Monday, November 25, 2013

Class-Consciousness - Its meaning and value (1919)

From the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the terms most frequently in use in Socialist propaganda, and one which may prove most mystifying to the uninitiated, is the term "class-consciousness."

What do we mean when we speak of "class consciousness"? We mean simply a thorough knowledge of the position in society of the class to which the class-conscious subject belongs.

Socialists claim that class-consciousness is a mental condition which must necessarily precede working-class emancipation. The reason is because, owing to the peculiarly complex nature of the modern social system, the interest of the classes is obscured, and only a clear understanding of the working-class place in the social system can enable the workers to see in what direction their interests lie, and therefore what they have to fight for.

The chattel-slave, who was the property of his owner, was never in any doubt as to his place in society. His relation to his master, and his class to his master's class, were too simple to allow of obscurity. He knew that he was mere property, and hence he was in no danger of identifying his master's interest with his own. That is is true is proved by the fact that those ruling races of antiquity whose States were based on chattel-slavery could never get their slaves to fight for them—or trust them to do so—except under pledge of granting them their freedom.

With the modern wage slave the case is entirely different. He has the freedom of selling his labour power, not where he will, but where he can. He may enter into "free" contracts. These things make him think there is no essential difference between his class and his master's save such has has arisen from difference of ability. He sees, occasionally, one of his own class rise into the ranks above, so he knows there is no impassable barrier. He finds he cannot live without wages, therefore the class who own the money which provides wages have their useful place in society. He finds he cannot get wages without work, hence it is no less to his interest, he reasons, than to his master's, to follow the policy which will provide most work. So the complexity of the relations of modern society hide from the worker the fact that he is just as much a slave as the old chattel slave, working to produce wealth for his master, and getting for himself just enough to enable him to do it.

Class-consciousness, the knowledge of his slave status, makes clear the opposition of class interests, and fits the worker for the class struggle.
A. E. Jacomb.

Hypocrisy of politicians (1996)

Book Review from the July 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The New Untouchables: Immigration and the New World Worker by Nigel Harris (I.B. Tauris. £25)

In its quest for profits, capitalism is prepared to look anywhere for cheap labour power. One consequence has been the massive growth in numbers of immigrant workers, who travel, (legally or illegally) to another country for the sake of employment. Nigel Harris's recent book contains a number of pertinent observations on this phenomenon.

One point he makes is the hypocrisy of politicians who demand free trade and the relaxation of market restrictions while at the same time calling for strict rules on immigration. Consistency would require a "free" market in the movement of labour just as in investment and exporting. But immigrant workers are a convenient scapegoat, and can be blamed for everything from unemployment to inner-city riots. Politicians therefore find it all too easy to play the immigrant (usually, race) card and claim to defend the national way of life.

But there is a tension in such politicking, for the simple fact is that developed capitalism needs immigrant workers. As the labour force in western capitalist countries ages, and is not replaced adequately because of low birth-rates, immigrants offer an invaluable source of new, young labour power. They may also have fewer qualms about doing unpleasant work or working anti-social hours than "indigenous" workers have. Harris quotes one witness to a US congressional committee:
"As our population becomes older, the problem will not be to find jobs for people, but people for jobs. For many years, Mexico, with its relatively young and expanding population will complement and balance our own as well as provide a formidable defence to the attack on our position in world markets."
Thus capitalism relies on immigrant labour, despite all the anti-immigrant noises its political representatives make. So hospitals in New York advertise for nurses in Irish and Philippine newspapers.

Harris also notes that migration is part and parcel of the global economic order. From the 1970s onwards, for instance, the Middle East oil industry was staffed by a multinational workforce of several millions; the massive increase in oil production would simply not have been possible without such  migration. Large companies often face the choice of importing workers or relocating production in a cheap-labour area. The wheel is now turning full circle, with production of Ronson cigarette lighters being moved to South Wales, as wages there will be lower than in South Korea (Guardian, 25 April). 

