Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Socialist Party and Revolution: No Compromise! (1976)

From the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The above title was the subject of a meeting at our lecture room at 52 Clapham High Street, earlier this year. What follows, is the writing up of the notes for the meeting.


The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed on June 12th 1904 by a group of one hundred and twenty members of the working class, some of whom had been expelled and others who had broken away from the Social Democratic Federation. The SDF (founded in 1881) had turned its back on the class struggle and revolution, and had openly opted for reformism, compromise and political dealing. They were wedded to the canker of leadership and determined on the policy of “broadening the base” and widening the appeal. This meant going in for alliances with parties and leaders they formerly denounced to attract the support of greater numbers of people who had no interest in nor understanding of Socialism. To gain some temporary advantage, support was given to candidates of the Liberal Party and the Independent Labour Party. The latter organization had itself been formed as a break-away from the SDF in 1893.

To remain inside the SDF and function as Socialists, had become impossible. Our founder members were determined to stop the rot and halt the drift into reformism and compromise. Either Socialism would be submerged and lost in the countless day-to-day issues of opportunist politics, or a new organization had to be formed. An organization, which CONSCIOUSLY and DELIBERATELY took an exclusively REVOLUTIONARY stand. An organization, whose members were acutely aware of all the pitfalls of playing politics, and who resolutely and purposefully set out NOT to engage in capitalist politics, NOT to seek power within the framework of existing society, NOT to build up a blind mass membership on “popular” demands. The pitfalls were now obvious. The lessons had been learned. They had just come through the experiences that showed the way to disaster. All the “left-wingers” who today still urge us to "work inside the Labour Party” are seventy-two years behind the times.

Pitfall number one: The idea that a politically ignorant working class could be dragged behind the train of a revolutionary leadership or elite. First gain power on a broad programme, then bring in Socialism by easy stages. Pitfall number two: The idea that some momentary advantage could be gained by posing as the workers’ champions on some reform demand, the enactment of which left capitalism intact. Pitfall number three: The idea that joining forces with capitalist parties, particularly at election times, could serve some purpose for a party claiming to be out for Socialism. Pitfall number four: The idea that all the ills of capitalism could be eradicated one at a time by piecemeal reforms, Socialism via the day-to-day struggle or, many roads to the same objective.


The new party had to frame itself in such a way that it pursued only the objective of Socialism At its formation a Declaration of Principles and an Object were drawn up and agreed upon as the basis for membership. Those Principles had to safeguard against repeating the mistakes of earlier organizations. It was essential that they be broad enough to include all who are Socialists and yet, narrow enough to exclude all who are not.

The first Principle defines the class basis of capitalism as centring upon the ownership of the means of production and distribution with the enslavement of the working class as its consequence. There follows the antagonism of interests between the capitalist class (owners) and the working class (non- owners). There is no room here for political trading. The antagonism integral to capitalism can be ended only by making the means of production and distribution the common property of society and democratically controlled by the whole people.

The Principles make clear the nature of political power and point out that the state is the machinery for the rule of one class over the other, to preserve for the capitalists the wealth they take from the workers.

Political parties exist only as expressions of class interests. Our Principles demonstrate with irresistible logic that although a variety of parties may represent the sectional interests of the capitalist class, only one party can seek working-class emancipation. The workers’ party must be hostile to every other party. Because the interests of the working-class is diametrically opposed to all sections of the exploiting class. This is the concept of NO COMPROMISE crystallized in a political principle. Every party whose programme and policies leave the working class as wage slaves (employees) is perpetuating capitalism and exploitation and is therefore, necessarily anti-working-class.

With the definition of Socialism as its object and in clause three of its Principles, the circle was completed. The new party was unique, fundamentalist, revolutionary. The analysis of history, the way of looking at society from which the Object and the Declaration of Principles are derived bear the indelible imprint of Karl Marx. The dynamic nature of the class struggle as the force for change in history. The understanding of the State as a class instrument. The need for the workers to capture political power. The outcome of history’s final class struggle being classless society. The abolition of private-property relationships, including the wages system. This is Marxism. This is the meaning of revolution. All leadership is rejected and the vital pre-condition of working-class understanding is stressed as the key to changing society.

The policy of NO COMPROMISE is not a piece of isolationist dogma, nor a fanatic’s defiance hurled at the rest of society “we are right and you are all wrong”. It is a simple recognition that between reformism and revolution, there is no meeting point. The politics of those who seek only the retention and modification of capitalism are incompatible with the quest to get rid of it.


