Friday, April 3, 2020

Message for Napster free music users (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

So, Napster lost its court battle with the five biggest record labels who had brought a legal action against the online music-swapping service because their profits were increasingly being eaten into. Big business got its way. No surprise there, then. Millions of people had all come to the same decision: that obtaining something you need for free was a very good idea. And so it is! We would like to inform the estimated 61 million Napster users, and millions of others using similar “peer-to-peer” services, that we in the World Socialist Movement in the various countries also believe in having completely free access to music. But not only music. We advocate that people should also have free access to all other entertainment, computers, phones, electricity, food, clothes, motor vehicles, housing, public transport, water . . . in fact, absolutely any goods and services that are needed.

Now this might strike even music-swapping fans of Napster as wanting and expecting far too much. Not at all! Such a free-access society is by no means unacceptable or impossible to achieve. Who says that we must pay? Capitalists! But if a popular majority chose to collectively own the means of producing goods and services (industries, power stations, raw materials etc), and chose to work for the benefit of one another (as with Napster) rather than for any privileged asset-owning elite, then everything that people produced and provided would collectively belong to us all. It is then possible to have whatever you need without ever handing over any money (in fact, money would then be obsolete). There wouldn’t be any grabbing of everything in sight, quickly resulting in shortages, since the whole point of working would have then changed from making profits, as happens now (resulting in deliberately restricted production to keep up prices and exclusion for the less well-off), to working simply to meet human needs.

And don’t think that people in this new genuine socialist world would have to work harder. Because there’d then be no more capital-owning employers or employment, there’d also no longer be any unemployment. That means many millions more people, currently unwanted because market conditions mean they can’t be exploited for a profit, or are considered too old or inefficient by bosses, then being able to contribute. And since money would then be useless and non-existent, that means yet millions more people also being able to do something of real benefit rather than just tinker with cash and financial documents in banks, shops, tax offices, solicitors, estate agents etc as happens today. Furthermore, a united world would also have no further need for armies and manufacturing workforces turning out all manner of weaponry, resulting in further millions of people being able to do socially useful work. This revolutionary change in the way we work, with far more people being available, and no financial restrictions on introducing sophisticated automation to take over dirty or unpleasant tasks, would in fact result in a far shorter working week, and far greater freedom to choose jobs we like, instead of being forced into them by a need for an income or by government threats to withdraw welfare benefits.

Although Warner, Sony, EMI, BMG and Universal may have won one battle over obtaining music without paying (and it’s inevitable that other swap sites will soon be legally targeted or deterred from starting up), they certainly haven’t won the war. By our numbers, we possess not simply the power to avoid having to purchase CD albums, and pay through the nose in the process. We can also get rid of all exploitative companies for ever, simply by supporting us in the WSM and the goal of replacing capitalism with money-less free-access socialism, and voting for this rather than business-biased market-supporting politicians.

We can understand that you probably think that all political organisations are the same: a waste of time because nothing really changes no matter who’s in power, and all in it for what they can get out of it for themselves. Politicians from all sorts of parties have been exposed as corrupt, incompetent, deceitful, irrelevant, two-faced and thoroughly abhorrent. But the reason why you’ll never find any WSM government politicians behaving like that is very simple—there never will be any WSM governments! For when there’s majority popular support for socialism, not only will there be collective ownership of productive capital, there will also be collective decision-making in how those assets should be used. In other words, once socialism is established, there’d be no more governments or electorally empowered politicians — ever! The people would run their own lives from then on, perhaps making use of the internet to register occasional votes on local, regional and global matters that need deciding and acting upon. Hence, the WSM itself would no longer be needed as a political entity, and would therefore cease to exist.

As for Napster, what has happened since its emergence is of immense importance to us all, and could result in no less than a commercial and psychological battle for the way we live in the future. Whether MP3 computer file enthusiasts know it or not, this is a critical struggle between two great economic principles. On one side there is the old market-based capitalist economy, made up of sellers and buyers, with exploitation of exclusive property for profit, and laws to punish transgressors. And on the other side, a true socialist society, made up people living according to the principle of “to each according to need; from each according to ability”, with common property, production simply for use, and no monetary or other restrictions.

The WSM objective of the socialisation of society and the “Napsterisation” of music in cyberspace therefore have much in common. This breaking down of the idea of private property and a passion for free access on the net has been called “dot.communism”, though “dot.socialism” could just as easily be used since both mean the same thing. But however it’s known, because it has the potential to grow rapidly and encourage unselfish co-operation all over the globe, it seen as a threat to the super-rich minority who presently determine how everyone else lives and works in accordance with capitalist requirements. Napster embodies the sharing, community-based ethos of both the internet pioneers and true socialists seeking an end to capitalism—both the private version espoused by free marketeers, and the state-run type, sought by various fake “socialist” parties who merely want to run capitalism themselves.

The fact that increasingly large numbers of internet users are, through free music, free video, free ISPs, free email etc acquiring immunity against diseased businesses, who want us to pay, means there is an increasing desire by global capital and their political puppets to kill off these digital free lunches before such revolutionary web thinking and behaviour expands into political thinking and behaviour (i.e., widespread support for genuine socialism).

“MP3” (the file compression method Napster uses for music sharing) has become the word most often typed into search engines, and millions upon millions of people, most without enough money to meet a frequent need to obtain new music, have had a tiny taster of what life would be like in a socialist free access society. As for the recording artists and writers, while some like heavy metal band Metallica, Madonna, Elton John, The Corrs and Eminem are unhappy about Napster, and have even taken legal action over copyright material being available for free. Other million-selling bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, The Offspring, Cypress Hill and Limp Bizkit together with lesser-known groups who just want to share their music, have expressed support for the freedom that Napster offers. Performers and writers can of course claim that they need money to get by within capitalism, as does everyone else, but the fact is they themselves (like us) could also get by without money in a socialist society. How do they feel about that? If many millions of people are making it absolutely clear by their actions that they want music gratis, and perhaps thereby indicating a growing hankering for much more for free in the not too distant future, is this extensive socialistic desire shared by the artists? Or do certain singers actually prefer to live in luxury, and have no moral problem whatsoever in enjoying superior living standards while those buying their music have to struggle through life on far smaller incomes (an inevitability with capitalism, since by the very nature of this system, there will always be a few on top, with a pyramidal expansion downwards incorporating everyone else at increasing levels of poverty)? If that is the situation, then maybe downloading their particular songs, even for nought, isn’t worth it in the first place.
Max Hess

The politicians’ festival (2001)

Editorial from the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

So a general election has come round again.

In theory, this should be an important event since it is a time when we have a chance to decide who is to control political power: the rich and the super-rich and their political servants or the rest of us who produce all the wealth of society but who are not in charge of things?

In practice, elections have become a Festival of Politicians.

Rival groups of professional politicians spend millions of pounds competing for votes. If only we vote for them—they tell us–they’ll do wonderful things for us. Improve education. End the health care crisis. Solve the transport problem. Stop pollution. Avoid wars. We’ve heard it all before, but nothing much changes. The same old problems continue. The reason they continue is because the capitalist economic system of production for profit, which causes them, continues. As long as this happens it does not matter which party is in office.

The fact is that, at election times, we are not offered a real choice. The candidates all stand for the same thing—keeping the capitalist economic system in being in one form or another. The three main parties only offer themselves as better managers of this system than the others. In Scotland, Wales and Ireland the Nationalist parties there merely propose to change the seat of government, from London to Edinburgh, Cardiff or Dublin, while leaving production for profit intact. As if that would make any difference.

