever minute division of labour and tasks” to the management‘s conscious attempts “to combat the resistance of the workers.” Division of labour, and other atomizing and features of modern techniques, are primarily the results of attempting to maintain or increase the level of profits. Modern productive methods are dictated, at a given of technology, by market laws (that is, from the management’s point of view, laws of costs and revenue) and largely outside the will of the capitalists themselves, or that of the managers.

A lot of Cardan’s propositions are developed in contrast to what he calls “Marxism.” It is quite apparent that he is abysmally ignorant of Marx’s theoretical system; the “Marxism” he denounces is the crudest mish-mash of fifth-rate Bolshevism. That is doubtless a further condemnation .of the dire results of Bolshevik confusion-mongering, but it hardly excuses Cardan for making statements about Marx without having read him.

For example, in The Meaning of Socialism, we read:
  “By “Socialism” we mean the historical period which starts with the proletarian revolution and ends with communism. In thus defining it, we adhere very strictly to Marx. This is the only “transitional period” between class society and communism.”
Marx of course, never drew any distinction between Socialism and Communism, and always gave these words identical meanings. “Solidarity,” like the “Communist” Party and Trotskyists, concede that it is necessary to abolish wages and money, but say that this is an “ultimate aim” (translation: not an aim at all).

It is also claimed that Marx has been proved wrong by what happened in Russia, because private property was abolished there without his predicted results. Cardan ought to consider Marx’s statement that as long as power over people exists, private property exists. Cardan further believes that Russia has abolished unemployment, which is admittedly not ignorance of Marx, but of Russia.

It is alleged that Marx saw the domination of men by machines as an inexorable consequence of the advance of technology, as a fact which had to be accepted even in Socialism. This is an outrageous howler. Marx was at great pains to stress that the domination of living labour by dead labour was in point of fact an optical illusion. When the instruments of labour appeared to be outside the control of Man, it was in actuality the case that Man’s social relations were outside his control. Thus when Engels talks about the “mastery of the product over the producer” he does not mean that the products are actually the masters, but simply that they seem to be, as long as producers cannot control their social organization of production. They will remain unable to do so as long as these are commodity relations [1]. Socialists have always emphasised that in Socialism production will be organized not just to make more goods, but also to make work itself enjoyable.

Like most Left-wingers, “Solidarity” believe that the Russian Revolution was Socialist. This belief is not an accident, but is closely related to their other misconceptions. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” wrote Marx. The Nightmare of Leftism, which weighs so heavily on the brains of today’s Romantic Revolutionaries, is the tradition of capitalist revolutions: the glorification of bloody insurrection, a mystical “Peoples Will” or “Proletarian Consciousness” which has no connection with what people actually will, or what workers actually understand, and hence the disparaging of political democracy, and the theory that revolutionary workers can be “held back” by a Party apparatus. “Solidarity” is no exception. Its ideas belong to the past; they have no future.

On the October Revolution Mr. Cardan comments:
  “Many people (various social democrats, various anarchists and the Socialist Party of Great Britain) have said that nothing really happened in Russia except a coup d’├ętat carried out by a Party which, having somehow obtained the support of the working class, sought only to establish its own dictatorship and succeeded in doing so.
   We don’t wish to discuss this question in an academic manner. Our aim is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution. The questions which are important for us are different ones. Did the Russian working class play a historical role of its own during this period? . . . The independent role played by the proletariat was clear-cut and undeniable.” (From Bolshevism To The Bureaucracy.)”
To this we can only retort that the view attributed to the Socialist Party is surely too silly to have even been held by anyone. All capitalist revolutions are highly complex phenomena, and 1917 was no exception. Cardan’s aim “is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution,” despite the fact that in his writings he persistently refers to it as such, no less than four times in this particular pamphlet prior to the above excerpt! Of course workers played an independent role in 1917. Workers have played an independent role in every capitalist revolution without exception. That should be elementary.

Two questions have to be asked; they answer themselves. Had Russia in 1917 reached a level of development where abundance for all was possible? And did the Russian working-class in 1917 possess a clear understanding of the need for a wageless, moneyless, stateless society?

To sum up, movements for “workers’ management,” “workers’ participation” and “workers’ control” (though their various adherents distinguish very loudly between these three) will probably be used by capitalism, as in Yugoslavia, to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management, and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to muffle the trade union struggle and enhance the process of exploitation. This is not what the members of “Solidarity” want, but then neither is the present structure of the steel industry what Labour Leftists wanted. “Workers’ management” is a cul-de-sac, to replace the cul-de-sac of nationalization. Please, don’t take another fifty years to see through this one. . . .

