Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mythtaken Identity (2014)

The Proper Gander column from the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

When were ‘the Olden Days’? Between 10,000BC and when your parents were children, suggests Ian Hislop in his documentary series about history. In The Olden Days: The power of the past in Britain (BBC2), he examines our need for a belief in a ‘heightened, idealised, imagined past’. ‘The Olden Days’ is history as what we want to believe happened, rather than what really happened.

The first episode describes how Dark Ages kings Arthur and Alfred have been invoked as national heroes at different times. Ninth Century cake-burner King Alfred has been portrayed as the founding father of various British legal, military and educational institutions, regardless of his actual involvement. King Arthur, who probably never existed, has been romanticised as a mighty, mystical monarch by groups as disparate as Henry VIII, the Pre-Raphaelites, Welsh industrialists and New Agers. Over the centuries, the legends of both rulers have been used by institutions to get credit. Alfred was spun into being the creator of Oxford University to gain the favour of Richard II, and a bunch of twelfth century Glastonbury monks turned their supposed discovery of Arthur’s bones into a moneyspinner for their monastery. The Arthurian myth still helps draw in the dosh, now from visitors to Glastonbury’s trinket shops and Tintagel Castle. Alfred’s popularity has declined, perhaps because the institutions he represents are trusted less these days. The future will see different interpretations of Alfred and Arthur, hopefully in the direction of stripping away the myths.

Hislop could just as easily have focused on Che Guevara, Jesus or even Father Christmas, whose personalities have also been reinvented according to changing ideologies. The malleability of historical figures demonstrates how unreliable the ‘Great Man’ theory of history is. Hislop’s examples show how economic forces help shape our views of figureheads like Arthur and Alfred, usually by invoking them to attract power and money. The programme usefully reminds us that our view of the past isn’t set in stone; it’s carved out again and again according to contemporary tastes, especially those of the ruling class.
Mike Foster

The Strike Situation (1974)

From the March 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In every action of resistance by the workers against their exploitation the Socialist Party of Great Britain is on the side of the workers. The Miners and Railwaymen have all our sympathies in their efforts to get more pay - but we as Socialists have a lot more to say than that. We hold, with Karl Marx:-
At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing the direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought therefore not to be exclusively absorbed in those unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market.
It is a tragedy of the present situation that the two strikes are not at all part of a carefully planned and organized working-class movement to defend or to raise the standard of living of the working class as a whole, but predominantly sectional efforts; by the miners to get a pay level above that of the workers in other countries, and by ASLEF to widen the margin between their wages and those of railway workers in other unions. In this the two unions on strike reflect the sectional outlook of the 450 unions into which trade unionists are divided.

And what of the TUC, supposedly a co-ordinating body for trade-union struggles? Representing as it does the political leanings of its affiliated big unions, and working hand in glove with the Labour Party leaders, its preoccupations has not been seriously to organize working-class industrial action but to manoeuvre to secure the return of a Labour government at the next election.

For their part the Heath government has likewise been using the strikes as a platform for the election campaign. "Standing up to the unions" helped them to win the election in 1970, and they hoped to do it agin this time.

The background to the strikes is that British capitalism is in difficulties, partly because of the monopoly squeeze organized by the oil producers, but mainly because of the thirty-year rise of prices, now approaching six times the pre-war level. That inflation has been the direct and inevitable outcome of a policy shared by the Tory and Labour Parties and solidly backed by the NUM and ASLEF and other unions - the fallacious Keynesian belief that it is possible to humanize and regulate capitalism on a course of steady expansion, rising living standards and full employment. Average earnings of men in manufacturing industry have risen since 1938 from about £3.50 to £40 a week, but all except a very small fraction of the rise has been lost running faster and faster on the cost-of-living treadmill.

Whatever the strikers may get out of the dispute to offset the loss of pay and hardship caused to themselves and other workers is being eroded all the time by rising prices.

The National Union of Mineworkers has in its programme "abolition of capitalism", and other unions have paid lip-service to the same slogan. It does not mean a thing, and neither the NUM nor any other union has ever done anything to promote it. Instead, they worked for half a century to get industries nationalized, and have now had a quarter of a century seeing its utter futility. Nationalization is state capitalism and solves no problem whatever for the working class.

In our generation the unions have been fighting over and over again the same battles they were fighting in the nineteenth century, without ever achieving their aim of "fair wages" and security. They have ignored the advice given to them by Marx: -
Instead of the conservative motto 'a fair day's wages for a fair day's work!' they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword 'Abolition of the wages system'.
This is of course not an aim that has application inside capitalism: it means working for the replacement of capitalism with Socialism. Socialism cannot be achieved or even brought nearer by following the traditional trade-union policy of supporting the Labour Party. From the working-class standpoint it makes no material difference whether they are exploited under a Labour government or a Tory one - both are committed to the continuance of capitalism.

Nor is Socialism advanced by strikes to unseat governments, still less by the dangerous folly advocated by so-called left-wingers of engaging in violence against the police and armed forces.

The trade unions in their long history have, as Marx said, been fighting with effects; they and the rest of the working class need to change course and start dealing with the basic problem of the class ownership of the means of production and distribution. The only road to Socialism, a world-wide social system based on common ownership and democratic control, is through dislodging the capitalists and their agents from power -  that is, from their control of the machinery of government including the armed forces.

This is the road of political action. When the working class grasp that Socialism alone is in their interest the road to emancipation is open to them. In this country they command nearly ninety per cent. of the votes but so far, while doggedly fighting the defensive struggle on the industrial field, they have never got round to using their votes in their own class interest.
Edgar Hardcastle

Friday, May 30, 2014

News from Nowhere (1990)

Book Review from the October 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris and News From Nowhere: A Vision Four Our Time. Edited by Stephen Coleman and Paddy O'Sullivan. Green Books, 1990, 8.95

As 1990 is the centenary year of the publication of the utopian novel News From Nowhere, this book is a timely assessment of one of William Morris's most inspiring works. Nine writers have contributed chapters on topics as diverse as architecture, socialism, love, and ecology, each demonstrating how much William Morris had to offer a world that was, to him, getting drabber and more divided as the capitalist system subordinated everything of worth to the dictates of profit.

The first chapter, written by Christopher Hampton, sets News From Nowhere in the context of the wider utopian literary tradition, whilst recognising some of the features that set it apart from earlier utopian works, not least of all Morris's commitment to socialist change:
It was the shock of his reaction to the material conditions determined by a rapacious economic system at work and the devastating consequences for the people of his world that drove him towards commitment and from that to the writing of News From Nowhere.
In providing a vision of a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control without class division, money or the state, News From Nowhere is without doubt a literary milestone as far as the socialist movement is concerned, but the conception of socialist revolution outlined in it by Morris is not without its faults, emphasising as it does the role of insurrection and civil war. John Crump, in Chapter Two, makes much of the fact that the socialist revolution described by Morris involved the use of organisations akin to "workers' councils", set up so that the "irrelevant" Parliament could be by-passed. However, it is also worth mentioning that this is a view which later in his life Morris rejected in favour of capturing control of political power and the state machine through Parliament. In truth, Morris had a tendency to simply associate Parliament with reformism and was wary that activity geared towards Parliament could lead a genuine socialist party off course.

