Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Socialist Party and the Second International (Part 2) (1968)

From the June 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last month we described the early attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the Second International when we saw ourselves as part of the intransigent wing of international social democracy.
There was a good deal of discussion on the question of the International by the delegates to the Socialist Party's first annual conference in 1905. T.A. Jackson pointed out that the British delegation had been the largest of all at the Amsterdam Congress and that it was "composed of persons opposed to the principles of this Party." For all that, Fitzgerald argued that the Socialist Party "should keep steadily fighting at the Congress for the principle that only Socialist parties should be admitted to the Congresses. When this had been done for two or three Congresses many of the other parties would adopt this view" (!) This, of course, was nothing more than wishful thinking. Parties like the SPD were not likely to adopt policies which, if applied rigorously, would have excluded themselves from the International. The only chance of their taking this step would have been for them to first adopt a Socialist programme—but this would have meant somehow overcoming the objections of the vast majority of their members and supporters, who were committed to capitalism almost to a man.

In the end the Conference instructed the executive committee to draw up a series of resolutions embodying the following points:
  1. That only Socialist organisations recognising the class was in theory and practice should be represented at International Socialist Congresses.
  2. That disputes between the carious parties in each country as to the genuine Socialist nature of their organisations should be settled by the Congress itself.
  3. That the Socialist Party should endeavour to raise these questions on the floor of the Congress.
The executive committee carried out its orders and a statement along these lines was sent to the International Bureau in July 1905. Particularly interesting was its explanation, for the benefit of the Bureau, of just what features distinguish a Socialist party.
Socialist bodies (must) accept the essential principles of Socialism: socialisation of the means of production and distribution; union and international action of workers; Socialist conquest of public powers by the proletariat organised as a class party, recognising and proclaiming the class war, running all candidates upon this basis, and adopting an attitude of hostility, under all circumstances to all individual members and sections of the Capitalist Party.  
The next few months saw a number of clashes between the Socialist Party and several leaders of social-democratic parties abroad. The first was in October 1905 when Paul Brousse and a group of municipal councillors from Paris, all members of the French "Socialist" Party, were entertained by the Liberal-controlled London County Council during a visit to Britain. A protest telegram was sent to the National Congress of the French party and this was backed up by a letter in which the general secretary explained that this "interchange of capitalist municipal courtesies" would be utilised by the Liberal party to obtain the votes of the British working class at the approaching general election. In fact, this election sparked off a much bigger row when, after the Liberals had been returned, Bebel of the SPD sent a telegram to Reynold's News saying that he "welcomed the result of the elections". The executive committee's first reaction was to give Bebel the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was being misrepresented. After the general secretary had written to him, however, he replied that he had been correctly reported and that "by the way of explanation I wish to state that concerning 'progress internally' (a phrase which had appeared in Reynold's) I have above all in mind possible progress in the amelioration of the working class position."

On receiving this the executive committee passed a resolution with the ominous wording "That action be taken regarding A. Bebel  . . . " Nonetheless, measured against the Socialist Party's normal handling of this sort of dispute, Bebel was treated very gently. Although an "emphatic protest" was sent to the SPD leader and the German party's daily, Vorwaerts, the editorial in the Socialist Standard (April 1906) suggested that "our comrade Bebel" has "allowed himself to be betrayed into an act calculated, because it lent the countenance of approval to what was merely a capitalist victory, to defeat the purpose of Socialist propaganda . . . " This was a rather charitable explanation when it is recalled that Reynold's sent Bebel a pre-paid telegram form inviting him to write whatever comments on the elction he chose. Bebel's reply to the Socialist Party's criticism was characteristic. He made matters worse by attempting to justify his talk of progress with a reference to the "entrance of representatives of the Socialist Party into Parliament". By this he meant that a few members of the Labour Representation Committee (the Labour Party's forerunner) had been elected. He also fell back on the bluff and boast technique which the frock-coated leaders of the SPD always used when their arguments ran out: "Let no one ascribe to me what, in consideration of my past career, nobody dare impute." (6)