The profit system—which all of them want to keep and try to manage—can never be made to work in the interest of the majority class of us who run production from top to bottom. It can only work as a profit system in the interests of those who live off profits.

If we are going to improve things—and the resources have long existed on a world scale to provide a decent life for all—we are going to have to get rid of the profit system and replace it by a new and different system based on the world’s natural and industrial resources becoming the common heritage of all humanity.

On this basis, production can be carried out, not to make a profit, but to satisfy people’s needs. The ravages of the profit system—the world-wide pollution, the waste of resources on armaments and on buying and selling, the artificial scarcity resulting from only producing to meet paying demand—can be ended and a world of peace and plenty brought into being.

But this is not something we can leave to professional politicians. It is something that we can only do ourselves. That means organising ourselves democratically without leaders and, at a later stage, mandating socialist delegates to stand against the professional politicians. In the meantime (except in the one constituency where there will be a candidate standing for a world of free access, in Jarrow) those of us who want a socialist world can indicate this and our rejection of the profit system and its politicians by writing the words “WORLD SOCIALISM” across our ballot paper.

50 Years Ago: To Members and Sympathisers (2001)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Appeal 

At a Party Meeting held in Central London on the 19th January, it was decided that the Executive Committee proceed with the purchase of premises in Clapham for use as the Head Office of the Party. The need for new premises arose a year ago when the lease on Rugby Chambers expired. An extension of one year was obtained, and that year is now at an end. The lease could be renewed, the landlords informed the E.C. at a rental of £357 p.a., payment of rates at approximately £60 p.a. and provided that the premises were redecorated, the cost of which would have been in the region of £400/450. In addition, the display of bills, posters and advertising matter generally on the outside of the premises was prohibited.

Faced with this alternative, the E.C. decided to purchase suitable premises and those at Clapham High Street were chosen. Much more space will be available there for the routine task of the Party—tasks which increase in size and number as the Party grows. The room for E.C. meetings is much larger and there will be ample space for those members who attend Head Office on E.C. meeting nights. In addition, there are eight other rooms which can be used for storage and despatch of literature, meeting rooms for the various committees, a room for the library, and so on. The possession of suitable premises can materially assist the Party in its growth, and the main object of our organisation—Socialist propaganda—can go ahead unhampered by cramped quarters.

Those are the facts: now for some figures. The new premises were bought at a cost of £4,000.

(From front page article, Socialist Standard, April 1951)

William Morris and the treasures of early socialism (2020)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

What is the point of studying the history of early socialism? 

Maybe the question itself is rather pointless. After all, nothing really needs to have a point. Enjoyment is enough, especially in a world where so much of the work we do is done under some form of compulsion. 

But I do think that there is a special value in studying the early period of socialist history, prior to the Russian Revolution. I say this because the “common sense” among many socialists in that era is quite different from the way of thinking that has prevailed since then. Above all, the understanding of what socialism itself means changed radically in the subsequent years. 

Going back to the early works of socialists published in the latter half of the nineteenth century can put us in touch with an understanding of socialism that actually seems fresh and new, pointing the way beyond the current impasse of the “socialist” movement. 

Of course, not all the self-proclaimed socialists of the late nineteenth century shared the same view of socialism. In fact, all of the subsequent divisions between radical political tendencies can be found, in embryo, in those early years. But at least the tendencies were still flowing in and out of each other, rather than being purely separate ideologies. Also, socialists at the time still seemed capable of thinking for themselves, rather than finding comfort in inherited dogmas. 

Or am I being too nostalgic? I don’t know.

What I do know, at any rate, is that there is much enjoyment and knowledge and encouragement to be found in the writings and in the life of early socialists, and none more than the great English socialist, William Morris. 

Two essays by Morris in particular — “How We Live and How We Might Live” and “Useful Work Versus Useless Toil” — present a brilliant criticism of life under capitalism and lay out a vision for a fundamentally different way of life — a new society where work is done solely to satisfy human needs and where the act of labor itself is a source of individual fulfillment.

The most widely available work by Morris presenting his view of a new society is, of course, the novel News from Nowhere. So in my brief discussion here of Morris’s socialist ideas, I will mainly look at passages taken from that remarkable work, which describes a socialist society through the eyes of a nineteenth century man, William Guest, who wakes up to find himself in a future world. 

Morris wrote this novel, which was first serialized in the socialist newspaper Commonweal in 1890, as a criticism of Looking Backward, a novel by Edward Bellamy that imagines a future society. In particular, Morris was repelled by how Bellamy focused narrowly on the reduction of labor time through machinery, rather than considering how the experience of labor itself might be transformed from “useful toil” into “useful work.” 

In his 1889 review of Bellamy’s novel, Morris wrote:
  I believe that the ideal of the future does not point to the lessening of men’s energy by the reduction of labour to a minimum, but rather the reduction of pain in labour to a minimum, so small that it will cease to be pain; a dream to humanity which can only be dreamed of till men are even more completely equal than Mr. Bellamy’s utopia would allow them to be, but which will most assuredly come about when men are really equal in condition.
In News from Nowhere, Morris depicts many scenes of how work has become a joyous activity, much like the pleasure that people today take in their personal hobbies—and quite different from the drudgery of our ordinary working days. 

The idea that work could be a source of joy is rather foreign to the view that holds sway among the Left today. There is a focus on securing jobs for the unemployed, increasing wages, and reducing working hours; and rightly so, because those are all necessary under the current system. 

But I think that there is little thought given among socialists of how the entire experience of work and its significance to the individual might be transformed in a post-capitalist world. Usually such speculation is limited to the idea that the rise in productive power has made it possible for us to drastically reduce the working day — once we are freed from the dictatorship of capital and its ceaseless thirst for surplus value. 

Morris explains the qualitative difference that will come once class divisions have dissolved and work’s only aim is to create useful things:
  When class-robbery is abolished, every man will reap the fruits of his labour, every man will have due rest – leisure, that is. Some Socialists might say we need not go any further than this; it is enough that the worker should get the full produce of his work, and that his rest should be abundant. But though the compulsion of man’s tyranny is thus abolished, I yet demand compensation for the compulsion of Nature’s necessity. As long as the work is repulsive it will still be a burden which must be taken up daily, and even so would mar our life, even though the hours of labour were short. What we want to do is to add to our wealth without diminishing our pleasure. Nature will not be finally conquered till our work becomes a part of the pleasure of our lives.
And in News from Nowhere we see vivid examples of how this new relationship of Man to labor is concretely. And Morris also sets forth his views on the topic in a conversation between his character William Guest and an older member of the future society (Hammond) [Chapter 15]:
“Now, this is what I want to ask you about – to wit, how you get people to work when there is no reward of labour, and especially how you get them to work strenuously?” 
“But no reward of labour?” said Hammond, gravely. “The reward of labour is life. Is that not enough?” 
“But no reward for especially good work,” quoth I. 
“Plenty of reward,” said he – “the reward of creation. The wages which God gets, as people might have said time agone. If you are going to be paid for the pleasure of creation, which is what excellence in work means, the next thing we shall hear of will be a bill sent in for the begetting of children.” 
“Well, but,” said I, “the man of the nineteenth century would say there is a natural desire towards the procreation of children, and a natural desire not to work.” 
“Yes, yes,” said he, “I know the ancient platitude, – wholly untrue; indeed, to us quite meaningless. Fourier, whom all men laughed at, understood the matter better.” 
“Why is it meaningless to you?” said I. 
He said: “Because it implies that all work is suffering, and we are so far from thinking that, that, as you may have noticed, whereas we are not short of wealth, there is a kind of fear growing up amongst us that we shall one day be short of work. It is a pleasure which we are afraid of losing, not a pain.”
This emphasis on the qualitative difference between life under capitalism and life in a future society is one of the characteristics of Morris’s understanding of socialism. And I think it is something that socialists today need to bear in mind. Too often socialism is viewed today simply as an improved version of capitalism — with shorter working hours, higher wages, better social welfare, cheaper education, etc. 