Migrant workers are often "over-qualifies" for the work they do, and usually have to endure appalling wages and conditions. In order words, they are exploited the way all workers are. The real lesson to draw is not that politicians are two-faced but that, while capitalists wish to divide workers from each other, working people, whether migrants or not, face a common enemy, the world capitalist class and their system.
Paul Bennett

Obituary: Harry Young (1996)

Obituary from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have to report the death last December at the age of 94 of Harry Young who was a member of the Socialist Party between 1940 and 1991.

When Harry Young joined the Party in 1940 he already had a history behind him. As a teenager he had been a member of the British Socialist Party and of the Herald League both of which were absorbed into the Communist Party when it was formed in July 1920. He became the first national organiser of the Young Communist League, and from 1922 to 1929 lived and worked in Moscow as a member of the secretariat of the Young Communist International, where he met many leading figures in the CPSU.

On his return to England the Communist Party found him employment in various capacities, including for a while the manager of Collet's Bookshop in Charing Cross Road. But he eventually became disillusioned with that party's subservience to Russian foreign policy and resigned in 1937. Unlike others in his position he turned not to Trotskyism but to the SPGB, which he joined three years later.

A conscientious objector in the war, he was ordered to stay in his job as a cab driver and work as an ambulance driver helping the victims of bombing raids. He soon became one of the Party's main speakers in Hyde Park, using his rumbustious wit to good effect, and an indoor speaker and debater. For a number of years he also wrote a regular 'By The Way' column in the Socialist Standard under the pen-name of Horatio.

In the 1950 general election he was the Party's candidate in the East Ham South constituency. After the war he obtained a BA degree as a mature student and became a science teacher and an active member of the National Association of Schoolmasters. After retiring he concentrated his efforts on Speakers' Corner an served on the Party's Executive Committee for a number of years.

The Gorbachev cuts (1989)

From the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Mikhail Gorbachev offered to cut Soviet forces in Europe by half a million, there was an enormous surge in the dollar on world stockmarkets. The cold war is no longer good business.

This thought was uppermost in the minds of the Politburo when they decided on their change in policy. The Soviet economy is in serious difficulties, and spending on arms is throttling the profitable redevelopment of civilian production. Officials concede that military spending is over 2£0bn, but it is probably lose to five times that amount, or 16 per cent of Gross National Product. Their total does not include the cost of weapons research, development and production, and fails to take into account the cost to the rest of the economy of the diversion of scientific personnel and the priority allocation of scarce material resources to the military sector. This should be set against an expected budget deficit of £33.3bn next year. The Russian press is openly calling for reductions in defence spending to arrest the continued decline in living standards. Cuts in nuclear forces of the sort envisaged in the START talks will have only limited benefits for the civilian economy. Large-scale cuts in the more expensive conventional sector can be expected to show immediate and tangible results, particularly in the release of skilled labour power.

The result of these economic pressures has been a shift in the basis of Soviet military strategy. After the Second World War emphasis was on the primacy of attack, and the building up of sufficient forces in East Europe and the western USSR to overwhelm NATO in the event of a war. The NATO countries meanwhile exploited their superior technological/economic base to counter the larger but cruder Soviet forces. Today, the Soviet economy can no longer support the scale of production required to maintain that numerical advantage. As a result, the doctrine of attack has been replaced by the defensive doctrine of "Reasonable Sufficiency".

And this is not just a personal whim of Gorbachev. Military leaders are becoming concerned at the decreasing numbers of eighteen year-olds available for military service. There is also an increasingly vocal opposition to conscription in the turbulent Baltic republics and among university students, and the army is having increasingly to rely on "non-Russian" youths from Central Asia whose loyalty to the state cannot be guaranteed. When the Defence minister, Dmitri Yazov, addressed the armed forces in Red Square in November, he emphasised the need for a smaller, more professional and better equipped army along Western lines.

