Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An Open Letter to Professor Miliband (1977)

From the March 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Your article in the Socialist Register 1976 entitled "Moving On" asks the question, why none of the organizations which since 1956 have occupied the area you describe as the "left wing stage" "constitute an effective socialist formation"? You claim that "such an organization remains to be created". You go on to give an "explanation" of why "existing organizations cannot fill the gap". But the "gap" your article reveals is in your own knowledge — yawning chasm would be a better description. Your contribution is merely ignorance confounded by confusion; first your analysis of the present "left wing" misunderstanding of the nature of revolutionary activity and second, your exclusion of the SPGB reveals either ignorance or political dishonesty.

Let me begin with your discussion of the current "left wing". (I won't use the inverted commas any more for that term, but when you reply, please explain what that term means.) "Inevitably one must start with the Labour Party" you say. You claim that the Labour Party is the "party of the working class and there is no alternative to it." The only reason for "starting" with the Labour Party is to finish with it. There was never any doubt from its formation that the Labour Party was simply a reformist party. The activities of the Labour Party have confirmed this ever since. However, you still appear to think that the Labour Party has something to do with Socialism. You write: "There cannot now be many socialists in the Labour Party (and even fewer outside) who believe that most of its leaders are concerned with the task of effecting the fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people . . . But there are many socialists in the Labour Party who do believe very firmly that they can eventually . . . compel their leaders to adopt left-wing policies."

You say: "There are socialists who work in the Labour Party." The Labour Party represents a certain section of the capitalist class and runs capitalism in the interests of capital. Like all other parties of capitalism, the Labour Party will dress up what they are doing in borrowed phrases in an attempt (successful to date) at misleading the working. But there never have been Socialists in the Labour Party.

Socialism is a world society which will take the place of capitalism; it will abolish all property and existing production relationships and establish in its place a free society where each person voluntarily contributes to the wealth of society and takes from it what the individual requires. There are no governments (with their attendant armies and coercive powers), no wages system, and no production for profit. (For a fuller account, see our Object and Declaration of Principles, and also our pamphlet Object and Declaration of Principles — Socialist Principles Explained.) Could you explain what someone who wants that society would be doing in the Labour Party? You say that "a socialist party is needed in Britain and the Labour Party is not it." In that case, how can there be Socialists in it? There may be some within the Labour Party who call themselves Socialists, but are they who you mean?

Turning your professorial attention to the Communist Party, you claim that "It is a Marxist Party" and add "of a sort"! But a party is either a Marxist party, standing for the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with Socialism, or it isn't. The Communist Party has always and inevitably stood for capitalism. Its history has been taken up with defending the contradictory activities and statements of the Russian ruling class which it supports. You rightly point out that since 1956 and more particularly since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. the fawning adoration of the Russian monstrosity has lessened, and you say that the Communist Party has "a blandly complacent view of the Soviet system." In other words, the Communist Party is not Marxist but anti-democratic and reformist. As you put it, it has been in "pursuit of the politics of illusion . . . for more than forty years." The main illusion (other than the Soviet delusion) is its adherence to the coat-tails of the Labour quackery. Charitably you say that the Communist Party is not "to be reproached for seeking to put pressure on the Labour Party or on a Labour Government or for trying to influence the Labour Left or any other part of the labour movement." The politics of illusion indeed.

The Labour Party has not failed as such — it set out to run capitalism. The more important part of your article is the criticisms of the left-wing parties other than the Labour Party and the Communist: Party. You think that these other parties are not suitable for "Moving on". It is necessary, you argue, to create a new party because those that exist are inadequate. You ask "why these groupings of the 'ultra left' have not fared better" than they have done and give one answer which you say these groups themselves frequently give — the ruling class's control of ideas. This you say is inadequate since it: fails to explain why "left" groups have made progress (though this is merely asserted, it is not explained). You then examine a collection of other reasons such as "narrow doctrinaire sectarianism ... a marked tendency to believe that the final crisis of capitalism is imminent, to which is naturally added . . . adventurist sloganeering; and an internal rigidity of organization." What you fail to point out is that none of these reasons can apply to the SPGB. The SPGB is dedicated to the establishment of Socialism. In no sense is our case "narrow doctrinaire sectarianism." If you were to attend any of our propaganda meetings or any one of our branches you would find a range of views being expressed on a variety of topics, "the SPGB university" as it has been called. We have never said that capitalism's final crisis is at hand. We have always agreed with Marx, that crisis is a part of the normal workings of capitalism. Capitalism will not have a "final" crisis in the sense that this will cause its downfall. We have consistently pointed out that capitalism will continue until it is brought to an end by the working class. (See in particular our pamphlet Why capitalism will not collapse published in 1932.) So far as internal rigidity of organization is concerned, examine the workings of the SPGB; its flexible democratic method is a model for organization in a Socialist society. As for "sloganeering" — read some of our literature and attend our meetings; you would find nothing that resembles sloganeering.

