Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Look Round. (1905)

From the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The people of this country always forget and forgive and the capitalist politicians can do and say anything without troubling whether they are acting consistently. Ofttimes they deliberately contradict themselves. It is part of the game.

* * *

Our fearful misgovernment of the Indian Empire has produced one of the most appalling famines on record, yet the English conquerors seem generally indifferent to the sufferings of the victims. … In face of these manifold wrongs the alleged Liberal leaders are silent. What a contemptible gang! … It was very amusing to hear Sir H. C. Bannerman say that the nation was “thunderstruck” at the revelations of Mr. Burdett-Coutts. Had he read “Reynold’s Newspaper” he would have found during the last six months numerous letters from soldiers containing these exact charges. It shows how well he is qualified for leadership, being unaware of the exposures which we have made.
W. M. T., in “Reynold’s,” July 8th, 1904.

* * *

We have no hesitation in saying that any Liberal member who, publicly or privately, intrigues to prevent Sir H. Campbell Bannerman from being the next Liberal premier, ought to be regarded as an enemy to the party of progress. The votes of the Radical Democrats ought to go to the Tory rather than to such a traitor to the decencies of public life in this couutry.
W. M. T., in “Reynold’s,” Feb. 12th, 1905.

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For obvious reasons, lawyers, in particular, require good memories.

* * *

In a recent issue of the “Clarion,” Mr. R. B Suthers waxes indignant at the “raging, tearing, jingoistic screeching” of the “Daily Mail” because that journal perpetrated a provocative headline to a report of a certain rabid speech by a minor member of the Government surnamed Lee. The objectional headline read “Our Naval Eye on Germany,” and was calculated, says Mr. Southers, “to foment hatred between us and Germany” and was therefore “wicked and criminal.” Yet we do not remember to have read a similar condemnation of the “raging, tearing, jingoistic screeching” of Mr. Robert Blatchford, also of the “Clarion,” who, a few weeks back, was so strenuously urging that we should keep our Military Eye on Germany because he thought he could see Germany’s Naval Eye on us, and who was so anxious that we should be in a position to blow Germany out of he North Sea. Mr. Suthers’ just and righteous indignation would be more effective if he had first given some indication of his desire to set his own house in order. As it is, his protest falls flat because it does not ring true and he lays himself open to the retort discourteous of the “Daily Mail.”

* * *

He was going the next day with other comrades to meet the Prime Minister. (A voice: “What’s the good ?”) He did not think it would be much good but if the proposals they laid before him were carried out he believed it would be the means of remedying for the time being some of the misery which they saw around them.
W. Thorne, at Canning Town, Feb. 6th, 1905.

* * *

All the money coming into West Ham had hindered them from carrying on the fight so vigorously as they might otherwise have done, for when they had wiped out a little of the misery the workers had become the more contented and drifted back into the old conditions.
A. Hayday, at the same meeting.

* * *

“What’s the good” of raising false hopes in the hearts of the people and encouraging them to look to the capitalist party to deal with the unemployed problem ? What’s the good of neglecting revolutionary propaganda in order to distribute relief tickets ? Is there not a sufficient number of charity-mongers to do this propping up of the capitalist system ? Hayday, Jack Jones, McAllen, Mercer and others could surely find more useful employment, from a Socialist standpoint, than that of appealing to the exploiters to “lull the cry of toil and spare a trifle from the spoil.”

* * *

Hodge is a poor patient plodder, who lives his monotonous life driving horses and waggons, toiling in damp fields, and drinking in village ale-houses, with sage and onions hanging from the rafters and sawdust strewn over the floors. … He jogs out his plodding, patient, uncomplaining existence until, rheumatic-ridden, he inevitably seeks aid from the rural guardians, to be questioned sharply by the chairman, with the white waistcoat and the double chin, as to his sinful remissness in neglecting to provide for himself in old age. Provide for old age out of 10s. a week and a cottage!—something less than the price of a bottle of champagne squandered by his “better ” in a flash London bar any night.—LONDON OPINION.

* * *

“As Artemus Ward held that an occasional joke improved a comic paper, I hold that a Socialist paper should contain some Socialism,” says Mr. R. Blatchford in the “Clarion.” After this avowal we shall look forward to future issues of that journal with great expectations.

* * *

We greatly regret that Councillor Ewell McAllen, of the S.D.F., is pursuing a line of conduct which is not only calculated to bring that body into disrepute, but also to discredit the Socialist movement in general. At a meeting of the West Ham Town Council last month he ”let himself go” with the following choice interruptions : “Dirty Crow, black Crow!” “You paralysed parasite ! You greasy reptile ! You miserable liar!” “Sit down, monkey face !” “Withdraw, you cur. Monkey face, withdraw. You cur !” Any person of average intelligence can acquire a sufficient knowledge of the Socialist position to be enabled to crush his opponents by irrefutable arguments, without recourse to mere abuse. If Councillor McAllen does not recognise this or has not sufficiently studied Socialism to place himself in a position to argue with its antagonists, then he should surely resign his public position until, by study and reflection, he has become a really “fit and proper person” to champion the Cause.

* * *

The Saturday evening editions of the “King’s Lynn News” have contained some caustic comments on the recent actions of Mr. J. J. Kidd who has suggested that £25 should be raised for the purpose of contesting Lynn, in order to “teach the Liberal Party a few lessons.” We think those who read the letters which we printed in our last issue will agree that this shining light of the S.D.F. Executive should learn the elementary principles of Socialist policy before attempting to instruct the Liberals.

* * *

By the way, this party which is to be “taught lessons,” has been described in the Critical, but not always careful, Chronicle of “Justice” as “having become entirely and hopelessly demoralised, without leaders, without a policy, or principles, or enthusiasm, or initiative, or vigour” and as “absolutely dead and done for.” Why, then, should the S.D.F. worry about it ?

* * *

The “King’s Lynn News” reprints the greater portion of our comments on the Jermyn-Kidd incident and thinks that our “drastic language” is “calculated to make Mr. Kidd throw a flower pot at the neighbour’s cat.” No one more deeply regrets than we the necessity for such “drastic language,” although, of course the S.D.F. will not consider that anything wrong was done. That Body officially supports Liberal candidates and permits its members to do so. Mr. Kidd, therefore, only did that which the Body has already sanctioned.

* * *

In one respect, however, it is necessary to correct the “King’s Lynn News.” It says “Mr. Kidd gets it hot and strong from the official organ of his own party.” Let it be distinctly understood that Mr. Kidd is in no way connected with The Socialist Party of Great Britain. He is, as we have already stated, a member of the Executive Council of the Social-Democratic Federation, which declares that between Liberalism and Socialism there is not only opposition of tactics, but also antagonism of principle, which it is impossible to get over. Therefore to pretend to be on good terms with people who are not going their way and have no intention of travelling in their direction would be to hamper the action of Socialism in regard to matter which they deem crucial. This position was stated by H. M. Hyndman at Holborn Town Hall, on April 9th, 1899. But the S.D.F. has long since ceased to practise that which it preaches, hence the recent split and the founding of The Socialist Party of Great Britain. As a member of the S.D.F., even as one of the Executive of that body, Mr. Kidd did nothing extraordinary in supporting a Liberal, although his methods were somewhat clumsy. No member of The Socialist Party of Great Britain would be permitted to support a Liberal or any other non-Socialist. As will be seen by the Declaration of Principles on page 7, the Party enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist. It is definite in policy as well as principle and for that reason the working-class will, sooner or later, recognise that it is the only party worthy of their confidence and support.
J. Kay

Evolution and Revolution. (1905)

From the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard 

There appears to be some confusion of thought among Socialists as to the true value and relative application of the words “evolution” and “revolution.”