As John Crump states, "News From Nowhere derives its reputation more from its wonderfully attractive description of communist society than from its account of how communism is achieved". In Chapter Three, Stephen Coleman investigates one of its most attractive features, namely the contrast between the inhabitants of the socialist society envisaged by Morris and the inhabitants of our own, present-day capitalist society. Coleman describes how News From Nowhere challenges the traditional Judeo-Christian ideology which states that human nature must always act as a barrier to lasting harmony and freedom. In doing so he shows how Morris can not only depict a changed social organisation, but a changed people with different outlooks and behaviour to our own:
Morris was too imaginative a materialist to presume to have discovered a single, finalized, human nature; he understood that human behaviour—relationships, culture, feelings of self-identity—are fundamentally historical. Stripped of capitalist education, capitalist work routines, capitalist legislation and morality, Morris allowed himself to depict humans freed to behave beyond the limiting confines of the money-wages-profit system.
Ray Watkinson develops this theme further in Chapter Four, arguing that Morris saw creative work, liberated from the confines of the wages system, as an essential feature of "living society". He persuasively argues against the idea that Morris was completely opposed to the use of machinery, stating that "what Morris is against is not the machines, but the alienation, that under capitalism, they produce." In socialism, humans were no longer to be appendages of machines, but machines were to be subordinated to the real needs of labour.

The fifth chapter concerns itself with how Morris views women and sexuality, with Jan Marsh arguing that in this sense News From Nowhere tends to reflect some of the attitudes of the period in which it was written. With some justification, Jan Marsh labels News From Nowhere "a masculine vision of paradise", but comments that:
It is all very well for there to be no jobs in Nowhere for lawyers or army commanders, for example—and we can all agree that in an ideal state these are unnecessary—when women have never had the opportunity to select or reject such work. 
This comment would suggest that this particular author's commitment to a truly socialist society is rather token. After all, the choice between a system of common ownership and peace on the one hand and a competitive war-oriented society with a few women generals on the other is hardly a difficult one for those with a real commitment to equality.

The next two chapters, written by Colin Ward and Mark Pearson, discuss Morris's vision of housing, design and architecture—the "mother of the arts"—while Chapter Eight reverts to discussing the specific type of socialist society envisaged in News From Nowhere, this time from the standpoint of how the inhabitants of this society organised to satisfy their needs. In this chapter, Adam Buick argues that implicit in News From Nowhere is the idea of common ownership rather than government ownership. For in the society of News From Nowhere there is no state machine with its police and prisons and consequently no government to oversee its affairs. And, of course, along with common ownership goes direct democratic decision-making without recourse to government or leaders, free access to wealth without monetary payment, and voluntary co-operative work free from the coercion and exploitation of the wages system. In a particularly important section of this chapter Buick considers whether such an economic arrangement is feasible, concluding that contrary to the myths propagated by economists, human needs are not limitless and that a potential abundance of wealth exists in the world with which to satisfy those needs.

The final chapter by Paddy O'Sullivan deals with Morris's vision from an ecological perspective, arguing that his commitment to ecology was more than just an aesthetic reaction to the disfiguration of the environment, but involved a consideration of how the implementation of his political ideas would affect nature. This chapter, however, is a little disappointing as O'Sullivan confuses what some environmentalists term "surplus production" (the socially useless production of cheap "throw-way" commodities) with the Marxian concept of surplus value (the unpaid labour of the working class) and this tends to cloud the analysis of the chapter.

William Morris And News From Nowhere: A Vision For Our Time is an interesting and important book which contains arguments which can inspire new generations of workers to look beyond the confines of the profit system, a hundred years after Morris's original work dod the same.

Here and there. (1916)

From the January 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arnold Bennett has been touring munition factories with the object of discovering why the workers do not invest in the war loan. He discovered that, the workers there, living from hand to mouth as they do elsewhere, prefer to keep the few shillings they are able to save in the house, They dare not risk lending them to the Government, because they may be wanted before 1935.

"After I had done visiting works" says the same writer, "an employer said to me: 'Some of the union leaders are splendid. I have one. He always does everything he can to make things run smooth and increase the output. And about 50 per cent of the men are the same—quite in earnest'". Good, old labour leaders. The employer in question knows that something of an oily nature is required to make things run smoothly. But what a simple Simon Arnold must be to give the show away. The function of the labour leader—to make things run smoothly—must be kept dark or "the things" get suspicious and the oil-can is ineffective.

*    *   *

Mr. Ford, of peace fame, has visions of a practical utopia in the very near future, to be reared on "The manufacture of a new farm tractor, which is to make it possible for farmers to have a six-hour day. for it is claimed that the machine will do the ploughing, threshing, pumping, churning, washing, stacking, harvesting, mowing and transportation of produce, and then will carry the family to church on Sunday. The active member of the firm is to be Mr. Ford's son, Edsel, who says that both workmen and buyers will share in the profits, and the workmen will spend only four months in the factory, the other eight being spent on the farm, where they will be able to study possible improvements."

The instalment of this mechanical wonder will necessarily reduce the number of hands required, and if these make the best use of their time during the eight months on the farm, the machine, when not carrying some of them to church, will be busy carrying fresh batches to the workhouse. That is the beauty of profit-sharing: the more you study the harder you have to work to keep your job.

*    *   *

"I should like to go toward those they call our enemies and say to them: 'Brothers, let us fight together: the enemy is behind us. Yes, since I have been wearing this uniform I do not feel any hatred toward those who are in front; but my hatred has grown against those who have power in their hands."

The above is from a letter found on a German prisoner and quoted by the "Daily Chronicle" (17.12.15) We send him greetings, and do not mind in the least anonymous letters or attacks by the "Globe" or any other capitalist rag. Our German comrade, though inclined to be sentimental in the rest of his letter, at least recognises that the workers, after they have fought their master's war, have yet to fight their own against the masters - the Class War.
F. Foan

Obituary: Frank Dawe (1958)

Obituary from the October 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrade Frank Dawe died in hospital after a short illness in which time I was only able to visit him once. He was 59 years of age.

Frank joined the Party in February, 1936, although he had "seen the light" four or five years previously. During that time he was with the Party not only in the spirit, but in the flesh. He came to the local branch, attended outdoor meetings, and sold literature. When he at length signed on the dotted line it was but the formality of the fait accompli. During that time he was often economically in the red, yet he was sensitive, over-sensitive perhaps, in the payment of dues. He would have hated to ask them to be waived and so his actual membership hung fire for that reason.

Frank Dawe was a stormy petrel, blazing a path wherever he went. In adolescence he was fiercely anti-war and although liable for call up at the end of the first world war he succeeded in not being roped in.

As a young man he took an active part in an engineers' strike at his father's works. It was to cost him not only his job, but the business. Later, he cracked that he at least escaped the fate of becoming a Capitalist.

