Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Food burners at work again (1965)

From the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since socialists first appeared and made the case for abolishing capitalism, they have had to contend with opponents voicing variations on the common theme of retaining that system. The different groups did not admit or always realise that they were at one in defending capitalism, and outwardly they did not even seem to be united. There were those who said that capitalism would be quite satisfactory if only governments would stop interfering and impeding—we have a relic still in Mr. Enoch Powell. Others thought that it would work well if people would mend their ways and not be greedy. This group is always with us. And those who thought that the crying need is for better or wiser men at the helm of state — Liberals or Labour when the government is Conservative and Liberal and Conservative when the government is Labour. And those who believe that the system is essentially sound but that its abuses must be tackled as they show themselves in the light of new ideas and through new acts of Parliament. Actually this last category takes in almost all those who in practice hinder the movement to Socialism, including that most ineffectual band who for a century have been saying that Socialism is absolutely necessary but not just now, not until this or that evil has been removed.

All of these reformers agree with each other in rejecting the Socialist argument that we can and should have a social system which will have no place for prices, wages, profits etc. They say that the human race cannot do without these things, and in any event has no need to waste time trying to do so because there is nothing wrong with them in principle, only with the way they are used. So at each General Election we start a new round of schemes supposed to rid us of worries about prices, wages, strikes, monopolies and so on.

And each succeeding election finds things just the same except that the government and opposition may have changed places.

Just at the moment it is prices which occupy pride of place in the list of public complaints.

The most common complaint is that prices are “too high” and everybody blames everybody else for it. (Not least the newspapers which have put up their own prices during the past 12 months). All the complainers agree that somebody ought to do something about it, without explaining exactly what should be done and what level of prices would be regarded as just the right one.

The very rash might rush in and say that the right level is the lowest level but in the midst of the hullabaloo about prices that are too high there are some agonised cries about prices that are too low.

There are several aspects of the problem of prices. First there are the economic laws which explain why different articles have different prices—why an ounce of gold has a higher price than the same weight of silver, and lead a higher price than coal. Basically this is explained by the amount of human labour necessary for the prediction of each kind of article.

Then there are the laws which explain the upward or downward movements of the price level as a whole—why for example the general price level here is three or more times what it was in 1938, or why the price level fell heavily and continually for 10 years or more in the Nineteen twenties and thirties.

Also there are the upward and downward movements of the price of any article which came under the head of fluctuations due to variations in supply and demand. It is these fluctuations that concern us here.

If the supply of an article falls in relation to "demand" prices will go up; and if demand falls in relation to supply they will go down. It works against the background that everyone wants high prices for what he sells and low prices for what he buys and will take advantage of any circumstances which help him to get what he wants. Greedy and anti-social? Maybe, but that is what capitalism is and how it works, and the working of capitalism needs price fluctuations, as a corrective for over and under supply in relation to the demand of the market.

Governments do from time to time imagine they can have a price system without its “abuses": they try to control and reduce prices irrespective of the market conditions, only to find that they have created a “black market."

The people who want a price system but do not want to let it operate are constantly being shocked by demonstrations of the system functioning normally.

So it was that between the wars we were told how iniquitous it was that with millions of people in want of food, wheat was being burned. It was burned because there was so much more than the market would absorb that its price had fallen to unprofitable levels. The same was true of coffee and some other commodities. From a human standpoint of course it was iniquitous but how else can capitalism, which produces for the market, operate except in terms of the market ?

An alternative to actual destruction is to let the depressed price have direct effect by ruining the producers and thus reducing production. Another it to hold the surplus off the market as has happened with coffee, wheat and other products when the interests concerned are sufficiently influential to get governments to intervene and bear the cost—as in U.S.A.

A “simple” solution that is suggested is for governments to give away the surplus, but this aggravates the problem since it both depresses prices and deprives other would-be sellers of a market.

The one thing that all the reformers agreed on was that destruction and restriction, and unemployed men and resources, must never again be allowed to happen. Expansion and abundance were on the banners and Keynes the prophet.

But capitalism has not changed. Though, as the authorities agree, the number of malnourished people in the world is increasing, burning and restriction are still with us. Last Autumn it was reported from Southern Rhodesia that, following a bumper tobacco crop and falling prices a scheme for restricting production had been adopted. The same wind struck Australia and some 200 tons of good tobacco were burned near Brisbane in December last.

Cocoa too has run into trouble. Too much has been produced for the demands of the market and in November last the six countries in the Cocoa Producers Alliance, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Togo decided to destroy cocoa stocks to help keep up the price. The following was reported by the Times on 12th December from Accra:
  Sir Tsibu Darku, the Chairman of Ghana’s Cocoa Marketing Board, today put the torch to about 500 tons of cocoa which went up in flames hear here. He said the bonfire was the first of a series which would go on until they had completely destroyed two per cent of Ghana’s basic quota, to give effect to a decision of the alliance of cocoa producing countries.
But a Financial Times correspondent last December doubted if this would be effective—"most dealers feel that far more than the present suggestion of two per cent of the six member’s basic quota should be burnt." He thought they would have to choose between accepting lower prices and restricting production.

This, of course, will not prevent the Financial Times from urging greater production as the right policy for Britain and other countries.

Brazil is one of the cocoa group worried about the “overproduction,” committed to destruction of some of the surplus. In 1943 the Brazilian Government thought to solve its cocoa problem by nationalising the export of cocoa but gave up the idea in 1952.

It was Brazil that was mostly involved in the destruction of coffee before the war. As it is now reported that efforts of coffee producers to keep up prices in a falling market were failing, they may soon again be destroying coffee as well as cocoa.

Next on the list may be bananas. Fierce competition of West Indian banana producers has pronounced what is described in The Times (29th December) as "a collapse of the banana market.”

A spokesman of the Jamaica Banana Board said:
  This is the most calamitous situation the Jamaican banana industry has faced since the war and could be as bad as anything that has ever happened in all our banana history.
These are examples of over supply and calamity through depressed prices. But capitalism is nothing if not varied. The People (10th January 1965) has a lament of the opposite kind. There has recently been a shortage of bricks and some other building materials, with the consequence that building orders are subject to long delays in delivery. The result has been a big emergence of a “black market.” You can get a certain type of brick at £12 10s. a 1,000 if you can wait up to a year. But if you like to pay £20 or more you can get immediate delivery.

What we shall go on getting is the same old complaints, protests, speeches, committees of enquiry and so on. And capitalism's price system will continue to operate in the only way it can until the workers get to understand that there really is a solution, to get rid of the price system along with capitalism of which it is a part.
Edgar Hardcastle

Life without socialism (2020)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the February 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists sometimes forget what it’s like not to be a socialist. We search in vain for memories that pre-date our political consciousness because memories are always filtered and coloured by our present values and perspectives. But it is important for us to try and see the world as others do – as we once did ourselves – so that we can effectively communicate with those who oppose or misunderstand us.

In the absence of reliable personal pre-socialist memories we have to rely on our imagination. What must it be like to live in a world without meaning or purpose? This may seem an unduly harsh judgement but remember this is the imagination of one who is convinced that his or her role in the resolution of the class struggle is, at this historical stage, the only truly worthwhile activity. Everything else is a distraction. Of course socialists enjoy sports, the arts and personal relationships etc. but these are always secondary to the quest to regain our humanity or, more precisely, to reinforce and build on what remains of it. Despite the best efforts of the powerful and parasitical they can never entirely destroy our social and moral characteristics.