Shortly afterwards Lafargue was taken to task for an article he had written in the SDF's Justice along the lines that Socialists throughout the world recognised that the election of the Labour MPs was a "victory of International Socialism". The Socialist Party's reply was something of a classic and still bears repeating sixty two years later.
We cannot agree that the election of the nominees of the Labour Representation Committee were working class victories. We have shown them to have been achieved partly in alliance with capitalist Liberalism, and wholly by a class-unconscious vote. Does our comrade believe that because Trade Unions stimulated into political activity by certain legal decisions having the effect of endangering the financial reserves of their organisations, have entered into a loose association for the purpose of recovering a position they had thought themselves secure in, that, therefore, they have established themselves upon a definite class basis in opposition to the political expressions of capitalist interests? Why, every indication gives a flat denial to the supposition . . . it is idle and mischievous to endeavour, as both Bebel and Lafargue have done, to invest the movement with an importance that may only be correctly applied to an enlightened proletarian organisation on well defined class lines.(7)
The boot was on the other foot when, the following year, Neumann analysed the results of the German elections in the March 1907 Socialist Standard. While social-democrats throughout Europe were rejoicing at the quarter of a million extra votes which the SPD had secured, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was pointing out that this was no indication of a spread of Socialist ideas among the workers in Germany. Neumann emphasised that the reformist rubbish in the SPD's programme would have induced countless supporters of capitalism to vote for social-democratic candidates. Therefore "the German Socialist Party have pursued and are still pursuing a policy taht has resulted in conveying a false impression as to the real extent of class-consciousness among the German proletariat." Yet there was still a conciliatory tone in all this: 
Let us hope that the criticism given in a fair, comrade-like spirit, will be of some assistance in bringing the oldest section of the international labour movement to the reconsideration of their tactics and their adopting in the near future a position of 'no compromise', and of hostility to capitalism every time and all the time.
The Socialist Standard was also hopelessly exaggerated in its estimates of the number of Socialists in the  SPD. As well as referring to "the pleasant fact that a small but steadily growing faction of the German Party has for some years put forward a tremendous effort to induce the Party to abandon its policy of reform and compromise", it was suggested that "there is every reason to believe that in at least the twelve constituencies where the Socialist vote was in 1903 between 52 to 58 per cent of the electorate, and where at the recent elections there has been throughout an increase of 2 to 3 per cent, that there are many who thoroughly understand the working-class position." All the same, the trend was for a definite hardening of attitude and there was a good indication of how far this had gone when, a few months later, Bebel was again attacked in the column of this journal. He had given an interview to a French reporter in which he had argued that, as long as the danger of war existed, every country must have armed forces to defend itself against invasion. Watts' reply in the Socialist Standard(8) appeared under a headline of "German Party Leader as a Jingo"; this time there was no references to "our comrade"!

Once again there was a lengthy discussion on the International at the third annual conference of the Socialist Party in 1907. This mainly centred on whether delegates should be sent to the 1908 International Congress in Stuttgart. Some members argued strongly for representatives at the Congress. Fitzgerald was one of these and his point was that in this way we could gain information about parties in other countries similar to ourselves. Neumann went further, suggesting that "if we could get in contact with these others we could organise the nucleus of an International Congress that would that would be Socialist". But a majority of the delegates were doubtful that anything useful could be achieved in light of our previous experience and Killick probably spoke for most when he argues that if men like Ferri, Michels, Guesde and Lafargue really were thinking along our lines then they, being stronger, would have taken the initiative. Bearing in mind what eventually became of the "left wing" of the social-democratic movement, this showed a good deal of insight. At any rate the Conference decided not to send delegates to Stuttgart but recommended the executive committee to "use their best endeavours to get in touch with those abroad who occupy our position".
(to be concluded)
John Crump

6. Vorwaerts—15/3/1906. Socialist Standard—April 1906.
7. Socialist Standard. May 1906
8. Socialist Standard. June 1907.

The Socialist Party and the Second International (1968)