Frank Dawe had grim experiences of the two slumps after the first world war. In the 1921 slump he became caught up in the activities of the National Unemployed Workers' Committee Movement. They were days of mass meetings outside the local Labour Exchange and often their dispersal by the Cossacks (mounted police). Of the besieging of the local relief station by hordes of unemployed; of forced entries into it in futile attempts to demand from the then Board of Guardians a little extra on outdoor relief. The arrival of the "flatties" and the ejection of the demonstrators; of derelict buildings taken over to serve as the headquarters of local unemployed organisations and centres of social activity, each ironically proclaiming itself as Poverty Hall; of unemployed marches in efforts to reach Parliament via Westminster Bridge and baton charges and broken heads. All of this Frank could recount mordantly. For the Communists who exploited unemployed organisations for political ends he used his most trenchant invective. For the unfortunate, but misguided, rank and file he never lost his sympathy.

We first met at the local Labour Exchange in 1928. Many future S.P.G.B.ers first met there. For many of us it became a social, political and cultural centre. A university where admittance could be gained by possession of yellow signing-on card, and where Marxism might be learned the hard way.

We began as opponents and ended as friends. Into my youthful hot-air idealism he at least breathed an icy realism. After that we went places together. I joined the N.U.W.M. and became its London organiser. We also joined the Communist Party together and left together. We passed through its amorphous body and appendages like a dose of salts. Just over 18 months saw us out at the right end. For Frank the Communist Party, Russia and all that was never "the God that Failed." Rather it soon became a graven image to be mocked at. He learned to mercilessly satirise the C.P.'s pseudo-revolutionism, their histrionics and crude political melodrama.

Then we tangled with the S.P.G.B., but got so badly mauled in the clinches that we at length decided that it might be better to fight for the Party than against it. I joined the Southwark branch and Frank gave it his moral support. To that branch we brought many converts, all unemployed. From the S.P.G.B. being a political expression in S.E. London we made it a political force to be reckoned with. Only a book could do justice to its political epics and varied personalities among them was Frank Dawe. Shortly after we brought about the formation of the Lewisham branch in which Frank took an active part. It was that branch he subsequently joined.

He also largely initiated the reforming of the Camberwell branch of which he was a consistently active member, playing as he said, the role of the elder statesman.

Frank Dawe cut his Socialist teeth in a whirling vortex of activity; on the streets at the Labour Exchange, public libraries and elsewhere; a formidable and rumbustious protagonist for Socialism. It was the hectic crisis days when, vide the C.P., Capitalism was collapsing and they thought if they did not hurry they would not be in time to take it over. It was into this seething frothy excitement, always turbulent, sometimes violent, that Frank Dawe flung himself, a number nine pamphlet in one pocket and a copy of Engel's "The Revolutionary Act" in another.

It was a time when the reading room of the local library was taken over by us and the CPers as a political forum without, of the course the conventional procedure. And where librarians vainly exhorted us to keep politics out of literature.

It was also a time when the Labour Exchange was jam-packed with signers-on. Somewhere in the seething maelstrom was invariably Frank, close pressed by a small crowd inside a big one. Above the din and tumult could be heard snatches such as—the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle, the Gotha Programme—and counter-revolutionaries. This often resulted in the complete disorganisation of Labour Exchange procedure and incensed officials sending for the police to eject us, that is, if in the confused mass we could be found.

Frank had a wide and sure grasp of the essentials of Marxism coupled with a considerable cultural background. He had a deep appreciation of both classic and modern French literature which he read in the original. He was a mine of information on classical music to which he introduced me. He often suppressed his many sided cultural attainments, believing that it might imply on his part, pretensions and snob values and thus provoke unfavourable reactions among those he came in contact with.

Frank spoke and at times wrote for the party. He was a good outdoor speaker with a facility for illustrating various aspects of the party's case. He could be a veritable cartoonist in words, imaginatively delineating a situation with a few bold strokes.

The comic muse must have presided at his birth. He had a sublime sense of the ridiculous and a rich seam of riotous humour. He not only told a good story—what Frank told an American professor and an English bishop would not pass the censor—but the best ones he told against himself.

Yet under his bluff and at times boisterous exterior lay a shy and sensitive person often apologetic and deprecatory of his work for the Party. He was something of a perfectionist, underestimating what he to give to the Party. It was a pity for he had much to give.

His attachment to the Party was deep and abiding, his class loyalties, passionate and sincere. He will certainly be remembered. For me, his death will not only be a Party loss, but a personal loss as well.

To his wife and family we express our sympathy in their misfortune.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Confusion in Scotland (1925)

From the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent sends us the Manifesto of the Scottish Workers' Republican Party, and asks for our opinion of it.

The object of the Party, founded by the late John Maclean is a Workers' Republic for Scotland.

The Manifesto sets out the slave position of the working class, and urges that the workers must carry through the Social Revolution.

The chief fallacy of their position is their insistence upon a Scottish Workers' Republic. This demand is both reactionary and Utopian. The struggle of the workers of the United Kingdom must be a united one. The workers are under the domination of a class who rule by the use of a political machine, which is the chief governing instrument for England, Scotland, Wales, etc. To appeal to the workers of Scotland for a Scottish Workers' Republic is to arouse and foster the narrow spirit of Nationalism, so well used by our masters. Economically the demand is Utopian, as the development of capitalism has made countries more and more dependent on each other, both through the specialisation of industry or agriculture, and also by the force controlled by the Great Powers to suppress or control the smaller nations.

The history of "independent" Hungary, Poland, and the Balkan States shows that the realisation of "political independence" by a country leaves the workers' conditions untouched and actually worsens them in many cases.

The appeal to the worker in this Manifesto to "rally to the cause of a Workers' Republic for Scotland" is made "so that we might win you away from the service of the imperialist gang who direct their activities from London." If the worker is to be won for Socialism, it is by getting him to understand the principles of Socialism, and not by appealing to him to concentrate on Scottish affairs. Socialism is international.

The uselessness of the Manifesto is shown by their anarchist attitude towards Parliament :-
"We claim that no useful working-class purpose can be served by sending men to Parliament."
They advance no arguments to support their claim. They offer no other method. They ignore the fact that the political machine is the instrument whereby capitalists wield power.

Their simple statement is that the workers can exercise "governmental power" because they are the only necessary class in society.

It is very simple. But what are the obstacles to this necessary class exercising the power of government?

The first obstacle is working-class ignorance, which is used to vote capitalists and their agents into political supremacy.

The second obstacle is the force which is used by the capitalists in control of Parliament to keep the workers in subjection.

The stupidity of preaching that because the workers are necessary to Scotland they can exercise governmental control is to invite the butchery of the workers.

Socialist education demands that besides advocating the establishment of Socialism, the obstacles that stand in its path must be pointed out, in order that the workers can march along the road to their supremacy. This Manifesto does not explain how the workers are kept in slavery, and it offers no road out of it. The meaning of the class struggle has yet to be learned by the Scottish Workers' Republican Party, The Manifesto closes with this gem: "Scotland for the Scottish Workers; the World for the World's Workers"!
A. Kohn 

The Rise of Capitalism (2011)

From the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The capitalist system is the most productive mode of production in the history of humankind. In the space of a few centuries the world has been transformed beyond all recognition. Average life expectancies have more than doubled. Technological developments occur at a rate that would have been previously unimaginable. More food, clothing and shelter can be produced using less labour than ever before. It would seem that the material problems of survival have finally been solved.