The most dominant form of distraction and, paradoxically, of escapism is the reality of making a living. This financial imperative can be so all consuming and overwhelming that whole lifetimes are lost making profits for the parasite class. This level of pressure, we are sometimes told, leaves no time for political activities. Even what little opportunity people have for quality time is defined by the entertainments controlled by their rulers – meaningless soap operas, unending football seasons, empty pop music, overpriced restaurant food etc., etc. Holidays are spent being catered for by other wage slaves who just long for the day to end. This simulation of pleasure is purchased by the alienated labour of others just like you. Everything you consume is only available because it makes a profit for a tiny minority whose lives are even more meaningless than yours. Consumerism demands these fantasies because it has nothing else to offer. This is how socialists see our world. Now let us try and imagine how non-socialists see things.

Finding a ‘significant other’ and securing a well-paid job seem to be the main priorities of most non-political individuals. This is the underlying motivation that projects the individual on a trajectory of conformity and slavery which they hope will eventually bring fulfilment and happiness. The dream seems elusive and always just beyond their reach but they have committed their life to it and to turn back would mean that all of their efforts and dedication have been wasted. Then, to make things worse, they meets a bloody socialist who tells them just that! But they can’t go back: the next job, the next relationship, the next therapist or political leader will give it all meaning. There then occurs a measure of cynicism that reflects the failure to achieve the goals that society imposes. They see in the playful and naïve activities of their children a painful reminder of their own hopes and dreams and become impatient to impose the restraints of a sick maturity born of slavery.

And what of the few who become ‘successful? Politicians, sportsmen, businessmen and celebrities of every kind will rationalise the years of ruthless competitive ambition or just dumb luck that has lifted them into the ranks of capitalism’s totems and their brief 15 minutes of fame. If they are lucky they will fade quietly into obscurity but many will be hunted and deconstructed by a media who’ll stop at nothing to find the scandal and corruption that inevitably attends success within a sick society and which alone can guarantee high sales for the media. The broken dreams of the majority seem to create in them an insatiable hunger to vicariously enjoy the destruction of those who appear to have realised their own ambitions.

But does seeing the world ‘as it really is’ provide a sense of achievement or even some measure of happiness for a socialist? Certainly we can take some pride in overcoming the conditioning imposed on us by the culture into which we were born but the subsequent obligation to partake in the political struggle can take its toll. The immense frustration of continually leading horses to water but not being able to convince them to drink can erode the soul of even the most firebrand of revolutionaries. We can take little comfort in our correct analysis and subsequent politically astute predictions in the face of the suffering of the world. Like Cassandra we seem cursed with an insight that so few can or want to hear. The return to a life of illusions sustained by a consensus born of ignorance is forever denied to us; we have torn apart the veil of lies and deception and can only continue the fight against the oppressors of the freedom that only the light of reason can illuminate.
Wez.

YouTube And You (2020)

The Proper Gander TV column from the February 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the five-or-so minutes it’ll take to read this article, some 2,500 hours of new videos will be uploaded to YouTube. The website hosts videos of just about anything which anyone with the facilities wants to post. This means that we have instant access not only to obscure pop videos from 40 years ago and films of cats playing pianos, but also to views and experiences outside those of the mainstream media. YouTube is one of the most useful parts of the internet. But in practice, it’s tainted by having to be a money-making machine which uses sly methods to draw in more viewers. Videos often get rudely interrupted by adverts and there’s the vaguely unsettling way the site seems to know what else we might like to watch. Our previous searches for videos are turned into algorithms which then find similar content to suggest back to us. While this can be handy, it also has its downsides, especially with political content. Being prompted to watch more and more of the same set of opinions without comparing them to others can reinforce dodgy ideologies among any naïve viewers.

This has been exploited by right wing groups and individuals, whose YouTube content seems to heavily outnumber that of the left and often has slicker production values. It’s easier to find videos mocking ‘social justice warriors’ than videos by ‘social justice warriors’ themselves. Fearing that association with far right wing views might tarnish its brand, and therefore its profitability, YouTube has adjusted its algorithms to reduce bias towards far right content, stopped some uploaders from getting money through adverts and banned others.

But as well as the political dross, YouTube has a wealth of videos exploring revolutionary and radical ideas. A good enough starting point as any is a quick and brief debunking of the most common arguments defending capitalism, found in the video Top Ten Capitalist Arguments . One of these is the claim that ‘capitalism promotes innovation’, refuted by research saying that financial incentives don’t really work and that more creativity happens when people believe their activity has intrinsic value, rather than just being a means to get money. Another argument is that ‘markets [are] a rational means of organising economic life’, disproved because about a third of food produced is wasted while people are starving, and also because some commodities have built-in obsolescence, being designed to stop working so we’ll go out and buy a replacement. The video also counters the notion that ‘capitalism is a result of human nature’ by pointing out that humans have existed for hundreds of thousands of years whereas capitalism has only been around for a few hundred. 

The ‘human nature’ issue is addressed in more detail in Wired For Culture – The Natural History of Human Co-operation, a lecture from the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). In this, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel explains how ‘human nature’ is fundamentally co-operative, rather than competitive. Both these traits developed from our distant ancestors living in and protecting their tribal communities. Although these early communities could be hostile to other groups, overall, co-operation has won out because it benefits us more than competition does.

But our drive to co-operate is frustrated by the divisions built in to capitalist society, and one way to explain this is through Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, covered by several videos on YouTube. Alienation is the way that capitalism, and especially employment, distances us from important aspects of our lives. The four types of alienation which class society leads to – alienation from the products of our labour, from our labour itself, from others and ourselves – are succinctly explained in a five minute video from Sociology Live. A more emotive short introduction is K is for Karl – Alienation, presented by journalist Paul Mason. He explains how the roots of alienation are in how capitalist institutions are privately owned, straight away estranging workers from them, further reinforced by their hierarchies.

Of course, the antidote to alienation is a society based not on the private ownership of production, but on it being owned in common and democratically managed. Such a society would not need money, and would instead be based on free access to goods and services. A world without money is explored in a video of a TED talk at the University of Edinburgh given by political writer Jade Saab. He gives an engaging summary of SPGB-style views about the benefits of a moneyless society, but then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid about governments. He doesn’t use the word ‘state’ but he seems to assume that governments can remain in a moneyless society. This might be sloppy wording on his part, as articles on his website suggest a more progressive view. For example, he says a moneyless society ‘would require a fundamental change in our economic system away from the private ownership of the means of production, towards a democratic model where citizens and workers can determine how the means of production are managed and what is done with them. Only through the democratic control of the means of production can we then democratically decide how access to goods and services produced can be managed’. He adds that a moneyless society would ‘challenge our very notion of what ‘countries’ are and how they function. I do not believe that a ‘world government’ will evolve but collaboration would naturally lead to forms of federation where resources, their extraction, transformation, and distribution is discussed through democratic systems. The UN and the EU provide interesting templates of what these collaborative ‘super-structures’ may look like’ [LINK]. Saab’s viewpoint would benefit from a bit more class consciousness and imagination to think beyond capitalist structures, but otherwise much of what he says is familiar to socialists. As YouTube shows, radical ideas are out there waiting to be found, helping to counter reactionary views from both the right and left. The Socialist Party’s own videos can be found on the YouTube channels ‘TheSPGB1904’, ‘pfbcarlisle’ and ‘Liverpool SPGB’, among others. However, searching for ‘SPGB’ occasionally also brings up videos of SpongeBob SquarePants, presumably thanks to a stray algorithm.
Mike Foster