Your conclusion is that the main cause for the failure of left-wing organizations is "their basic perceptions as to the ways of socialist advance in Britain." The explanation you give for this is twofold; the first is that "All these organizations have a common perception of socialist change in terms of a revolutionary seizure of power on the Bolshevik model of October 1917". In other words, you point out that all these parties have no intention of being "mass" parties at all — they are all in favour of minority coups. But, Professor, where or when did the SPGB put forward such a view? Right from the start of the Bolsheviks' takeover of power, we pointed out that it was not possible for Russia to establish Socialism. The material conditions in Russia — highly developed productive forces and working-class understanding — were not present. The second condition is not there today.

Your second criticism of left-wing groups is that they have succumbed to what you call "anti-parliamentary cretinism." In other words the left-wing parties have nearly always been anti-parliament and very often, anti-democratic. But the SPGB has insistently pointed out that the working class can and must use Parliament as part of the process of establishing Socialism. Historically, every ruling class has had to capture political power. The capitalist class, for example, had to obtain control of parliament and did so after a long struggle. The working class, when it takes over society in its own interests must also take political power in order to abolish both power and classes. That is why we have always said that Parliament and the electoral system must be used by the working class in the establishment of Socialism.

Your critique of left-wing organizations does not apply to the SPGB. In one sense it is a tribute to us that we are not included in your tattered list. We are not a part of the left wing at all. We are opposed to those parties that you refer to as the left wing (including IS, WRP etc.) All these parties stand for capitalism — the SPGB does not. Yet you do not mention in your article that the SPGB exists or that there is a party which does not suffer from the defects you highlight. How can a Professor of Politics ("a leading intellectual of the New Left" as one of your books describes you) have failed to notice a party formed two years prior to the Labour Party as an uncompromisingly Socialist party, which has worked for Socialist understanding since its formation, which has continually published literature, held meetings, contested elections and so on? On reflection the omission cannot be due to sheer ignorance — it must be deliberate. No doubt like the other political ostriches you folded your left and right wing and just hoped that by putting your head in the academic sandpit we could just be ignored.

Your reply is awaited.
Ronnie Warrington

Socialism Made Simple (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Existing society is based on class ownership. This means that the main resources of society are owned by the few and not the many.

In Britain today the poorest half of the population own only 6 percent of marketable wealth. The richest 10 percent own over half of all the wealth.

Society is not like this because it has to be. The rich are not at the top because they do more or know more than the rest of us. On the contrary, we, the vast majority, produce all wealth.

The capitalists do not need to work. If they want to they can go off to the Bahamas or the South of France for months on end, sure in the knowledge that their millions of pounds per week, month or year will still be pouring into their accounts. The capitalist minority live by accumulating rent, interest and profit. Who gives it to them? The Working Class.

We. the workers, run society from top to bottom. We are paid wages or salaries. Whatever we are paid is less than the value of what we produce. The difference between what we are paid and what we produce is taken by the capitalist as profit. The basis of all profit is the legalised robbery of the workers.

We do not choose to be legally robbed or exploited. We do not choose to be wage (or salary) slaves rather than capitalists. We are workers because we do not own enough resources to live without selling our labour power (our mental and physical energies) for a price.

So. we work in order to make enough money in order to pay to live so that we can go back to work and make profits so that the capitalist does not have to work. The capitalists live off our backs.

We do not need to carry the capitalists on our backs. We do so because we have agreed to live this way. We have agreed because we are conditioned to accept capitalism. We are conditioned because the capitalists pay to condition us. If we are properly conditioned we vote for leaders who will continue to run capitalism. Workers vote for their own exploitation.

The workers are many, the capitalists few. We have only to refuse to support capitalism and the whole system could not go on. This is a matter of political consciousness. At present most workers are politically ignorant. This is not intended as an insult. What we are saying is that our fellow workers have yet to realise their strength. When they do they will understand that it is not necessary to live second-class lives, enjoying less than the best that can be produced. The best of everything is available for everyone, not just the rich few. What we have to do is take it.

The movement for socialism is a movement to end minority power and establish the power of the whole community. Socialism will mean that everything in and on the planet will belong to everyone who lives on the planet. In short, common ownership and democratic control.

Another way of putting it is to say that in a socialist society nobody will monopolise the means of producing and distributing wealth. Social resources will be owned by everyone — and by no-one.

Once we workers have taken the world's wealth into our own hands by means of democratic political action there will be no need for money, wages or other features of property society. Instead of wage slavery, people will work according to their abilities and take according to their needs. They will not work under compulsion, but because they will understand that to live we must co-operate to produce what we need. Access to available goods and services will not be rationed by money. Buying and selling will be abolished. Instead, everyone will have free access to what they need. Nobody will tell them what they need. The state will be abolished. Socialism is based upon the understanding that humans are intelligent, conscious, co-operative beings who do not need leaders or governments to force them to act decently.

On the contrary, it is the present capitalist system, which puts profits before needs and money before life, which forces humans to become uncooperative and indecent. Capitalism is anti-social.

The aim of socialism is not just to ensure that everyone has access to material wealth and that poverty is ended. Socialists want people to be free to co-operate. There will be no more class and no economic basis for prejudice based upon race or sex. Socialism will be a society of free, human equality.