From the May 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
This month we begin a three part serial describing the evolution of the attitude of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain to the Second (Social Democrat) International in the period 1904-17.
When the Socialists in the Social Democratic Federation broke away to form the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain in June 1904 they did not feel themselves isolated, even though the new organisation numbered less than 150 members. They imagined that their separation from the opportunist majority of the SDF was part of an international confrontation between reformists and revolutionaries. On the face of it, there was evidence to support this. In Germany the fierce polemic between Bernstein's supporters and those who claimed to oppose revisionism was still being fought with considerable bitterness, while in France the social-democratic movement was split into two hostile sections led by Guesde and Jaures. Even in a backwater like Bulgaria this apparent shake-out between the "impossibilists" or "narrow socialists" and those prepared to compromise ("broad socialists") was reported to be in full swing. (1)

Most of our original members already had years of experience in the working class movement when the Socialist Party was set up. Their struggle inside the SDF, which they had been trying to swing on to a socialist programme, had left them with absolutely no illusions about men like Hyndman and the other labour leaders in Britain. But on the international level they had to feel their way at first and here it took a certain time before the initial illusions wore out.

One of the first tasks the Socialist Party set itself was to make contact with workers abroad who took up our position. The best way of doing this seemed to be via the Second International and it was therefore agreed at the first meeting of the executive committee, held at the Communist Club in June 1904, to draw up a manifesto addressed to the International. It was also decided to send a delegate to the International Congress, held in Amsterdam in August 1904. The new party was desperately short of cash but, with an effort, it managed to raise the necessary money (£4.10s.) to pay Jack Kent's fare.  Kent was the official delegate but, as it turned out, another member—Pearson—was also present at the conference. Before they left they were given instructions to "use every endeavour to attain the rescindment of the infamous Kautsky resolution".(2) A telegram was also sent to the Congress while it was sitting: 
The Socialist Party of Great Britain sends fraternal greetings while demanding that the Congress take an intransigent stand against revisionism as an indispensable condition for arming itself to bring about the emancipation of the workers. Lehane, Secretary.(3) 
At the Congress, however, Kent and Pearson found it virtually impossible to make themselves heard. Organisation was along national lines and, in the "British section", our comrades found themselves lumped together with the very people they had been attacking as enemies of Socialism—the leaders of the ILP, SDF and Fabian Society. The undemocratic method of referring questions to select committees for discussion, rather than thrashing them out in open sessions of the Congress, was another effective bar to the Socialist Party's arguments being heard. But the biggest obstacle of all was simply that the vast majority of the delegates were plainly disinterested in overthrowing capitalism. The general level of the proceedings can be judged by the proposals of the "Socialist" Party of the Argentine Republic which was advocating national and international legislation to restrict immigration.(4) With a busy agenda devoted to items such as this it was little wonder that there was no time to give the case for Socialism a hearing.

When the Socialist Party's delegates returned from Holland they were closely questioned at a general meeting of the Party in September 1904. Kent reported that, for obvious reasons, he had taken no part in the proceedings of the British section. The main point that the members wanted to clarify what exactly was measures the Congress had adopted to ensure that those attending were genuine Socialists. Kent's answer—that there was "absolutely no test as to the bona fide Socialist character of the delegates"—seems to have been unexpected and it is doubtful if the comrades present realised just what a massive task they were setting the Party when they passed a resolution "that the Executive Committee . . . carry on an agitation throughout the world for the purpose of clearing the air of confusion regarding the true basis of the Socialist movement". As yet only the tip of the iceberg was showing.

The Socialist Party has always held that, since the capitalist system is world-wide, only an international organisation of the workers can carry though a successful Socialist revolution. As an early Socialist Standard put it,
Those who really desire  . . . economic emancipation must enrol in the Army of International Socialism, the British Section of which is The Socialist Party of Great Britain. (5) 
In these early days the international character of the Party was well in evidence. Articles and speeches by Kautsky and Guesde, Lafargue and Bebel regularly appeared in the Socialist Standard and one of its earliest scoops was an interview with Marx's son-in-law on the Russo-Japanese war. But, although the Socialist Party continued to publish material by some of the prominent leaders of the social-democratic parties right up till the first world war, it became increasingly critical of these reformist organisations and never failed to expose their compromises.

