Friday, December 20, 2013

Spanish Social Democracy – how it became reformist (1984)

From the Winter 1984 issue of the World Socialist

"Spanish society in the present time," said economist Ramόn Tamames in his Introduction to the Economy of Spain in 1967, "is in the midst of effervescent change; changes in the economy are rapidly transforming traditional habits and mentalities and are exposing myths that have acquired almost an aura of eternal verity." Just how little dictators and other politicians can alter the "course of history" with their decrees has become impressively evident in the case of Spain.

It is now nearly two years since Spain acquired its second "socialist" government in 43 years. Barbara Probst Solomon, in a New York Times Magazine article, "A Diary of the New Spain" (January 23, 1983) states how surprised she was in late 1982 on a visit to Spain: 
My mind went back to a scene I had witnessed on the night of the 1977 elections: In a crowded cafe, students shouting, "Long live the Socialist Party!" and the policemen staring at the students, both groups staring at each other, apprehensive, unsure. And suddenly it occurred to all of us, for the first time: Why, the socialists are really legitimate now! Up from the underground, free of their miserable hiding places, more than just tolerated - so legitimate that it is all right to acclaim them in the very presence of the police. 
And now, five years later, there they sit, neatly dressed, in a fashionable restaurant, recruiting managerial help from the country's technocratic élite. 
Although the Socialist Workers' Party of Spain (PSOE) waited until 1979 to officially repudiate its identification with Marxism, the fact is that ever since 1899 it has been hobnobbing with the "advanced bourgeois parties". (A tendency calling itself the "Socialist Left" raised the issue of what it termed the "danger of the Party's becoming de-ideologized" in December of 1981, at a meeting of the Party's Madrid Federation but was rebuffed by the majority present.) It has now reached the point where innocent observers understandably come away with the impression that, while it might occasionally (and surprisingly) veer off in the direction of revolutionary rhetoric, it is mainly a party of progressive reforms- sensible, moderate, practical. (See, for example, an article by S.G. Paine in Current History, December 1982, entitled "Spain's Political Future".) 

To understand how it came to this pass is to gain a clearer insight into the fatal pathology which affected Social Democracy since its very inception, not only in Spain but throughout Europe and, for that matter, the whole world. But before we can proceed to analyze this, we must first take a preliminary look at its historical context, its economic basis: capitalist production. 

It is not necessary for a social revolution (a change that is, in the economic basis of society) to be sealed with a political change (of regimes) in order for it to be successful. Its mere occurrence is its success. What Spain experienced between 1868 and 1874 was an undercapitalized revolution which nevertheless established capitalism as the dominant economic system. The failure of this revolution at its last stage of realization - the political phase - was an inevitable consequence of the technological-organizational imperatives of the productive system being out of step with the actual condition of the markets

The degree of political centralization of the class struggle is proportional to the degree of sophistication of the system of production, which in turn stands in a general relation to the concrete opportunities for turning a profit. The class organization of Spain has always kept pace with that of the rest of developing capitalism in Europe generally, particularly in Great Britain; its appearance of antiquarianism, of quaint and outdated backwardness, is due rather to the lack of capital than to the survival of feudal institutions or their vestiges. (Spanish feudalism had been among the weakest in Europe.) 

Yet we find Juan José Morato, the acknowledged historian of the Socialist Workers' Party, repeating almost verbatim, in his book El Partido Socialista Obrero (Editorial Ayuso, Madrid, 1976) the traditional bourgeois legend handed down since the days of the Decadence: 
The Party was born in a country whose forms of production were almost medieval, where as yet a strong and enterprising capitalism had not yet made its appearance, where a bourgeoisie almost did not exist, where the latter did not determine government policy as much as influence it. 
If you think about this statement for a minute, its voluntaristic thrust is quite remarkable. It corresponds to an interpretation of Spanish history which is only remotely connected with the materialist conception of history. Political organizations and movements do not acquire any degree of development except in the measure permitted by existing economic conditions. A socialist party could not have been "born" in a country that was not economically ready for it, unless its founders were guilty of committing a serious misnomer. 

Had conditions in Spain really been as unfavorable, as Morato suggests, as they were, for instance, in Tsarist Russia at the same period, even the modest and unenviable achievements of the early Socialist Workers' Party would have remained unattainable; nor, for that matter, could there have been much talk about democratic régimes and republican forms of government, except at the extreme periphery of the political spectrum (and on a strictly theoretical basis, at that). Morato's hybrid form of reformism and Leninism, however, required the making of such an assumption. 

By 1886, the year in which the editorial guidelines for the PSOE's journal, El Socialista, were drafted, it had become clear that workers had lost at least some of their political naiveté and were no longer likely to vote Liberal. This made it all the more urgent, in the view of the PSOE, to persuade the workers of the vanity of the pernicious alternative offered by the Republicans, whose aims ranged from the barest change possible all the way to a vaguely defined "social justice".