We say that in an epoch of potential Plenty the cry should be, not “workers’ management,” but “To each according to his wants!”
Steele

[1] This point is made abundantly clear in Marx’s Wage Labour And Capital, and Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, and is frequently stressed throughout Marx’s writings.

Abolish Exchange (1969)

From the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Marxian economics, there are four different applications of the term “value”—use-value, surplus-value, exchange-value and value.

Surplus and exchange derive from value, which is the whole basis of wealth produced under capitalist relations of production. Use-value stands out as the exception, it simply means the usefulness of any given product. This will be the sole surviving application of those terms in future society— Socialism.

Value is created in the process of production under conditions of capitalist exploitation. The idea of measuring the worth of a product only arises when it is to be alienated from its producers—when it is to be exchanged.

Value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour, embodied during the production process; including administration and transport. The time taken to produce any given commodity under conditions of the prevailing intensity, determines in what proportions it will be exchanged for any other commodity. This exchange of values is obscured by the common equivalent of all commodities—money, But money only expresses or measures the amount of value, which is why it is a means of exchange and the standard of prices.

Value, therefore, has the deceptive appearance of being a relationship between things, whereas what lies behind it is a relationship between people. It is only because capitalism is a class divided society where the means of production are concentrated in the hands of a privileged minority, that the present set of economic and social relationships exists. Owner to non-owner, employer to employee, buyer to seller, rich and poor, landlord and tenant, all these relationships depend upon the divorce of the producers from their social products.

The exchange of value and the circulation of money as a means of exchange, demonstrates the existence of private property. Therefore, when organisations like the Labour Party and the so-called Communist Party talk about “Common-ownership of the means of exchange”, they are voicing a contradiction in terms.

Surplus value is the total surplus product over and above the total amount of wealth represented by wages. To obtain and enlarge this surplus value is the whole motive force behind production in capitalist society. The intervention of the State in industry by way of controls and nationalisation has obscured this fact in the minds of many workers, particularly those who support state capitalism in countries like Russia and China.

The wages system is the universal badge of class servitude and exploitation. When the class system of capitalism is scrapped, the wages systems will go with it; so will the alienation of the producers from their social products. Whereas to-day the product seems to dominate the producer, in Socialism this will be reversed. Where value and surplus value exist there is a barrier between the working- class and the wealth they produce. Poverty and insecurity are inherent in this situation. Wages only represent enough wealth, on average, to keep workers in working order and to provide replacements when they wear out.

When the markets and warehouses of the world are choked with unsalable masses of all kinds of goods, this is the time of greatest privation for members of the working class. Always our lives centre around finding someone to exploit us, in order that we may survive from pay day to pay day, while those who own the means of wealth production, and the rest of the things we produce, are able to live in luxury.

All wars in the modem world are predatory—fought by workers who own no means of production, to enable the victorious sections of the capitalist class to re-divide the plunder. Workers clearly have no stake in such a set-up.

Capitalism necessarily degrades both workers and capitalists in a thousand different ways. But this degradation presses harder upon the workers whose whole lives are spent as appendages to someone else's pursuit of profits, mere extensions to the productive resources of another class. They are harried and driven, deceived and deluded by more refined methods and to a greater degree of intensity than any exploited class in history. They are divided and subdivided and taught to take up the spurious ideology of their masters as their own. All this because wealth is produced as exchange values. An irresistible sequence of events follows from class ownership. A pattern of social conduct is brought about which must remain while this basis of society continues. The life of the working class is spent in struggles to maintain a meagre level of existence at the mercy of blind economic forces they as yet can only understand vaguely, if at all. Leisure becomes a respite between work shifts and work becomes a drudge to be regarded as a necessary evil, instead of an essential means of self-expression through social creativity. As much as workers hate employment and have little interest in what they do, they live in fear of unemployment and develop neuroses of resentment against “outsiders" like coloured people who are seen as a threat to “their” jobs. They fill half the hospital beds with cases of nervous and mental disorders which arise from the pressures to which capitalism subjects them. Yet, epithets such as "agitator" and “trouble-maker" are commonly applied to anyone who seeks change.

Things which workers produce but cannot afford, such as Rolls Royce cars, yachts and big houses are revered as luxuries—the status symbols of a privileged few whose social prestige is supported by possession. These things contain so much workers’ congealed labour, that they are beyond the means of those who produce them. There can be no greater social absurdity than this.