In November, 1904 a letter arrived from the secretary of the British section at the Amsterdam Congress, asking if the Socialist Party was in favour of a conference being held in Britain with a view to forming a national committee to deal with matters arising out of the Congress, Since this amounted to an invitation to get together with men like Hyndman and Keir Hardie, the Party did not hesitate in refusing to have anything to do with the proposed meeting. The general secretary, Con Lehane, wrote back:
As the International Congress is presumably a Socialist Congress, the matters arising from out of its decisions should be the task of the Socialist Party existing in the various countries to deal with . . . the Committee that apparently you propose would consist of men who are in no sense of the word Socialist. 
This was reinforced by a declaration "To the Socialist Working Class" which appeared on the front page of the January 1905 Socialist Standard in the three languages of the International—English, French and German. Iy finished with the following statement:
With the object of placing future International Congresses on a definite Socialist basis, and securing proper and proportionate representation of all bona fide Socialist Parties thereat, the SPGB is preparing a memorandum for the consideration of the International Bureau and the Socialist Parties affiliated in the hope that measures will be adopted to as far as possible prevent the recurrence of past confusions and place the working-class of the world on a united and revolutionary platform.  
Despite these strong words the Party continued to cooperate with the representatives of the International on other matters. For example, during the upheaval in Russia in 1905 a letter from Roubanovitch—on behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party—asking for money to help those fighting against the Tsar was published in the Socialist Standard at the request of Huysmans of the International Bureau.
(to be continued
John Crump

1. Socialist Standard. September 1905.
2. At the previous Congress, in 1900, Kautsky had drafted a resolution which stated, in effect, that a Socialist could take a seat in a capitalist cabinet in the case of a national emergency such as war. This became known as "the Kautsky resolution". (See Socialist Standard - July 1920)
4. See Justice, 27 December 1902
5. Socialist Standard, November 1904

By The Way (2013)

The By The Way column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reform in Africa
Let’s have a big round of applause for all those reformists who have been telling socialists, for a century or more, that they should ignore the fight for socialism, and instead agitate for ‘here-and-now’ reforms. In Africa, that meant dismantling the old empires, and setting up new ‘independent’ capitalist states. Socialists always said that the result of all that would be merely cosmetic. Instead of the ordinary Africans being plundered by an owning class with white skins, they would be plundered by an owning class with black skins.

Now we have two interesting bits of information from the (London) Times (8 October).

Firstly – there are now fifty-five African billionaires: i.e. individuals who are worth one thousand million pounds – a tidy old sum.

Secondly – in April the World Bank gave its opinion that Africa was the only area where ‘the number of poor people has risen steadily and dramatically’ during the past thirty years.

These two bits of news will surprise nobody – except, perhaps, the reformers who brought them about.

Another interesting quote from the (London) Times (6 November).
‘In the past 30 years, the proportion of national income taken as a reward in the form of wages has fallen while the proportion due to owners of capital has risen. And this has happened all over the world, pretty much regardless of what  politicians have tried to do about it.’
The last sentence seems to indicate a belief that politicians get elected ‘to do something about’ capitalism. In fact they all get into power determined to uphold the capitalist system: so that’s what they do. Why should a journalist raise his eyebrows at such news?

In the last thirty years there have been about fourteen years of Conservative governments, thirteen years of Labour governments, and three years of a Conservative-Liberal coalition. So all three major parties can take a bow.

Christmas is coming
One way you know Christmas is coming is the rash of adverts in the paper showing sad-faced teenagers, accompanied by an appeal for some kind charity that gives homeless people a dinner on Christmas day. So you can choose. You can support a political and economic system that gives homeless people a slap-up meal on one day in the year, and then throws them on to the streets for the other 364 days; or you can work to bring about a socialist system where the human ingenuity and human skills and human control over industrial processes and raw materials – which already exist – are used to make homelessness a thing of the past. It’s up to you.
Alwyn Edgar

A visit from the gods (1980)

From the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

You're not exactly in an Al articulate state when Bang! Bang! that knock comes at the door. It's that man again, smiling. Religion, the word of God, Christ Almighty, the day is coming, the Lord shines within all our souls and elsewhere. And you end up saying, No, sorry, not interested, not religious in the slightest, all a waste of time — Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, all of it — preaches acceptance of the way things stand, leaves me cold, it's a myth, ta-ra! God's personal spokesman has caught you off guard. You weren't ready, your mind was all confused, you couldn't think straight to give a reasoned reply. And, after removing his foot from your doorpost, you shut the door. But you're upset. You can't get back to what you were doing. You could kick yourself. It always happens. And as usual you sit down and think what you would have liked to have said if he hadn't caught you napping.