The power of Morris’s logical imagination is also apparent in his view of the role of money in a future society; or I should say his view that there would be no role for money in a socialist world. Here, too, is far ahead of, and far more profound than, the average socialist today, who can may imagine a “redistribution of wealth” but can only think of that in terms of “fairer” wages or higher taxes on the rich. In other words, the average socialist cannot fathom a world without money. 

In News from Nowhere, the character William Guest soon discovers that money has no place in the future world in which he has awakened. When a man takes him across the Thames River in a boat, Guest tries to pay him with a coin [Chapter 2]:
“I put my hand in my waistcoat-pocket, and said, “How much?” . . .  
He looked puzzled, and said, “How much? I don’t quite understand what you are asking about. Do you mean the tide? If so, it is close on the turn now.” 
I blushed, and said, stammering, “Please don’t take it amiss if I ask you; I mean no offence: but what ought I to pay you? You see I am a stranger, and don’t know your customs – or your coins.” 
And therewith I took a handful of money out of my pocket, as one does in a foreign country. . . 
He still seemed puzzled, but not at all offended; and he looked at the coins with some curiosity. . . 
Therewith my new friend said thoughtfully: 
“I think I know what you mean. You think that I have done you a service; so you feel yourself bound to give me something which I am not to give to a neighbour, unless he has done something special for me. I have heard of this kind of thing; but pardon me for saying, that it seems to us a troublesome and roundabout custom; and we don’t know how to manage it. And you see this ferrying and giving people casts about the water is my business, which I would do for anybody; so to take gifts in connection with it would look very queer. Besides, if one person gave me something, then another might, and another, and so on; and I hope you won’t think me rude if I say that I shouldn’t know where to stow away so many mementos of friendship.”
It is not so much a question of “abolishing” money in a socialist society, but that there is really no longer any basis for it to exist. This idea of a money-less society was a common one among the early socialists, but it largely disappeared in the twentieth century. As in so many other cases, the existence of a supposed “socialist society” — the Soviet Union — in which money (and wages) continued to exist, led many socialists to alter their views. The fact should have led them to ponder whether the USSR was in fact a socialist society (or rather some state-centered capitalism), but they were unable to give up their illusions about that country. 

The same is true of views about the “state” in a socialist society. Whereas before it has been assumed that the state would “wither away,” to borrow Marx’s expression, the twentieth century socialists came to view socialism as a society in which the state was at the core of everything to do with production and distribution. 

And this view of socialism as a state-centered society remains the common view of socialism today among both its advocates and its enemies. 

For a different view we can, again, look to News from Nowhere. In it, Morris puts forth his views on the lack of government in another conversation between Guest and Hammond [Chapter 11]:
What kind of a government have you? Has republicanism finally triumphed? or have you come to a mere dictatorship, which some persons in the nineteenth century used to prophesy as the ultimate outcome of democracy? . . .  
Now, dear guest, let me tell you that our present parliament would be hard to house in one place, because the whole people is our parliament.” 
“I don’t understand,” said I. 
“No, I suppose not,” said he. “I must now shock you by telling you that we have no longer anything which you, a native of another planet, would call a government.” 
“I am not so much shocked as you might think,” said I, “as I know something about governments. But tell me, how do you manage, and how have you come to this state of things?” 
Said he: “It is true that we have to make some arrangements about our affairs, concerning which you can ask presently; and it is also true that everybody does not always agree with the details of these arrangements; but, further, it is true that a man no more needs an elaborate system of government, with its army, navy, and police, to force him to give way to the will of the majority of his equals, than he wants a similar machinery to make him understand that his head and a stone wall cannot occupy the same space at the same moment. 
These are just a few examples of how Morris presents a view of a post-capitalist world that challenges some of the common sense of socialists today. On top of this, News from Nowhere contains a brilliant description of the ups and downs and the triumph of a revolutionary movement in the chapter titled “How the Change Came.”

His view of social change in that chapter is quite different from the twentieth century notions of an elite “vanguard party” masterminding a revolution. Rather, Morris emphasizes the importance of the working class arriving at an understanding of the limits of capitalism and the possibility for a radically different society. 

As interest in socialism is on the rise, the time seems ripe to look “backward” to the common sense of Morris and the early socialist movement for hints on our path forward. 
Michael Schauerte

Coronavirus crisis. Ventilator fiasco - Updated (2020)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

Over the coming months, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States are going to come down with severe forms of COVID-19 infection. How many of them will pull through and how many will die of suffocation depends crucially on the availability of life-saving ventilators in the intensive care units of hospitals. There are only 62,000 ventilators in service across the country. A recent survey found that even acute-care hospitals have on average only eleven ‘full-feature’ ventilators. Failing urgent acquisition of many tens of thousands of additional ventilators, hospitals will be overwhelmed as the pandemic spreads.

In a desperate attempt to mitigate the disaster, hospital staff are preparing to link up each of their ventilators to four patients. A video posted on YouTube shows them how to do it. As the instructor admits, this is an ‘off-label use’ of a machine designed to serve one patient at a time. I can’t help wondering how well it is going to work.

Go for it auto execs!

Initially Trump took the orthodox ‘neo-liberal’ view that there was no reason for government to get involved. ‘Unfettered free enterprise’ could be trusted to rise to the occasion. However, he ended up brokering a deal for a joint venture between General Motors and Ventec Life Systems. General Motors would retool a car parts plant in Kokomo, Indiana as a ventilator production facility using Ventec’s technology. A government order for 80,000 ventilators was to be fulfilled in just two months. Trump’s enthusiasm was unbounded. ‘Go for it auto execs,’ he tweeted excitedly on March 22, ‘let’s see how good you are?’ [1]

Then suddenly it was announced that the deal was off. Officials in the Administration were unhappy about the cost – over a billion dollars, a large part of which had to be paid upfront. True, it worked out at only $13,000 per ventilator – not bad, considering that the machines usually sell within the range $25–50,000. ‘But for Chrissake,’ lamented officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ‘for that money we could buy eighteen F-35 fighter jets!’ And if you think I made that up for ironic effect then you are wrong. They really find it distasteful to spend large sums of government money for the benefit of ordinary people. 

An interdepartmental working group under the direction of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (who was admitted to college only after his dad paid a hefty bribe – I mean ‘donation’) is now exploring the issue in detail. The GM-Ventec project remains on the table, but another dozen or so other proposals are also under consideration. The target of 80,000 ventilators has been whittled down to 20,000 and then to 7,500. So a plan to more than double the number of functioning ventilators ended up as a scheme to increase that number by just 12%.

You see, some officials are worried that too many ventilators may be ordered. What are they to do with the surplus?

Exclamation points

Give the guy credit where it is due. Trump must have started to get impatient, because on March 27 he issued the following statement:
  Today, I signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators. Our negotiations with General Motors regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course. General Motors was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.
The Defense Production Act of 1950 authorizes the President to require businesses to sign contracts and fulfill orders deemed necessary for defense, but it has also been invoked occasionally in non-military emergencies. Democrats in Congress were urging him to invoke it in the current crisis. Trump was under pressure from corporate CEOs and the Chamber of Commerce not to do so.  