 The value of the Republican parties, as far as the Social Democratic movement was concerned, was that they promised to provide a régime in which the working class could carry out its own emancipation unhindered. In its characteristic preoccupation with doctrine, the PSOE regarded the Republicans as otherwise little more than "advanced bourgeois parties", that is, as merely ultra-progressive Liberals (with the notable exception of Pi y Margall). The Republicans' specific provenance was in fact that vanishing social class, the petty bourgeoisie, and their historical fate was to become what Morato styles their "near-proletarianization". By virtue, in other words, of the inherent internal dynamic of capitalist production, Republicanism in Spain became converted into the haven of wage-earners and professionals who believed that capitalism could be run in the interests of the working class. 

In another place in his book, Morato tells us: 
Men of enlightened will saw the evils of the country and wanted to direct their action to the remedy of these, and to the advancement of this unhappiest of nations. Everything pushed them away from the parties of the government. (p.196) 
Individuals interested in using the PSOE for the purpose solely of reforming the country's administration, in short, were lining up to join the ranks of the organized working class. These individuals might otherwise have remained in the official parties, or even in the Republican parties which, at that time (around 1911 ), were entering into another phase of disarray and atomization as a movement only a year after they had helped get Pablo Iglesias, leader of the PSOE, elected to the Cortes or Parliament. These new members were attracted, moreover, says the author, by the fact that the PSOE alone maintained a consistent and disciplined presence in the political arena. 

This development of course rendered the merely doctrinal superiority of the Social Democrats very hollow. Not surprisingly, it became ever more "sensible" to the bulk of the membership to admit that the Minimum Program (ie of reforms to be achieved within the framework of capitalism) of the PSOE made the "almost-proletarianized" Republicans seem like very compatible bedfellows indeed. All the while, the Minimum Program was becoming, year by year, at congress after congress, ever more complex and ever lengthier. This gradual disappearance of the Republican middle term corresponded, on a general scale, to the tendency of the class struggle to become reduced to a single, monolithic confrontation between capital and wage-labour, in the process erasing any distinction that may have once existed between the terms "republican" and "liberal". 

One of the great imponderables of Spanish Social Democracy is how the man most intimately associated with it - a co-founder of the PSOE himself, Pablos Iglesias -could have ended his long career advocating what obviously resembled a policy of reformism (and without even so much as conceding it), when he had begun by sounding an unmistakably revolutionary note. It may be that his integrity was subject to severe pressures due to his absolute dependence on the Party's membership for a source of income that was not exactly abundant; that he found himself in the difficult position of having to swallow his pride and go along with the obvious groundswell of opinion in favour of reforms gathering strength among the majority, reasoning to himself that things might not get so far out of control if he could moderate their course in the name of doctrinal purity. The die, in any event, was definitively cast by the 1910 elections, when the Social Democrats joined with the united Republican parties in fielding candidates for national office for the first time. 

The truly Republican, or bourgeois radical, strain of working class opinion in Spain was perhaps best exemplified by what was, between 1872 and 1890, the largest and most influential trade union in Spain, the Catalán Federación de las Tres Clases de Vapor (Federation of the Three Steam Trades), a textile-workers' organization founded sometime around 1869 and dominated by the Bakuninists, more or less subject to government repression from 1875 till 1881 and revitalized once again from 1882 to 1890, this time as a "Marxist-oriented" trade union. (We should add that the number of actual industrial workers in Catalonia as a whole was never overwhelming, and that the majority of the Tres Clases' members were women, even though its leaders were generally men.) In its latter phase, it earned a reputation for class collaboration, political opportunism and wishy-washy Possibilism. 

It was detested by the Anarchists, who constantly attacked its officials and who brought about a series of mass defections that ultimately contributed to its eclipse, which set in more or less abruptly after 1891. It ended this second, more volatile phase of its existence by moving over to the side of Possibilism (the openly reformist doctrine propounded by Paul Brousse in France), even going so far as to establish an ephemeral political organization to promote it, although it never gained any support outside of Catalonia. 

It was this fly-by-night party which ultimately set the pace for the PSOE's gradual transformation into an executive component of Spain's equivalent of the Labour Party of Great Britain (with the CNT or National Labour Confederation acting as its trade-union component). At a series of May 1886 meetings held by the Tres Clases in Xuriguera, Catalonia, for example, a union representative spoke of "arriving at an agreement between Capital and Labour in order to defend their common interests". The speaker went on to say that: 
If it should unfortunately become necessary to have to save the interests of Capital, those of us who work for a living can be counted among the firmest partisans of such a course of action, in the anticipation that our attitude of cooperation will be reciprocated. (quoted in Miguel Izard, Industrializaciόn y Obrerismo, Editorial Ariel, Barcelona, 1973, p.36) 

This statement would be indistinguishable from any similar policy declaration made by the PSOE today, except that the Tres Clases de Vapor were addressing themselves to the liberal capitalists, whereas the PSOE of Felipe González and Alfonso Guerra busies itself with the affairs of the heads of corporate capitalism. 