"Look", you'd have said, catching him on the hop, "are you interested in the truth, with or without a capital T?"

And unless he's a complete nutter, he'd have said, "Yes, of course I am".

And you'd have gone on: "Well, if that's the case, you're looking at things from all the wrong angles. Life, death, the organisation of society, history, everything. Look, let's make it clear right off that I'm not attacking you or any religious people as human beings — because, let's face it, you're mostly working people and we're all on the same side. But if you ever stopped and analysed religion — just once — you'd see that religious beliefs have no basis in fact or probability. They've evolved from man himself, not from some external force. And bear this in mind-religion has to be taught; it isn't inherent.

"Look at it this way, step by step. It isn't, complicated in the least. A human being is a substance, a basic blob of mass and energy. And before he can form thoughts, ideas, concepts of any kind, he has to possess a living, breathing body with a nervous system and senses. Way, way before there were any human beings with ideas, philosophies and concepts — way before there was any life at all in fact — there was the earth. And before there was the earth there was the expanse of the universe — which shows that the earth, the universe, nature itself, existed and still exists no matter what ideas go on inside our heads. Ideas and outlooks are the product of evolution just as much as changes in physical characteristics. And with every advance in science, knowledge and understanding, ideas and outlooks change and superstitions die away.

In the past, human beings worshipped almost anything. The wind, the moon, the sun, their own ancestors, fertility — and even certain of their fellow human beings. The human race, in its very early primitive stages, had neither shelter nor clothing and had to make do with the crudest of tools, made from tree branches and rocks. For food, they ate berries, roots and nuts; and they were constantly at the mercy of hunger, not to mention the elements and ferocious wild animals. In short, humans lived in a merciless, hostile environment. And they had other inexplicable problems to contend with. Problems such as dreams, unconsciousness, madness, pregnancy, death. What were they to make of all these things in their ignorance? Naturally enough, they associated these with the supernatural, with mysterious beings they couldn't see and therefore couldn't overcome. They believed that these gods-as they came to call them —were so powerful they could destroy and kill at will, and that they could only be appeased by offering them what was considered the most valuable, the hardest to obtain — food. After all-and naturally enough again — because they couldn't fathom out these mysterious gods they projected their own emotions, needs and fears upon them; gods which were in truth nothing more than creatures of their own frightened, tormented brains.

"Slowly, very slowly, over many generations human beings began to improve their chances of survival. They learned to adapt. They made discoveries that we couldn't do without even today — the wheel, pottery-making, and so on. They improved, improvised, invented. And with the improvement of weapons, fish and meat were added to their diet, because they had now also learned to cook, having mastered the use and control of fire. People became more domesticated by virtue of keeping wild animals to provide adequate meat and milk. It was no longer necessary to wander from place to place in search of something to eat. Shelters improved, and so did knowledge of how to grow plants and food. But still those imagined gods plagued and terrified. After all, human beings still couldn't understand why certain things occurred; things such as poor harvests, droughts, floods, thunder and lightning, diseases. Everything was still a mystery. But as time went by knowledge and understanding of nature increased. Poor harvests were due to adverse weather, which was due to the position of the earth during the seasons. Diseases were due to geographical location, conditions of environment, lack of hygiene, poisonous food. Knowledge and understanding began to expose previous superstitions for what they really were — products of our own brain.