Trump then fired off tweets to General Motors and Ford, which was working on its own plan to adapt car parts for ventilators, declaring that they ‘MUST START MAKING VENTILATORS NOW!!!!!!’ (yes, in capitals and followed by six exclamation points). 

It seems that this ‘very stable genius’ — as Trump has described himself — momentarily forgot how capitalism works, even though most of the time he understands this very well. How else could he fondly imagine that a few presidential exclamation points might induce a corporation to set aside considerations of profitability in order to satisfy a human need, however urgent?     

As of this writing (April 4), no new facility for the production of ventilators is yet in operation in the United States. 

An even harsher light

But there is another aspect to this problem — one that casts the functioning of capitalism in an even harsher light.

While American hospitals have only 62,000 ventilators in service, they have in storage a very large number – estimates run as high as 100,000 – older ventilators that could be brought back into use if repaired. Hospitals, however, are unable to have these machines repaired due to restrictions imposed by the manufacturers (Siemens, Philips, General Electric Healthcare, Medtronic, Ventec Life Systems, Hamilton Medical), who also fight legislative challenges to their repair monopoly.[2] 

First of all, purchasers of ventilators and independent technicians are denied access to the documentation and software required for repairs. Second, unauthorized attempts to repair a ventilator are blocked by special ‘anti-repair software.’ Third, a hospital that hires a technician who manages to overcome these obstacles and repair a ventilator will face legal ramifications.

Of course, it is not only medical equipment manufacturers who deliberately make it very difficult or very expensive or altogether impossible to repair their products. Manufacturers of computers, tractors, and many other devices do exactly the same thing. It is one of the ways by which they artificially shorten the service life of their products with a view to ‘persuading’ consumers to buy new ones. The phenomenon is known as built-in obsolescence. It is a normal feature of capitalism and a major source of the enormous waste generated by that system. 

A waste of labor, a waste of resources, and – as in this case – a waste of human life.

Added and updated April 4th

Figures that don’t add up

The prospects of the pandemic in the United States vary widely from one place to another, depending on the timing and strength of the response from city and state governments. At one extreme are places like Seattle and the San Francisco – Bay Area where strong measures were adopted at an early stage and have had stellar results, comparable with those achieved by South Korea and Hong Kong. Here the pandemic is already on the wane; numbers infected are relatively low; hospitals have coped well.

However, such ‘oases’ are few and far between. More typical are the many areas where measures, though in effect by late March, began only after significant delay. These include such cities as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans. In quite a few of these ‘hotspots’ hospitals are already in crisis.

Even worse are likely outcomes in areas where in early April adequate measures had still not been taken. Most but not all such areas are in the Southern ‘bible belt.’ Here, for instance, religious services are still being held – sometimes for the explicit purpose of vanquishing the virus by prayer or exorcism.

For the time being, however, media attention has focused on the plight of New York City.

At a press conference on March 28, Andrew M. Cuomo, governor of New York State, stated that according to projections New York State was going to need 30-40,000 more ventilators by May 1. The Clown Prince responded that according to his projections New York did not need so many, though Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, the immunologist who serves on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that he saw no reason to doubt Cuomo’s estimate. The Clown Prince urged Trump to ‘push back’ against Cuomo.

Where were the additional ventilators to come from?

Can they be purchased? The trouble is that high demand and short supply have created a seller’s market with sky-high prices. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of coordination at the national level, which forces state governments to bid against one another and against the Federal Emergency Management Agency. [3]

The Strategic National Stockpile is supposed to supplement local medical supplies during a public health emergency. And federal authorities have sent New York State 400 ventilators from this source – 200 earmarked for New York City and 200 for the rest of the state. ‘What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?’ asked Cuomo. Not to mention that many have parts missing and do not work. It is unfortunate that New York State has a Democratic governor, as only Republican governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis get their requests met quickly and in full by the Trump Administration. [4]

At a press conference on April 4, Governor Cuomo announced that 1,000 ventilators would be arriving by air later that day – a donation ‘facilitated’ by the Chinese government. The State of Oregon, which is now over the hump of the pandemic, is donating, unsolicited, another 140 ventilators to New York. [5] 

Yet somehow these figures do not add up, though I have checked several times to make sure. 400 + 1,000 + 140 equals only 1,540, which is nowhere near 30,000.       

Who will be left to die?

So it seems that hospitals in New York – and other places – are going to be overwhelmed – meaning, in particular, that they are going to run out of ventilators. What happens then? Who will be hooked up to a ventilator? Who will be left to die?

According to a TV talk show broadcast from New York on April 3, these life-and-death decisions will be based on ratings that combine three factors:

  • age of patient (younger people have priority)
  • the patient’s state of health prior to infection (people otherwise in good health have priority)
health insurance status (people with ‘good’ insurance or able to pay for themselves; people with less ‘good’ insurance; people who are uninsured)
Those with the highest ratings get a ventilator all to themselves; those with the lowest ratings are left to die; those in the middle share a ventilator with other patients.

In other words, a class system has been devised – as befits a class society.
Stephen Shenfield

[1] This account relies mainly on three articles published in the Daily Kos on March 27: here and here and here.

[2] They do this both directly and through their lobbying group, AdvaMed. See Jason Koebler, ‘Hospitals Need to Repair Ventilators. Manufacturers Are Making That Impossible,’ Vice, March 18.

[3] Daily Kos, April 2.

[4] Daily Kos, April 2.

[5] See It is not clear who in China is actually footing the bill. 

Religion and Socialism (2020)

From the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The question of religion is not infrequently broached with socialists. A variety of cases are made ranging from the absolutely irrefutable word of God, as recorded in the bible (or sacred scripture of choice), to attempts to reconcile religious faith with Marxism.

Liberation theology is perhaps the most systematic attempt at this latter approach on a society-wide basis. However, this turns out to be a melding of Roman Catholicism and ‘Leninist socialism’ of the Cuban variety in Latin America where this theology was concocted.

Sympathy with the poor rather than being the spiritual mask of the rich is laudable, but does nothing to address the fundamental cause of that poverty, the material relations of wealth production and distribution. Not only is the pursuit of profit not sinful in capitalism, it is a basic requirement any lachrymose response by the Church cannot challenge.

Socialists can respond to religious entreaties in a trenchant manner, insisting that atheism expressed as materialism is the only credible way of understanding capitalism and bringing about the conscious change required by the working class, the vast majority, to strive for and achieve socialism.

But what is meant by atheism? Rejection of an anthropomorphic God who judges every human action, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, was achieved by serious theology centuries ago. There are still the credulous who believe they can achieve great wealth by praying for it, but they usually end up considerably poorer having gifted what little money they have to the religious sect making ‘divine’ promises.

A more robust atheism takes issue with all forms of God promotion, anthropomorphic, theistic, deistic, pantheistic, non-interventionist uncaused cause etc. Marx, it is commonly asserted, held with this position, and yet he declined to be identified with it.

This is in no way meant to indicate that Marx held some vague quasi-religious view. Far from it. He didn’t want to deny religion, but move beyond the religious question entirely. As atheism is merely the counter to theism, such a move required setting both aside. In a letter to Arnold Ruge, Marx wrote that he rejected:
  ‘… the label atheism (which reminds one of children assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogey man) …’ (Letter to Ruge, 1842).
Two years later, in the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx argued:
  ‘Atheism, as a negation of God, has no longer any meaning, and postulates the existence of man through this negation; but socialism as socialism no longer stands in any need of such mediation.’
It is worth socialists reminding themselves what Marx wrote in the paragraph that ends with his most quoted phrase on this subject:
  ‘Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.’
Atheism is not limited to merely attacking the symptom, religion, rather than the disease, capitalism, it also constitutes an assault on the means by which suffering may be endured.