Influenced doubtless by Karl Kautsky’s reasoning in his “Social Revolution,” many students of sociology believe that the terms are synonymous. So far from this being the case, the words and the meaning they convey are in direct antagonism, as I shall try to prove.

Before the great French Revolution, society in France was evolving along certain lines, that is to say, a section of the community was becoming rich or profligate, or both, by the degradation, exploitation, and enslavement of the other section. Therefore, the tendency of the evolution of that society was to make a clear and ever more accentuated line of division between rich and poor, aristocrat and peasant.

The Revolution destroyed all that, cutting off for the time being all such tendency. In short, the Revolution put a period to the evolution of society as then constituted.

It may be contended that French society having evolved to a certain point, a change was inevitable. Even so, the change was none the less a revolution in that it altered most effectually the existing order of things, which, left to themselves—that is, had natural evolution been unchecked—would have developed into something quite different.

Here we may see the fundamental difference between evolution and revolution. The former means a gradual growth from that to this, with a connecting link so closely forged that the careful student may clearly see the second evolved from the first.

On the other hand, revolution is a force which comes in at certain periods, completely snapping the connecting link between the old and the new, rendering impossible, for the time at least, the further development of the old. The change revolution produces may of course go on evolving, but we must not forget that revolution brought that particular phase of evolution into existence. In doing this it necessarily destroyed the line of evolution which preceded the outbreak or upheaval, proving that revolution was opposed to evolution on those lines.

But, you will say, the Revolution aided the evolution of the French to a higher conception of equity and brotherhood. Quite so, but that by no means proves that revolution is an essential part of evolution, or that in fact it has any collateral relationship. Perhaps my meaning may be made clearer by an illustration.

If we took a boy from sordid and degraded surroundings and placed him in a refined and cultured environment, we should have revolutionised the life of that boy. His evolution to manhood would continue at about the same rate as if he had been left in the slum, but the evolutionary process would be of an entirely different nature. This change would have been brought about by stopping his old line of evolution and starting him on a new one—in other words, revolution has stepped in and performed its function, which is checking one form of evolution and supplanting it by another.

Now supposing that after the boy had spent two years in his superior environment, we then return him to the slum. That would mark another revolution in his life, and by that act you would be doing your utmost to set up the process of involution, which is the opposite to evolution. In short, you would be trying to get that boy back to the state in which you found him.

What may be said of the individual may be said of nations, and thus we see that revolution can not only elevate, that is, evolve, but it has power to degrade, to lower, to involve; again proving it is distinct from evolution, for were it the same thing it could not act in opposition to itself.

I am quite aware that an individual may rise above or fall below his environment, but that in no way affects the force of my illustration.

Involution is quite as important a factor in this question as evolution, for it has manifested itself, more or less, through every revolution.

For instance, the French people made no practical or lasting use of their splendid opportunities. There was in their Revolution the usual three turns of the wheel. First, the moderate movement, forward, then, after a time, the second, then the extreme party which created a reaction against the revolution, when the wheel moved backwards—involution. First, the Girondists, second, the Jacobins, then the reaction to monarchy.

So, then, we see that revolution can both build up and pull down, the latter power being altogether outside the province of evolution.

This should be quite sufficient to prove that the two words we are discussing do not mean one and the same thing, but let us go a little further.

The capitalist system was not caused by direct revolution : it evolved ; that is to say, it was established gradually, imperceptibly. The fact that the introduction of machinery later on brought about an industrial revolution in no way militates against this statement, for machinery was an outgrowth of the capitalist system, it did not produce it. The change it caused in the methods of production then prevailing, however, constituted a revolution, a revolution which cut off at once the further development of the old machinery.

The same may be said of many other things. For example, gunpowder as an aid to slaughter, was not evolved through the weapons of its day. It was a distinct invention or discovery, and its introduction caused a revolution in the art of war.

The application of steam to locomotion was also a revolution, for it did not evolve through the old stage coaches or any other then known means of transit; it was in fact a separate discovery. But having proved its usefulness, the application of steam has gone on being evolved right down to the present day. Electricity in its turn has produced a revolution in the application of energy.

Neither of these forces became known through a channel which may be termed evolutionary, for neither grew out of its immediate predecessor in the world of dynamics.

Let me give another illustration; the well-known one of the egg and the chicken.

In this case, nature’s design—if I may use such a term in this connection—is to evolve from the germ within the egg a member of the species by which that egg was laid. To bring that member to maturity, or in other words, to evolve it, so that it may in turn assist in the propagation of its species, is surely a natural law.

Anything which interferes with the action of that law is revolutionary, bringing evolution to a halt, either in the egg or the chicken. That is to say, if I break the shell before the chicken is ready for its new conditions, I am displacing evolution by revolution. If I kill the chicken before it is matured, I am doing the same thing.

Evolution, beginning with the germ in the egg, is not complete till that germ has evolved into the fully matured bird, the breaking of the shell when the chicken emerges being a vital part of this evolution ; it in no way constitutes a revolution.

The same may be said of a human being. From conception to maturity is one regular process of evolution, each succeeding stage depending in sequential order on the preceding. The birth of a child, therefore, is an essential part of its evolution towards manhood or womanhood, and is no more a revolution than the cutting of its teeth, the dawn of its intelligence, its first attempt to walk, or in short, any part of its prenatal or breathing existence, each stage, as we have seen, necessarily depending upon the other.

It may be as De Vries says, that catastrophic changes have occurred in the development of organisms, which he avers have suddenly “exploded” and given life to numerous new forms.

That is the point. A sudden change from old forms to new goes to make a revolution ; that which we may term natural and observed evolution being for the time superseded by something temporarily more powerful than itself.

In the birth of a child no such change occurs. The birth takes place, so far as we are aware, exactly as births have always taken place ; there ia no catastrophic change to the child; it was formed in the image of its parents before it appeared. It was intended for a human being, it is a human being; it was destined to evolve to maturity, it will evolve to maturity, unless revolution, which did not attend at its birth, steps in and cuts that evolution short.

I am aware that the evolution of society has always led to the various revolutions within that society, for it is impossible to get away from evolution anywhere or in anything, but we must always remember that revolution has also its evolutionary stages, even though of itself it is no more evolution than man himself. In both, the power to advance comes from a force stronger than themselves, proving that though they are subject to evolution they are yet distinct from it, for surely nothing can be subject to itself.

Another little illustration. A man hews down a tree and plants a sapling, so cutting short the evolution of the tree and aiding the evolution of the sapling. He thus stands as Revolution to that which he destroys and that which he plants, acting revolution’s double part of destruction and beneficence; but who would argue from this that the man is the same thing as the evolution of these trees. A revolution in society is quite as distinct.

Again, if we grow grapes in a hot-house, we can develope them faster than when we grow them in the open, but the stages of evolution from the slip to the matured fruit are identical. The natural development is hastened, but no revolution takes place, unless it should be found, for instance, that a cabbage was growing where a bunch of grapes ought to have been. That we might term a catastrophic change—in short, a. revolution.