Despite what Miguel Izard calls an "increasingly Marxist tendency" on the part of the union's officials, the countervailing tendency toward Possibilism finally gained the upper hand in 1889 (with the occasion of the "Socialist-Possibilist" Congress in Paris, the outcome of which was a final, irrevocable break with the PSOE). An article published in the union's journal, El Obrero (The Worker), declared, in defence of the position it had taken: 
We have never been unyielding as socialists, although we certainly will be once it becomes plain that socialism [ie the "transformation of property relations" which is the PSOE's nominal object] is the next step to be carried out. In the meantime we intend to work for the realization of those gradual changes (evoluciones) which in the nature of things must occur, since an idea can have no worse fate than to be imposed in the form of laws while the people are lacking in adequate preparation for it. (quoted by Izard. p.158) 
While this statement may contain some glimmers of sanity, it is still virtually indistinguishable from the sort of statements made, almost ninety years later, by spokesmen for the PSOE in the brief period between the continuing death of Franco and the Party's changeover to an official pragmatism of the Brandt-Schmidt variety. In point of fact, by 1915 the PSOE had become the most important of Spain's Republican parties; with the death of Franco it also became transformed into the full-blown equivalent of Britain's Labour Party. 

The history of the "republicanization" of the PSOE demonstrates very aptly how the basic flaw in Social Democracy was not its takeover by a pack of opportunists (as Lenin would have it), but rather its very conception of its role. The process by which it came about was never concerned to any great extent with questions of principle, but revolved around the fitness of the "advanced bourgeois parties" to act as power brokers for the PSOE. And it was even necessary for the advocates of alliance to proceed by stages, at first limiting themselves to amending the Party's constitution to allow threats to political freedoms to serve as a justification for teaming up with the Republicans, and only later (1909) openly admitting the Party to an enduring, if vacillating, "Concert" (Conjunción). To top it all off, the whole controversy itself paid lip service to Marxism (and, until 1979, the PSOE actually prided itself on this score), when a cursory glance at the proposals for the 1918 Party Program shows only too clearly how ludicrous the bulk of the Party's members had come to consider its "aspiration" of the transformation of property relations and the abolition of the wages system. 

Given that capitalism is a dynamic system of production, it can subsist indefinitely if it can muster enough of a majority in favour of prolonging its lifespan. Where previous social systems had their maximum limit, owing to their relatively static character, as a dynamic system capitalism has no such limit. Consequently, unless the decision is reached, consciously and deliberately (that is, politically), to put an end to it as such, capital will just go on being accumulated, even if this has to be done under some form or other of state ownership. Socialism, on the other hand, is based on the negation of this, concretely on the abandonment of the Minimum Program and on bringing the Maximum Program (ie socialism and nothing less) back down to earth. 

The Social Democrats, however, emphasised mere doctrine (which is merely philosophical), as opposed to scientific method (which is concerned with material conditions for change), as can be seen in a direct and graphic manner in the controversy over the "Republican-Socialist Concert" of 1909-10. Interestingly enough, both of the two figures present back in 1879 as founding members of the PSOE - Antonio Garcia Quejido and Paulino (Pablo) Iglesias - took up opposing positions on this question. One is struck by the absence of any mention being made during this debate of the danger of reformism. What the whole confrontation suggests is that the early authentically revolutionary Social Democrats tended to misjudge a changing and increasingly complex social system. Because they had started from the position that reforms benefiting the working class could form a part of Party policy, they were poorly prepared for the effects on the social organization of capitalism that the evolution of the system of production was to have. This evolution rendered reforms increasingly necessary merely in order to run the system smoothly

Admittedly, the pioneers of socialism had no way of anticipating the tendency of capitalist production to cause the parties which were critical of it, in one way or another, to move into positions which only the bourgeois radical left would have held previously. But whether this assumed the form of the same parties changing their identity by altering their policy, or whether it appeared as the decline of one generation of parties and the rise of another, the increasing complexity of the system did render the parties of the left a species of progressive Ariels, and those on the right, a pack of reactionary Calibans. 