It is not by what we say about ourselves or our own appraisal of our ideas, that we are to be judged. In the passage of time since 1904, the SPGB with its Object and Principles, has been subject to a series of acid tests. We have applied our Principles, our analysis of history and society, to every major issue and social problem. We have examined the cause of war and found no working-class interest involved. This while our opponents including erstwhile pacifists of the “left” were lining up to support one side or the other. We have examined the industrial struggle and the claim that this was the real path to class emancipation, and seen only an integral part of capitalism at work. While we have always urged workers to as much as they can of the wealth they produce under capitalism, we have seen nothing to distract us from the conscious political struggle to end the wage system. The industrial struggle is a self-perpetuating cycle of disputation about the degree of exploitation.

Then, we have looked at Russia and China during their periods of upheaval, and whilst others rushed to proclaim examples of Socialism, we saw the development of the wages system and knew that capitalism was emerging.

We applied our Socialist Principles in our analysis of the Labour Party and their nationalization schemes, we saw no solutions forthcoming to any major social problems, only the perpetuation of the system that produces the problems.


But there is also another judgment to be made. If, over all the years since 1904, our opponents had been right, then by legislating reforms they would have banished poverty, ended unemployment and taxed the rich out of existence. If they were right there would be no housing problem now and no old people existing in misery. Nobody in the world would be starving while food is destroyed, and there would be no weapons of mass extermination, because according to them going to war would mean no more war. If, in any sphere our opponents had succeeded the SPGB would have become a political irrelevance and no doubt long since disappeared. History (and living experience) shows our opponents are not only irrelevant but politically moribund. By their own criteria they have failed and are overdue for the scrap heap.

In the final analysis, this is what it is all about, what is has always been about. Not some “above-the-fray” commitment to academic principles, but the removal of social problems. It has been about the question of which way works, revolution or reform. We welcome this opportunity to reaffirm the stand we took from the start. Socialism means revolution — no compromise.
Harry Baldwin

All’s Whale That Ends Well? (2020)

The Proper Gander Column from the March 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Stacey Dooley has an open-minded, grounded approach to her documentaries, with an engagingly genuine interest in the contentious subjects she covers. Her latest programme, Stacey Dooley Investigates: The Whale Hunters (BBC3), follows on from her previous investigations into women suicide bombers and sex offenders, among other topics. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she goes out on a Norwegian boat hunting minke whales, and watches as one get harpooned and dragged aboard. Most of the programme, though, is taken up by her meeting families on the Faroe Islands, where eating long-finned pilot whale meat has been part of their culture for a thousand years. Hunting pilot whales is called the ‘grind’(grindadráp) in Faroese; when a podis sighted out at sea, fishing boats herd the whales towards the beach where they are killed by hand. The recommended method claims not to cause any suffering: a sleek-looking tool called a spinal lance, the use of which is monitored and regulated. 

The Faroese live a rural life, close to nature and therefore not as distanced from where their food comes from as most of us. When we load our supermarket trolleys with meat or fruit or any food, we scarcely think about how it was produced. The Faroese see pilot whale hunting as ‘taking food from nature’, which it is their ‘duty’ to do. They emphasise that they don’t catch any endangered species and it’s more environmentally friendly than rearing cattle, which carries a significant ‘carbon footprint’. The grind is small-scale subsistence farming, with the meat just distributed among the islanders rather than being for export. Pilot whale meat remains popular among the Faroese, despite the islands’ officials recommending years ago that eating it should be avoided. This is because it contains high levels of mercury, DDT derivatives and polychlorinated biphenyls (chemicals largely banned in the 1970s), leached into the oceans and ingested by the pilot whales.

The Faroese see the grind as part of their culture, which others don’t have the right to interfere with. Whaling around the Faroe Islands isn’t covered by the International Whaling Commission’s ban on commercial whaling. For starters, the long-finned pilot whales hunted there are a kind of dolphin, despite their name. Also, as the Faroe Islands are devolved territories of Denmark, as Greenland is, their autonomy means that they don’t go along with Denmark as one of the countries which agreed to the ban. ‘Aboriginal whaling’, defined as the hunting of whales by indigenous communities is exempted from the ruling anyway. Japan always got round the ban by hunting whales for ‘scientific’ reasons, while Norway, Canada and others object to the moratorium and have continued commercial hunting. The hunting of whales was banned because many species were declining rapidly towards unsustainable levels. Another factor is that whales and dolphins are more intelligent than most other mammals, raising questions about their capacity for suffering and awareness.