Now as the whole of my efforts so far have been directed towards showing the difference between evolution and revolution, I need not pause to combat the belief, held by many, that the present social system, will, of its own inhernt qualities, ultimately lead to Socialism ; but this much may be said : if Socialism evolves from this system, there can be no revolution, for none will be needed.

Were it possible to establish Socialism in our country within the next few years, that would certainly constitute a revolution ; but wait for Socialism to evolve from the present system, and I rather think we are in for a pretty long wait, for to be evolutionary it would have to be established as gradually as was the prevailing order of society ; the State, bit by bit, taking, control of everything essential; the people, department by department, taking control of the State, until the State became the people.

That would be the evolution of Socialism, and in the process it would probably have to-pass through stages of development of which none of us at present have any conception—other systems possibly intervening—and would, doubtless run through many generations in the transition ; for the cream of the power of human evolution always lies with the governors of society, and it is only reasonable to assume that they would stretch every stage to breaking point before they gave way.

Briefly, then, the evolution of Socialism from the present system would mean progress by reform—a higher development of society attained by gradual and easy stages, nobody’s corns being trodden upon in the process. Were Socialism established by revolution, it would have to be by a sudden, and, comparatively speaking, instant turnover.

Therefore, the man who calls himself a Revolutionary Socialist, while devoting his energies to reforms, has no very clear perception of the difference between the two forces we have under consideration. He should style himself an Evolutionary Socialist. Believing, as he necessarily must, that the more reforms he can wrest from the governing class the nearer he gets, to the day of emancipation, he cannot logically term himself anything else.

Where in the past history of the world have beneficial reforms led up to revolution ? Personally, I know of no single instance, and should be much surprised to hear of one. But in any case, to work for, and obtain reforms, and then expect that these reforms will lead eventually to revolution, is simply absurd. To reach Socialism by such methods would be evolution, not revolution.

All revolutions which have not been spontaneous have been planned, the malcontents working hard to gain sufficient numerical strength to strike. A revolution to Socialism from the present system must be brought about in the same way, or it will never be brought about at all. The more society is reformed, the less likelihood can there be of a revolution, and at the best, the further is the day of revolution put back.

I am not here discussing which is the better method to adopt, my main object, as I have already intimated, being to point out the difference between evolution and revolution.

By educating the people into a knowledge of Socialistic principles, we can hasten the day of revolution ; by educating them into a conception of reforms of a Socialistic tendency, we may hasten the day of evolution, but nothing is more certain than that we cannot have both. The question as to which would realise our hope the quicker is another matter.

The man who believes the present system will, of its own weight, evolve into Socialism, should be, by that very belief, a Reformer, in the ordinary accepted sense of the word, for in effect he is saying Socialism may be brought about without the aid of revolution. So it may, in some such manner as I have pointed out, but why then does he talk about and work for the Social Revolution ? Simply, I presume, because he is not quite clear as to the meaning of the words he employs.

The real Revolutionary Socialist, however, cannot believe in the near evolution of society into a State which at present may be said to be its direct opposite in almost every particular. Put the capitalist system into a hot-house and it would not evolve quite so quickly as that belief implies.

Never in the history of the world, so far as I have read, has a single social system evolved directly into its opposite, and it appears unduly optimistic to expect it ever will. Other systems have always come between, and I can see nothing to warrant the belief that an exception is to be made of the present system.

This being so, the man who believes in revolution and works steadfastly only for that, has this advantage over his less determined fellow-Socialist—he knows exactly where he is going. With his objective point ever before his inward sight, he moves along the main line of his belief, sternly refusing to be side-tracked at any intermediate Station of Reform, no matter how alluring the surrounding prospect may appear. For a Revolutionary Socialist, that position is logical, unassailable

On the other hand, his evolutionary comrade—for so, as we have seen, should reforming Socialists be termed—is quite content to be side-tracked, and though frequently switched off on to another line in addition, he does not seem to mind so long as his engine keeps moving from one point to another.

It must of course be admitted that evolution is in perfect harmony with the nature of things, but so also is revolution ; moreover, the principle of revolution is ever in accord with the advanced thought of nations, the intellect of the studious chafing and rebelling against the slow progress of evolution and the frequent set-backs, or reactions, which take place within it.

As I have tried to show, evolution has often been displaced by revolution, and were it possible for a syndicate of capitalists to possess themselves of a machine which would displace a million of men, would they hesitate to avail themselves of the chance ? Not likely. They would consider such a revolution as this machine would bring about a most desirable thing for the nation—that is, themselves. Not a word would be said of attaining such a result by slow and easy stages, or in other words, by evolution. Evolution might go hang. However sudden the change might be, however much misery it might produce, they would not refuse it. Not a word would then be heard about the “natural order of things.”

What, then, is there inconsistent or unnatural in Socialists advocating that the intellect of man shall displace the slow progress of evolution in society, as it does in methods of production or in other directions ?

Nothing at all, and personally, I think Socialists will do well to take a leaf out of the book of their governors, keeping their eyes always fixed on their main object, and not allowing considerations of “natural evolution” to turn them for one moment from their purpose.
H. Philpott Wright

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Press Cuttings. (1905)

From the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

After hearing a deputation of unemployed the Paddington Borough Council hastily but unanimously decided to convene a special meeting of the works committee to consider the question and, as the unemployed were still gathered outside the town hall, the town clerk went outside and announced the decision. Further, the mayor’s son, who is also a councillor, promised to give every unemployed man present a good dinner. Upon that the assembled men drifted away.—Daily Express.

Your social reformer may explain this away as he likes, but seeing that crime is largely due to poverty and want in the case of the first offender, and that the frequent reappearance of the “habitual criminal” is to some extent evidence of the failure of our most expensive machinery for the punishment and diminution of crime, the English taxpayer is naturally alarmed when he finds that even the great prosperity which the Government Departments depict can be accompanied by a great and increasing amount of crime.—Capitalist Press.

SPGB Meetings. (1905)

Party News from the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voice From The Back: Candid Clinton (2004)

The Voice From The Back Column from the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Candid Clinton

It is not often that Bill Clinton tells the truth, so when such a rare event occurs it is only right that we record it. “The former American President addressing a packed hall at the World Economic Forum, pleaded for much more to be done urgently to ensure that the globalisation process benefitted all the world’s population, rich and poor . . . Emphasising that the gains of globalisation must be spread more widely across the globe to defuse opposition, Mr Clinton noted that one billion people went to bed hungry every night, 1.5 billion had no clean water and half the world’s population lived on less than $2 (£1.09) a day . . . But he protested ‘We do not have the system the world needs to respond to the self-evident problems in a comprehensive, organised way’” Times (22 January). Of course we don’t. The only system to deal with these problems is world socialism – capitalism, by its very nature cannot.

Wasted lives

Capitalism is a very wasteful society. It destroys food, to keep up prices whilst people starve. It spends vast amounts of effort in devising new and more efficient ways to destroy property and people in wars. It also stops millions of people producing wealth as these figures show. “The number of jobless people worldwide has reached a record of almost 186 million, while hundreds of millions more are employed but make so little money they can barely survive, according to the United Nations labor agency . . . The number of people out of work in 2003 reached 185.9 million, or 6.2 percent of the total labor force. In 2002 the figure was 185.4 million, although this represented 6.3 percent because the world’s population was smaller. In 2001 the number was 160 million, or 5.9 percent” Tampa Bay Tribune (23 January). Just another load of statistics perhaps but it represents the reality of capitalism, a system that stops men and women from producing wealth. Think of what kind of society we are going to have when these 186 million are allowed to start producing. The potential of a socialist society is enormous.