Having secured a constituency on the promise of reforms, the Social Democrats then found themselves on the horns of a self-perpetuating dilemma: to distinguish themselves from their bourgeois opponents, they had to limit their activities to upstaging them, only to find that, in the end, they had become locked into a vicious circle of supporting capital accumulation in order go get votes, and of getting votes in order to promote capital accumulation . . . . They found themselves forced by the logic of their own position to occupy a place on the extreme left wing of the capitalist political spectrum. 

This, plus the emergence of a contingent of "new intellectuals" in the '90s and later on, is primarily what accounts for the shift toward opportunistic connivance which imperceptibly crept over Spain's Social Democrats, affecting even the original founders of the movement - who always denied being either reformists or opportunists. The "Minimum Program" had brought them to the pass of being unable to tell the difference between revolution (establishing a new social system) and reform (renovating an existing one). They were socialists by design but opportunists by default, revolutionaries "in general" but not in reality.

In the class struggle it is not only what you are against but what you are for that counts. Workers who advocate capital accumulation and production for profit are in the end just as welcome to the capitalist class as members of the élite itself, provided they realize on which side their bread is buttered. That working-class movements should have poured so much of their energy into securing approval from the master class to administer its system only testifies to general obtuseness on the part of the workers themselves in regard to their own material interests. Workers whose organizations do not act in accordance with a conscious and deliberate interpretation of these interests are in the end no better than spineless lackeys; they are not really free individuals. Having made their peace with profit, they cannot thereafter produce any organizations uniquely their own - even though there is not a recognizable capitalist to be found in their ranks.

It was precisely in the name of the "purity of ideals", in fact, that Social Democracy in Spain developed an ever more detailed programme of social, economic and political reforms. The problem, in this respect, is that treating the immediate economic problems of workers within capitalism as the business of a socialist party involves that party in introducing, on the political field, a general policy of reforms or else a tendency to move in that direction. But a socialist party cannot advocate policies contrary to its own raison d'ệtre without this having serious repercussions. If, for example, its principles are to be realized by means of the general policy of abolishing the wages system, then it cannot remain the same party and still advocate changes that amount, in the strictly political sense, to reforms of that system. This latent conflict of assumptions shows up even in the earliest (1879) version of the PSOE Program; and one of the most renowned theoreticians of Spanish Social Democracy, Jaime Vera (also a founding member) persistently urged the Party to make common cause with the "more advanced" of the Republican reformers. 

The basis for action of a Socialist Party is the political class struggle to abolish the wages system, so that, if it proceeds to incorporate desirable reforms into its basic programme, it can only end, sooner or later, as a party of reform. In such a case, the means (ie the Party's "minimum demands") - which, in the language of the initial (1879) Program, were supposed to "realize" its "ideal" of abolishing private property - finish by swallowing the Party itself as an historic instrument for emancipating its nominal constituency, the working class, from the slavery of wage labour. 

In this sense, the 1908 Congress marks the definitive demise of the PSOE as a socialist organization. A socialist party can only exist by denying the existence of any and all parties of capitalism. The parties of commodity exchange and production for profit have (on whatever justification) interests and assumptions they cannot afford to have brought into question; their action, unlike that of a socialist party - which practises a scientific form of materialism - is thereby limited to the sphere of political art. 

To speak of making alliances and coalition with such parties is therefore obvious nonsense. Socialists have no freedom to make such a choice. (From a reactionary vantage point, this is indeed a handicap, and the ideologues of pragmatism will waste no time in saying so.) The resolution taken at the 1908 Congress (conceding to the Party Branches the right to make alliances with "advanced bourgeois parties" on approval from the National Committee) is thus plainly symptomatic of organic decay. 

Symptomatically (as Morato's statement quoted earlier indicates), the "men of the liberal professions, loyal and, we could almost say, immaculate", the intellectuals who joined the Party in substantial numbers after this date, could not be persuaded to have anything to do with socialism until the party espousing it had already decided to abandon it. Meanwhile, the "old mole" of revolution thought it had acquired prestigious defenders, but it was dreaming . . . 

"After the Republic has been established," Quejido wrote in 1902 during the debate on the "emergency" created by the imminence of a Conservative government, arguing for an electoral alliance with the Republicans, "one part of the problem will have been resolved in our nation, and then we will have our hands free to do battle against a bourgeoisie eager to settle down to the enjoyment of its spoils . . . " (quoted by Morato, p.196). 

When we compare this, in fact, with Lenin's "proletarian republic" that was to come some years later, we begin to see that this concept of political régimes was a major stumbling-block for Social Democracy in general in that they never grasped the relation between the form of state and the economy. Capital accumulation for profit was not the key concept for them and in the context of the November Revolution in Russia, they even saw nothing wrong with speaking of "socialist accumulation". A party could perform all the functions of a party of capitalism and yet still - because its ideology or doctrine was theoretically socialist - be considered a party of the exploited class. 