Today it could be football or Facebook, consumerism and credit, gambling or gardening, even actual opiates or drugs of choice that have supplanted religion as the analgesic of social ills.

In Britain, people have now largely, for all intents and purposes, given up on religion. As Marx wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach (No. 8):
  ‘All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.’
For all that religion has been abandoned by the majority of the working class in Britain and many other western countries, it still exerts an obviously strong influence in many parts of the world. Where that is the case religion continues to fulfil its role as a reaction to poverty, both economic and philosophic. In extremis, the opiate proves deadly, as with ISIS.

Of course, just because Marx took a view it doesn’t mean it is of necessity correct: his writings are not to be quoted as pseudo-holy writ. However, on the subject of religion it would seem that the better case to be made is for socialism rather than atheism.

Religion is not to be abolished in the name of socialism. That can be left in the past with Stalin and Enver Hoxha. Better to progress the case for the working class to pursue actual socialism which requires collective conscious action by the class on its own behalf.

This does not entail any compromise with religion, not even if it attempts to accommodate itself to the socialist cause.
  ‘Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat’ (Communist Manifesto).
The point is not to negate religion but to transcend it through socialism harnessing the material resources available to humanity and employ them democratically for the commonweal, if not for heaven on earth, then as close as mankind can get to it.
Dave Alton

The trade in footballers (2020)

We Need to Talk About Kevin
From the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

English Premier League (EPL) football clubs will be returning to the former transfer window closing date of 13 August. This decision was made at a three-hour–long shareholders meeting that took place in London on 6 February.

For the last two years the windows closure date has taken place on the eve of the new Premier League season. This arrangement caused frustration for English clubs as their football counterparts in Europe continue to buy and sell players because their transfer windows allow them to continue trading in the market and thereby giving them an ‘unfair advantage’. A leading critic amongst others of the European advantage in the transfer market this season has been Maurice Pochettino, the ex–Tottenham Hotspur manager, who has made no bones about the restless effect it has had on some of his players, citing Christian Eriksson in particular.

During the English closure period, foreign clubs consider strengthening their squad by making discreet and indiscreet enquiries as to whether a particular club would consider selling one or more of their top players for the forthcoming season. Individual players, upon learning from their agent or possibly from a newspaper article that the enquiring football club would be prepared to pay a large some of money to procure their services (and increase their wages), may be sorely tempted to leave their parent club, especially if they are feeling unsettled.

So despite the large sum of money that premier footballers earn from their skills, they are in fact traded on the ‘market’ in much the same way as commodities in ‘futures markets’ are sold on financial exchanges. Each year the January Sales remind us that people will queue for hours in the cold to buy a fur coat or a desired consumer durable on sale at a reduced price.

In a socialist society where money no longer exists, people wishing to play football will be free to discuss their playing options, while goods and services created by the people will no longer be subject to the whims and caprices of a capitalist market system.

Coronavirus: The Italian experience (2020)

From the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Italy infected

Covid-19 is a new virus and is threatening to swamp regional health facilities.

There has been much confusion about whether or not to ‘lock down’ society or let the virus take its course. If the virus is allowed to spread uncontrolled, intensive care units will be overwhelmed, even if it is only the elderly and people with underlying health problems rather than the large majority of the younger population who require treatment. The trouble with total lockdown, however, is that the problem will present itself again once lockdown restrictions are relaxed.

Countries like China, South Korea, Italy and Spain went into total lockdown because their national governments saw no other alternative. The virus in Italy had already been present since January, probably even earlier. Once the Italian National Institute of Health started to register the first cases back in mid-February, it was probably too late to do anything else, because the number of cases of unknown origin was too large already. If the number of cases of known origin is low, so-called social distancing or self-isolation or quarantine can be the sensible thing to do – always providing it is clear to people what these things constitute and what their purpose is (i.e. to slow the spread of the disease so that healthcare systems can try to cope with the peak of critical cases).

In Italy, lockdown was applied almost from the start but only to small villages in northern Italy where it was believed that the spread had started. This seemed to work in these villages, but the spread was not in fact limited to those locations. Soon the big cities of Lodi, Bergamo, Brescia, and even Milan, became heavily affected causing lockdown to be extended to the whole Lombardy region and after a week or so to the whole country.

As we go to press (late March) the peak of new cases seems to be being reached and there is hope that the virus will not affect central and southern Italy as it has the north. Aggravating factors in the north have been that many people continued their lives more or less as usual even after the restrictions came into force (even going skiing or to seaside resorts) and, especially, that many small and medium-size businesses did not close down. This meant that many workers felt forced to go to work in ‘non-vital’ sectors and with very few safety measures in place. On 12 March the metalworking unions (FIM, FIOM and UILM) threatened strike action if workplaces were not made safer and some took strike action. The government encouragement of ‘forced’ holidays did not appeal to many workers who were effectively being asked to choose either to remain in lockdown at home and risk not being paid or to go to work in a potentially unsafe place. Not all categories of workers are effectively unionised in Italy and for the large majority of small and medium-size enterprises it was business as usual.

This can be seen as a greater risk factor than individuals going out for a walk or a run or walking their dog while keeping a distance from others. Yet subsequently these activities too have been virtually forbidden. Even the measures announced on 17 March, but which will only become law in May, do not convincingly help those workers either. According to the so-called ‘Healing Italy’ decree, vouchers of up to €600 will be paid by the State for babysitters. But this involves finding a trusted person who, regardless of the lockdown, can come to babysit your children. In addition a 15-day parental leave allowance has been granted at 50 percent of full salary for the period 5 March to 3 April. And then schools remain closed, if the situation does not worsen, until 2 May. The parental leave allowance means that workers have to decide whether to take forced unpaid holidays, or getting parental leave and losing 50 percent of their salaries (which are known to be among the lowest in Europe), or going to work and leaving their children with a babysitter (if available) or grandparents (if any). The latter has tended to be the option of choice, exposing as it does elderly people to increased danger of contracting the virus.

Italian politicians and mainstream media are talking about health coming first, but that is easy rhetoric. What this may be however is a chance for people collectively to learn to be socially united and responsible. Once again tragic events will be used to try to convince people that class differences are now irrelevant, that ‘we are all in it together’. But the truth is exactly the opposite: only socialism, a society in which we truly will be ‘all in it together’, can properly put human health first – before profits, before the need to limit healthcare facilities, before stinting on the resources needed to fight emergencies, such as covid-19, that may arise. And only a socially conscious world majority can bring about and speed up the process of ending capitalism and bringing about socialism.
The Italian comrades

The Historical Method of Karl Marx by Paul Lafargue. (1920)

From the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reprinted from the “International Socialist Review,” Oct., 1907.
  “The mode of production of the physical means of life dominates as a rule the development of the social, political and intellectual life” (Karl Marx).