Heavenly help lines

Capitalism is a system that produces global problems. It also produces so-called answers to these problems on a world-wide basis. From Nashville, New Orleans and Hong Kong come the latest examples of spiritual answers to material problems – all at a price of course. “Concierge or credit card company can’t assist? Try divine intervention. Nashville: ‘Everybody has an angel,’ says Noelle Rose, who claims she can put you in touch with yours. Her clients range from the terminally ill to folks just searching for answers. Sessions in person or over the phone start from $60. New Orleans: Sally Ann Glassman, the city’’s best known voodoo high priestess, says she cured herself of breast cancer last month. She promises to heal you of your discomforts – spiritual, physical, psychological and social – startimg at $100 a treatment. Hong Kong: A favourite of local celebrities and socialites, ponytailed Peter So Man-Fung is a fengshui master who has a propensity to appear in local movies and at hip nightclubs. He’ll arrange your furniture for about $320 a session” Time (26 January). Socialists don’t have the answer to psychological problems but we do have a lot of ideas about social problems. If you contact us by phone or email we will try our best to deal with your questions. It will cost you nothing. After all we want a world without money.

Growing old disgracefully

“More than 2.5 million pensioners are going back to work because they cannot survive on their retirement income, new research has revealed . . . Many pensioners contemplate desperate measures to boost their income in retirement. Nearly a quarter of a million said they would commit or consider committing a crime – twice as many as the year before” Times (5 February). What a society we live in – it’s turning Gran and Grandad into Bonnie and Clyde!

A normal family

“Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Ann, told Reuters on Wednesday that her best friends were her horses and rejected the media portrayal of her as the wild child of the House of Windsor. ‘My family is probably just like your family, but everybody makes it into something different. They have a dream of what we are,’ Zara, 22, said in an interview . . . ‘I play polo and most people in my family ride, but it is not like ‘Right, let’s all go out for a hack then, gang,` she said” Yahoo News (11 February). How normal a life you lead when your grandmother is the richest woman in Britain is debatable, but one thing is sure, her Gran won’t be contemplating doing a bank job.

Beggar and billionaires

According to a recent UN report India is “home to more hungry people than anywhere in the world”. But this hunger does not apply to the Indian capitalist class as the following news from Lucknow shows. “The world has never seen anything like it. A billionaire lavished £30 million on the wedding of his two sons – and still had the change to pay for the nuptials of 101 other couples in one of the grandest Valentine’s Day gestures ever seen. As befits a latter-day maharajah, Subrata Roy also dipped into his family’s £3.7 billion fortune to feed 140,000 beggars all over India” Sunday Times (15 February).

The Miners’ Strike (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
Twenty years ago this month began one of the most disastrous strikes in the history of the working class in Britain. Not only were the aims of the strike not achieved but the strikers’ union was split and reduced to an ineffective rump. It wasn’t even a case of living to fight another day.
It used to be said that workers can learn as much from an unsuccessful strike as from a successful one. So what, then, were the main lessons of the 1984/5 miners’ strike?

That in the end the logic of capitalism will always win out. The declared aim of the strike was to keep open pits which by capitalism’s standards were “uneconomic”, i.e. were not making the going rate of profit (some were not actually unprofitable in the sense of not making a profit, but the profit wasn’t big enough compared with what could have been obtained if the capital had been invested elsewhere). A government can keep an “uneconomic” activity going for strategic reasons that benefit the capitalist class as a whole, such as security of supply, and the coal industry had in fact been maintained at previous levels for this reason  while coal was a strategic home energy source for electricity stations to power industry. But, by the 1980s, North Sea oil and gas was being developed as an alternative and cheaper home source of energy and the government had decided that the time had come to stop subsidising the coal industry. In the absence of strategic security-of-supply considerations, no government can afford to tax the capitalist class to pay keep unprofitable production units open, but will be obliged by international competitive pressures to apply the capitalist rule of “no profit, no production” and close them down.

That no strike can stop a government determined to have its way. Both sides  the government and the NUM leadership  were aware that the issue of keeping the pits open was going to be a trial of strength. We now know that the government had planned for the show-down well before it occurred, so that it took place on their terms and at a time convenient to them. It was no co-incidence that the government, via the notorious hatchet-man MacGregor they had appointed to run the NCB, provoked the strike at the end of winter when stockpiles had been built up and when the demand for coal would be less.

The NUM leadership openly declared that the aim of the strike was to try to force the government to change its policy (to in effect continue subsidising the coal industry). The NUM President, Arthur Scargill, even unwisely suggested that the aim was to bring about a change of government (as if a Labour government would have behaved any differently, in fact had behaved any differently in the mid-60s when they closed more pits than Thatcher and MacGregor were planning). This provided the government with a weapon to use in the propaganda war to win popular support.

But the government had other weapons in its arsenal, particularly its control of the police force, which was used to contain and ultimately break the strike. Once they had realised that the government was not going to change its mind, the best thing for the NUM to have done would have been to taken the government’s superior strength into account and settle on the best terms possible in the circumstances , such as big redundancy payments and perhaps keeping open some of the pits that were making some profit even if less than the going rate.

This would not have been cowardice or betrayal, but a recognition of the harsh fact that under capitalism the workers are a subordinate class with only limited powers to affect the course of events, certainly far less than those of governments, an unequal distribution of power that is at the very basis of capitalism. Trade union activity, including strikes, is necessary as long as capitalism lasts but it can’t work wonders. Strikes are essentially a trial of strength, testing the situation; once it has become clear  what the respective strengths of the two sides are as can happen fairly rapidly, though not always  then both sides know where they stand and a settlement can be negated on that basis. Once it had become clear in the miners’ strike that the government was not going to concede and was in fact in the far stronger position, there was no point in going on with the strike.

Don’t follow leaders
The leadership of the NUM, and in particular Scargill (a former member of the Communist Party who had only left it because they backed someone else rather than him in an election for a union post) and the Vice-President, Mick McGahey (a member of the Communist Party), held the view that union activity consisted in an active minority “giving a lead” to the normally passive majority in the expectation that they would follow.

In other words, they didn’t trust the membership. This led to another grave mistake in the NUM’s strategy: the refusal to hold a ballot before launching the strike. This was doubly stupid. First, because it provided the government with another propaganda weapon. Second, because a ballot would probably have given a majority for a strike anyway. But consulting the membership and allowing them to have the final say as to whether or not to launch it was not part of the mindset of Scargill and the others: they were leaders and they were going to lead. Ultimately, they led the miners to unnecessary hardship and disaster in a strike that went on for much longer than it need have done.

Calling a national strike without a national strike ballot was contrary to the NUM’s rules. It was therefore at least understandable that some miners and union officials should not feel bound by an unconstitutional decision. Thus in Nottingham the majority of miners continued working. The Scargill leadership’s response was to sent in pickets to, if it came to it, try to coerce the Nottingham miners into striking. Of course to have any chance of being effective a strike has to be a solid as possible, but coercing workers who could argue a democratic case for not striking at that moment was bound to be counter-productive. Maybe the leaders of the Nottingham miners weren’t being sincere and were just using the lack of a ballot as a pretext (most Nottingham pits were profitable), but Scargill’s tactics here ultimately led to the break-up of the NUM.