This dualism of consciousness explains how such a crusty old fighter of the working class as Quejido could have "deviated" towards opportunism, thinking all the while he was promoting socialist revolution. There was something defective in the very conception of Social Democracy itself (as a form of political organization); and this defect was none other than the notion that a party of socialist revolution should seek to achieve partial objectives, dividing up its labours between long- and short-term demands. 

There is no inherent contradiction between having a policy of abolition of the wages system (based on the materialist conception of history) and encouraging workers to resist the encroachments of capital. The contradiction enters in only where the more class conscious socialist party links its policy to demands arising out of the less class conscious economic class struggle. Such an emphasis exercises a retarding influence on the Party's development as an organization representing the interests of the vast majority, causing it to retreat from its objective of common ownership even without formally abandoning it. 

By framing the discussion of the property question in the narrowest legal terms, the PSOE missed the fact that expropriation has to be general, affecting the very function of accumulating capital, and not merely the entire body of capitalists.

Ron Elbert (World Socialist Party of the United States)

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Film Review from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Michael Moore’s latest documentary film, Fahrenheit 9/11, grossed $24 million in its opening weekend in the US. Despite initial attempts to stop the film’s distribution and screening and right-wing claims that the film is inaccurate, it has been seen by sell-out cinema audiences and won all manner of applause from US ‘liberals’ and the Left everywhere.
Moore has clearly made a first-rate documentary here, showing George Bush up as the first class moron we always knew him to be and heading a corrupt administration drooling oil and dripping from every pore with workers’ blood, unashamedly prepared to go to any lengths in the name of profit.
While Moore can rip into the Republican administration over its obsession with Iraq and its intense love affair with the Saudi elite, he neglects to mention that President Clinton had  Iraq bombed almost on a daily basis for eight years – the 1998 cruise missile attack aside – and helped enforce an embargo that left half a million dead. Neither does Moore point out that high level dealings with Saudi Arabia have been going on since the 1940s.  Furthermore, whereas the film gives full exposure to the visit by the Taliban to Texas in 1997 to sign an oil deal, the fact that Clinton was in power at the time is also overlooked.
However, nowhere does Moore locate his film in a wider social and political context – in the capitalist system itself, in a system racked with contradiction, an exploitative social system that consigns hundreds of millions throughout the world to abject poverty. While he clearly makes the link between oil, profits and the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, he nowhere suggests that war, all war, is the continuation of business by other means; that in capitalism wars are fought over trade routes, overseas markets, mineral wealth or areas of influence; that if you build empires you have to be prepared to kill people.
But Moore is no revolutionary, no class warrior. In the film he talks to a woman whose family have a long military tradition and who proudly unfurls the Stars and Stripes outside her house each morning. Moore, ever the patriot, suggests she must be a proud woman and himself qualifies her pride in her soldiering offspring with the line “it’s a great country” – and well worth dying for,  no doubt? Later on, and referring to the many US soldiers from impoverished towns – such as Flint, with 50 percent unemployment – who have been killed since the invasion of Iraq, Moore says: “They offer to give up their lives so we can be free.” In this, Moore shows he holds the same ideas of freedom that Bush and his ilk are always asking workers to defend.  In a land where there exists a ‘Patriot Act’ that restricts many hitherto taken-for-granted ‘freedoms’, where trade unionists have recently been forbidden to engage in strike activity, where speaking out against the status quo is seen as dangerously subversive, where the prison population borders on two million, freedom largely means that workers choose which capitalist is to exploit them. Moore leaves the capitalist system very much unscathed and so free to go on killing.
I also detect a racist undertone in the film when it ridicules Bush’s “coalition of the willing” – those small countries who lent support in the hope they would be well rewarded. Britain aside, which gave its full support the invasion of Iraq, small nations such as the Republic of Palau, Costa Rica, Iceland, Romania, Netherlands and Morocco also offered to help out. The imagery that accompanies the mentioning of the latter smaller nations, the voice-over being intentionally slow and moronic sounding, is stereotypical and demeaning if anything: footage from the film Nosferatu accompanies the mentioning of Romania, Palau has native dancers festooned in flowers and a bare chested man driving a cow-drawn cart, there are Vikings for Iceland, cannabis-smoking for the Netherlands and Morocco is mentioned with footage of rampaging monkeys. Are we to assume that there are countries with large armies which would be a welcome addition to a coalition (i.e. Britain, which never actually gets a mention), so why did the US have to settle for the pathetic?
Likewise, considering the US Invasion of Afghanistan just after 9/11, real analysis is sacrificed for a sneer at the size of the invasion force itself – smaller than the manpower needed to police Manhattan, we are told – so are we to assume that it  should have been many times bigger?
The great danger with Fahrenheit 9/11 lies in its frontal attack on the present Republican administration leaving viewers assuming that a USA headed by a more liberal – perhaps Democrat – government would not be so militaristic or friendly with its corporate elite. In truth any newly elected government, one headed by Nader included, would serve primarily as the executive arm of corporate America, charged with pursuing the interests of the profit-hungry US ruling elite at home and aboard, ready always to call in the troops and bombers if US profits are threatened. The history of US foreign policy since 1945 is testament to this fact.
Bush may well lose the coming election, perhaps partly thanks to this film, but capitalism will continue in the US as it does everywhere else on the planet, and the myriad injustices Moore himself catalogues in his book Stupid White Men will continue. Moore is building up a lot of false hopes in targeting Bush and his administration as the villains of the piece. Whereas people know Bush is a war-mongering stooge of big business – something he goes to no great lengths to conceal – Kerry gives the illusion that he can work wonders if elected, and Moore helps with the fantasy by saying, in a nutshell, the sooner we get rid of the village idiot the better.
Whilst one can understand why audiences, who have watched Fahrenheit 9/11, have chanted “Bush out, Bush out” as the film ended, they are mistaken in thinking the unseating of the Texan idiot will better their lot one iota. They will exist as wage slaves, every aspect of their lives subordinated to the dictates of capital, just as much under Kerry as under Bush.
John Bissett