This is the background to cutbacks outlined by Gorbachev at the UN in December. He pledged to remove 10,000 tanks, 8,500 artillery pieces, 800 combat aircraft and 500,000 troops from eastern Europe and the Western military districts of the USSR within two years. Of particular significance is the decision to scrap six of the fifteen forward-based tank divisions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. This will remove 5,000 tanks, or 40 per cent of Soviet strike potential on the Central Front. Assault crossing troops will also be withdrawn, along with their combat equipment. The cumulative effect of these measures will be to curtail severely the ability of Soviet forces to attack NATO from a standing start, especially in view of the series of river barriers which would have to be crossed. Furthermore, a reduction in forces in the western USSR would deprive an attack of critical reserves. Gorbachev has promised that the forces which remain would take up a defensive posture.

In political terms, this marks an important transition. The Cold War confrontation is being transformed, as the superpowers wrestle with declining economies and seek to consolidate their international positions by negotiating agreed spheres of influence which can be held at an acceptable cost. The Soviet state now accepts that the priority must be domestic reconstruction, which requires capital and technology from the West. It wants, therefore, to see a stable balance of power in Europe at much lower levels of force, while it pursues closer economic ties with the EEC; Gorbachev has called this the construction of a "common European House". Last summer the Soviet state officially recognised the existence of the EEC, and despatched an ambassadorial team to talk about trade deals. At the end of October a German delegation packed with businessmen and bankers visited Moscow to put the finishing touches to a £1bn credit agreement to modernise Soviet light industry. Thirteen joint industrial ventures are already under way and thirty-five more were discussed during the talks.

The consequences of the new Soviet strategic thinking will be keenly felt in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev has explicitly renounced the so-called "Brezhnev doctrine" which committed the Soviet Union to intervene militarily if Moscow's clients were in danger, as they were in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. The troop cuts give substance to his assertion that military force cannot solve the economic problems faced by the Soviet Empire at this historical juncture.

In sum, we can say that the Soviet retreat from its garrison positions in east Europe and its reduced capacity for offensive conventional warfare have come about, not because Gorbachev is an overwhelmingly pacific character, but as a result of the economic weakness of the Soviet state. It should also be noted that this is not disarmament; the Soviet Union will still retain a formidable armed capability. The thrust of the present policy is to bring the structure of the armed forces into line with the capabilities of the economy and a growing crisis of labour power.
Andrew Thomas

The Death of Marxism? (1994)

From the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Has the funeral of Marxism taken place? Is there nothing left but to remainder the once-popular volumes of Marxology and totter off to the wine bar for a spot of "deconstruction" the latest buzz-word in the Halls of Pseudo-Academe? Steve Coleman investigates

If you are a journalist, a politician, a publisher or an academic onlooker you will be well aware that "Marxism is Dead". The funeral has taken place and there is nothing left but to remainder the once once-popular volumes of Marxology and totter off to the wine bar for a spot of "deconstruction" (the latest buzz-word in the Halls of Pseudo-Academe).

Now, death is a pretty permanent condition. With the exception of Biblical conjurers, the dead do not rise again. So, if Marxism is dead we must assume that it has disappeared forever. Which is all rather odd. Because this article is not being written by a ghost (ghost-written) and socialists, though described by Marx himself as "spectres" haunting Europe, are not dressed in white sheets and have no plans to depart this world. The rumours of our death have been exaggerated.

Actually, there is something rather fascistic about trying to kill off a body of ideas. For that is what they seek to do when they assert repeatedly that "Marxism is Dead". It is as if they have opted intellectually for the Final Solution; after decades of distorting Marxist ideas or banning them or ignoring them or deriding them, now they want to bury them. Death is forever. And relevant ideas will not go away for ever even if you kill every person who holds them. For the ideas are bigger than the minds in which they are at home, and the material conditions which have made these ideas meaningful and urgent to us today will soon enough occur to others who come along later.