Imperial plunder (2020)

Book Review from the February 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury, 2019

Of all the many Indian words which have entered the English language (bungalow, dungarees, khaki, pyjamas, etc.), one of the first was Hindustani slang for plunder: loot. By the late eighteenth century it was in common usage in Britain. Its introduction can be directly attributed to the East India Company (EIC), founded as a joint-stock company in London in 1600. The creation of joint-stock companies played an important part in the early stage of British capitalism. Merchants and other businesses could accept investors who had the cash but were not involved in the running of the business. Shares could be bought by anyone and their price could rise or fall depending on demand and the success of the business. The EIC started as a trading company, mainly with India, but with investors eager for dividends it took on a more aggressive role. By 1765 it had become so powerful it overthrew India’s Mughal Empire, and began the systematic looting of that country using its own private army. At 200,000, it was twice the size of the British army, and had more firepower than any state in Asia.

According to Dalrymple’s detailed study, by the late eighteenth century the EIC had become ‘the most advanced capitalist organisation in the world.’ It ruled most of India from a boardroom in the City of London, and Robert Clive was its manager in India. Dalrymple describes him as ‘a violent, utterly ruthless and intermittently mentally unstable predator’. But he was successful in enriching its investors. Clive returned to Britain with a personal fortune, then valued at £234,000, making him one of the richest men in Europe who had not inherited wealth. He transferred to the EIC £2.4 million (about £262 million today), seized from the Bengal treasury.

The EIC’s reach was global. To the east it transported opium to China, and in due course fought the Opium Wars in order to secure its profitable monopoly in narcotics. To the West it shipped Chinese tea to America where its dumping in Boston harbour triggered the American War of Independence. One of the principal fears of those who wanted independence from British rule, in the run up to the war, was that the EIC would loot the Americas in the same way as it had done India.

The East India bubble soon burst after the looting and the resulting famine in India led to massive shortfalls in revenue. Huge debts accrued and the Bank of England had to bail out the EIC with a series of loans, culminating with a request to the British government for £1.4 million in 1772 (£147 million today). As the EIC generated nearly half Britain’s trade, it was judged to be too big to fail. As Dalrymple puts it, ‘the world’s first aggressive multinational corporation was saved by one of history’s first mega-bailouts’. As a result of this bailout a process of state interference began in the running of the EIC, ending with its nationalisation in 1858. Having served its purpose in establishing a large part of Britain’s empire, the EIC was dissolved in 1874 and its remaining functions transferred to the British state. As Edmund Burke wrote: ‘The Constitution of the Company began in commerce and ended in Empire’.
Lew Higgins

Not for the squeamish (2020)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to a report in City AM (19 December), the Bank of England is planning to stress-test banks in 2021 to judge to what extent they can withstand a climate-related crisis. Apparently this is to see if they are over-reliant on investments in businesses that contribute to global warming, in particular fossil fuels, which could lose value or even collapse if a climate crisis forced the government to suddenly curb their activities.

This could just be the personal whim of the outgoing governor, Mark Carney, who is leaving next month to become UN Special Adviser on Climate Change and Finance. But it does tell us something about capitalism: action on a threat to business-as-usual such as climate change is only going to be taken if there is some threat to profit-making, whether short or long term. Capitalism runs on profits and decisions as to what is produced, and how much, how and where, are taken by capitalist enterprises according to what they calculate is profitable for them in the relatively short-term. Looking after the longer-term prospects for profit-making is left to the state.

Global warming, if it gets out of hand, will represent a threat to profits, not so much in terms of reduced profit-making opportunities as in terms of the taxes the state will have to levy, ultimately on profits, to pay, for instance, for building seawalls and other defences against a rise in sea level or to move people from flooded areas.

Mitigating global warming will provide some new profit-making opportunities, as from investing in the technologies of alternative ways to generate energy; of extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and of alternative uses for fossil fuels. This is the logic behind those who argue that the way to deal with the threat of global warming is ‘more capitalism’, i.e., leave things up to private capital in search of profits.

But, even from capitalism’s point of view, this won’t do. As long as generating energy by burning fossil fuels is profitable it will attract capital investment, and it will be profitable as long as the alternative methods of generating energy – nuclear and renewable – are more expensive, and so burned they will be, fuelling global warming.

This was neatly illustrated by an article in the Times the day of the Bank’s announcement. Entitled ‘If you’re not squeamish, Big Oil pays’, it explained:
 ‘On environmental grounds, some readers may be uncomfortable buying Shell shares, as this columnist is. But they are pretty compellingly valued, trading at just over 11 times forecast earnings for a divided yield of 6.5 per cent. In every other way they are an obvious buy’ (18 December).
Small investors being squeamish won’t alter this. Only the state, acting in the longer-term overall capitalist interest, can do anything about it, as by subsidising alternative methods until they become the more profitable. Only then can the naked capitalist pursuit of profits take over. It’s not the rational way to deal with the problem but it’s the most that will be attempted under capitalism.

The Pensions Struggle: The Financial Iceberg (2020)

From the February 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pensions have loomed large into the political landscape again. As an issue for our masters, they are like submerged icebergs that from time to time bob to the surface to impede ongoing profitability: agreements that stretch far into the future, which hamper the capitalists’ ability to invest today.

In December, France was gripped by days of a General Strike, which featured riots in the streets, and ongoing clashes between police and protestors. These clashes had all the appearances of being a continuation of the running battles between police and Gilets Jaunes that have been happening in France all year.

(As an aside, this situation is an instructive illustration of how propaganda in the media works. Clashes between police and protestors in Hong Kong made the top of the UK news schedule, but similar clashes in France, Haiti, Iraq and other countries around the world only made footnotes in an online resource to show that coverage is comprehensive.)

President Macron has sought to create a unified pension system, with an effective higher retirement age, to try to curb the cost of the French pension system, with workers getting points based on days worked (which will be to the advantage of those workers with broken career patterns, such as women who take maternity leave).This would replace a maze of different retirement ages and calculation methods. At the same time, some people will have their expectations lowered, and find themselves working longer for less.

Reform of pensions is the iceberg the Juppé government foundered upon, faced down with mass action by the trade unions in the 1990s. Small changes in pensions mean vast effects on the life expectations of millions of workers, and whilst they are for many far in the future, the understanding that one day we will all be too old and tired to be able to work looms large for each of us. Further, that sliver of comfort and leisure is a quid pro quo incentive to keep on working until we can get out of the exploitation system.

Likewise, in this country, and also little reported, tens of thousands of university workers have been striking. This despite the tightening of laws over calling strike action, which require a double majority both of turnout and of those eligible to vote in the strike ballot as well. As we reported earlier this year, this strike action has previously brought employers back to the negotiating table, and saw off their initial schemes which would have greatly reduced the benefits accruing to members of the USS pension scheme.

It was understood at the time that this was only round one, and it was likely that a subsequent round of action would be required to bring matters to a conclusion, thus the UCU (University and College Union) has successfully won a second strike and action short of a strike ballot, with pay and equalities now included as a part of the dispute. At the time of writing, employers are refusing to discuss pay levels.