D. H. Lawrence and the abolition of money (1985)

From the Winter 1985-6 issue of the World Socialist

The novelist and poet, D. H. Lawrence, who died in 1930, was born one hundred years ago, on 11 September, 1885. He was not a socialist and did not profess to be one, but there can be no doubt that he possessed some excellent ideas about what was wrong with the money-wages-profit system and what sort of society would be fitter for humans to live in.

Certain rather foolish literary gentlemen and superficial Leftists have described Lawrence as a fascist. There is no evidence to support this claim, and we would argue that it is a label mainly put about by Stalinists who resented Lawrence for having been a non-conservative who was totally opposed to the state-capitalist dictatorship of the Russian Empire. In the 1930s to have taken up such a position, even if you were in favour of social transformation, meant that the so-called Communists would call you a fascist in the hope of discrediting you. In the case of D. H. Lawrence, who wrote explicitly about why he opposed fascism, the label struck and the smear has no doubt led many people to dismiss the social and political context of his poetry. To do so is to dismiss some of the most forcefully revolutionary poems ever written in English, a selection of which we publish below. They were written in 1929 and are taken from the second volume of Lawrence's selected poems published by Heinemann (the book is deceptively called Pansies, but we can assure you that it is not about flowers).

Why did Lawrence take up some of the ideas expressed in these poems? Reading them, one might think that he was acquainted with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, but there is no evidence to show that he was. More likely, Lawrence picked up the socialist content of his thinking as a result of visiting the home of his girlfriend until 1912, Louise Burrows, whose father was a committed socialist who possessed the socialist writings of William Morris and spent his time talking with Lawrence about the case for socialism whenever the young writer visited his house. The connection between William Morris and D. H. Lawrence is rarely made, and shallow critics would have it that the former was a romantic revolutionary while the latter was a fascistic reactionary (both utterly mistaken observations): in fact, it will be seen from the poems published here that Lawrence too shared a passion to change the insane society of capitalism, and that, if anything, his poetry was more expressive in its simplicity. Moreover, it is known that he had read Morris' News From Nowhere, and was inspired by its depiction of a socialist society. 


Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.

And of course, if the multitude is mad
The individual carries his own grain of insanity around with him.

I doubt if any man living hands out a pound note without a pang;
And a real tremor, if he hands out a ten-pound note.
We quail, money makes us quail.
It has got us down, we grovel before it in strange terror.
And no wonder, for money has a fearful cruel power among men.

But it is not money we are terrified of,
it is the collective money - madness of mankind.
For mankind says with one voice: How much is he worth ?
Has he no money? Then let him eat dirt, and go cold -

And if I have no money, they will give me a little bread,
So I do not die,
but they will make me eat dirt for it .
I shall have to eat dirt, I shall have to eat dirt
if I have no money

It is that I am afraid of.
And that fear can become a delirium.
It is fear of my money-mad fellow-man.

We must have some money
To save us from eating dirt.

And this is wrong.

Bread should be free,
shelter should be free,
fire should be free
to all and anybody, all and anybody, all over the world.

We must regain our sanity about money
before we start killing one another about it .
It’s one thing or the other.

Kill Money

Kill money, put money out of existence .
It is a perverted instinct, a hidden thought
which rots the brain, the blood , the bones, the stones , the soul.

Make up your mind about it all:
that society must establish itself upon a different principle
from the one we’ve got now.