I. The Socialist Critiques.

Marx, half a century ago, proposed a new method for the interpretation of history, which he and Engels applied in their studies. It is not surprising that the historians, sociologists and philosophers, fearing lest the communist thinker corrupt their innocence and cause them to lose the favour of the bourgeoisie, should ignore this method: but it is strange that Socialists should hesitate to employ it, possibly for fear of arriving at conclusions which might rumple their bourgeois notions, to which they unconsciously remain prisoners. Instead of experimenting with it so as to judge it from its use, they prefer to discuss the question of its value and they discover innumerable defects in it; it misconceives, they say, the ideal and its operation; it brutalises eternal truths and principles; it takes no account of the individual and of his role; it leads to an economic fatalism which excuses man from all effort, etc. What would these comrades think of a carpenter who, instead of working with the hammers, saws and planes put at his disposal, should quarrel with them? Since no perfect tools exist, he would have plenty of chance to rail at them. Criticism does not begin to be fruitful instead of futile, until it comes after experience, which, better than the most subtle reasoning, makes us sensible of imperfections and teaches us to correct them. Man first used the clumsy stone hammer, and its use taught him to transform it into more than a hundred types, differing in their raw material, their weight, and their form.

Leucippus and his disciple Democritus, five centuries before the Christian Era, introduced their concept of the atom to explain the makeup of mind and matter, and during more than two thousand years, philosophers, the idea not occurring to them of resorting to experience that they might test the atomic hypothesis, indulged in discussions on the atom in itself, on the fullness of matter indefinitely continued, on emptiness, discontinuity, etc. and it is not until the end of the 18th century that Dalton utilised the conception of Democritus to explain chemical combinations. The atom, with which the philosophers had been able to do nothing, became in the hands of the chemists “one of the most powerful tools of research that human reason has succeeded in creating”. But now, after its use, the marvellous tool has been found imperfect and the radio-activity of matter obliges the physicists to pulverise the atom, that ultimate particle of matter, indivisible and impenetrable, into ultra-ultimate particles, of the same nature in all atoms, and carriers of electricity. The atomicules, a thousand times smaller than the atom of hydrogen, the smallest of atoms, are said to whirl with an extraordinary velocity around a central nucleus, as the planets and earth revolve about the sun. The atom might be a miniature solar system and the elements of the bodies which we know might differ in themselves only in number and the gyratory movements of their atomicules. The recent discoveries of radio-activity, which shake fundamental laws of mathematical physics, ruin the atomic base of the chemical structure. It is impossible to mention a more noteworthy example of the sterility of verbal discussions and the fertility of experience. Action alone in the material and intellectual world is fruitful: “In the beginning was action”.

Economic determinism [We prefer Marx's own term, "The Materialist Conception of History." — Editors "Socialist Standard".]  is a new tool put by Marx at the disposal of Socialists to establish a little order in the disorder of historic facts, which the historians and philosophers have been incapable of classifying and explaining. Their class prejudices and their narrowness of mind give to the Socialists the monopoly of this tool; but the latter before using it wish to convince themselves that it is absolutely perfect and that it may become the key to all the problems of history; on this account it is quite possible for them to continue during the whole of their lives to discourse and to write articles and volumes on historical materialism, without adding a single idea to the subject. Men of science are less timorous. They think that “from the practical point of view it is of secondary importance that theories and hypotheses be correct provided they guide us to results in agreement with the facts”. Truth, after all, is merely the best working hypothesis; often error is the shortest road to discovery. Christopher Columbus, starting from the error in figuring made by Ptolemy, on the circumference of the earth, discovered America, when he thought he was arriving at the East Indies. Darwin recognises that the first idea of his theory of natural selection was suggested to him by the false law of Malthus on population, which he accepted with closed eyes. Physicists can today perceive that the hypothesis of Democritus is insufficient to include the phenomena recently studied, yet that does not alter the fact that it served to build up modern chemistry.

It is in fact little observed that Marx has not presented his method of historical interpretation as a body of doctrine with axioms, theorems, corollaries and lemmas; it is for him merely an instrument of research ; he formulates it in a workmanlike style and puts it to the test. It can thus be criticised only by contesting the results which it gives in his hands, for instance, by refuting his theory of the class struggle. This our historians and philosophers carefully refrain from doing. They regard it as the impure work of the demon, precisely because it has led Marx to the discovery of this powerful motive force in history.

II. Deistic and Idealistic Philosophies of History.

History is such a chaos of facts beyond man’s control, progressing and receding, clashing and interclashing, appearing and disappearing without apparent reason, that we are tempted to think it impossible to bind them and classify them into series from which can be discovered the causes of evolution and revolution.

The collapse of systems in history has given rise in the minds of thinking men like Helmholtz to the doubt whether it is possible to formulate a historical law that reality would confirm. This doubt has become so general that the intellectuals no longer venture to construct like the philosophers of the first half of the 19th century plans of universal history; it is indeed an echo of the incredulity of the economists as to the possibility of controlling economic forces. But need we conclude from the difficulties of the historic problem and the ill-success of attempts to solve it that its solution is beyond the reach of the human mind? In that case social phenomena would stand apart as the only ones which could not be logically linked to determining causes.

Commonsense has never admitted such an impossibility; on the contrary, men have always believed what came to them, fortunate or unfortunate, was part of a plan preconceived by a superior being. Man proposes and God disposes is a historical axiom of popular wisdom which carries as much truth as the axioms of geometry, on condition, however, that we interpret the meaning of the word God.

All people have thought that a god directed their history. The cities of antiquity each possessed a State divinity or poliad as the Greeks called it, watching over their destinies and dwelling in the temple consecrated to him. The Jehovah of the Old Testament was a divinity of this kind; he was lodged in a wooden box, called “Ark of the Covenant”, which was transported when the tribes of Israel changed their location, and which was placed at the front of the armies in order that he might fight for his people. He took his quarrels so much to heart, according to the Bible, that he exterminated his enemies – men, women, children and beasts. The Romans, during the Second Punic War, thought it useful as a means of resistance to Hannibal to couple up their State divinity with that of Pessinus, namely Cybele, the mother of gods; they brought over from Asia Minor her statue, a big shapeless stone, and introduced into Rome her orgiastic worship: as they were at once superstitious and astute politicians, they annexed the State divinity of each conquered city, sending its statue to the capitol; they reasoned that, no longer dwelling among the conquered people, it would cease to protect them.

The Christians had no other idea of divinity when, to drive out the Pagan gods, they broke their statues and burned their temples, and when they called on Jesus and his eternal Father to battle with the demons who stirred up the heresies of Allah which opposed the crescent to the cross. The cities of the Middle Ages put themselves under the protection of municipal divinities; St. Genevieve was that of Paris. The republic of Venice, that it might have an abundance of these protecting divinities, brought over from Alexandria the skeleton of St. Mark and stole at Montpellier that of St. Roques. Civilised nations have never denied the Pagan belief: each monopolises for its use the only and universal God of the Christians, and makes therefrom its State divinity. Thus there are as many only and universal Gods as there are Christian nations, and the former fight among themselves as soon as the latter declare war; each nation prays its only and universal God to exterminate its rival and sings Te Deums in His honour if it is victorious, convinced that it owes its triumph only to His all-powerful intervention. The belief in the intrusion of God into human quarrels is not simulated by statesmen to please the coarse superstition of ignorant crowds; they share it. The private letters recently published, which Bismarck wrote to his wife during the war of 1870-71, show him believing that God passed His time in occupying Himself with him, his son and the Prussian armies.

The philosophers who have taken God for the directing guide of history share this infatuation; they imagine that this God, creator of the universe and humanity, can be interested in nothing else than their country, religion and politics. Bossuet’s Discourse on Universal History is one of the most successful specimens of this kind: the Pagan nations exterminate each other to prepare for the coming of Christianity, his religion, and the Christian nations slaughter each other to assure the greatness of France, his country, and the glory of Louis XIV, his master. The historic movement, guided by God, culminated in the Sun King; when he was extinguished, shadows invaded the world, and the Revolution, which Joseph de Maistre calls “the work of Satan” burst forth.