They maintain that USS is an excellent pension scheme, and note that employers have seen their contributions rise dramatically (50 percent increase in employer contributions over 10 years).They argue that to guarantee the pension is funded in line with state regulations, employees should contribute more than the current 8 percent (the fact that that 8 percent comes from employees in any case is neither here nor there, and cost of living will continue to dictate employers will have to pay in net terms in order to attract and retain staff).

It is clear that the little they are offering at all is only in response to the solid strike action by university workers, and even if the union eventually accepts some increase in employee contributions, it will represent a huge improvement over the original offer.

Similar arguments can be heard over the WASPI women (Women Against State Pension Inequality). The Tory government brought in legislation to raise the retirement age for women in the UK to 65 in 1995, the WASPI campaign notes that many women born in the 1950s weren’t even notified formally until 14 years later. This has led to great difficulties in retirement planning for millions of women. As the WASPI campaign notes, a 1 year difference in birthdate can now mean a 3 year difference in retirement date. In 2011 the Coalition Government sought to raise the retirement age for the same cohort again.

In an election bombshell, Labour promised £58 billion of extra money (above their published plans) to compensate the WASPI women effected. Television pundits wittered on about why should Theresa May (who would qualify) get the money, but the principle, Labour argued, was that what was agreed all those years ago when those women entered the workforce should stand.

Other pundits noted that the interaction between the policy, which would see the women given compensation, and the benefits system would see women in the lowest income groups getting no benefit from the scheme.

The theme running through all this is one of ‘affordability’, but that is not affordability relative to the productive capacity of society, but relative to profitability. Pensions are a part of wages, they are not paid out because of the goodness of employer’s hearts, but instead because of a recognition that workers who are too old to work would be more of a hindrance than a use in the workplace, and, ultimately, they would end up having to pay the cost of looking after such workers one way or another (either in higher wages to working family members with dependents, or through charity).

Legally, pensions are commitments with individuals, and past agreements cannot be unilaterally altered. They form a part of wages which employers agree to pay when they take on staff – like the cartoon character, they will gladly pay us Tuesday for a hamburger today. All of their efforts to structure pension payments this way and that is about trying to minimise the individual and collective cost to employers.

The pensions issue is not about us living longer, but is the class struggle red in tooth and claw.
Pik Smeet

The peace-mongers (1965)

From the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

War is a wearisome subject; most people seem to try to shut it out of their minds. They feel a sense of helplessness in the face of such a vast problem. With all the major powers of the world on a permanent war footing, most people fall back to the attitude—"What can we do about it?”

The vast military machines, the massive nuclear and "conventional” bases, the fleets with their unimaginable powers of destruction, all completely dwarf the individual; he feels at the mercy of powers beyond his control. Although every now and again a trigger-spot flares up in some part of the world and armed forces are more or less constantly in action, few people seem to ask why. Most of them simply accept the fictions dished out by the propaganda machine of whatever country claims their misguided loyalty.

The possibility of a major war is too frightening for them to face, so they think ‘‘let’s forget it till it happens,” while they hope that the smaller, local wars don’t get out of hand. The fact that capitalism has created this monstrous threat has not registered on any scale. The working-class think they are unable to move, because they are not aware of any alternative.

The so-called peace movements have all failed to understand the nature of the forces against which they pit themselves. They are stuck in the rut of nationalism, just as are those to whom they appeal. None of them can see any further than capitalism, even though some of them sometimes use phrases that might give a different impression. In this country, for example, the Ex-service Movement for Peace brags of its patriotism and its members attend meetings displaying their medal-ribbons.

It is this “British and proud of it” attitude that plays straight into the hands of the capitalist class, who like to hear nothing better than their property-less wage-slaves declaring loyalty to their masters’ country. While nationalist feelings prevail, it will be relatively easy for the propaganda machine to persuade workers that “if the country is good enough to live in, it is good enough to fight for.” Nationalism is a big help to the ruling class in getting support for armaments and ultimately for war.

In this all-important respect, the peace mongers are their own damnation. As long as workers think in terms of “the country,” it is logical for them to be prepared to defend it. Thus all the horror weapons become “necessary” in the name of “defence,” because if “they have got them we have to have them.” It is in this atmosphere that CND talk about Britain setting an example by abandoning her nuclear weapons. In the jungle world of capitalism the British—or any other—ruling class are not so naive as to fall for that one.

No ruling class is willingly going to “set any example” which would mean saying—“these are our oil-fields, markets and vested interests, but you, our rivals, can move in at will because we have no military might to support our claims.” It only has to be put like that to show how futile the peace movements are.

The present owners of the oil-fields, the land, investments etc., only came by them through robbery, plunder and force of arms. They realise that what they took by force can only be held by force; no national capitalist class is going to contract out of the rat-race in order to make way for their rivals. And if one ruling group did contract out, their loot would soon be snatched by whoever got in first and was militarily strong enough to hold it. Nothing basic would be changed. There would be one rival less and those remaining would be a little fatter.

To those people who innocently go around seeking to “ban the bomb” or to remove some other immediate outrage, it seems quite irrelevant to talk about private property in the means of production. They see the end product of it all, the Bomb, but the social relationships and the historically developed conditions from which the Bomb arose entirely escape their attention. Yet it is futile to attempt to deal with the end product while ignoring the process of its production.

The apathy and despair of millions of workers follows on the blind and emotional activities of organisations like CND, which have masses of terrifying data on the Bomb, but know of no way of dealing with it.

In any case, there are still plenty of people being killed by those old fashioned, “conventional,” weapons the rifle, the hand-grenade, or the bayonet. They are just as dead as if they were killed by any other means, and as far as they were concerned there was nothing at stake to justify their deaths.

The capitalist classes of the major power blocs maintain their military machines for the purpose of protecting or expanding their spheres of profitable influence, nationally and internationally. This minority of people own the factories, the land and all those assets which go to make up the country. At the same time that the majority of people—the working-class—own nothing to fight about. Workers in all parts of the world have a common interest to get rid of the social system which condemns them to exploitation. They cannot do this in ignorance; they must realise what capitalism means and how to change it.

Chasing after bombs or some other pressing effect of capitalism, only helps to retain the system that has produced these things. When a political challenge is made by INDEC, the overwhelming majority of their own supporters still vote for Capitalism under the Labourites or the Tories. Despite the mass following of CND, their political effort can only be described as feeble. These are the people who were going places, who could not wait for the day when there would be a majority of Socialists. It was the old familiar cry of “something now,” which results in nothing never. Disillusionment and disintegration is all that awaits such movements.
Harry Baldwin

Letter from Italy (1965)

From the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The political situation and economic conditions in Italy were not entirely new to me when I arrived in 1963. My first move was to contact the local branches of the various parties in Trieste. I had “unofficial” discussions with the Communist Party of Italy and the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (more of these later), and can say right that they are Socialist in name only.

My contact with workers here is limited, political meetings are of the mass type and individual argument is difficult. The only activity of value was among my fellow students in the University and I was fortunate in meeting one young fellow who became particularly interested in the Socialist case. We used to discuss heatedly in between lectures and in our free time, and he certainly kept me busy answering his objections one after the other. After a winter of argument, he was becoming very sympathetic, but my hopes of his help in forming a Socialist group in Trieste were not fulfilled, as I left there that summer and he was due to graduate anyway,

Travelling about Italy for a while gave me a good chance to get to know something of the Italian working class and its political movements, but before going further, it would be best to name the main parties: so here they are.