Yet capitalism is a system at odds with itself. The need for constant accumulation is the driving force of society, determining where and in what way human energies will be used. Instead of humankind controlling the fulfilment of its own development, humanity is at the mercy of an economic system which it has itself created. It is the conflict between the need to accumulate capital and the need to fulfil human want that is at the heart of all social problems today.

Enough food could be produced to feed all of the world’s population, yet people go hungry. Why? Because those in need of food do not have the money to pay for it. Industry pumps pollutants into the environment yet less destructive methods of production could easily be utilised. Why? Because more profit is to be made this way. Vast wealth co-exists with abject poverty leading to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Why? Because capitalist accumulation is dependent on the exploitation of the wage labourer.

Transition from feudalism
The transition from feudalism to capitalism is often viewed as the result of a gradual and rising progress of technology, urbanisation, science and trade – inevitable because humans have always possessed “the propensity to truck, barter and exchange” (Adam Smith). However, as writers such as Ellen Meiksins Wood and Robert Brenner have demonstrated, the rise of capitalism depended on very specific and localised conditions and was the result of a process that was far from automatic.

The relatively recent change from a primarily agricultural society of petty producers to a society of commodity production and market dependence required a change in the social relations at the heart of society. The central relationship instead of being between landlords and un-free peasants became one between capital-owners and propertyless wage-labourers. Such a change could only be bought about by a complete rupture with the old relations of human interaction.

By the 17th century trade, mercantilism and money lending had grown and developed in Europe but these by themselves did not undermine the foundations of feudal society. The mere existence of commodity production, merchants’ capital and money lenders capital are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the full development of capitalism. “Or else ancient Rome, Byzantium etc. would have ended their history with free labour and capital” (Karl Marx).

Only in England were conditions right for the essential prerequisite to take hold, capitalist relations in agriculture. The later industrial revolution would have been extremely unlikely without an agricultural sector that was productive enough to support it.

These changes can be explained by looking for the ‘prime mover’ in society. In capitalist societies this is the need to accumulate capital. In feudalism the need to maintain class position takes this role.

In order to maintain and improve their position as members of the ruling class and to defend it against their rivals, their underlings and moneylenders, the pressure was on feudal landlords to increase rents. In capitalism surplus wealth is extracted through economic means; it is because of the market-dependency of the wage-labourer that labour-power is sold. In feudal society, as the peasants have their own means of production, surplus must be extracted via ‘extra-economic’ methods through the real or ultimate threat of force, which explains their un-free status.

By the mid 15th century through ongoing resistance and evasion the peasantry of much of western Europe including England, were able to break the shackles of serfdom and gain their freedom. This proved a problem for landlords as they could now no longer depend on arbitrary peasant labour or duties and income from rents fixed long-term by custom, the value of which tended to decrease in the face of rising costs.

In order to counter this tendency in England, more easily than in other western European countries, landlords were able to appropriate peasant holdings that had became vacant due to a falling population. These properties were able to be leased at rates in excess of customary rent.

Another option available to landlords was the imposition of fines and levies. Charges could be made whenever land changed hands or was inherited and many landlords used these as a method for removing customary peasants from their land so that competitive commercial rents could be charged. However this process did not go on unchallenged; widespread and fairly successful peasant uprisings were a recurrent theme for much of the 15th century. This trend continued into the 16th century with security of tenure and the question of fines being core to what became know as Kett’s rebellion of 1549. If successful such events may have “clipped the wings of rural capitalism” (Stanley Bindhoff), but they were not and by the end of the 17th century around 70-75 percent of cultivatable land was under the control of English landlords.

In France the property rights of peasants developed along a different line. The monarchical state had evolved into an independent collector of tax and had the power to draw revenues from the land; it had an interest in curbing the rents of landlords, so that peasants could pay more in taxes. The state was thus in competition with the lords for surplus peasant product and for this reason often intervened to secure peasant freedoms and property. French landlords had a legal difficulty in occupying vacant peasant lots and so the majority of the land remained under customary rents. The state used peasant production as a direct source of revenue and increased its power by intervening in matters between peasants and landlords to guarantee the continuity of the system.

This can be contrasted with the form of state that developed in England during the Tudor period (1485-1603). Here monarchical centralisation was dependent on the support from landlords, evident from the growth of parliamentary institutions of the period. The weakness of the English peasantry deprived the monarchical powers of a means of generating an income independently of landlords. Powerful elements of the nobility and gentry would support the monarchy’s centralising efforts in the hope of achieving the stability and order necessary for their own economic growth. It was however these same elements from the landlord class who had the strongest interest in freeing themselves from customary peasants and replacing them with commercial tenants.

The nature of the two different states can be illustrated by the content of peasant revolts in the two countries. In England, revolts were directed against the landlords in an attempt to protect peasant ownership against the encroachment of capitalistic property relations. In France the crushing taxation of an absolutist state was the source of the peasants’ grievances.

Market dependency
English landlords controlled a large proportion of the best land but didn’t have, or need, the kinds of extra-economic powers that other European feudal ruling classes depended on. Instead they largely depended on the increasing productivity of tenants and required the state only as a means of protecting their private property and enforcing contractual obligations. In England, unlike anywhere else, an increasing amount of rents took the form of economic leases being fixed not by law or tradition but variably priced according to market conditions. For tenants this meant having to respond to market imperatives and taking an interest in agricultural ‘improvement’ and increasing productivity, often involving enclosure of common lands and increased exploitation of wage labour. Both producers and landowners were becoming dependent on the market for their own self-reproduction.

Market imperatives rather than market opportunities were the driving force of the process. Tenant farmers were specialising in competitive production for the market because they needed to in order to be able to continue leasing. This can be contrasted with the peasant who may have had the opportunity to sell surplus product on the market but, as they owned their own means of subsistence, was in no way dependent on it.

Peasants who were unable to keep up with fines or tenants that failed to compete successfully were pushed into a mere subsistence existence and eventually made landless. Some became vagabonds, wandering the roads for looking food or others became wage labourers on large farms. The landless became not only labourers but also consumers as they needed to buy goods in the market which they had previously been able to produce themselves. This was one of the reasons a healthy home market was able to develop in England.

Until 1640 the state operated in the interest of the old feudal order, restricting the full development of capitalist relations in the countryside. During the turbulent events of the English civil war the commercial classes, favouring capitalist development against the traditional rights of peasants and monarchy, managed to take hold of Parliament. The rate of change now rapidly accelerated with the ‘improving’ capitalist tenant farmer becoming typical by 1660. State-sponsored enclosure of common lands increased and became commonplace, forcing more and more peasants into becoming landless wage-labourers.

The emergence of the landlord/capitalist tenant/wage-labourer triad made the agricultural revolution possible and laid the groundwork for the industrial revolution. Growing agricultural production provided rising incomes for not only the middle but the lower classes, fuelling the growth of the home market. “Industry fed on agriculture and stimulated in turn further agricultural improvement – an upward spiral that extended into the industrial revolution” (Robert Brenner)

Worldwide market
Once English capitalism reached its industrial phase the world-wide market with its competitive pressures became the means for the spreading of capitalist social relations. Economies that depended on trade would be subject to the market imperatives of competition and increasing productivity. These market imperatives transformed social property relations leading to a new wave of dispossession and commodification of labour-power, both small agricultural and independent industrial producers faced the same fate. As more and more people were brought under the sphere of market dependence the strengths of these imperatives grew. Capital was able to remake the world in its own image.