Objections to the grind mostly come from the Sea Shepherds, a direct-action group, whose mission ‘is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans’. They used to actively protest against the grind, but since being banned from this their work has shifted largely to raising awareness by posting grisly videos of the hunt online. The group of them which Stacey meets are made up of activists from the UK and America, while none are Faroese. The Sea Shepherds emphasise their non-aggressive methods, and argue that the grind is a tradition which should be left in the past, and that it’s not as humane as its proponents make out. They point out that the spinal lance often isn’t used correctly, causing suffering to the pilot whales. Stacey shows an adviser to the Faroese government gory footage of a dolphin being killed in a clumsy, drawn-out way. Official reports claim that the methods used are humane and quick, whereas a fifth of whales take up to six minutes to die. The adviser recognises that sometimes the grind can be brutal, but that’s because it takes place in an uncontrolled environment, not in a slaughterhouse.

Objections to the grind and the risk of contamination haven’t stemmed the Faroe Islanders’ love of pilot whale meat. The grind, and whaling in general, have been traditions for hundreds of years, and could continue for hundreds more. How would the issue of whaling be handled in a socialist society? Of course, we can’t say with any certainty, as it’ll depend on whatever the situation is at the time. But the practice is still likely to divide opinion and represent bigger questions about cultural differences, animal ‘rights’ and sustainability. A socialist society would make its decisions democratically, rather than through hierarchies, commercial interests or laws, as we have to in capitalism. All sides would be able to have their say, and all relevant facts – about contaminants, whale populations, the methods used – would be freely available so that people can make an informed decision. This could be made by voting directly on whether or how to hunt whales, or by electing people into roles to resolve the issue, or some other approach we can’t imagine now. Would it be only for the whaling communities to decide? Maybe, maybe not, if hunting had a wider impact. It’s likely that a socialist society would have some decision-making structures with a global reach, more accountable and accessible than their equivalents today and not run through states (as states would be obsolete). So, it’s possible that something like the International Whaling Commission could remain in a socialist society, albeit structured differently and more democratically. Whichever way any decisions about whaling would be made in socialism, they would aim to directly meet people’s needs and wants, in balance with nature. There are no easy answers with controversial issues like whaling, but a socialist society would enable us to make decisions in the most reasonable way.
Mike Foster

Same difference (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the March 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

So, the UK left the EU at 11 pm on Friday 31 January. Well, not exactly. The UK left the EU’s political institutions (Parliament, Commission, Council, Court of Justice, etc) but remains in its economic arrangements (customs union, single market, free movement, trade deals, etc) until at least the end of this year. No wonder nobody noticed the difference.

Some ultra-nationalists wanted us to celebrate ‘independence day’, though Boris’s idea to have Big Ben bong fell flat. But what is ‘independence’? As far as states are concerned, it’s the same as ‘sovereignty’. A political territory is independent if the rulers there have the final, supreme, say in matters concerning it.

‘Independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ are political concepts, but politics is one thing and economics another. A state can make what ‘sovereign’ decisions it likes but whether they are effective is another matter. No state can be independent economically as all are dependent directly or indirectly on the world market, which places limits on the effective exercise of their sovereignty. The UK has an additional problem. It and the EU countries are economically interdependent and have become more so over the nearly half-century of UK membership. The UK can’t become ‘independent’ of that, whatever ultra-nationalists might want, at least not without a severe disruption which would affect both the UK and the EU. So both have an interest in avoiding this.

Given that previous options of staying in the single market and/or customs union are now ruled out, the only one left to avoid this is some sort of agreement for the UK to ‘align’ in some way its regulations on technical standards, food standards, workers’ rights, state aids and the like, with those of the EU. At the moment, both sides are at the pre-negotiation stage of rhetoric and laying down ‘red lines’. Even so, some ministers have made fools of themselves, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Savijd Javid, for instance.