Christian Democratic Party: The party in power at the time of writing. Conservative, hand in glove with the Church. Gets about 32 percent of the votes.

Communist Party of Italy: The major opposition party. About one third of supporters are religious (this was admitted to me by the Trieste Secretary). After the war joined by many ex-Fascists, some of whom have become M.P.’s. Despite its professed hatred of Fascism, the party has much in common with Fascist ideas and methods, e.g. violence and dictatorship. Most of its supporters know little or nothing about Communism, or Socialism, and many of them vote C.P. more as a protest against present government policies than for any positive reason. Gets about 24 per cent of the votes.

Italian Socialist Democratic Party: A reformist party. Exalts the Scandinavian brand of “Socialism.” Recently joined the Christian Democrats in a coalition, fearing a Communist majority. Gets about eight per cent of the votes.

Italian Socialist Party: Breakaway from the Communist Party in the fifties. Policy is like the weather—very changeable, sometimes supporting the communists and sometimes the Christian Democrats. Gets about six per cent of the votes.

Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity: Breakaway from the Socialist Democratic Party when the latter joined the government. Gets about 1.5 per cent of the votes.

Italian Liberal Party: Has similar policies to the Liberals in Britain, but also spends much of its time attacking the Communist Party and castigating the government for not dealing more severely with them. Gets about 10 per cent of the votes.

Italian Republican Party: Minor organisation, advocating a republic. Favours economic development, high protective tariffs, extensions of state power etc. Gets about 1.5 per cent of the votes.

Italian Social Movement: Composed of riff-raff and remnants of the old Fascist Party. Puts forward the sort of policy you hear from the Fascists in Britain and gets an alarmingly high proportion of the votes cast —about twelve per cent.

Italy is a political chaos. I am aware of about fifteen political parties, eight of which are represented in Parliament, and no less than seven claim to be Socialist. One of these, the Socialist Democratic Party (not to be confused with No. 3 above) is a splinter from the Italian Communist party and operates in the Trieste area, supporting the actions of the Yugoslav government. Needless to say, Socialism is the last thing any of them could be accused of supporting. They are a bunch of power-thirsty careerists, struggling to get control of Montecitorio (equivalent of Westminster) to run Italian capitalism.

Like its counterparts elsewhere, Italian capitalism has been going through an economic crisis in the past year or so. The government has been forced to nationalise the privately owned section of the electricity supply and this has been followed by an increase in the price of electricity. But this has not been the only price rise. The cost of living increases substantially each year and strikes for higher wages are very frequent At the time of writing, it is somewhat quieter but at one stage there were three or four strikes a day. And strikes in Italy are no genteel affairs.

The Italian working class are forced to struggle, but there is no evidence of any growth of socialist ideas amongst them. Anyway, more or less militancy is not a measure of Socialist knowledge and while wishing workers all power to their elbow in these fights, we should not let ourselves be dazzled by it, as Trotskyists and other political idiots are. We should not forget that even the most daring strikes are only really a struggle against the downward pressures exerted by capitalism. I was forcefully reminded of this point when reading Carlo Sforza in his L’Italia dal 1914-1944. He says that there were 1881 strikes registered in 1920 and 1045 in 1921. So after more than forty years it is the same old story; the struggle goes on. If nothing else, this is a telling point in favour of Socialism.
Remy Starc

50 Years Ago: To The Princes of The Church. (1965)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
You prate of love and murmur of goodwill,
Turn sanctimonious eyes toward your God,
Write on your walls the text "Thou shalt not kill,"
Point out the path your "Prince of Peace" once trod,
While all the time, with murder in your hearts,
You lie, cajole, and bully that the fools
Who heed your words may play their foolish parts
As slaves of Mammon, as the War-Lord's tools.
On many a field, in many a river bed,
Of Flanders and of Poland and of France,
Your bloody-minded words bear fruit indeed.
Preachers of Death! the thought of maimed and dead
Will nerve us when our hosts of Life advance
To crush for ever your accursed breed.
F. J. Webb

(From the Socialist Standard, February 1915.)

About Socialism (1988)

From the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?
It is a political party, separate from all others, Left, Right or Centre. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a world social system based upon human need instead of private or state profit. The Object and Declaration of Principles printed in this introductory leaflet were adopted by the Socialist Party in 1904 and have been maintained without compromise since then. In other countries there are companion parties sharing the same object and principles, and they too remain independent from all other political parties.

2. What is capitalism?
Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, etc.) are monopolised by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, but, as a class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?
No: as long as capitalism exists, profits will come before needs. Some reforms are welcomed by some workers, but no reform can abolish the fundamental contradiction between profit and need which is built into the present system. No matter whether promises to make capitalism run in the interests of the workers are made sincerely or by opportunist politicians they are bound to fail, for such a promise is like offering to run the slaughter house in the interests of the cattle.

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?
No: nationalised industries simply mean that workers are exploited by the state, acting on behalf of the capitalists of one country, rather than by an individual capitalist or company. The workers in nationalised British Leyland are no less the servants of profit than workers in privately-owned Ford. The mines no more belong to "the public" or the miners now than they did before 1947 when they were nationalised. Nationalisation is state capitalism.

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?
No: the so-called socialist countries are systems of state capitalism. In Russia and its empire, in China, Cuba, Albania, Yugoslavia and the other countries which call themselves socialist, social power is monopolised by privileged Party bureaucrats. The features of capitalism, as outlined above, are all present. An examination of international commerce shows that the bogus socialist states are part of the world capitalist market and cannot detach themselves from the requirements of profit.

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?
Socialism does not yet exist. When it is established it must be on a worldwide basis, as an alternative to the outdated system of world capitalism. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth by its inhabitants. No minority class will be in a position to dictate to the majority that production must be geared to profit. There will be no owners: everything will belong to everyone. Production will be solely for use, not for sale. The only questions society will need to ask about wealth production will be: what do people require, and can the needs be met? These questions will be answered on the basis of the resources available to meet such needs. Then, unlike now, modern technology and communications will be able to be used to their fullest extent. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their self- defined needs. Work will be on the basis of voluntary co-operation: the coercion of wage and salary work will be abolished. There will be no buying or selling and money will not be necessary, in a society of common ownership and free access. For the first time ever the people of the world will have common possession of the planet earth.

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?
Capitalism, with its constant drive to serve profit before need, throws up an endless stream of problems. Most workers in Britain feel insecure about their future; almost one in four families with children living below the official government poverty line; many old people live in dangerously cold conditions each winter and thousands die; millions of our fellow men and women are dying of starvation — tens of thousands of them each day. A society based on production for use will end those problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. At the moment food is destroyed and farmers are subsidised not to produce more: yet many millions are malnourished. At the moment hospital queues are growing longer and people are dying of curable illnesses; yet it is not "economically viable" to provide decent health treatment for all. In a socialist society nothing short of the best will be good enough for any human being.