Socialists, as class-conscious workers ourselves, are on the side of our fellow workers involved in industrial disputes with employers, but this does not mean that this is unconditional. Strikes should not be aimed at other groups of workers and should always be run democratically with control remaining in the hands of those making the sacrifice of going on strike; paid union officials should be their servants not their masters or leaders. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all decisions have to be taken by secret ballot; decisions could also be taken by democratically-mandated delegates. But whatever the decision-making procedure adopted it should be democratic.

Were these lessons learned? Not by Scargill for one, who went on to set up his own party  the SLP  with the same leadership-based policies and tactics as the former Communist Party. Many miners, and others too, did, however, learn the hard way that the government is a class government, or, as Marx and Engels put it, “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”, and that the function of the police is not to give traffic directions or help old ladies across the road but to enforce the will of the government.

But few drew the conclusion that, if the exploitation and oppression of the working class is to be ended, we need to win control of the machinery of government so as to at least ensure that it is not used against us. In other words, the way forward lies in political action. Industrial action, though necessary from time to time, is essentially only defensive and has severe limitations due to the subordinate position of workers under capitalism. What is needed is political action to usher in a classless society of common ownership and democratic control where production will be for use and not for profit.
Adam Buick

The Socialist Party’s analysis of the miners’ strike The Strike Weapon: Lessons of the Miners’ Strike, published in 1985 can be downloaded here from the internet .

One (capitalist) world (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Globalisation - the increased integration of the world economy — reveals itself in various ways. One is the prominence of multinational companies, with goods being produced in various parts of the world, often by companies mainly based in Europe or the US. Supra-national organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the North American Free Trade Association are other reflections of these developments.

Jobs being switched to other countries, where labour is cheaper and/or more pliant, is a further aspect. One result is a world where a few obscenely rich individuals are wealthier than the poorest countries. Along with all this, though not necessarily an intrinsic part of it, are extensions of privatisation and the undermining of state welfare, both part of what is often referred to as the neo-liberal or Washington consensus.

Improvements in transport and communications are sometimes seen as the driving force behind these changes. Clearly, if contact with another country implies time-consuming travel, expensive phone calls and use of an unreliable postal service, then it will be difficult for a multinational company to function. But faster plane travel, e-mail and faxes make it all so much easier. Such factors, though, are best seen as facilitating globalisation rather than causing it. For the simple fact is that capitalism has always looked for markets, materials and cheap labour wherever it can find them. When the Korean company Samsung decides, as it did recently, to transfer a factory making microwave ovens and computer monitors from Teesside to Slovakia, it is motivated by the prospects of lower wages (£1 an hour, compared to the princely £5.70 paid in Billingham). And many ready meals sold in UK supermarkets contain chicken from Thailand or Brazil, where intensive factory farming has driven costs down (but has greatly increased the problems of controlling disease).

The spread of global products and brands is sometimes summarised by the term “McWorld” - a world built on the model of McDonalds, with bland goods, poorly-paid jobs and big profits for a favoured few. Multinational companies often rely on sweatshops, with child labour, temporary jobs, dangerous working conditions and no trade unions but massive profits. At the Formosa factory in El Salvador, for instance, workers have reported how they slaved for twelve hours a day on backless wooden benches, with only one daily visit to the toilet allowed, making clothes for Nike and Adidas. The biggest corporations can dictate to governments and other organisations: for example, the World Health Organisation has been blocked from taking action on obesity because of lobbying from American sugar
producers. But again, there is nothing new about governments and other world bodies doing what capitalists want. Backed up by the threat or reality of US armed force, Western capitalism can usually dictate its own terms for access to oil, cheap labour and so on.

The extension of the cash nexus to practically every aspect of life is a further instance - what Naomi Klein calls the loss of “unmarketed space”. In Bolivia the municipal water supply was privatised, and the new owners ever made it illegal to collect rainwater in roof tanks! In this case, mass protests were able to reverse the privatisation with its drastic increase in costs. When even prisons are run for a profit, it seems that nothing is beyond the evil embrace of capitalism.

World trade came into existence with capitalism, bringing products such as cotton and tobacco to Europe. But the growth of industrial capitalism led to an enormous increase in connections between different parts of the planet as raw materials were sourced from every direction and wars were fought to open up markets in places like China and Korea. Yet companies remained primarily nationally-oriented. Perhaps the first multinational appeared when the US company Singer set up a sewing-machine factory in Glasgow in 1867. By 1914, only 12,000 people in Britain were employed by US companies. So it was the 20th century that was the true era of globalisation, as expansion abroad revealed itself as the best option for companies that had difficulty in increasing their domestic market share.

There had previously been plenty of investment by individuals and institutions in overseas companies, known as foreign portfolio investment (FPI). But the 20th century saw this largely displaced by foreign direct investment (FDI), whereby a company based in one country owner and controlled factories and subsidiaries in another. FDI implies a far greater impact on the economy and population of the “receiving” country, with decisions being taken by people beyond the influence of that country's government.The last couple of decades, though, have seen a comeback of FPI, but this time with a bigger influence given the emphasis on short-term profits and on switching production from one country to another as wage levels and other production costs rise and fall. FPI is often driven by mergers and takeovers, which are designed to cut cost: and have no relation to the needs of workers or consumers.

Some people are wholly in favour of globalisation, Jack Straw for one:
“Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, there is no longer a coherent alternative ideology on offer. We could take the advice of the Stop the World campaigners, retreat into our national economies and close our markets. But this would put at risk the real benefits that globalisation, and global capitalism, have brought to millions.” (Guardian, 10 September 2001)
(No doubt the workers of El Salvador could enlighten Straw on the "benefits” of global capitalism.) Even most supporters of globalisation agree that some changes need to be made in global governance, though they accept the general idea. Ranged against them is the world-wide anti-globalisation movement, or "movement of movements". It is common, and not just among socialists, to complain that it is clearer what this movement is against than what it is for.This is sometimes seen as a good thing, on the grounds that it prevents too early a consensus on one single solution when so many are in the air. But in fact this movement has many incompatible goals.

For instance. Walden Bello, of the group Focus on the Global South, advocates deglobalisation (probably the kind of thing Straw was opposing above):
"We are not talking about withdrawing from the international economy. We are speaking about reorienting our economies away from the emphasis on production for export and towards production for the local market."
But production for the local market is still production for profit, and what Bello is suggesting is just a less-centralised verslon of capitalism.

The World Social Forum or WSF (recently held in Mumbai) has become one of the main meeting points of the anti-globalisation protesters. A record of the discussions at the 2002 gathering in Brazil has been published as Another World is Possible, edited by William Fisher and Thomas Ponniah (the above passage from Bello is taken from this source).The editors present one of the poles of disagreement as being revolution vs. reform, with the revolutionaries wanting to do away with organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the reformers wanting to negotiate with them and transform them. But. as this example suggests, all that is really involved here is different versions of reforming capitalism, with nothing revolutionary at stake at all.

However. Another World is Possible should not be simply dismissed. It is free of any nonsense about the USSR or “national liberation movements", which might have disfigured such a collection not so long ago. More positively, there is an emphasis on democracy and on rejecting leaders, and many references to putting people before profit. For instance, a summary of one strand of the discussions in Brazil states:
“The Utopians point out the necessity of understanding that society can no longer be founded on profit and competition, but should be based on the values of equality, equity and social justice.The desired globalization is a human one: profit can no longer be prioritized over human needs.”
It is not clear how widely supported such sentiments are within the WSF. or how many dismiss them as "utopian”. But as a vision of the future this is far more encouraging and inspiring than the blinkered view of Jack Straw.