We must have the courage of mutual trust.
We must have the modesty of simple living.
And the individual must have his house, food and fire all free—like a bird.

O! Start A Revolution

O! start a revolution, somebody!
not to get the money
but to lose it forever.

O! start a revolution, somebody!
not to install the working classes
but to abolish the working classes forever
and have a world of men.


The wages of work is cash.
The wages of cash is want more cash.
The wages of want more cash is vicious competition.
The wages of vicious completion is - the world we live in .

The work-cash-want circle is the viciousest circle
that ever turned men into fiends.

Earning a wage is a prison occupation
and a wage - earner is a sort of gaol-bird
Earning a salary is a prison overseer’s job,
a gaoler instead of a gaol-bird.

Living on your income is strolling grandly outside the prison
in terror lest you have to go in .And since the work-prison covers
almost every scrap of living earth, you stroll up and down
on a narrow beat, about the same as a prisoner taking his exercise .

This is called universal freedom.


Why have money?
Why have a financial system to strangle us all in its octopus arms?
Why have industry?
Why have the industrial system?
Why have machines, that we only have to serve?
Why have a soviet, that only wants to screw us all in as parts of the machine?
Why have working classes at all, as if men only embodied jobs?
Why not have men as men, and the work as merely part of the game of life?

True, we’ve got all these things
industrial and financial systems, machines and soviets, working
But why go on having them, if they belittle us ?
Why should we be belittled any longer?

How Beastly The Bourgeois Is

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species -

Presentable, eminently presentable -
shall I make you a present of him ?

Isn’t he handsome? isn’t he healthy? Isn’t he a fine specimen?
doesn’t he look the fresh clean englishman, outside ?
Isn’t if god’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball ?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the thing ?

Oh, but wait !
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another man’s
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life face him with
a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue .
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species -
Nicely groomed like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable -
and like a fungus, living on the remains of bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life than his own .

And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long .
Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty -
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp England
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.

The Mosquito Knows

The mosquito knows full well, small as he is
he’s a beast of prey.
But after all
he only takes his bellyful,
he doesn’t put my blood in the bank.

Labour's power struggle (1980)

From the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


The squalid battle which presently dominates the Labour Party is nothing but an unprincipled power struggle. The newspaper headline writers may endeavour to convince their readers that profound political issues are at stake, but the back-stabbing and the vote-rigging of the Conference floor at Blackpool last month fully justify the mistrust and hostility which socialists feel towards the Labour Party. Since 1904—two years before the formation of the Labour Party—the Socialist Party of Great Britain has stood opposed to the conservatism and gradualism of Labour. This open letter is not intended as a means of advising Labourites how to settle their internal disorders, but is simply meant to make clear the nature of the present conflict and to offer some advice to any workers who still believe that the Labour Party can get society out of the mess it is in.

We are told that what went on in Blackpool last month, and will be continued elsewhere in January, is about party democracy. It is not. Not a single voice in the Labour Party has been raised in favour of real democracy. Democracy means the absence of leadership; it means equality between members; it means completely open meetings and no internal secrecy; it means freedom to speak openly without fear of persecution; it means common control of party finances. Now then, who in the Labour Party is advocating that?

Who has advocated that in order to democratise the Labour Party they should no longer have a Leader and a bunch of platform chiefs? If anyone did, the leaders who are currently participating in the mock battle would soon tell them where to get off. What the so-called democrats in the Labour Party want is a say in who will lead them; that is quite different from not wanting to be led at all. The truth is that the sheep of Labour's rank and file accept the old myth that nothing can be done without leaders. It is pathetic to see adults, claiming to be socialists, fighting for power—not for themselves and their class, but for a crowd of Labour Leaders.

There is no equality of membership in the Labour Party. The weighted votes which are given to the trade unions are a blatant political bribe in return for money to pay for the party's upkeep. Local activists cannot and do not have a significant say in the party's policy-making. Year after year a fresh-faced new delegate is seen to alight the Conference rostrum to put in a desperate plea for "socialist policies". These are sincere young workers whose cries of hope are treated with derision by the men of power in whom they have placed their trust.

Who in the Labour Party has demanded that their National Executive Committee meetings be open to the public? The EC of the SPGB is open to anyone, member or non-member, at 52 Clapham High Street at 7.30pm any Tuesday evening. Which Labour "democrats" have suggested that their conference be modelled on the scrupulously democratic form adopted by the SPGB—a model of party democracy in action? When has a Labourite ever suggested that half-yearly accounts of party finances should be presented for the scrutiny of the membership? That is how we do things in the SPGB. A socialist party need keep no secrets from its members or from the workers in general.