The social changes of the 17th century freed technology and science from the shackles of feudal backwardness, making possible the advances that began in the 18th century. Yet the direction of technological development is dictated by the profit motive, the need to accumulate capital for its own sake. Could the 21st century see a further period of social change, where humanity as a whole takes control of the productive powers and where human need becomes the guiding force for a new age of technological and scientific progress?

By studying capitalism we learn that human society is not the result of some eternal logic or divine laws but is created through our own actions as we produce the things we need as use every day. The historical conditions that set in motion the social changes that have transformed the world were in no way inevitable. We must fully understand the full power of market imperatives, of the need to accumulate capital and of the need to raise the productivity of labour. We must also have a clear idea of their origins. Once we can begin to answer how and why society works in the way it does we are already some way towards understanding what could be done to change it.
Darren Poynton

Angels and Demons (2014)

From the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unlike birds, bats, bugs or any other flying creatures, of which there are numerous varieties, no in-depth study seems to have ever been carried out on the various species of angels which, according to the Catholic Church, flutter around us on a daily basis.

Our scanty knowledge of angels comes mainly from the renaissance painters and their masterpieces which indicate that there are, indeed, several kinds. The tall blond ones with what appear to be sleek, aerodynamically perfect, goose feathered wings which, in the paintings, they wrap protectively around weeping women in distress; the chubby little four-winged ones, whose wings have evolved, perhaps, to enable them to hover at low altitude and feed in mid-flight; and the biblical ones (see Isaiah 6:1-2) which have six wings, two of which they use to cover their faces, two to cover their feet, and two more for the actual job of flying. (Although, as there have been no reported sightings of these for many years, we fear they may now be extinct). Apart from this we know very little, and nothing of their natural habitat, their feeding patterns or their mating habits.

Fortunately a conference on angels has recently taken place in Rome, and one of the Vatican’s angel experts, the knowledgeable but unfortunately named Fr Renzo Lavatori has brought us up to date with the Church’s latest thinking on the subject. And he started by dropping a bombshell. ‘Angels’, he told us, ‘may not have wings at all’. They may actually be more like ‘shards of light’. ‘You do not see angels so much as feel their presence’ he reported, ‘they are a bit like sunlight that refracts on you through a crystal vase’. Well, that’s all very nice but he didn’t really go much further. What most of us would like to know, for example, is what do they actually do all day?

Fr Lavatori, who is also a ‘demonologist’ did, however, add that ‘we need them now more than ever before. This is because increasing secularisation and materialism in society have left an open door for the devil’ he explained. ‘There is a lot more interference from diabolical forces. That is why you see queues of people outside the exorcist’s offices in churches’.

Well yes, that is very worrying. It was only a couple of years ago that Rome’s chief exorcist, Fr Gabrielle Amorth, explained to us that practicing yoga and reading Harry Potter books was satanic and would lead to evil. And his predecessor, Fr Candido Amantini, was said to have spoken to, and battled with demons for 36 years. And now a Polish priest, Fr Slawomir Kostrzewa, has identified the latest satanic scare–Lego bricks.

Lego, he explained, is all about ‘darkness and the world of death’. (And there was us thinking that that’s what the Catholic Church was all about). In a move that might, we must assume, enable toddlers to unleash satanic forces against their parents Lego have extended their range of happy little interlocking characters with a series of ‘monster fighters’ one, of which, is ‘Lord Vampyre’, a Dracula-like character with fangs.

It’s their little, moulded facial expressions that Fr Kostrzewa is concerned about. They show ‘satisfaction with their evil deeds’ he says. Although to be honest, that could also be said about the toddlers who play with them. But no, this is serious. It will ‘destroy their souls and lead them to the dark side’ he insists. And in case you think Fr Kostrzewa may just be one brick short of a plastic house, rest assured. He also warned us about the spiritual dangers of ‘Hello Kitty’ and ‘My Little Pony’.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Return to Full Employment? (2014)

From the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a speech on 31 March George Osborne  pledged ‘today I'm making a new commitment – a commitment to fight for full employment in Britain’ ( He was, however, careful not to define what he meant by ‘full employment’.

Beveridge, of the war-time Beveridge Report, argued that it was possible to achieve and maintain the unemployment rate at 3 percent of the active labour force. Keynes and the Keynesians taught that this could be achieved by appropriate ‘demand management’ by the government. And in fact, for most of the twenty years after the war the rate was around 2 percent. This is what most people will regard as full employment, taking into account workers temporarily unemployed as they move from one job to another or from a declining industry to an expanding one.

The Keynesians – and everybody was a Keynesian then, Tories as well as Labourites – claimed that this was a result of their policies. Others offered an explanation in terms of reconstruction and an expanding world market. That they were right was shown when the post-war boom came to an end in the mid-70s and Keynesian policies proved unable to do anything about it, except by adding inflation to the  stagnation and creating a new economic phenomenon dubbed ‘stagflation’.

Reserve army
Marx pointed out that the unemployed made up what he called ‘the reserve army of labour’, a pool from which employers could draw in periods of expansion. Without it, since of course it is workers who produce everything, the expansion would be compromised by a labour shortage. In a slump, on the other hand, members of the regular army of labour find themselves unemployed too. So, unemployment is high or low depending on which phase of its business cycle capitalism is in.

Full employment was achieved for most of  the period 1945 to 1965 because this was the time of the post-war boom, caused first by reconstruction and then by an expanding world market.  When this boom began to falter in the late 60s and burst in the mid-70s unemployment began to rise, fairly dramatically. The official rate rose from the 2 percent average in the mid-60s, passing the million mark (4.6 percent) in 1975 and reaching a peak of over 3 million (11.3 percent) in 1985. Since then it has never fallen below a million, the lowest being 1.4 million or 4.7 percent in 2005, i.e. its 1975 level. In the current slump that began in 2008 it reached a peak of 8.1 percent (2.6 million) in 2011. It is now about 7.2 percent. ‘Natural rate’

With Beveridge and Keynes discredited, economists looked for another explanation for this permanently higher level of unemployment and came up with the theory of ‘the natural rate of unemployment’. This was the rate below which there would be a rise in the general price level. Which is why they also called it in their academic works ‘the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment” (NAIRU). It has also been called ‘the full employment rate of unemployment’.

Although it is based on the mistaken assumption that higher wages lead to a rise in the general price level (whereas wages are a price which rises in line with all other prices), this is not entirely an irrational or ideological concept. In a boom falling unemployment puts workers in a stronger bargaining position allowing them to extract higher real wages, which employers can afford because they are making quicker and higher profits. In fact a boom is a period of rising prices as demand, and not just for labour, comes to exceed supply.

In this context the economists’ ’natural rate of unemployment’ is the rate which would exist when capitalism is neither in a boom nor a slump. They estimated that it would be between 5 and 6 percent, at least twice as much as during the post-war boom.

Empty promises
So, what rate of unemployment has Osborne promised to target? Is it the ‘natural rate’? Or is he promising to engineer a boom in which it will fall below this? Most probably the former, as in the same speech he showed that he had learned from the mistake made by his predecessors Nigel Lawson and Gordon Brown of promising a permanent boom, when he said:

‘You can’t abolish boom and bust. There are always going to be ups and downs to the economic cycle.’