"The basis for a belief in a god isn't supernatural; it has its roots in natural and material foundations. There has never been any evidence or scientific proof to substantiate these beliefs in a god, any god. It all boils down to a matter of possessing and seeking knowledge; or, alternatively, we lack the knowledge. You can only say that something is at the moment unknown, but not unknowable. And it's this very fear of the unknown — as with early humans — and the disposition to believe things on insufficient evidence — which is the basis of all religion and superstition. We are all part of a universe which, as far as our present knowledge extends, has no beginning and no end, either in time or space.

"So you see, religion is based on pure myth. It's up to human beings alone to make a better world for ourselves. We can't wait for it to change of its own accord because it will never do that. Religious and superstitious dogma are only blinding people to the realities of the intolerable present-day world system of society. But once you've begun to look at religion in an historical, scientific and logical context then you'll be able to begin looking at everything else in the same way. And you'll begin to question why the world is in such a state. You'll begin to question why there is so much misery and suffering and starvation when there is plenty of everything for everybody; why the majority of the world's population have to slave away all their lives at jobs they detest while a small minority live in splendour and luxury without having to work at all. And if you want logical answers and want to know what can be done, it's no use going to churches, priests, nuns or even to Conservative politicians or Labour politicians or Communists or Liberals Or any members of organisations who can't rid the world of the cause of all its problems. There's only one real solution: a system of society based on common ownership of the means of living and democratically controlled by and in the interests of the whole world-wide community. A classless, moneyless world-wide system of society where poverty will give way to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom. We'll be our own Lords then and won't have to pray to an imaginary one for the decent things in life. Interested?"
Paul Breeze

Grangemouth and the Limits of Trade Union Action (2013)

From the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent conflict at the Scottish oil refinery shows who holds the whip hand under capitalism.
Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant on a 1,700-acre estate on the Firth of Forth 25 miles from Edinburgh is owned by INEOS, the world's fourth largest chemicals conglomerate, and also the largest privately owned company in Britain. The Grangemouth plant is Scotland's only oil refinery providing 85 percent of Scotland's petrol, processing about 200,000 barrels of oil per day, it also powers the Forties pipeline which supplies a third of Britain's North Sea oil. INEOS, launched in 1998 is owned by its management, headed by chairman and chemicals industry veteran Jim Ratcliffe, and now has a turnover of $43 billion (£27 billion). PetroChina bought a stake in Grangemouth in 2011 in a deal that was meant to secure its future.

INEOS repeatedly stated that Grangemouth was financially ‘distressed” and that without more investment it would close in 2017. INEOS director Tom Crotty stated 'We have a business that's losing £10 million every month. We've put £1 billion into that business. We need to put another £300 million into it to get it sorted out, to build a new terminal that will allow us to bring new sources of gas in, because the gas in the North Sea is running out' (Guardian 18 October).

The trade union UNITE released an analysis of Grangemouth's finances by tax consultant Richard Murphy. He disputed INEOS's claims and said Grangemouth Chemicals made a profit in 2012 and was expecting £117 million of tax gains that could only occur if the company earned £500 million over the next few years. Murphy said total labour costs, including exceptional pension expenses, were 16.9 percent of revenue and total labour costs 'should not be a critical cause for concern' (Guardian 16 October).

In 2008 INEOS production was subject to adverse economic conditions and in an effort to increase profits entered into dispute with the trade union UNITE over the pension entitlements of the workforce at its Grangemouth plant. INEOS decided to close the final salary pension scheme to new employees. UNITE stated that Grangemouth workers were paid £6,000 less than those at comparable facilities. A 48-hour strike that followed caused panic buying of petrol throughout the country and the Forties production pipeline was closed. INEOS has been accused by some of buying assets then cutting costs through the introduction of new working practices, lower wages, and terminating pension schemes. According to Ratcliffe, some 65 percent of salary costs at Grangemouth related to pensions.

In the summer of this year Stephen Deans, convener for UNITE at the Grangemouth plant, and also head of the Falkirk branch of the Labour Party, was suspended from his employment at Grangemouth by INEOS while they investigated what they said were accusations that he had been using company resources for political campaigning; this was related to recruitment of UNITE members in the INEOS workforce to the local Labour branch, where the selection of a new parliamentary candidate was taking place after a de-selection. This had nothing to do with proper trade union activity.