Socialism will also be a world system, but this does not mean it will involve gigantic centralised organisations. Production will no doubt involve both locally- and remotely-sourced materials, as appropriate, but there will be no incentive to go for the “cheapest" option. Putting the bottom line at the top of priorities is not the way to a healthy and happy world. 
Paul Bennett

No thank you, Mr Galloway (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Mr. Galloway,

We received an invitation (addressed to our former General Secretary) to join your Unity Coalition.

This invitation was considered at a meeting of our Executive Committee on 7th February 2004. The following resolution was passed:

That the secretary write to George Galloway to decline his request for support as he does not agree with our Object and Declaration of Principles; and that we challenge his organisation to debate on the case for socialism.

The very title of your old website – – indicates the extent of your agenda: the removal of a specific politician from office and, presumably, his replacement with yourself or one of your allies. Whereas, our object is very specifically:

The establishment of a system of society based on the common and democratic ownership and control of the means and instruments of producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community.

Your website gives a list of demands around which you intend to campaign along with the removal of Tony Blair. These are:

To withdraw troops from Iraq and to let the people of Iraq decide their own future; Halting the privatisation of essential public services; Defeating the Euro and the proposed European constitution; Protecting and enhancing our environment; The restoration of trade union rights; For equality, tolerance and a multi-cultural society.

We are unable to support this list of demands. None of them addresses the essential problem of our society – the ownership of the means of production by a tiny number of capitalists and the enforced exploitation of the working class through the wages system. So long as the essential resources for living are controlled by their owners – whether as western style private capitalists or monopolist state bureaucrats, like that of the Soviet State-Gangster Capitalism you so venerated – the strife and anguish of the class struggle will remain.

The job of Socialists is to bring the class struggle to an end, not to try and accommodate themselves with this system, or with the likes of George Monbiot and their schemes to make the market system work better with international financial controls and dreams of petty national autonomy.

Liberation for Iraq within a world divided into state of property would merely mean liberation for the owners of Iraq, not its beleaguered workers, who would continue to be exploited.

Halting privatisations would merely mean having to pay capitalists interest on the bonds they sell to the government rather than directly for their services.

Defeating the Euro would merely leave workers using money with The Queen’s head on rather than without.

Protecting the environment in the context of the profit drive means an eternal struggle against the basic impulses of the companies whose taxes you’d need to pay for the nationalised services.

Restoring trades union rights, however welcome, would still leave us struggling against our employers and still prey to organised labour’s Achilles’ heel of unemployment.

As for tolerance, as Tom Paine wrote, tolerance is for Popes: it implies someone with the power or right to ‘tolerate’. Socialists seek a society of universal equality – the world over – based upon the free association of producers working collaboratively to produce for each according to their needs as individuals, not as interest groups. For us, the whole community means the whole community.

That is, we hold that:
That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex.
That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
Which necessarily excludes working with ‘faith groups’ whether Christian or Islamic whose antiquated views serve only to divide the working class, and conceal their real causes of their social subordination behind ‘identity’ and ‘culture’ supposedly shared across classes.

The effect of your Coalition’s campaign will be to help continue this mystification and confusion of the workers as to their own interests, as well the sullying of the name of Socialism by including it as part of your RESPECT acronym. Socialism is not milk-and-water reform, it is not a vague concern for ethics compatible with every opposition campaign or grouping within capitalist society. Without the clear aim of establishing the common and democratic ownership of the means of production and living, RESPECT will merely repeat the folly of Labour, in finding itself needing to run capitalism against the interests of the workers.

Thus, we reiterate our principle that:
… as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.

Consequently, we decline to join you in your campaign for self-aggrandisement at the expense of the working class; challenge you and your organisation to justify itself against the socialist case; and commit ourselves to openly campaigning for Socialism and against RESPECT in any up-coming elections.

The World for the Workers,

Bill Martin, Assistant Secretary.
15 February 2004.

New pamphlet: Are We Prisoners of Our Genes? (2004)

Party News from the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just Out

A new pamphlet in book form (50 pages) refuting the arguments of the biological and genetic determinists that a socialist society could not work “because it’s against human nature”. Shows how recent advances in the science of genetics have confirmed that humans are “genetically programmed” to be able to adopt a wide range of learned behaviours; that behavioural versatility and flexibility is a key feature of human biological nature; and that humans could therefore live in a peaceful, non-hierarchical, co-operative society of common ownership and democratic control.

Price £4 or, by post, £4.75. Six copies by post £ 19. Cheques should be made payable to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain” and sent to: 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

London centenary event (2004)

Party News from the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the Socialist Party's centennial year. A number of events to mark this have been planned for the coming months: meetings in Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham as well as in London, production of a video, publication of a book of selected articles from the Socialist Standard, and special issues of the Socialist Standard in June and September.

A political and social event has been fixed for Saturday 12 June at Regent's College, Regent's Park, in central London (nearest tube: Baker Street).This will be an evening event, from 6pm to midnight, with a buffet meal and background music. There will be a cash bar. Other events are planned for the same weekend, including an outdoor meeting in Hyde Park.

It will be an occasion for members, sympathisers and ex-members from all over the country and from abroad to meet, talk and mark the SPGB's hundred years of political activity for socialism.We expect a big turn-out.

To cover the cost of the meal and the music, we are suggesting a contribution of £20 but hope that those
who can afford it will contribute more so as to cover the cost of those who might not be able to pay the full amount.

If you would like to attend this event please use the form below. Any money sent now will be acknowledged and the tickets forwarded in due course.

Cheques should be made payable to "The Socialist Party of Great Britain" and sent to the Centenary Committee, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Blogger's Note:
  • The Socialism or Your Money Back book, marking the centenary of the SPGB and the Socialist Standard.
  • The June 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard, which marked the hundredth anniversary of the SPGB and was a special issue focusing on the history of the Party.
  • The September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard, which marked the hundredth anniversary of the Socialist Standard and was a special issue focusing on the history of the Socialist Standard.
  • An audio recording of the centenary meeting, featuring Bill Martin and Dick Donnelly.

Corrections (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unfortunately the book reviews in our February issue contained a couple of mistakes. In the review of Mark Curtis's Web of Deceit, the second paragraph should have contained the sentence,“In Kosovo in 1999, NATO bombing killed around 8,000 and precipitated 'ethnic cleansing' (which the bombing supposedly halted, but the chronology shows this to be wrong”— the published version omitted the bit before the brackets. And in the review of Tell Me Lies, the word “bloodbath” was left out of the statement by Andrew Marr that Baghdad was captured “without a bloodbath”.

Also, in the January [issue], we published a picture of Darwin stating that it was Anton Pannekoek. Pannekoek did write a good pamphlet on Darwinism (available from us) but he wasn’t actually Darwin.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Revolution in the 21st Century (2004)

Book Review from the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Revolution in the 21st Century. A Rough Guide to Revolution for Academics and Activists. By Jack Grassby, TUPS book, Newcastle, 2003

This is basically an up-dated version of Jack Grassby’s previous book, A Socialist’s Guide for the 21st Century, reviewed in the July 2001 Socialist Standard. In this he sets out, mainly for politics students, the range of approaches adopted by political activists.