8. What about human nature?
Human behaviour is not fixed, but determined by the kind of society people are conditioned to live in. The capitalist jungle produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to adapt our behaviour and there is no reason why our rational desire for comfort and human welfare should not allow us to co-operate. Even under capitalism people often obtain pleasure from doing a good turn for others; few people enjoy participating in the "civilised" warfare of the daily rat-race. Think how much better it would be if society was based on co-operation.

9. Are socialists democrats?
Yes: the Socialist Party has no leaders. It is a democratic organisation controlled by its members. It understands that Socialism can only be established by a conscious majority of workers — that workers must liberate themselves and will not be liberated by leaders or parties. Socialism will not be brought about by a dedicated minority "smashing the state", as some left-wingers would have it. Nor do the activities of paid, professional politicians have anything to do with Socialism — the experience of seven Labour governments has shown this. Once a majority of the working class understand and want Socialism, they will take the necessary step to organise consciously for the democratic conquest of political power. There will be no Socialism without a socialist majority.

10. What is the next step?
Many workers know that there is something wrong and want to change society. Some join reform groups in the hope that capitalism can be patched up, but such efforts are futile because you cannot run a system of class exploitation in the interests of the exploited majority. People who fear a nuclear war may join CND. but as long as nation states exist, economic rivalry means that the world will never be safe from the threat of war. There are countless dedicated campaigns and good causes which many sincere people are caught up in, but there is only one solution to the problems of capitalism and that is to get rid of it, and establish Socialism. Before we can do that we need socialists; winning workers to that cause requires knowledge, principles and an enthusiasm for change. These qualities can be developed by anyone — and are essential for anyone who is serious about changing society. Capitalism in the 1980s is still a system of waste, deprivation and frightening insecurity. You owe it to yourself to find out about the one movement which stands for the alternative.


If you have read this set of principles and agree with some or all of them, contact the Socialist Party with your questions and ideas about what you can do to help speed the progress towards Socialism.

Breaking up black families (1988)

From the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tories like to pride themselves on being "the party of the family" and yet there is a government Bill currently going through Parliament that is designed to keep families apart. The families in question are, however, black, and this government — like others before it — does not have quite the same enthusiasm for black families as it does for white, especially when family unity is to be achieved by more black people coming to live in Britain.

The legislation in question is the latest Immigration Bill — a nasty racist act which the Home Secretary describes as making "sensible and limited changes" to the 1971 Immigration Act. and which Timothy Renton. Home Office Minister of State, tried to downplay by calling it a "modest Bill" which would deal with "anomalies" and "loopholes" in immigration law.

In fact, this so-called modest, loophole-plugging Bill will remove the legal right of British men marrying foreign wives to bring their wives and children to live in this country. This overturns a guarantee made in the 1971 Immigration Act that all male Commonwealth citizens settled in Britain before 1973 could bring their wives and children under sixteen to live with them here. In future any man applying for his wife and children to join him in Britain will have to pass two tests. First he will have to show that he can support and house his family without claiming benefits. Secondly, he will have to prove that the "primary purpose" of his marriage was not to secure right of entry or abode to Britain for his wife. In addition, rights of appeal against deportation will be curtailed. At present anyone who stays in Britain longer than the time permitted on their visa and who is threatened with deportation, can appeal against the decision on compassionate grounds — for example, that their family is here. A clause in the new Bill removes this right of appeal in cases where it is less than seven years since the person last entered Britain. In other words someone could lose their right of appeal if they have left Britain to go to France for the weekend at any time in the previous seven years.

Similarly, another clause will make it a criminal offence to stay in Britain beyond the time stipulated on a visa and again, there will be no rights of appeal against a deportation order on compassionate grounds.

Ironically this Bill is. in part, a consequence of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the 1971 Immigration Act was discriminatory towards women since British and Commonwealth men could bring their wives and children to Britain but women could not bring their husbands. Instead of increasing rights by making them equally available to women, the government is now complying with that ruling by withdrawing rights from men. The law is no longer to be sexist but will it be racist?

In theory the new immigration law will apply equally to all British men, black or white, who marry foreign women. In practice, however, a white man who wishes to marry a white woman from abroad is unlikely to encounter obstacles — provided he is not unemployed or homeless. This is, after all, an immigration Bill and as the gutter press knows only too well, immigrant means, in effect, black immigrant; it does not refer to those Americans, Canadians, Australians or Western Europeans who settle here.

For some families the effects of this "modest" Bill will be devastating. Where women are refused permission to join their husbands in Britain the family is likely to remain separated. Even where an application is successful it will mean even more people having to go through the months — and often years — of tortuous and degrading bureaucracy and investigation by immigration officials. The new legislation will give these officials even more rights to question couples about their marital and family life in order to try to trip them up about the "primary purpose" of their marriage.

The Bill also contains a catch-22 clause. In order to satisfy the requirements of the legislation, a man wanting to bring his wife and children to Britain must show not only that he can support them financially, but also that he can provide adequate accommodation for them. A man seeking council accommodation to house his family will be confronted by the problem that no local authority will give him a house large enough to accommodate his family until they have arrived in this country. But their application to come will not be granted until he can satisfy immigration officials that he has a home for them.

Making overstaying a visa a criminal offence is also likely to have profound effects not only on those directly affected but also on most blacks. It is quite possible that blacks will be even more subject to police harassment as the police will be able to argue that they were justified in stopping and searching a black person since they suspected that he or she might be in breach of the immigration laws. In other words all blacks are likely to be treated as "suspect persons".

Who is it that the government is so anxious to exclude from Britain? The main group of dependants still applying to come to Britain to join their husbands is from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi men were the last group of people to come to Britain in any number without already having family here. These men are now seeking to bring their families to join them. However, the numbers are not large: in 1986 the total number of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent was just 3,000. But then, despite the rhetoric, it is not the numbers that the government is worried about — no restrictions are placed on the three to nine million, mostly white. Commonwealth citizens who retain an absolute right to settle here because they have at least one British-born parent. In the long term the government is anxious to prevent young men of Asian origin, born or brought up in Britain, from bringing wives into the country from the Asian sub-continent, as they currently have a right to.

Taken together with other changes to the immigration rules and the tougher stance taken in the treatment of refugees seeking asylum in Britain, this latest piece of immigration legislation is just one more measure that, despite the sentimental attitude towards the family in government rhetoric, will separate families, cause hardship and suffering, and will further help to fuel and legitimate popular racism, which, like national boundaries. passports, visas and immigration officials, serves only to divide the world s workers.
Janie Percy-Smith

Debate: Is there common ground between socialists and anarchists? (1988)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The article "Socialism versus anarchism" which we published in the Socialist Standard of October 1987 provoked an interesting response. The theme was, briefly, that the article did not deal thoroughly enough with its subject and that there is much common ground between anarchists and socialists on which both viewpoints can be profitably debated. We publish two letters, with our comments.  First, John Crump argues that to attack anarchism is to give credence to a mirage; the only thing all "anarchists" have in common is their opposition to the state.
Dear Editors,

In the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard, there appeared an article by LEW on "Socialism versus anarchism”. Might I make one or two comments?

First, on a purely factual level, can LEW kindly provide evidence for his statement that Kropotkin "supported the Bolshevik revolution until his death in 1921"?