The 5-6 percent rate of unemployment Osborne seems to be promising is not full employment. In which case he will be envisaging a permanent pool of over one million unemployed workers, which exposes the hypocrisy of the government’s claim to be forcing people off disability and incapacity benefit as a prelude to finding them a job. They know most of them never will. But unemployment ‘benefit’ is cheaper.

In any event, permanent full employment is not possible under capitalism because a permanent boom isn’t either.
Adam Buick

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Socialism and "The Third International" (1925)

From the March 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands for the International Organisation of the Working Class for the achievement of Socialism throughout the entire Capitalist World. It is not sufficient, however, for parties to call themselves Socialist or Communist to arouse our desires to affiliate with them. To be worthy of the name and to be useful in the struggle for Socialism, every party must be based upon a recognition of the class struggle and the line of action necessary for the workers to achieve victory over the capitalists.

The so-called Second International we long ago recognised as an anti-Socialist body, and therefore refused to affiliate with it. In the pages of the "Socialist Standard" we have exposed the opportunism and compromise of that body. The confusion and reformism exhibited in their International Congresses showed that it must be opposed and exposed, and the pages of this journal will testify to our criticism of the Bebels, Hyndmans, Millerands and Kautskys, who composed the leadership. We not merely exposed the leaders, but showed that the constitution and composition of the Second International were opposed to Socialism. We did not wait for the lessons of "wartime betrayals," but while people like Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg were active within it, we laid down reasons why it could not function for Socialists. The parties composing it were not Socialist, and the policy it pursued was therefore anti-Socialist.

The war gave added evidence to our criticism of the jingoistic and capitalist nature of it. Since the war the Noskes and Scheidemans, the MacDonalds and the Brantings have shown the entire capitalist character of this alleged Socialist International.

The fact the largest unit of it is the British Labour Party, which in no sense even claims to be Socialist, shows how little this International is entitled to be called Socialist. The German Social Democrats have supplied further evidence of the need for untiring Socialist hostility to this mockery of an International.

Those who seceded from the Second International took action following the war to form a "fighting" International—the so-called Third, or Communist, International. It is generally supposed to be a real live revolutionary body such as every revolutionary should join. We propose, therefore, to examine its claims for support. Our previous remarks about the "Second" International should be borne in mind, because it will be shown that, despite all the Moscow denunciations of the "Second International," the two bodies possess sufficient in common to make joint action between them possible, not only in conference, but as allies in government.

Soon after the conquest of power by the Bolsheviki, the call for an International Congress at Moscow was issued. It was signed by Lenin and Trotsky for the Russian Communist Party and by eight other organisations. Amongst these latter was Lenin's Secretary, Boris Reinstein, who signed for the Socialist Labor Party of America, without their consent or endorsement. Whether the other signatures had the backing of their organisations is not known.

The unsound position taken up at the inception of the 3rd International may be gathered from this call or manifesto.

"As a basis for the new International, we deem necessary the recognition of the following clauses, which we shall consider our platform and which have been worked out on the basis of the programme of the Spartacus Group in Germany and the Communist Party in Russia:-

"1. The present is the period of dissolution, and the collapse of the entire world system which will mean the entire collapse of European culture if capitalism with its unsolvable contradictions is not destroyed.
"2. The problem of the proletariat consists in immediately seizing the power of the State. This seizure of the power of the State means the destruction of the State apparatus of the bourgeoisie and the organisation of a new proletarian apparatus of power." The notion that Capitalism was collapsing in 1919 permeated the entire policy of the new "International." The framers of the manifesto knew little of the actual state of affairs outside Russia, and evidently thought the end of the war was the death knell of the system. Thus the passage quoted tells the workers that the problem is the immediate seizure of the power of the State. The danger of such advice was easily proved by the small bodies on Russian lines that arose throughout the world, and adopted these mottoes of "seizing power" and "now is the time," "the revolution is just around the corner." The great mass of the workers were in no mood to seize power and would not know what to do with it if they did. The majority of workers were ignorant of their class interests, and were still saturated with the ideas of their masters. To tell them to seize power was not the message of Socialism, for before they can seize power with advantage to themselves the workers needed Socialist education—an understanding of the system under which they lived and the forces controlling it. To tell the workers of the world to seize power at once was to invite them to be crushed by the forces of the State, whose death-dealing power had so recently been shown on the battlefield.

The other idea preached in the quotation given, that the workers were to destroy the State apparatus is a further indication of the sensational but worthless policy of the 3rd International. The State machine—that is, the instrument of government and the forces controlled through it—could not be dispensed with by a class rising to power in modern capitalist countries until Socialism had been established with the abolition of classes and the consequent dying out of the State.

Engels has well stated the attitude towards the State machine in his Introduction to Marx's "Civil War in France," where he says of the State:-
"At the very best it is an inheritance of evil, bound to be transmitted to the proletariat when it has become victorious in its struggle for class supremacy, and the worst features of which it will have to lop off at once until a new race grown up under free social conditions, will be in a position to shake off from itself this State rubbish in its entirety."
The idea of the immediate destruction of the power of the State is an anarchist policy. Lenin himself has opposed it, for in his criticism of the International of Youth ("Class Struggle," May, 1919) he says: "Socialists are willing to utilise the present government and its institutions in the struggle for the liberation of the working class, and also insist upon the necessity of so using the government in the creation of a suitable transition form from Capitalism to Socialism. This transition form, also governmental, is the dictatorship of the proletariat."

The manifesto of Moscow goes on to lay down its method:-
"The fundamental means of the struggle are mass action of the proletariat even to armed and open warfare with the State power of capital." 
This became the accepted policy of Communists throughout the world, so that in a short time most of them had driven themselves underground into secret societies through such an insane programme. Some of their followers, such as the Spartacans in Germany, attempted to carry out this suicidal policy of armed and open warfare with terrible results to those concerned.

Mass action meant in Communist circles the "spontaneous upsurge of the proletariat." One of the leaders of the Moscow International, Louis Fraina, defines mass action in his "Revolutionary Socialism" (p.196) as "the instinctive action of the proletariat, gradually developing more conscious and organised forms for certain purposes."

"Organisations," says Fraina (the International Secretary of the C.P. of U.S.A.), "have a tendency to become conservative," and he relies upon the workers "acting instinctively under pressure of events."

This mass-action nonsense preached by Moscow is the very thing relied upon by our masters. The only sound action for Socialism must be guided by the workers' intelligence and knowledge. The blind instinctive actions of the workers are dangerous to workers' welfare, and are easily worked upon by capitalist orators and intellectuals in war time and peace time. Mob action is not the action to overthrow Capitalism and establish Socialism. Socialism depends upon organisation plus knowledge. Armed warfare by workers while capitalists control the forces of government is a policy both useless as well as suicidal. The advocacy of such a policy is reactionary, and provides the capitalists with excellent opportunities for butchery of the insurgents. To propose such a method as the 3rd International and its sections did, especially in view of the minority of workers in their ranks, was directly opposed to workers' interests. It betrayed the illusions which the 3rd International suffered and which still are general with that body.