With the advent of Socialism, goods and services of all kinds will be produced solely for use. Social products will no longer be exchanged, but will be freely available, because the means of production will belong to society as a whole. There will be no means of exchange or any other barrier between people and the things they need.

The pattern of conduct that follows from common ownership will be a harmonious one; just as that arising from class ownership is antagonistic. Human dignity will again be able to assert itself, free from exploitation. The conditions which cause war and poverty will disappear.

People will willingly co-operate because they will be conscious of their involvement in society and will be in control of their environment. The fact is that in order for Socialism to be established, a majority of the world’s workers must understand and desire it. From the basis of this understanding, new, truly human relationships will arise in place of the crude cash nexus.
Harry Baldwin

50 Years Ago: Rosa Luxemburg and the Collapse of Capitalism (2019)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago on 6th January began the hopeless Spartakist rising against the Social Democrat government of Germany. It led to the brutal murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, two well-known and courageous opponents of the first world slaughter. Luxemburg, as an opponent of both reformism and Bolshevism who understood the worldwide and democratic nature of socialism, had views on many subjects near to those of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. However, there were certain basic differences between our views and hers. The following article discusses one of them: the collapse of capitalism.

Rosa Luxemburg was murdered on January 15, 1919. Her head was first smashed in with the butt of a soldier’s rifle and she was then dumped in the Landwehr Canal. With her death the uprising of the Spartakus Bund in Berlin collapsed—as it had been doomed to do all along. In fact, the real tragedy of this affair was not its brutality but the waste of it all. Why had Luxemburg allowed herself to become involved in such a useless adventure in the first place?

The only adequate explanation seems to lie in her conviction that capitalism had been driven to an impasse, that its internal contradictions had brought it to the point of breaking down. (….)

A week before death she was writing: “The masses are ready to support any revolutionary action, to go through fire and water for Socialism.” This, of course, was patent nonsense. The working-class in Germany had no clear idea of what Socialism was or how it could be achieved. Not only was there no chance of overthrowing capitalism, but even the limited aim of unseating the government was hopeless. ( …) Luxemburg, then, had mistaken the economic dislocation following Germany’s defeat for the ‘collapse’ of the capitalist system and, since to her the choice seemed one of a desperate gamble for Socialism or else “crashing down to a common doom’, she staked her life on the former.

(from article by J.C., Socialist Standard, January 1969)

System change not climate change (2019)

Editorial from the January 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body set up by the United Nations to provide governments with information on climate change, warns that we have about twelve years to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels and that drastic action will be required to achieve this. Temperature rises above 1.5 C risk catastrophic consequences for life on this planet. Recently, scientists have been warning that global warming has been escalating at a faster pace than previously predicted. Sir David Attenborough has added his voice at the opening of the UN climate change summit in Poland (also known as COP24) by warning that unless decisive action is taken civilisations may face collapse and much of the natural world may become extinct.

Given these and other warnings over the years, this is surely the wake-up call to galvanise governments into action? Well apparently not. Since 1992, governments have come together in periodic summits to attempt to thrash out agreements to combat global warming but have achieved little success. Either they are reluctant to accept carbon emission targets or find ways to dodge them. In June 2017, Donald Trump announced the United States withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. At the COP24 summit, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait objected to a summit motion ‘welcoming’ the IPCC report, preferring to ‘note’ it instead, which would make it easier for them to ignore it.  It seems easier for governments to negotiate trade deals than to combat environmental degradation. As intractable as the problem of Brexit is, it is a safe bet that it will be resolved long before the environmental crisis. What is holding us back?

Capitalism depends on the drive for profits, which must take priority over everything else. Capitalists compete with each other in the market place and have to keep their costs to a minimum, otherwise they may lose out to their competitors and their businesses may fail. Green measures that may increase business costs will have to be ignored. Nation-states face the same pressures, as they compete on global markets. Governments, which look after the interests of their respective capitalists, seek to protect their lucrative extractive industries. Hence Donald Trump’s reason for pulling out of the Paris agreement was that it was bad for US businesses and jobs. Seen from this context, prescriptions by environmentalists for people to change their lifestyles – to  reduce their consumption of meat, to use public transport rather than private vehicles – will not resolve the crisis.  If we are to have an environmentally sustainable future and avoid ecological catastrophe, we cannot rely on the capitalists and their governments to achieve this for us, we, the working class, must organise quickly to rid ourselves of capitalism and establish a society of common ownership of the means of living where we will be to plan production in a rational environmentally friendly way according to human need. We strongly urge workers to join us in this urgent task.