The TV pictures of the Blackpool Conference showed just how much the majority of the delegates cared about democratic principles. When Sir John Boyd of the AUEW refused to consult his fellow delegates about how to cast the union vote on a non-mandated motion, when Leftists from the constituencies shouted down the Callaghan sycophant, Andrew Faulds, when Eric Heffer moved a resolution on 2 October and said "I formally move this motion, but I haven't got a clue what I'm moving"—was that what Labour Party democracy is all about?

It is claimed that the future of Labour Party policy is at stake. Anthony Wedgewood Benn says that the so-called Right wing of the party want to turn it into a second Tory Party. But is already is a second Tory Party insofar as most of its members support the same social system that Thatcher stands for. Shadow Defence Secretary, Bill Rodgers, has said that the party must be saved from extremism, whatever that may mean. Rodgers warns against the dangers of Benn, Benn poses as the guardian of some non-existent principles, the members clap their hands together, some for one leader, some for another, but none for themselves.

The Labour Leaders stand for one common principle and that is the principle of getting power by any means. They want a share in the running of British capitalism. They need votes to get them power. They need active suckers to go out and get them votes. Not one of the combatants in the battle for power wants an end to capitalism. The argument is about how to run it. More or less power for the state—nuclear arms or conventional warfare—higher or lower taxes—alliance with America or Russia—these are the petty issues that workers are being asked to get steamed about.

In recent weeks and months there has been a concerted effort to portray Anthony Wedgewood Benn as an uncompromising socialist. His friends have painted him as the leader of a socialist tradition in the Labour Party; his enemies have warned that should he succeed Jim Callaghan as leader of the Labour Party British capitalism would be under threat. Let one thing be clear: Benn is no more of a socialist than Callaghan. Both are committed to the continued administration of capitalism. They do not oppose production for profit, nor do they stand for the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution. It is not only the leaders who support capitalism; so do their followers. It is quite wrong to blame the leaders for Labour's anti-working class record, for it is the followers—the workers themselves—who gave Labour the stick with which to beat them.

The SPGB has no leaders. That does not mean that we are unorganised, but that we are organised along democratic lines. Workers can only join the SPGB if they understand what it stands for. Once in their party, their say is as important as the next comrade's. Our Executive Committee is only empowered to carry out the wishes of the membership. The Socialist Standard is owned and controlled by the party as a whole. The SPGB does not just talk about democracy, we practise it.

The Labour Party is in a mess. While capitalism's latest crisis produces tragic consequences for the working class all the Labour Party can do is debate amendments to its constitution. Rhetoric is abundant, but solutions are scarce. What has Labour to say about unemployment? They foolishly blame it on Thatcher, when it is clear that unemployment doubled under the Callaghan government. The Left asks for more government money to be spent on jobs. But the state, just like any capitalist concern, will not put money raised in taxes into unprofitable industries. The Left reacts to the threat of war by calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament, just as they did twenty years ago. But pleas to governments to disarm will do no good so long as the cause of war remains.

The Labour Party has no answers to basic working class problems because it is ignorant of their cause. Socialists are concerned with causation, with how capitalism works, what socialism means and how to create a new order of society. This requires a reasoned, analytical approach based upon the method of materialism. The SPGB urges our fellow workers to seriously consider this alternative approach to politics.

Unless you take the revolutionary alternative you are likely to be forever locked within that Broad Church called the Labour Party. Maybe it will be reformed. If it is, what possible difference will the reforms make? If they let you choose your own leader—or if they let the NEC have a say in writing the manifesto—or even if Benn abolishes the House of Lords and closes down Eton—what difference will this make to the future of capitalism? In a few years' time you can be sure that there will be a new crowd of rank and file radicals complaining that the leader has betrayed them and if only they could appoint the man (or woman) of their fancy socialism would be around the corner.

But chances are that the Labour Party disputes will end in dull compromise. In a few years Labour will be back in office repeating the anti-working class crimes that all Labour governments have committed to ensure the smooth running of capitalism. Come the next Labour government, whoever is Prime Minister, there will be Labour Lefties whining that principles have been betrayed; they will not have been, for Labour has no principles to betray.

The arch-opportunist leader of the Liberal Party has invited the "Labour moderates" to join his tuppeny circus. The SWP has urged the Labour Trots to come and join them on the make-believe barricades. Reg Prentice is signalling to ex-colleagues who fear for their jobs in the light of changes in the constitution to join him in the rich man's Capitalist Party. The hacks of the unions call for unity, although they do not know for what or with whom. The dogmatic time-servers of the old constituencies mouth the old Labour slogans like Orwell's sheep in Animal Farm. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of decent working people support the Labour Party like their predecessors used to be loyal to the Church: because they think it is their only friend. Instead, it is their enemy.
Steve Coleman