A further examination of the policy of this so-called revolutionary International will be made in our next issue.
Adolph Kohn 

A Rant About the ‘Right to Food’ (2014)

From the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a report in January this year the UN Special Rapporteur on ‘the right to food’, Olivier De Schutter, claimed that, 'Most of the food systems we have inherited from the 20th century have failed.' If those systems have failed, could it not be because they were not suited to succeeding within the global capitalist system?

The report’s basic assumption is not that this system is fundamentally flawed but it's just that things have got out of kilter and need reforming to bring matters back into an acceptable state. But it's not as if there is just one particular disaster to be dealt with suddenly and immediately since world hunger and malnutrition is a disaster that has been ongoing for decades. A disaster created by the world capitalist system that requires, nay demands, profit from every transaction.

How many reports do we need to read regarding the amount of available food in the world? The amount of food dumped or wasted in countries around the world? Of food not being distributed because there is no market – ie insufficient funds to buy it?

Empty rights
The report declares the rights of all people to this and that, but this doesn't translate into people getting those rights. This is not a problem restricted to the 'underdeveloped world', the 'third' world, whatever label you choose. It is also happening in your world, my world, your country, my country – everybody's, rich or poor. Poverty occurs in all countries and is rampant in many developed countries, a fact to which the report refers (in particular food stamps and poverty in the US).

The report points out that the 'exclusive focus' on increasing agricultural production has had severe environmental impacts including global warming. Whilst true, this clouds the reality that it is not the amount of food that is lacking but the distribution and availability of it. Remember, food is for paying customers not for hungry people. The report also mentions the unsustainable, destructive practices and the distorting subsidies of industrial agriculture. There is some emphasis on the contrast between high and low income countries regarding consumption and emissions; 'there is no doubt in the scientific community that the impacts of livestock production are massive,' because production of grains for animal feed is diverted from human needs.

Connections are made between the methods of large scale agriculture, putting small scale farmers out of business or off their land, and a return to subsistence farming or urban migration followed by forced reliance on imports. This, coupled with IMF loans or similar, has increased the indebtedness of states without stopping the impoverishment of their populations. De Schutter takes to task the 'weak accountability of governments to the rural poor' – foreign debt leading to the focus on cash crops for export, not food for locals. Note, none of these circumstances have been a result of the personal choice of individuals but of a policy imposed: cause and effect.

Limited choice
Choice in our democracies is limited. With regard to food, for those in the rich world choice should surely go beyond what's put on the supermarket shelves by large corporations. And for those in the poor world, who willingly chooses to give up their land, to be urbanised, to be tied to the market, to aspire to the rich world supermarket model? Have they been consulted? Will they ever be consulted while this money/profit system persists?

If, individually, or even collectively as a minority, one prefers the mass produced, chemically-rich foods of the major corporations, how legitimate is it to attempt to force it onto a majority too? Whose legitimacy will win out? If world trade agreements and international laws serve the corporations above the vast majority of the world’s population can they not be regarded as illegitimate? The market approach seeks to impose an alien process of food production which, for solely profitable economic reasons, completely changes the traditional way of life for many and totally disenfranchises others. The issue is heavily weighted against people in favour of capital. That is the norm in capitalism. But it doesn't make it right. And it isn't written in stone that it will always be so.

So, here we have a report from a world institution, part of the UN, dedicated to investigating (over a six year period) the problems of the world food supply, production and distribution with recommendations and demands which most of us should be able to recognise will not be acceptable to those in charge of the system we live in.                                     

In one paragraph, 'The Way Forward', there are calls for a change of strategy, different ways of organising, investing, diversifying, creating opportunities for income-generating activities and social protection schemes 'to ensure that all individuals have access to nutritious food at all times (even if they have access neither to productive sources nor to employment).' Now, this seems like a mighty big ask from a rather hazy conglomeration of trans-national entities and national states spread around the world currently immersed totally in the 'free market' principle. That is why the problems are as they are now. The best we could hope for from such a call is yet another voluntary agreement internationally which would have no credibility and no teeth.

In reality the majority of the world's population would cooperate gladly to the benefit of all – if they were only allowed to voice their collective opinion and be heard. It is those who currently benefit from controlling the methods used, those for whom the system – the capitalist system – works perfectly well, who will remain unconvinced by such arguments and turn a deaf ear to the call. It is against the logic of their system to be inclusive, to 'take care' of unfortunates, those who are deemed surplus to requirements.

The fact that vast numbers of people are involved in community-based initiatives, with a strong social participation component, demonstrates that people can and do know how to make things better for themselves and do want to live in harmony and cooperation in their communities. It also reinforces the fact that they prefer doing things this way rather than accepting the free market system of everything being a commodity.

Fatuous consensus
Apparently, there is now an international consensus in favour of making the full realisation of another abstract right, that to social security, a priority. This since 12 June 2012 when the International Labour Conference adopted Recommendation no. 202 with 453 votes in favour and 1 abstention. But again, how realistic is such a consensus? When many individual countries can't get political consensus for adequate social security in their own country, when even the richest countries of the world have many people homeless, living below the breadline, unemployed and hungry? It is far from likely, impossible even, however many delegates’ heads nod in agreement, for this to become a reality within this system.

Remember the Rio+20 Conference – 'The Future We Want'? Another talking shop. But who now believes anything they say? Who, if anyone, believes that those 'leaders' putting their names to the document actually believe they are going to do anything more about it than simply agree it's a good idea? The whole thing is totally fatuous.

It will be the same with the UN food report’s ‘right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.'

The big question is how to move from a model in which everyone recognises the profit imperative whether they love it or hate it; profit on a large scale or small, profit from agribusiness or market stall, from pure accumulation to simple survival, from the greedy to the needy, profit which favours minority over majority in all areas. Everyone recognizes this but far fewer question the possibility, the sense, the imperative of implementing a different model, not a few reforms here and there to give temporary help to this sector or that, but one which takes into consideration the needs, aspirations, ideas and ideals of the many rather than the few.

Genuine food security involves the democratisation of food production. It has to be about meeting the self-defined needs of people, not a profit-motivated venture for corporations, agribusinesses and their boards and shareholders. Food security is about meeting the dietary needs of all people, at all times, enabling them to live a healthy life and not to be constantly in fear of the vagaries of the market. Only by eliminating the money and buying and selling element, by coming to terms with the absolute necessity of removing any profit motive from the food supply (and from every area of life) will farmers, peasant or otherwise, consumers and all the peoples of the world have the security of knowing that sufficient food is available to all, at all times and in all situations. Food security for all the world's people is just not possible in a capitalist system.
Janet Surman

The Shadow Show (1928)

From the January 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx's Letters to Kugelmann (1934)

Book Review from the October 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letters to Kugelmann . . . by Karl Marx. 148 pp., 3s. 6d. Cloth; 2s. Paper. Martin Lawrence Ltd., 33, Gt. James Street, London, W.C.1.