Second, I would suggest that in attacking anarchism. LEW is giving credence to a mirage. Those who are popularly regarded as "anarchists" have only one characteristic in common opposition to the state. Mere opposition to the state does not constitute an "-ism", however, particularly when supposed "anarchists" can range from supporters of capitalist laissez-faire to advocates of a communist social organisation. This point can best be illustrated by considering "statism", as the opposite of "anarchism". Would it make sense to label indiscriminately all who see a role for the state as "statists"? Since such a category would range from defenders of capitalism, such as Margaret Thatcher, to advocates of communism, such as the SPGB. it would clearly have no more value than LEW’S catch-all rubric of "anarchism".

Third. LEW devoted the overwhelming majority of his article to Stirner. Proudhon and Bakunin. Yet the most important characteristic these three shared was not their "anarchism", but the fact that their ideas were compatible with capital accumulation and the wages system. Of course, it is a question of "socialism versus anarchism" when "anarchism" is represented by such a selection of pro-capitalist ideologues, but LEW then extends the argument (quite unjustifiably. in my view) as follows:
  Even with "anarcho-communists" like Kropotkin, the apparent similarities between his view of anarchist society and socialism should not blind us to the differences of approach.
What is "apparent" about these similarities? Kropotkin, like the SPGB, stood for a new society without money, wages, classes, or the state. Not only do such similarities seem a good deal more real than apparent, but in an article which makes frequent reference to Marx, would it not be appropriate to mention that on some questions which the SPGB regards as crucial, Kropotkin had a clearer understanding than Marx? For example, did not Kropotkin's criticism of Marx's ideas on labour vouchers in the “first phase of communist society" (see The Conquest of Bread, chapter 13) precede the SPGB's similar rejection of this method of distribution by several decades?

Finally, LEW argued that:
  . . . unless anarchists recognise the necessity for democratic revolutionary political action based on socialist understanding, they will never achieve a stateless society.
As far as achieving a stateless society is concerned, all we have to go on is the empirical evidence. The SPGB's parliamentary approach has brought it scant success after more than 80 years, and the anarcho-communists have equally little to show for their efforts after more than 100 years. My own view is that the question of how we achieve the new society will be settled by the millions of men and women who will be the architects of the new world. It is just as pointless to attempt to lay down a blueprint now for the means of achieving the new society as it is to formulate a blueprint for the precise workings of that society. Our task here and now is to play our part in winning people over from a capitalist way of looking at the world to a communist way. The SPGB has a role to play here — and so have the anarcho-communists. I know this from personal experience, since both these currents influenced me on my way to becoming a communist.
Yours for communism.
John Crump 
University of York
 Second, PC objects that our article failed to deal with the range of anarchist thought and that there is such similarity between the viewpoints of socialists and anarchists that we should be debating with each other rather than standing in opposition.
Dear Editors,

Your article in October's Standard entitled "Socialism versus anarchism" does little to dispel the misunderstandings that seem regularly to accompany a discussion on the subject of anarchist ideology. The writer of the article made little effort to deal with the vast range of anarchist thought on his chosen subjects, nor did he make reference to any developments in ideas that have taken place since 1876. when the last of his "victims" died; nor is he apologetic — indeed, his denial that his discussion is "not over dead men's bones" leads one eventually to conclude that it is precisely so, for the sake of his argument.

The three anarchists he deals with — Stirner. Proudhon and Bakunin — are all open to criticism and the author points this out with example and justification. However, while these three have had an undeniable influence on anarchist theory over the years, they certainly cannot be said to be necessarily representative of anarchists today.

Anarchists, like socialists, are imaginative people, and it requires little speculation that their beliefs and theories are as numerous as they. Books on anarchism by Miller, Guerin, Woodcock and Joll concede that their subject defies definition. As Miller says:
  Of all the major ideologies confronting the student of politics, anarchism must be the hardest to pin down. It resists straightforward definition. It is amorphous and full of paradoxes and contradictions.
Yet there is one main thread that runs through all anarchist thought — the love and pursuit of freedom. From it springs all the ideas that are most readily associated with anarchy: the abolition of authority and property; along with an unjustifiable reputation for violence born of the means by which a well-publicised minority have pursued their cause.

This century, however, has seen a number of anarchists developing theories as to the means of attaining freedom that have not been mentioned by your author.

For example, in contrast to Stirner's egoism, a line of anarchist thought stretching beyond Stirner's time has considered indispensable the need for social organisation and solidarity among all people. The train of debate includes Voline, who wrote: "Of course, say the anarchists, society must be organised. However, the new organisation . . . must be established freely, socially and, most of all, from below". And Malatesta, who said:
  Social solidarity is a fact . . . it can be freely and consciously accepted and in consequence benefit all concerned, or it can be accepted willy-nilly, consciously or otherwise, in which case it manifests itself by the subjection of one to another, by the exploitation of some by others.
The author's remarks on Proudhon's weak reformism of property is justifiable. But are Proudhon's ideas on the subject representative of anarchist thought? Again the number of anarchists who utterly oppose all property and its attendant wage-labour is far more significant. The anarchist school that springs from Kropotkin's "libertarianism", which includes Malatesta and Elisee Reclus, have long been arguing the horrors of capitalism. Kropotkin himself said: "When we observe the basic features of human societies . . . we find that the political regime to which they are subject is always the expression of the economic regime which stands at the heart of society". Malatesta's conclusion from this observation is that:
  The basic function of government everywhere in all times, whatever title it adopts and whatever its origin and organisation may be, is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the exploiters: and its principal, characteristic and indispensable, instruments are the police agent and the tax-collector, the soldier and the gaoler — to whom must be invariably added the trader in lies, be he priest or schoolmaster, remunerated or protected by the government to enslave minds and make them docilely accept the yoke.
This cannot be said to be a "dislike of certain aspects of capitalism" which “lacks rigour" as your author suggests. Besides, as Miller points out: "Much anarcho-communist writing (such as the above) starts with an attack on capitalist society not readily distinguishable from that found in Marxist literature. A vivid assault is launched upon the exploitative relationship between capitalist and worker, resulting in poverty, drudgery and the constant threat of unemployment for the latter, and idle luxury for the former".

The debate on revolutionary action — democratic or otherwise — which is the instrument by which the author dismisses Bakunin, is still to run its course for anarchists and socialists alike. But rather than tie up the argument neatly and somewhat divisively as your author does, so perpetuating unnecessarily an enmity embodied in his title "Socialism versus anarchism" would it not be more rewarding to acknowledge the rich debate that both ideologies are able to present? For. in spite of your author's sentiments. anarchists and socialists are not as divided as he would make out, and certainly not so irreconcilable that debate and the exchange of ideas is impossible. Have both sides made their final statements on all matters? The frustrations of inflexible dogma were expressed vividly by Bakunin when he said of Marx:
  As soon as an official truth is pronounced — having been scientifically discovered by this great brainy head labouring all alone — a truth proclaimed and imposed on the whole world from the summit of the Marxist Sinai, why discuss anything?
Is it not more constructive to build on those ideas that both ideologies have in common? Malatesta was convinced that "anarchy. as understood by the anarchists and as only they can interpret it, is based on socialism", while Adolph Fischer claimed that "every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is [not] necessarily an anarchist".