However, the Deans dispute became conflated with the production demands of the INEOS company and an industrial dispute developed with UNITE over changes to terms and conditions for nearly 1,400 workers at Grangemouth refinery. INEOS demanded abolishing the final salary pension scheme, freezing wages and scrapping bonuses until 2017, reducing shift allowances, overtime pay, holidays, redundancy terms, and new agreements with UNITE to have only part-time conveners. Workers were given three working days to agree to what has been called a 'sign-or-be-sacked' ultimatum if they wanted to secure the one-off compensation payments for the concessions. It is important to remember that unions cannot push wages up to a level that prevents profits being made and can only work with labour market forces, pushing them up quicker than they otherwise would or slowing down any falls.

Unions arise out of the wage-relation that is at the basis of capitalism. The working class are forced to sell their mental and physical labour in order to live. The wage which workers receive is the price of their labour-power and the price of this commodity fluctuates, like that of all commodities, around its value as determined by the amount of socially-necessary labour incorporated in it. The strike weapon is the only defence the organised working class has against the capitalist class. Strikes are necessary if the working class are to prevent themselves from being driven into the ground by the never-satisfied demands of profit. The working class must organise to defend and improve our wages and conditions of work. The strike is a weapon that can limit the capitalists’ aims.

INEOS shut down the Grangemouth plant on supposed safety grounds in the face of threatened industrial action by UNITE. UNITE attacked INEOS for going ahead with a 'cold shut-down' that would put Grangemouth out of action for a month even after the plant was reopened. The union had called for a partial 'warm' shut-down during its strike to allow the plant to tick over and resume operation quickly. A strike at the plant requires an orderly shut-down for safety reasons. INEOS could have used a 'hot' shut-down where the plant is on standby so that operations can be quickly restarted. The closure could also disrupt the flow of North Sea oil into Scotland because BP's giant Kinneil processing terminal next door relies on Grangemouth for its power. But despite the union's decision to cancel its strike, INEOS went ahead with its shut-down and upped the stakes by raising the prospect of permanent closure putting 800 jobs on the line by declaring the permanent closure of Grangemouth's petrochemicals site.

INEOS director Tom Crotty said the company would be ready to reopen Grangemouth if it received formal assurances from UNITE that there would be no strike between now and the end of December 2013. Grangemouth's Labour MP Michael Connarty said 'This isn't 1970s management; this is 1920s management. Big companies shouldn't be able to hold our country to ransom. Major national assets shouldn't be left to the whim of a couple of hard men from the chemicals industry. INEOS acquired the plant when the economy was booming, enjoyed a year or two of bumper business and then suffered as demand fell in the global recession. They made the mistake of buying these things when the world economy was turning down and now they blame the workforce' (Guardian 16 October).

UNITE official Pat Rafferty said the union was willing to abandon the working class strike weapon; 'We would happily sign up to having no more strikes until the end of the year. We will enter happily into an agreement right now that will take us to Christmas, where we will have no industrial action and no ballots. In return for that, all we ask the company to do is sit down with us at the negotiating table over the next 45 days and look to try and seek agreement. The plant should be turned on. There's no reason right now why that plant shouldn't be turned on, because there's no industrial action' (Guardian 18 October).

Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond agreed with Rafferty and urged INEOS to 'fire up the plant and do it now. I think UNITE should give a no strike without strings guarantee. Once that is done INEOS should fire up the plant and then the various discussions, negotiations, consultations on terms and conditions, should take place against the background of a working plant, not a plant that is lying cold' (Guardian 20 October).

INEOS said that Grangemouth was losing £10m a month and the workforce would have to accept changes for a planned £300m investment plan to be viable. INEOS rescinded their decision to close Grangemouth when the trade union UNITE hurriedly acceded to INEOS's demands. INEOS will now make a £300 million investment after UNITE agreed a three-year no-strike pledge and pensions overhaul linked to a three-year pay freeze, moving to a 'modern' pension scheme and changes to union agreements on the site including no full-time union conveners. Stephen Deans, the UNITE official at the centre of the Grangemouth industrial dispute quit his job rather than face dismissal over his political activities at the plant.