Satan triumphed over God, the State divinity of the aristocracy and the Bourbons. The bourgeoisie, the class which God held in small regard, possessed itself of power and guillotined the king He had anointed: natural sciences, which He had cursed, triumphed and engendered for the bourgeoisie more riches than He had been able to give to His favourites, the nobles and the legitimate kings; Reason, which he had bound, broke her chains and dragged Him before her tribunal. The reign of Satan had begun. The romantic poets of the first half of the nineteenth century composed hymns in his honour; he was the unconquerable vanquished, the great martyr, the consoler and hope of the oppressed; he symbolised the bourgeoisie in perpetual revolt against nobles, priests and tyrants. But the victorious bourgeoisie had not the courage to take him for its State divinity; it patched up God, whom Reason had slightly disfigured, and restored him to honour; nevertheless, not having entire faith in His omnipotence, it added to Him a troop of demigods: Progress, Justice, Liberty, Civilisation, Humanity, Fatherland, etc. who were chosen to preside over the destinies of the nations who had shaken off the yoke of the aristocracy.

These new gods are “Ideas”, “Spiritual Forces”, “imponderable Forces”. Hegel undertook to bring back this polytheism of Ideas into the monotheism of the Idea, which, born of itself, creates the world and history by its own unfolding. The God of historic philosophy is a mechanic who, for His amusement constructs the universe, whose movements he regulates, and manufactures man, whose destinies He directs after a plan known to Himself alone, but the philosophic historians have not perceived that this eternal God is not the creator but the creature of man, who, in proportion to his own development, remodels Him, and that, far from being the director, He is the plaything of historic events.

The philosophy of the idealists, in appearance less childish than that of the deists, is an unfortunate application to history of the deductive method of the abstract sciences, whose propositions, logically linked, flow from certain undemonstrable axioms which impose themselves by the principle of evidence. The mathematicians are wrong in not troubling themselves regarding the fashion in which the ideas slipped into the human mind. The idealists disdain to inquire into the origin of their Ideas, coming no one knows whence; they confine themselves to affirming that they exist of themselves, that they are perfectible, and that in proportion as they become perfect they modify men and social phenomena, placed under their control; thus it is only necessary to know the evolution of Ideas to acquire the laws of history. In this way Pythagoras thought that the knowledge of the properties of numbers would give knowledge of the properties of bodies.

But because the axioms of mathematics cannot be demonstrated by reasoning, that does not prove that they are not properties of bodies, just like colour, form, weight and warmth, which experience alone reveals, and the idea of which exists in the brain only because man has come into contact with the bodies of nature. It is, in fact, as impossible to prove by reasoning that a body is square, coloured, heavy or warm as to demonstrate that the part is smaller than the whole, that two and two make four, etc.: all we can do is to state the experimental fact and draw its logical conclusions.

The Ideas of Progress, Justice, Liberty, Fatherland, etc., like the axioms of mathematics, do not exist outside of themselves and outside the spiritual domain; they do not precede experience but follow it; they do not engender the events of history, but they are the consequence of the social phenomena which in evolving create them, transform them, and suppress them; they do not become active forces save as they emanate directly from the social streams. One of the tasks of history unnoticed by the philosophers is the discovery of the social causes, of which they themselves are a product, and which give them the power acting upon the brains of the men of a given epoch.

Bossuet and the deist philosophers, who promoted God to the dignity of a conscious director of the historic movement, have after all merely conformed to the popular opinion of the historic role played by the divinity: the idealists who substitute for Him the Idea-Forces merely utilise in historic fashion the vulgar bourgeois opinion. Every bourgeois proclaims that his private and public acts are inspired by Progress, Justice, Patriotism, Humanity, etc. To be convinced of this we need only go through the advertisements of the manufacturers and merchants, the prospectuses of the financiers, and the electoral programmes of the politicians.

The ideas of Progress and of evolution are modern in their origin; they are a transportation into history of that human perfectibility which became fashionable with the eighteenth century. It was inevitable that the bourgeoisie should regard its entrance into power as an immense step of social progress, while the aristocracy looked upon it as a disastrous setback. The French revolution, because it occurred a century after the English revolution, and consequently in conditions more fully ripe, substituted so suddenly and completely the bourgeoisie for the nobility that from that time the idea of Progress took firm root in the public opinion of Europe. The European capitalists believed themselves founded on the power of Progress. They affirmed in good faith that their habits, manners, virtues, private and public morality, social and family organisation, industry and commerce were an advance over everything which had existed. The past was only ignorance, barbarity, injustice and unreason: “Finally, for the first time”, cried Hegel, “Reason was to govern the world.” The bourgeois of 1793 deified her; already in the beginning of the bourgeois period in the ancient world Plato (in the Timaeus) declared her superior to Necessity, and Socrates reproached Anaxagoras with having, in his cosmogony, explained everything by material causes without having made any use of Reason, from whom everything could be hoped (Phaedo). The social dominance of the bourgeoisie is the reign of Reason.

But a historical event, even so considerable a one as the grasping of power by the bourgeoisie, does not alone suffice to prove Progress. The deists had made God the sole author of history; the idealists, not wishing it to be said that Progress in the past had deported itself as a do-nothing Idea, discovered that during the Middle Ages it had prepared for the triumph of the bourgeois class by organising it, by giving it intellectual culture, and by enriching it, while it wore out the offensive and defensive fortress of the Church. The idea of evolution was thus to introduce itself naturally in the train of the idea of Progress.

But for the bourgeoisie there is no progressive evolution save that which prepares for its own triumph, and as it is only for some ten centuries that its historians can find definite traces of its organic development, they lose their Ariadne’s thread as soon as they venture into the labyrinth of earlier history, whose facts they are satisfied to narrate without attempting to marshal them into progressive series. Since the goal of progressive evolution is the establishment of the social dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, that end once attained Progress must cease to progress. In fact, the bourgeois who proclaim that their capture of power is a social progress unique in history, declare that it would be a return to barbarism, “to slavery”, as Herbert Spencer says, if they were dislodged from power by the proletariat. The vanquished aristocracy looked upon its defeat in no other light. Belief in the decree of Progress, instinctive and unconscious in the bourgeois masses, shows itself conscious and reasoned in certain bourgeois thinkers. Hegel and Comte, to cite merely two of the most famous, affirm squarely that their philosophic system closes the series, that it is the crowning and the end of the progressive evolution of thought. So, then, philosophy and social and political institutions progress only to arrive at their bourgeois form, then Progress progresses no more.

The bourgeoisie and its more intelligent intellectuals, who fix insurmountable limits to their progressive Progress, do better still; they withdraw from its influence certain social organisations of prime importance. The economists, historians, and moralists, to demonstrate in an irrefutable fashion that the paternal form of the family and the individual form of property will not be transformed, assure us that they have existed from all time. They put forth these impudent assertions at the moment when researches which have been carried on for half a century are bringing into clear light the primitive forms of the family and of property. These bourgeois scientists are ignorant of them, or reason as if they were ignorant of them.