On 18 January the BBC reported that he ‘has warned manufacturers that “there will not be alignment” with the EU after Brexit and insists firms must “adjust” to new regulations’. Faced with the resulting howl of protest from the CBI and other representatives of capitalist industry at this expression of unconcern for their interests, when he went to the annual world leaders’ junket in Davos a week later, he was forced to backpedal and explain:
  ‘“Britain will not diverge from European rules “just for the sake of it” after Brexit, Sajid Javid said yesterday, as he softened the government’s rhetoric on future EU trade talks. In a move to reassure business, the chancellor said that while ministers were determined that Britain would not become a “rule taker” from Brussels, it did not mean the UK would necessarily diverge from European standards. “We will be a sovereign and independent country,” he told a lunch for British executives at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “But we’ll always protect the interests of British businesses throughout this process and we’ll maintain high standards — not because we are told to, but because we want to.”’(Times, 24 January)
One way of interpreting this is that he his saying that the UK will align with EU rules but it will do so as an ‘independent nation’ making its own decision – to do what it would have done had it remained in the EU. If this is indeed the final result, it will confirm that Brexit has been a fuss about nothing, just about how a decision is made not about what it is.


A Letter to Greta (2020)

From the March 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Greta,

I wish to write to you on just my own part, first of all to express my support for your courage and your message, and also to present some ideas. Although I am a member of a political party, I am here writing alone.

It is my opinion that any hope you have of impressing the urgency of addressing the climate crisis upon those in power will continue to be dashed. They will talk a lot, summon meetings, etc., but they cannot resolve the crisis because they represent a system of profit over life, and are governed by that system, no matter how sincere some may be. They may be voted in by the majority of people, but they only represent about 1 percent. They do not control the system of production – which pollutes and devastates – but are controlled by it. This system, which is global, and which has evolved in history, has long been obsolete, but still survives because of the habits of docility and helplessness it continues to foster in the majority – who, afraid of responsibility, and oppressed by working for wages and making ends meet, cannot imagine taking the world into their own hands.

The only way to begin to address the urgency now facing us all is to use the vote to liberate the means of production from the 1 percent and take them over, democratically, in the name of all society. This will enable us all to produce only to satisfy need, only for use, abolishing the system of profit and at last to have control over our own destiny as a species, and help other species too who are suffering because of the present system of human society.

With my deep respect and support, I am, yours sincerely,

Anthony Walker, 
Christchurch, England.

50 Years Ago: The mad world of capitalism (2020)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again bricks are piling up, brick-workers are being laid off and brickworks closing down. All because the manufacturers can no longer find a profitable market. There are about 1,800,000 houses in England and Wales officially classified as “unfit”. But the fact that millions of people need better homes does not affect brick production for the simple reason that it is not profitable to produce bricks to build houses for people who would not be able to pay for them.

Meanwhile, in France the government are worried about there being “too much food”. According to the Times (23 January 1970), the solution advocated by one group of academics and civil servants is that one-third of the present cultivated area of France should be taken out of food production. The Vedel Commission recommended:
  ‘Whatever rate of modernisation is adopted, agriculture will continue to build up surpluses if it continues to exploit the same area as today. Whatever happens, the excess land that will have to be withdrawn will be at least 10m. hectares.’
To do this would be in line with what other governments, notably the American, have already done in a bid to prevent the production of food that cannot be sold profitably. It is not that people do not need the food—the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimate that up to half the world’s population go to bed hungry—but that because they cannot pay for it there is no profit in growing food for them.

Stockpiles of bricks beside slums; proposals to cut back food production in a hungry world—just two more examples of how capitalism cannot serve human needs.

(Socialist Standard¸ March 1970)

Towards a Disunited Kingdom (2020)

Editorial from the March 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The turmoil of the Brexit process has exacerbated the fissures within the UK, which threaten to tear it apart. The Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, seized on the fact that the majority of Scottish voters opted to remain in the EU, and is demanding a second Independence referendum. The border between the North of Ireland and the Irish Republic which appeared to be invisible since the Good Friday agreement became a stumbling block in the Brexit negotiations. Sinn Fein wasted no time in pressing for a border poll which they hope will lead to the reunification of Ireland.

The spectre of Scottish independence is nothing new. Scottish workers were badly affected by the economic downturns of the 1970s and 1980s which hit the traditional industries (shipbuilding, coal, steel) particularly hard. Many workers were also dissatisfied with Labour governments. North Sea oil seemed to promise higher living standards. In these circumstances the SNP was able to position itself as the workers’ party. With the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the then Labour government thought they had seen off the nationalist threat. However, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, many workers turned away from the mainstream capitalist parties. In Scotland, this helped the SNP to secure a majority in the 2011 elections for the Scottish Parliament and a landslide in the 2015 General Election.