First, there are those who think that the present social, economic and political system  capitalism, based on class ownership of the means of production and driven by production for profit  is basically OK but needs improving in one way or another. Some want “more capitalism”, i.e. less social interference in the market and profit-making (Grassby calls them the “Anti-Socialists”) while others want to move in the direction of more communal responsibility for people (Grassby calls them the “Non-Socialists” or “social democrats” such as Blair, ex-President Clinton and the Lib Dems in Britain).

Secondly, there are those who think that the present system should be replaced by another system they call “socialism” (variously defined, but all involving social control of production). Some believe that such a new system could be introduced gradually through a series of reforms voted by a democratically-elected government (Grassby calls them the “Evolutionary Socialists” or “gradualists” or “reformists”, as exemplified by Old Labour). Then, says Grassby, there are the “Revolutionary Socialists” who argue that socialism can only be established after a decisive break during which the present ruling class are deprived of power –  a “revolution”.

Grassby divides this group into those who hold that such a revolution has to be the work of a conscious majority and can be achieved essentially peacefully by making use of existing elective institutions (he gives us as the typical, indeed the main, example) and those who hold that it has to be the work of an enlightened minority, a political vanguard, leading the workers in what will inevitably be a violent show-down with the state (here, his typical example is the SWP). He also discusses the anarchists but doesn’t classify them as a separate approach, presumably because, depending on their views, they can be fitted into one of other of the three categories above (reformists, democratic revolutionists, vanguardists).

He does, however, introduce a fourth group who he calls the “New Socialists” (even though most of them don’t call themselves socialists, “anti-capitalists” being as far as they are prepared to go): the amorphous group of those who don’t see any single alternative to capitalism but many possible alternatives, including some which retain money and markets, all of which are seen as equally valid; in fact, for them, the goal is not that important, it’s what you do now that is.

Despite the fact that they reduce “socialism”, as has the Labour Party when it pretends to have something to do with this, to “socialist values” that can be achieved within capitalism, Grassby’s sympathies go to this last group, or rather it is in them that he sees the future hope for socialism. Certainly, at the moment, this is the approach that probably most of those radically dissatisfied with the worst features of capitalism are inclined to adopt. But even he recognises that pursuing single issues is ultimately a dead-end, an endless uphill struggle like trying to run up a downward-moving escalator. And, we would add, both he and they are wrong to imagine that there are many possible alternatives to capitalism.

At this particular historical juncture, due to the productive system that has developed, there is only one possible way forward for humanity: a world-wide society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources. This is not to say that, on this basis, alternative structures are not possible. Of course they are , and no doubt in different parts of the world these structures will reflect the different traditions and preferences of the people living there. That would be a consequence of the democracy that socialism necessarily involves. Socialism is not a blueprint as to all aspects of the alternative society to capitalism, only a definition of what its basis has inevitably to be.

Grassby is over-impressed with “post-modernism” which he seems to identify with philosophical scepticism and moral relativism, but these have existed since Ancient Greek times. Post-modernism, if it is to mean anything (not that it is clear that it is), surely, must have something to do with “modernism”, i.e. the view that emerged, at the time of the Enlightenment in the 18th century the Age of Reason, that there are universal human values and which advanced the project of universal human emancipation, a project inherited by early socialists such as Marx. It is this that post-modernism rejects, and shows itself to be, not as Grassby thinks the basis for a theory of 21st century revolution, but an expression of  capitalism’s current intellectual bankruptcy.

Grassby has also been taken in by “socio-biology”, the theory of biological determinism thought up by EO Wilson, the specialist in ant behaviour. Grassby argues that “the Marxist view that the post-capitalist society will operate altruistically, without money, prices or wages, demands a uniform standard of human behaviour not consistent with the sociobiologist’s description” and “would require universally altruistic human behaviour without greed, selfishness, prejudice or power”.

It is not clear where in Marx or any other socialist writer, Grassby gets this idea that socialism requires “universally altruistic human behaviour”, i.e. that everybody should put everybody else’s interest before their own, but probably from the biological determinist opponents of socialism such as Wilson and Steven Pinker who he quotes. But in fact socialism doesn’t require everyday human behaviour to change much from what it is today, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, cooperation) at the expense of others which capitalism encourages (violence, competitiveness and acquisitiveness).

Of course humans are biologically capable of aggressive as well as non-aggressive behaviour, of being narrowly self-centred as well as of showing concern for others that’s what being biologically capable of a wide range of behaviour, a key feature of “human nature”, means. But that’s not the same as saying that humans have a “biological predisposition” (through a gene or combination of genes) for aggression, domination or greed or, for that matter, for non-violent, co-operative or altruistic behaviour. Because we are “biologically programmed” for flexible behaviour, humans are capable of both types of behaviour depending on the circumstances in which we were brought up or find ourselves in.

So, while Grassby’s book may provide some useful material for students’ essays on politics, they should be wary on relying on it for their essays on philosophy. And they are advised, if they want avoid bad marks, to refer to John Stuart Mill as “Mill” rather than “Mills”.

One further correction. Grassby says that the SPGB has “its roots in the Labour Representative Committee established in 1900” which was the forerunner of the Labour Party. This is a misunderstanding. We were a breakaway from the Social Democratic Federation which was indeed present at the 1900 conference which established the, to give it its proper name, Labour Representation Committee. But in 1901 the SDF disaffiliated from the LRC and it was after this, in 1904, that the Socialist Party broke away.  So, we have never had any links to the Labour Party.
Adam Buick

The cloying embrace of the New Age (2004)

From the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard 
"The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man, that is, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all circumstances in which man is humiliated, enslaved, abandoned and despised”. (Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)
In the last thirty or so years there has sprung up a set of ideas, loosely related in content but closely tied by form, referred to collectively as the ‘New Age’ Aquarianism, Wicca, crystal healing, aromatherapy, holistic remedies, along with a host of offshoots from more conventional religions whether Christian or otherwise. These institutions themselves are internal to a general ‘change of consciousness’, in the main anti-technological and pro-‘spiritual’, or ‘Green’.

We as Socialists often appear alone in standing against this seeming tide of goodwill, good vibrations, and wholesomeness, as if slaughtermen at a refuge for foundling woodland animals. People know, and usually respect, our position on organised religion; that religion is debilitating to the mind of the worker and thus to the progress which we wish to make as workers in advancing our interests. But the New Age? What could be bad about ‘healing’? Who could protest against a Green utopia? Or, indeed, the benefits of goddess worship in empowering women? Surely this New Age is at worst harmless fun and at best a route to a new, gentler society?

Our answer is that the New Age religion is merely the old age religion in a new, consistently modern form. For example, it follows all the rules of modern science, often becoming a cult of scientism itself, demanding (usually)? no virgin births or flat earths, and steps between the cracks of this modern science where it fails to tread, in the subjective part of human experience; the New Age’s powers are all developed on the side of ‘spiritual energy’, ‘psychic transformation’, etc. If the old religion was the opium of the people, then this is the heroin; no longer extracted by chance from nature but refined, even artificially manufactured, and all the stronger for the process. The chants and prayers of the old religion have become commodified into tarot cards, crystals, massage and healing workshops, incense burners, and scented candles.

How did this come to pass? How could a modern working class, far more capable at mental labour than our forebears, sink so low as to fall in love with our own mental chains instead of merely bearing them in guilt and shame? The answer is to be found in considering what religious alienation is.