The ideas of Progress and of evolution were especially fashionable during the first years of the nineteenth century, when the bourgeoisie was still intoxicated with its political victory, and with the prodigious development of its economic riches; the philosophers, historians, moralists, politicians, romancers, and poets fitted their writings and their teachings to the sauce of progressive Progress, which Fourier was alone or almost alone in reviling. But toward the middle of the century they were obliged to calm their immoderate enthusiasm: the apparition of the proletariat on the political stage in England and in France awoke in the mind of the bourgeoisie certain disquieting reflections on the eternal duration of its social dominance. Progressive Progress lost its charms. The ideas of Progress and of evolution would finally have ceased to be current in bourgeois phraseology had not the men of science, who from the end of the eighteenth century had grasped the idea of evolution circulating in the social environment, utilised it to explain the formation of worlds and the organisation of vegetables and animals. They gave it such a scientific value and such a popularity that it was impossible to sidetrack it.
Paul Lafargue 
(Translated by Chas. H. Kerr.)

Notices. (1920)

From the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The attention of comrades is drawn to the fact that we are running an Economic Class at the Head Office. The class meets every Thursday at 8 p.m.

Even those who feel pretty strong in economics should try to go through this course with a view to fitting themselves to take similar classes when the need and opportunity arise, as they undoubtedly will in the near future.


We have received a request for some back numbers of the Socialist Standard to complete a file for the New South Wales (Australia) Reference and Research Library. Can any reader oblige with copies of issues prior to 1911?

A Useful Book. (1920)

Book Review from the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

"A Primer of Socialism," by Thomas Kirkup Third Edition. Revised and partly re-written by Edward R. Pease. London : A. & C. Black, Ltd., Soho Square, W.1.

In a prefatory note to this volume Mr. Pease informs the reader that the first nine chapters are reprinted from the second edition (July 1910) without material alteration, the remaining six chapters, which brings the story up to August 1919, being written by himself.

The volume, although somewhat scrappy, is interesting in two respects. First, it contains brief but clear descriptions of the most important working-class movements of the earlier period, together with items of biological interest about the leaders connected with them. Its second and most interesting feature is its arrangement. Economic changes in the past and the rise of the present system are lightly dealt with in the first and second chapters. Then follow four chapters dealing with the aspirations and efforts of the early reformers and Utopians. The story of their efforts is closed by Kirkup with a brief but fairly accurate survey of the "Marxian Philosophy," and the founding of the First International. Mr. Pease takes up the thread and, in the same brief but clear manner, recounts the history of the working-class movement since that time.

Kirkup tells of the blind groping of the early reformers after the truth and its final discovery by Marx. Mr. Pease tells of the blind groping away from the truth and the deliberate enthronement of confusion by the agents of the master class.

Necessarily brief, the chapter allotted to Marx merely gives a short summary of the meaning of surplus-value, the antagonism of interests between the working class and the capitalist class, and the necessity of working-class organisation for political supremacy with the object of taking possession of the means of wealth production. After this outspoken declaration the following chapters read like a betrayal of the working class by its leaders. The reformism of the British Labour Party—including the so-called Socialist parties that accept its electoral programmes for parliamentary seats—the suicidal nonsense of the Anarchists and Syndicalists, and the Utopian absurdities of the Guild Socialists are inexcusable. Once the position of the working class has been scientifically determined and the knowledge made available, those who pose as leaders and ignore it are guilty of treachery to the working class. Mr. Pease writes in full sympathy with the labour movement, but the discriminating reader will be at once struck by the inconsistency of a working class movement based on reform after the discovery by Marx that the working class must be revolutionary.

Kirkup is rather severe on the "Communist Manifesto," which he says gives "in a violent and exaggerated form, the views which Marx afterwards elaborated in his large work on Capital." But his previous summary of the Marxian philosophy takes the sting out of his own adjectives. Whether expressed in the cold, lofty terms of the critic or the forceful eloquence of Marx himself, the philosophy is always convincing, and as a Manifesto issued to the workers of all lands, the "Communist Manifesto" has never been surpassed.

On pages 69 and 70 Mr. Pease falls into a common error when he writes about "Marxian Socialism" not being the type of Socialism to make any progress in this country. This is the paltry excuse of the labour leaders who "know all about Socialism" but see nothing profitable in the work of propagating it. They try to throw the blame for their own treachery on the workers—but the workers look to them for the truth, expecting, in their simplicity, to get it because of the expressed sympathy of those leaders. They thus add meanness to their treachery, because it is impossible for them to know what the workers will accept until they try them.

On page 92 Mr. Pease tells the truth about the attitude of the Labour Party towards the war, and members of that party should cease to boast about their opposition. Our author is very emphatic. "The Labour Party," he says, "supported the Government in the prosecution of the war from first to last " The I.L.P., he states, was, however, split into two sections, supporters of the Government and pacifists, who worked loyally together in spite of what would appear to be a vital difference of principle. This is easily explained when we remember that the pacifists were merely in opposition on humanitarian grounds against war in general as a method of settling capitalist disputes. Their two main contentions were that peace should be obtained by negotiation, and that the conscientious objector should be released from the obligation to serve. All the so-called Socialist parties supported the Government in its prosecution of the war, and issued manifestoes declaring their loyalty. Even the prominent pacifists of the I.L.P. asserted that it was the duty of every man to assist the Government in carrying out its objects.

A rather curious slip is made on page 78 that the publishers might note. The organisation known as the I.W.W. is said to be the "Independent Workers of the World."

To those members of the English Labour Party who blame the Social Democrats of Germany for their support of the war an interesting statement is made by Mr. Pease. He says: "During the few days when war was still in doubt the German Social Democrats held big meetings all over the country to protest against it. But their action was in vain. Similar efforts on a smaller scale were made by Socialists in England and elsewhere." If this comparison is true, neither the English nor any other labour party have any grounds for accusing the German Social Democrats of giving support to their government, seeing that their own efforts to prevent the war were the feeblest.

Mr. Pease is optimistic about the near future of the labour movement. He says, "unless therefore, the course of events takes altogether a fresh turn, a few years hence will see the Socialist parties in control of stable governments, ruling some of the largest and most highly developed countries of the world."

Does this mean that in a few years Socialism will be established ? Not according to Mr. Pease, who has already told us that these "Socialist parties" are not built on Socialist principles. But what does government by these so-called Socialist parties mean ? We can best answer that question by an examination of their election programmes. When we do this we find that none of these parties run candidates pledged to the abolition of the capitalist system and the establishment of Socialism. The leaders of these parties who may be elected to the national assemblies have no mandate except for the reform of the present system. Before they can have such a mandate the workers must be educated to that degree of knowledge that will enable them to consciously give it; but the leaders do not educate the workers in that direction at all, they simply take advantage of their ignorance to persuade them to support capitalist governments. This is proved by their own statement that they can provide an alternative government to the present coalition. Some of the extremists of the movement talk of State ownership, guild Socialism, and even of common ownership, but the wiseheads of the movement, who interpret correctly the degree of working-class knowledge, are seldom mistaken. The so-called Socialist and Labour parties do not educate tho workers at all, they simply frame their own utterances on the superstitions engendered in the minds of the workers by other capitalist agents.

If the Marxian philosophy is correct, the workers cannot emancipate themselves until they understand it. The leaders of the various working-class parties in this country have not yet commenced to teach it; from any point of view, therefore, they have made no progress whatever. Real progress can only be measured by the numbers in the Socialist ranks, by the votes they register for Socialism, and by the strength and breadth of the movement. Any other sort of progress, such as obtaining parliamentary seats by compromise with Liberals, or on programmes identical with the Liberals, is merely progress for the leaders toward the goal of their ambitions—a share of the plunder and a place in the sun.

As a short history of working-class movements both Kirkup and Pease have given us something that is reliable, though that portion of the work that has been undertaken by Mr. Pease is a record of error and confusion spread by self-appointed leaders. To the intelligent worker this will be plain if he but recognises the significance of the chapters dealing with the Marxian philosophy.
F. Foan