The well-conditioned wage slave will regard the prospect of world socialism as a Utopian ideal. The prospect of homes heated and lit by electricity was dismissed as a dream by inhabitants of a pre-scientific age.

The working class needs to do some serious thinking about society—how it is and how it could be. Millions of politically conscious workers will be a threat to capitalism. We will educate and organise with more and more workers. Once we are a majority there will be no stopping us. The result will be social revolution.

The Socialist Party works to bring about the political consciousness and organisation that will make a revolution possible. In other countries companion parties work to the same end. Right now we are in a small minority. Our efforts are limited. But our analysis cannot be faulted and our principles are never compromised. We will continue to advocate the sanity of the case for a revolutionary transformation of society. We have nothing to lose but our chains: we have a world to win.
Steve Coleman

Debating: A Lost Art? (2013)

From the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The volume of correspondence in the world is greater now than ever. The internet provides us with the ability to contribute to many debates on an infinite variety of subjects on various platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc. One can’t fail to notice that many of these ‘debates’ are characterised by anger and insult. Resolution or a ‘meeting of minds’ seems to be very rare. Anonymity allows people to vent their frustration and anger on complete strangers. Such diatribes do not, of course, represent any attempt at communication. Instead they are a record of people’s alienation and despair which is focused on the ‘other’.

I was once accused of calling someone stupid because I believed them to be wrong. The possibility of being wrong and intelligent simultaneously is something the ego finds difficult to accept. A disagreement (inherent in any debate) is interpreted as a conflict of egos. This represents the end of communication. Is there a way to ameliorate this phenomena? For a socialist this is a vital question since communication is the only way forward and always being ‘right’ will tend to alienate the opponent. If a debate focuses only on determining who is right and who is wrong then a dialectical resolution is impossible. What is meant by dialectical is a specific form of rhetoric that seeks to create a ‘synthesis’ between opposing views. In this way the polemic can be moved forward productively instead of stalling in egoism. All such disagreementsrepresent the dialectical forces inherent within the cultural context of the debate. What’s more –this historical context allows only one real politicaldebate that always lies beneath what ever is being discussed! I will now attempt to defend such a seemingly incredible position.

Superficially the multiplicity of debates on Facebook appear unconnected with an endless variation of subject matter. Everything from musical taste to politics and religion is hotly contested. Someone has said that there is a certain inevitability of the mention of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis terminating many emotionally charged political debates. The reason for this is not just the desire to demonise the opponent and their perspective but it also reflects an underlying fundamental confrontation between those who want and need authoritarian social structures and those who cannot stomach them. The latter see all kinds of conspiracies by the ‘establishment’ to keep their power while reactionaries long for a leader with simple political answers.

And so the debate rages on impotently, sometimes even provoking an online petition with thousands of signatures. Of course nothing changes and another ‘single issue’ takes up the energies of liberals and reactionaries inspired, usually, by the latest disaster created by capitalism. Some years ago when the infamous tsunami hit Sri Lanka I thought, at least this time, we could not blame capitalism for this ‘natural’ disaster. As it happens the early warning system had been abandoned because of ‘cost’ concerns so yet again the system was at the root of destruction. Another example is that of the hypotheses of global warming. Given the title of the theory one would expect it to be the ultimate debate of our time. But again it is the economic imperative of profit that underlies this catastrophe – no worker (indigenous or otherwise) would willingly destroy the environment if they could get other employment to feed themselves and their families. It is the height of hypocrisy for ‘middle-class’ environmentalists in advanced industrial societies to criticise just this one element of capitalism while they enjoy a comfortable life style which is dependent on the system. Economics, or at least, market economics has become a godhead for reactionaries in that it must be worshipped and cannot be denied.

It is a different story when those indulging in this religion of Mammon are directly affected adversely – then it’s the fault of rogue bankers, etc. In debates people congratulate themselves for being realistic in contrast to their opponents – when, in reality, they are both being equally idealistic. One ideology in all its permutations reflects the economic needs of the ruling class and the other, debased and confused with the single issue problematic, represents the needs of the immense majority of humanity. A true dialectic can only be achieved when this is recognised –a result of the historical forces that have left just two social classes.

I’m aware that this perspective sounds suspiciously dualistic – not unlike Christianity’s Armageddon (last battle between good and evil) and the Viking Ragnarok, etc. It may be that it’s the other way around and that these mythologies represent a deep social need to return to the communism of pre private property societies – as Rastafarians believe: I and I becomes the One again in Zion. So what constitutes the socialist synthesis? Revolution, my comrade. As long as capitalism lasts with all its travails then so does the same solution. The coalition of Whigs and Tories seem intent on taking us back to the 1800s. No re-branding can change capitalism and we call upon all those well-intentioned people obsessed with single issue politics to join us in dealing with the disease and not just the symptoms. It is purely self-indulgence to involve yourself in reformism because you ‘can’t wait for the revolution’. It is you that keeps the rest of us waiting. As to what Facebook will be debating after the revolution there’s always: ‘who was the most authentic roots reggae artist – Bob Marley or Burning Spear?’ But don’t get me started, that’s a whole other debate – the synthesis of which still eludes me.