The Irish border has been in contention since 1921. However, with the repression of the Civil Rights movement in the North of Ireland in the late 1960s, Irish republicanism experienced an upsurge of support. In the 1980s Sinn Féin was able to capitalise on the outrage that the British government’s response to the hunger strikes elicited in Catholic working-class areas. It also managed to gain a foothold by providing welfare services to Catholic workers. With the peace process and the IRA laying down its weapons, Sinn Féin was able to reinvent itself as a workers’ party.

In last December’s general election, the SNP increased its seats in Scotland, whereas the pro-Brexit Conservative Party prevailed in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, for the first time, Nationalists won more seats than Unionists. Sinn Féin has made a significant breakthrough in last month’s general election in the Irish Republic.

It must be noted that the electoral successes of the SNP and Sinn Féin do not always reflect support for their respective aims of an independent Scotland and a united Ireland, but more often a deep dissatisfaction with the political status quo. Nevertheless, these parties will use their increased leverage to push for their aims.

Do the working class have any interest in whether or not the United Kingdom remains intact? Or should they, as the Left urges them to, support an independent Scotland and a united Ireland? We say no on both accounts as, wherever the boundaries are drawn, workers will still be subject to the vagaries of the global market system and will continue to experience problems such as unemployment and low wages. Workers will need to organise for a socialist society which will abolish borders rather than rearrange them.

Rear View: No gods (2020)

The Rear View Column from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

No gods

‘China is set to censor all translated versions of classic religious books to make sure that their messages reflect the principles of Socialism’ (dailymail.co.uk, 27 November). Such news concerning Emperor Xi’s regime comes as no surprise to socialists. Kautsky in his Foundations of Christianity shows how its teachings were turned from those of a rebellious sect into a state religion, suitably servile and cringing. All religions have been, in all phases of history, the allies of the ruling classes in keeping the masses bent under the yoke. Churches have crowned the peoples’ oppressors, and crucified our forebears. New Age religion is merely the old repackaged in a new, modern form.

Rather than obeying a priest, they choose the form of our own mental domination and the flight from reality into a magical world. Socialists, by contrast are scientific materialists. We argue that the origin and development of the universe, of life, of society and religion itself can be explained adequately without recourse to the so-called supernatural, and that this is an integral part of socialist theory.

Mao stated in 1949 ‘China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and the people’s livelihood, and we must unite with the national bourgeoisie in common struggle. Our present policy is to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it’. Time to banish gods from our minds and capitalists from the Earth.


No masters

During the election SPEW, formerly Militant, stated that the Labour manifesto ’offered ’a glimpse of jobs, homes and public services for the 99%, protection for our environment – and making the capitalist class pay. No wonder the boss class and their representatives in politics and the press attack it – they will do anything to prevent a Corbyn victory’ (socialistparty.org.uk, 27 November).

No and no. The manifesto was for reforming capitalism. A real socialist revolution would see all means of production transferred to the community to be used, democratically, to directly satisfy people’s needs without any top-down control.

Corbyn was as little a threat to the status quo as earlier Labour leaders. What did they do for us? Just look at Labour’s record. Wage freezes, benefit cuts, racist immigration controls, strike-breaking, student tuition fees, etc, etc. Briefly, running capitalism on its terms of profits first. Corbyn in office would have ended up doing the same as all previous Labour governments have. Capitalism simply cannot be reformed to work in the interest of the many.


Free access

‘Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are part of a breed of socialists who argue that this time will be different. Socialism never failed, they insist: only the walls, barbed wire and jackboots did. So what they plan for Britain, while radical, is bound to work! True, it’s more radical than anything done in any European country today. Comparisons with Venezuela or Cuba or Soviet Russia are unfair, they say. But there is one model that today’s socialists talk fondly about: the Israeli kibbutz’ (spectator.co.uk, 30 November).

Yet more nonsense. ‘Maduro recognizes Venezuela is still a capitalist-based economy…” (mintpressnews.com, 31 May, 2018). Fidel said in 1988: ‘We are capitalists, but state capitalists. We are not private capitalists’ (Daum, Walter, The Life and Death of Stalinism, 1990). Lenin wrote of Russia in 1918: ‘reality says that State capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us’ (The Chief Task of Our Time).

Socialism can only be a world community without frontiers. It cannot be established in one country let alone on one farm. The kibbutzim do show that human beings can live without money and can work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.