Defensive struggle
Trade unions are defensive organisations of the working class with the limited role of protecting wages and working conditions and it is by this criterion that the actions of UNITE at Grangemouth and their effectiveness or otherwise ought to be judged. Trade unions are open to criticism when they depart from the principle of an antagonism of interests between the working class and the capitalist class; when they collaborate with the capitalist class, the state or political parties notably the Labour Party in the running of capitalism or support the interests of a particular section of working class above that of the general interest of the working class as a whole.

Marx argued that 'Trade Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.'

Capitalism cannot be made to operate in the interests of the working class as is very evident by events at Grangemouth. Unions can achieve limited victories for the working class in capitalism. They can and do generally enable the working class to get the best available price for their labour-power, but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class. This exploitation is inherent in the wages system and can only be abolished along with it through the conversion of the means of production into common ownership under the democratic control of the whole community. And that requires political action.
Steve Clayton

Leadership: lessons from the past (1982)

From the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

To appear on a public platform for the Socialist Party is usually enough for some members of the audience to appoint you the leader—in spite of your indignant protests and denials. That a great deal of practical experience helps foster this delusion is indisputable. The teacher in the class-room; the lecturer at college; the captain of a ship, or the conductor of an orchestra. Aren't they leaders? "A single violinist is his own Conductor. An orchestra requires a separate one" (Karl Marx). In most job-processes involving group co-operation a supervisor, foreman or group-leader is required. What about the surgeon in the operating theatre, or the consultants? Aren't they leaders? Even the SPGB has a General Secretary! isn't that leadership? It is even claimed that, in defending the real teachings of Marx against the distortions of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others, the SPGB is elevating Marx to the position of a leader.

What was later to be the Socialist case on leadership was well-known and explicitly set-down by a group of workers in London, on 16 June 1836, when forming The London Working Men's Association. From the outset, the LWMA was thoroughly democratic, eschewing all forms of secrecy at a time when conspiracy and intrigue were commonplace (due to the influence of the French Revolution). It refused to countenance violence or illegal activities of any kind, pinning its faith entirely in the developing consciousness of the workers; and therefore advocating universal suffrage, the Charter (of which its Secretary, William Lovett, was the author), the establishment of free public libraries, and an educational system—but, above all, deliberately renouncing all Leaders. All this is to be found in the book, The Life and Struggles of William Lovett, the LWMA's first secretary. Lovett, who in the 1820s tramped from Cornwall to London seeking work, taught himself cabinet-making while living on a half-penny loaf a day; refused admission to the Cabinet Makers Union, he later became its General Secretary.

There is much quoted in Lovett's autobiography about leadership which socialists would agree with. Let Lovett speak for himself:
We had seen enough of the contentions of leaders and the battles of factions; to convince us, that no sound Public Opinion, and consequently no just Government, could be formed in this country as long as men's attention was constantly directed to the useless warfare of pulling down, and setting up, of one Idol of Party after another (P. 90).
The masses, in their political organisations, were taught to look up to "Great Men" (or to men professing "greatness") rather than to great Principles. We wished therefore to establish a political school of self-instruction among them, in which they should accustom themselves to examine great social and political principles, and by their publicity and free discussion, help to form a sound and healthful public opinion throughout the country (P. 94).
We have not wished, neither do we desire to be, Leaders, as we believe that the principles we advocate have been retarded, injured or betrayed by Leadership, more than by the open hostility of opponents. Leadership too often generates confiding bigotry, or political indifference on the one hand, or selfish ambition, on the other.
The principles WE advocate are those of the peoples' happiness, and for these to be justly established, each man must Know and feel his Rights and Duties. He must be prepared to guard the one; and perform the other with cheerfulness. And if Nature has given to one Man superior faculties, to express or execute the general wish, he only performs his Duty at the Mandate of his bretheren; he is therefore the "Leader" of none, but the equal of ALL (P. 192).
How well these "ordinary" working men, who never graced a school classroom, nor entered the hallowed portals of any great "seat of learning", knew that the "superior faculties" of some were no barrier to the general welfare of all.