Religious alienation
Religion is not a set of monotheistic doctrines, whether Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., but an ideal world where the problems of society are transcended in thought. The underlying cause, the system of society, capitalist social relations, which alienates us as humans from our material powers, remains intact, in fact, unchecked; it reproduces the problem. The New Age is not different from religion as anciently conceived; it is the perfection of it.

The old religions are dying in the West not because of a lack of proselytisation, the loss of God’s favour, or any other cause which religions might claim, but because actual experience of the modern world has ripped them asunder, and as dogmas they must break instead of bowing to this change. The Pope cannot end the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion, for example, even though every Catholic with a rudimentary scientific education knows that there is no divine spark at conception, unseeable until nine months later; the entire process of human reproduction is now well known and it would be expected in any doctor’s surgery that in practice no-one would hold such a belief.

Protestantism instead is the basis of the New Age religion, even though virtually unrecognisable once it has cast off its particular historical cloak of inherited catholic ideas, adapting new materials to its needs. What remains is that ‘each man and woman is their own priest’. As Marx put it, “Luther freed the body from its chains in order to put the heart in chains”; rather than obeying a priest, we choose the form of our own mental domination, just as in work we no longer slave for one master but can choose from hundreds to slave for. The pagan backdrop of Catholicism is filled by that of Hinduism, Buddhism, even Islam, removed from their own social contexts of native exploitation; all are grist to this mill, generating a thousand and one cults, sects, and aquarian societies.

What all these have in common is the form they take; the flight from reality into a magical world where the evils of the material world are transcended in thought. They are not revolutionary, as some might suppose, from their content of peace, love and contentment; they are escape, the only escape of the life prisoner staring from their cell window, and the form is the acceptance of their existence only as an ideal life, never as a fully material one. They are the product of personal inspiration, mental focussing, or good vibrations, not the actual powers of human beings living and breathing in and out all of the powers of nature.

So what is the socialist answer? Quite simply that we wish to abolish alienation at its root; rather than fleeing from its effects we wish to tackle its causes. These causes are, briefly put, the forces behind the capitalist mode of production.

To expand a little, the capitalist mode of production involves a division of the productive process into the production of two kinds of values; use values, which the capitalist later sells to make more capital, and exchange value, which is the labour cost, including reproducing our labour-power, of producing them. Note that there is no need to invoke Dickensian poverty or the lash of the Pharaohs in order to explain the reproduction of the working class; we are not necessarily materially impoverished by the process, that would be like failing to put oil in a car engine or charge the radiator with antifreeze. Instead, like the car, we are objects of use, means rather than ends, and as the productive process accelerates, as capitalism has come to predominate, mere cogs in a machine, and our creative powers of producing values appear irrevocably transferred to the objects we have made. As Marx put it, “in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse”. Contrary to popular apprehension, therefore, we as socialists are primarily concerned not with becoming better fed workers, but ending our existence as the ciphers of our own life process. Our immiseration, which we wish to overcome, is precisely that which the New Ager recognises at one remove, as the world of other people who have not heard of healing, spiritual crystal workshops, or whatever, which has transformed their life: we as socialists (or, the same thing, communists) do not have the luxury of such self-delusion, whether through an inability to be so hypnotised, an allergic reaction to religion, or sheer bloody-mindedness, and must therefore instead overthrow the conditions which give rise to the pain from which New Agers flee.

We are not fighting blindly. We have a theory of society, of our history, which explains how we have come to this pass and how we can escape it – a theory explained further throughout this journal and in books, pamphlets, in fact every time you stop a socialist and ask them the time of day. We have the vast mass of society potentially as allies, and stand at the end of society’s historical alienation process, with no further worlds to be won but our own. Moreover, the process itself is liberatory; again, as Marx put it, “Communism is the actual movement which abolishes the state of affairs” and anyone who has been to a big rally or demonstration will know a small part of the power that is to be had through participation in one’s own liberation, be the goal seemingly ever so far off.

These are the things which we offer instead of the New Age, and why we consider it to be such an enemy and attack it with such determination. It is a trap for our kind, all the more pernicious because of our potential to transcend its petty gifts were all its prisoners released and their energies devoted to socialism. Its supposed similarity to socialism at isolated points are invariably arrived at from opposite directions; ‘world peace’ from a sense of passivity as to world affairs rather than a wish to participate in world affairs; ‘communalism’ from an inability to conceive of social action above the level of the commune, a retreat rather than an advance; ‘abolish money’ in order to live the passive existence of a lotus eater rather than to produce and consume with abandon.

We would thus urge anyone who would see themselves as a ‘New Ager’ – and is probably now just angry enough from reading the above to have started thinking – to free themself from an imaginary world; there is a real world to be transformed, and that transformation itself contains within it the realisation of our social powers.

Letters: Making allowances (2004)

Letters to the Editors from the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Making allowances

Dear Editors,

The review of Beyond Capital in the December Socialist Standard deals with the question of wage determination as affected by the balance of class forces, there being no automatic passing on of workers’ higher living costs or taxes in higher wage levels. But government’s unceasing tinkering with the social wage in the form of benefits and subsidies shows that they are very much concerned with their role in maintaining and trying to regulate such a link.

The role of post-war Family Allowances in influencing wage levels is well known to Socialist Standard readers over the years. Rent control, introduced to prevent a wage explosion in the first world war, is another example.

More recently government has openly acknowledged Family Credits to be a top-up for low wages. Junior Employment Minister in the 1994 Conservative government, Philip Oppenheim, was reported as saying (Observer 28 August 1994):
“Employers cannot be expected to have regard to the family commitments of each of their employees. This must be the role of the tax and benefit system, which ensured that households have sufficient income upon which to live. That is why we introduced Family Credits and other benefits for lower-paid employees with a family to support. It would make no sense to outlaw every job which did not pay wages high enough to support a family.”
At the time now Deputy Prime Minister Prescott criticised the Conservative Party policy of this topping-up low wages, saying, “Family Credit is now part of wage negotiations”, encouraging low pay.

What is surprising is not Prescott’s tacit admission of his earlier ignorance of the purpose of much social welfare legislation, but the Conservative Party’s frankness in acknowledging the purpose of such “benefits” as being government policy in their attempts to regulate wage or, certainly income levels for the low-paid.

It is a case of government being compelled to throw its weight in the balance of class forces mentioned in the review, in order to maintain competitiveness and profitability of the national economy. Seen as a necessary response to capitalism’s compulsions and priorities, political and economic, it might well be considered “automatic”.
Bill Robertson, 

RMT and the SSP

Dear Editors,

Now that the RMT has been expelled from the Labour Party, the party they helped found 100 years ago, I wonder how long it will be before they are expelled again if the Scottish Socialist Party develop into a total British party whose reformist policies will no doubt evolve into what the Labour Party practice, as any other party who promises to manager Big Business.
Joe Boughey, 
Newton-le-willows, Merseyside

Alec Hart

Dear Editors,

Further to the obituary published in the February Socialist Standard, I have received the following story from one of Alec’s friends in Johannesburg:

“During the apartheid era he (Alec) was visited on many occasions by the ‘Special Branch’. Alec had an enormous picture of Karl Marx on the wall and when asked by one of these detectives ‘Who’s that man?’, he quite blandly said it was Johannes Brahms. Fortunately they believed him!”

I would have included this in the obituary if I’d had this story at the time
of writing!
Phyllis Hart, 
Westerham, Kent