So long as both sides are dismissive of the other, misunderstanding and mistrust can be the only outcome. It is not enough to have parallel sentiments: they never seem to meet. Surely there is still both the time and the need for informative and educative debate, not just between these two groups, but with all people of all political and social persuasions?
PC


Our comments are as follows:
The debate between socialists and anarchists has tended to be a rather sterile one. based far too often on a re-enactment of conflicts originating in the First International. The anarchists have quite mistakenly abused socialists-Marxists as being statists. This is nonsense. Marx was the first and most coherent political thinker to elaborate a theory which advocated a stateless society.

The Socialist Party stands in this tradition of seeking the abolition of all states, including government, the armed forces, national frontiers, prisons and all the other obscene features of an authoritarian, property-based society. We have never ceased to explain that those leftists who pose as socialists and then seek to establish state capitalism are enemies of all that socialists stand for. Anarchism is also a term which has historically been used in many ways. It has described the foolish antics of bomb-throwing and riot-supporting advocates of mindless rebellion against the state and so too has it described those individualists who have sought to take on the power of society by abstractly wishing themselves away from society.

In fact, these two types of anarchist outlook are far more representative of those who have called themselves anarchists than our correspondents might concede. Even today most of those who might describe themselves as anarchists have little more than a vague notion of fighting the establishment (whatever that may be) and smashing the state (however that might be done) and creating a free society (whatever freedom might mean). The same is true about many who call themselves socialists: there is no copyright on the term and it is used by all sorts of people in all sorts of confused ways. The difference between The Socialist Party and our correspondents is that we contend that socialism can only logically and scientifically mean one thing, whereas their concept of anarchism is so vague as to be meaningless.

For example. PC tells us that anarchism is a term which "defies definition". Terms like "ghost" and "heaven" and “soul" tend to be of the same nature and therefore it is hardly surprising that they are not treated with great seriousness by scientific thinkers. John Crump states that what is popularly called anarchism is a "mirage" and that the only characteristic uniting anarchists is "opposition to the state". Even that vague definition is misleading: some Russian anarchists gave full support to the Bolshevik seizure of state power in 1917 and played an active part in smashing the democratic Constituent Assembly in 1918 when the Bolsheviks lost the election. In Spain in the 1930s anarchists actually took part in the running of government. Let those who seek to defend anarchism tell us precisely what it is that they are defending and let them also tell us which "anarchists" have no right to call themselves anarchists. That is what The Socialist Party is required to do in relation to the term "socialism" and anarchists will be treated with little credibility unless they treat ideas with the same rigour and honesty.

Many anarchists have argued, and still do argue, in favour of a classless, propertyless, moneyless world society. Kropotkin is an example of a thinker in the anarchist tradition who held many ideas which socialists could agree with. His pamphlet, The Wages System, provided an acceptable refutation of the ideas being put by those who attempted to turn into a sacred dogma Marx's mistaken ideas about the existence of exchange by labour vouchers in a socialist society. Kropotkin's Mutual Aid is a fine work in the battle against those who insist that "human nature" is a barrier to socialism. But let us have no illusions about Kropotkin. He supported the slaughter of workers when war broke out in 1914; in 1917 he supported the revolution in Russia and, whilst not a supporter of Bolshevism until he died, was still able to commend the Bolsheviks for introducing greater equality in Russia — in his letter to Lenin as late as 1920. In the light of this, how much credence should we attach to PC's quotation of the assertion that "every anarchist is a socialist"?

John Crump is closer to the truth when he says that "opposition to the state" is what defines an anarchist. This included the so-called anarcho-capitalists of the Libertarian Alliance which is currently enjoying some popularity as a novelty act on the youth wing of the Conservative Party. The anarcho-capitalists argue that the state should be abolished so that capitalism can be run without any political interference: let market forces struggle in unrestrained freedom. What comes out of this extreme example is that it is not enough to simply oppose the state. To attack the state, and to demand that authority ceases to be used in society, without attacking the basis of the state or its authority is an example of the philosophical idealism which differentiates anarchists from historical materialists —from socialists. The idealist asserts that "authority is bad" and "co-operation would be a good idea". The materialist is not opposed to authority but to the state machine which is a coercive instrument of the authority of class over class. Materialists do not advocate co-operation as "a fine idea", but as the historically necessary next stage beyond class antagonism. Materialists do not oppose all authority but call for democratic control, the only form of authority which can be acceptable to the majority. So, even though some anarchists agree with socialists that we need to live in a stateless society, our reasoning is crucially different.

The anarchist seeks to abolish state power from which comes all social inequality, whereas the socialist seeks to abolish the existing material conditions (capitalism) which makes state power necessary. PC's comment that a "main thread that runs through all anarchist thought" is "the abolition of authority” exemplifies this simplistic idealism. In a book review written by Marx and Engels in 1850 they dismiss the idealistic notion of abolishing state power without dealing with the material basis of such power:
  For Communists, abolition of the state makes sense only as the necessary result of the abolition of classes, with whose disappearance the need for the organised power of one class for the purpose of holding down the other classes, will automatically disappear. (Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 1850)
Without democratic authority (socialists prefer to speak of "democratic control") no social organisation would exist. Now some anarchists — the individualists like Stimer who deride social organisation — can quite consistently support this opposition to the principle of authority. Why should these individualists care whether society organises itself or not? But anarchists who claim to favour the co-operative organisation of the world community are indulging in mere sloganising when they call for "the abolition of authority".

Anarchists have traditionally opposed the need for political action in order to transform society. Socialists contend that the only way society will be materially transformed is for there to be a majority of workers who understand and want socialism. These workers must take away power from the capitalist minority. Just as workers give social power to the master class through the ballot box, so the ballot box can be used to show that a majority rejects capitalism and those who seek to run it. The ballot box will only be one part of the revolutionary process, the far greater part being the development of majority class consciousness and the building of an active movement by the revolutionary class. Unless political power is taken from the minority it will be used against the majority.

Of course, the precise details of the revolutionary change will differ from country to country depending on the political conditions (where legal ballots do not exist or cannot be trusted the workers must create our own) and it will also differ in accordance with different creative ideas about what needs to be done before the establishment of socialism which will emerge as the socialist movement grows. In this sense John Crump is quite right to say that "the millions of men and women who will be the architects of the new world" will decide the exact means by which the revolution is to occur. But. as we pointed out in the article in October 1987 Socialist Standard, the revolutionary process cannot avoid democratic political action and still produce socialism. Without democratic action there will be no democratic society: without political action the state will be used to crush a non-political "socialist" movement. Again. PC tells us that the debate as to whether revolutionary action is to be democratic or otherwise is still to run its course for both anarchists and socialists. This is untrue. Socialists can conceive of no way in which a socialist system of society will be established except by democratic means.

We agree with PC, that it is worthwhile for anarchists and socialists to engage in "informative and educative debate". We should build on whatever ideas we have in common. It is pointless for workers who share a vision of a stateless society based on the uncompromised principles of socialism to be endlessly squabbling over the texts of the nineteenth century. If the ranks of the revolutionary movement can be swelled on the basis of principled unity it would be wrong for anyone to delay the process. Unfortunately, anarchists tend to be rather elusive characters and on those few occasions when we do encounter active anarchists they are reluctant to engage in open debate. When the few debates between The Socialist Party and anarchists have taken place such as those against Albert Meltzer, who told us in our last debate with him in Islington that anarchists must be involved in the struggle to reform capitalism because "that's where the workers are" — most anarchists in the audience disowned the speaker. Which is all very confusing when one considers the claim that anarchism is so revolutionary that it cannot even be defined.