The revolutionary ideas which have come to be called Marxism existed in people's minds before Marx came on to the scene. Marx did not invent the capitalist system. It was the system which created the material soil in which revolutionary ideas would grow. Before Marx there were workers who opposed production for profit and wage labour - there were thinkers who explained history in terms of material conditions rather than ideals - there were elementary recognitions of the fact that labour is the basis of value. Marx did not give birth to revolutionary thought, but added to it.

Who 'killed' Marx?
So why the claim that "Marxism is Dead"? After all, if Marx was right in explaining that labour is the source of value and the unpaid labour of the wealth producers is the source of profit; if he was right in claiming that material conditions determine ideas, and that economic forces are the principal determinants of historical change; if he was right to point to the conflict of classes throughout all property societies; if Marx's theories were "alive" ten or twenty years ago, why possibly could they be "dead" now? A correct analysis is valid until it is disproved. Who has repudiated and thereby "killed" Marx's correct analysis?

The twisters who are so enthusiastic to report Marxism's death will say that the refutation is quite obvious. Look at what has happened in Russia. We are looking. It was the Marxist materialist conception of history which enabled socialists to identify the Russian Revolution as a transition to capitalism within months of it happening. It was Marx's definition of capitalism as a system based upon wage labour and capital, which were characteristics of Russian state capitalism, which enabled us to avoid the error, so easily accepted by our modern "intellectuals", that Russia was a non-capitalist society. Indeed, it was because we have used Marxist analysis as our method that socialists have been able to predict that Russia and its fellow state-capitalist countries would soon enough have to allow for the mobility of capital by integrating into the global capitalist economy without pretensions to ideological distinction. This has happened. We have been proved right. That is hardly a reason for being classified as dead.

The Leninist Left, forced by their ideological defence of state capitalism to twist Marx to fit in with Stalin, Mao and a host of other wretched dictators, are discredited by the fall of their tyrannous paradises. But that is the death of Leninism, a funeral at which no socialists will be found mourning.

Leninists were not alone in believing the lies and distortions of Stalin and Co, for they were in the company of the ideologists of the Right who were quite content to accept that somehow state-run capitalism was something to do with Marxism. Even though Marx himself advocated a society in which the state, as the coercive force on behalf of a ruling class, will not exist. To blame Marx for the failure of statism is as fair as cursing the Methodists because you have a hangover.

Complacent and foolish
The "Marxism is Dead" brigade, often to be found consorting with the "End of History" boys, are complacent and foolish. They have failed to understand that as long as the capitalist system exists, with its inherent contradictions between profit accumulation and the satisfaction of needs, there will be a persistent need to explain why capitalism is like it is and how it can be replaced by a new historical order: one based upon production for use. Marx, together with the other great thinkers in the revolutionary tradition, supplied this explanation. It will not go away and die just because defenders of capitalism want it to.

Of course, what has often been referred to as "Marxism" has frequently been dogmatic and mechanistic in its over-simplified approach to analysis. Socialists have no interest in defending dogmatism. The function of Marx's analysis is to be used as a critical tool for clear analysis of real, material social affairs with a view to changing them. The object of Marxism is to change the society which it is explaining. That is why it has always been so feared by those whom change threatens.

The dancers on the grave at Highgate Cemetery have little to celebrate. After all, their capitalist system is faced by a mass of insoluble problems as ever, and right now there is a global economic crisis which these pro-capitalist triumphalists are wholly impotent to end. We might suggest that their tedious sloganeering about the "Death of Marxism" is a pathetic case of whistling in the dark.

Marx Lives!
Like Karl Marx, socialists want a revolution in which The Wages System will be abolished forever. That will spell The Death of Capitalism. There will be no problem when this happens about identifying the corpse - we will be able to smell its stench from afar. While we wait, we challenge all and any of these anti-Marxist mourners to have the courage of their convictions and climb on to the platform of democratic debate. Are our ideas dead? We'll leave them in no doubt.
Steve Coleman