A valuable contribution to Marxian literature is the issue in the English language of the letters written by Marx to Dr. Kugelmann during the years 1862-1874. Many of the letters have appeared in various English periodicals, but this is the first issue of the letters in the complete form. With just a slight initial resentment, due to certain defects mentioned below, the book gives a final sense of gratitude and satisfaction. In the past these letters have suffered from interference by Karl Kautsky, who, when he published them in the Neue Zeit, deliberately omitted passages to suit his political purpose, and suppressed one letter altogether. This letter, written by Marx on February 23rd, 1865, exposed the political trickery of Ferdinand Lassalle. Though the Directors of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow realise the importance of this letter, no reference is made by them to the discovery of evidence that finally proved the rascality of Lassalle, and justified Engels in his detestation of that schemer.

Reference should have been made in the Foreword to the finding of material showing that Lassalle had been in secret communication with Bismarck. If one may digress, may it be pointed out that Engels always held the view that Lassalle was a humbug. On June 11th, 1863, he wrote Marx that Lassalle was in the service of Bismarck. ("Der Kerl arbeitet jetzt rein im Dienst von Bismarck." Page 144, Vol. 3, Marx-Engels Correspondence.) But to come nearer to the date of this suppressed letter, Engels, on January 27th, 1865, told Marx (letter 890, Page 219, Vol. 3, as above) that Lassalle was gradually being exposed as a common rogue. This matter of exposure had been in Marx's mind for quite a while, and the letter to Kugelmann was the result. Kautsky suppressed it, and Lenin, when he wrote the preface to the Russian translation of these letters, was unaware of its existence. Absence of comment is curious, because in the issue of selected letters of Marx and Engels, issued in Germany under the imprimatur of the Marx-Engels Institute, details are given of the discovery of the communications. (These letters are in course of translation into English, and will be published shortly by Martin Lawrence, Ltd.)

It is perhaps unfortunate that the type was set up and printed in Moscow, The translation, apparently, originated there, for the letters are now in the archives of the Marx-Engels Institute. Better service would have been rendered to the English-reading public had the entire arrangement for publication been left to competent English experts. The advantage accruing to the possession of the complete series is minimised by an insufficient regard for Marx's original text. The effort to impress the reader by the needless intrusion of italics and inverted commas, is an illusion. Marx knew what he wanted to say, how to say it, and how to express himself with simplicity. He now and again wandered off into Italian, French and English phrases. Those which were in English are not indicated, while the other "foreign" phrases are given in the original in the text and translated in footnotes. Some of the English sentences—or phrases—are neither indicated nor printed accurately. But unless such indication is given, the literary value and sting may be lost, and Marx's meaning and sense of expression nullified.

Also, the use of italics in the letters as printed is mystifying. There seems to be no regular method adopted. For example, on page 31, in the letter which Kautsky suppressed, the translator has this: -
So they want to take the circumstances as they are, and not irritate the government, just like our "republican" "real politicians" who are not willing to "put up with" a Hohnezollern emperor.
But in the German original Marx had only word in quotation marks (the German equivalent of "republican,") and only one word spaced out for emphasis (the German equivalent of emperor). Why then these further modifications?

In another passage on the same page the translator gives as his version: -
We are making a stir here now on the General Suffrage Question, which, of course, has a significance here quite different from what it has in Prussia. 
In the original Marx used no emphasis on these words, and there can be no justification for departing from what he wrote.

With regard to the failure to indicate passages which Marx originally gave in English, Marx knew his method of expression, and when he substituted a phrase in another language, it was because to him, it acquired the precise weight of expression. Therefore, it should be necessary—at least to us who read English, to know which passages Marx wrote in English, in order to gather the impressions of the moment.  

In the last paragraph on page 31 the following words were originally written by Marx in English: "Member of the Association,"—"individual member ship,"—"societies,"—"an English card of membership" (the translator gives Marx's words correctly—"the English society is public," but puts "public" in italics.

This may appear to be captious criticism, but it is a plea for accuracy, and in some cases, the modified version gives an appreciably different meaning.

Notwithstanding this we can heartily recommend the book. It contains 148 pages, printed in clean, clear type, on a very fine paper, in red cloth, with lettering in gold. All foreign phrases are translated, and there is an excellent and informative biographical index which is itself a mine of information. Students of Dietzgen will find an interesting letter he wrote to Marx, and there is a preface by Lenin in which he attacks Plechanoff for his attitude during the Moscow uprising of 1905.
Moses Baritz

Monday, May 26, 2014

What is Reformism? (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reformism resembles the treatment of leprosy with vanishing cream. It attacks the symptoms but ignores the virus—world Capitalism.

People see misery everywhere. Righteous indignation, protest, rebellion, humanitarian zeal, burst from some of them unceasingly. Yet this very force, this fervour to better the lot of others is nearly always diverted into futile channels. It is as if every member of the working-class had inside his head a voice announcing: "Capitalism is eternal and all improvements must take place within it." Are we poor? Let us have fairer wages. Are we to be exterminated? Let the great men sign treaties. Are we surrounded by trashiness? Let us protect the consumer.

Only a handful, the Socialists, seems to notice that this Reformist activity has been going on at a furious rate for decades and the world is nonetheless as bad as ever. We Socialists are often derided as "Idealists," but the compliment is misplaced: it belongs to the Reformists. Their Utopia is Capitalism without Capitalism's inevitable consequences. And what an astonishing, vigorous, unbounded faith they have in it, a shining devotion altogether untouched by such paltry considerations as the facts.

Let us make clear that by Capitalism we mean the system of private ownership of the means of wealth production—a system with money, wages, governments, armies, etc. By reforms we mean tinkering about with, instead of the abolition of, all these things.

The real driving force behind Reformism is the desire to stablise Capitalism and thus to retain it. In fact Capitalism needs continuous reform in order to run as smoothly as possible in the interests of the master class.

Oscar Wilde said that the worst slave-owners were the kind ones: they tended to prevent the full horror of the chattel slave system from becoming generally realised. But our case is not as weak as this. It may be true that the Capitalists would sooner alleviate a bit of suffering than have their position of privilege endangered. But in fact many reforms alleviate suffering not at all. Some, like family allowances (a trick to rearrange working-class misery) make exploitation more thorough. Others simply replace one trouble by another.

In addition, it will be found that the vast majority of proposed reforms fall easily into two categories: they are either necessary, or impossible. The first sort includes, for instance, all those measures aimed at making the working-class a healthier and better-trained beast of burden. Impossible reforms include all Capitalist measures to abolish war, unemployment, strikes, slumps, etc. Support for either kind is obviously a total waste of time from a working-class standpoint.

The Reformist presents his argument in one of three ways: He claims that reforms can solve the working-class's problems: He admits that only a social revolution can solve them, but adds: "Socialism us a long way off. People need help now. Why can't we struggle for revolution and reforms?" He claims that revolution and reform can be one and the same thing, that Socialism will be introduced gradually by the piling-up of one reform after another.

The problems of the working-class spring from its poverty. This is inseparable from the wages system, which functions by paying workers less that the value of what they produce. If workers were not poor they would not be restricted in access to the world's wealth, and if they were not so restricted they would have no motive to slog their guts out for wages. The unpaid labour of the workers produces surplus value, which is appropriated by a parasite class. Also, the bulk of production is shoddy, wasteful or destructive—because it is for profit, not for use. Production for profit leads inevitably to war, because for one thing nations must seek ever-widening markets for their products and must therefore collide with other nations doing the same thing. You cannot have Capitalism without war, poverty and universal misery.

Socialism will remain "a long way off" so long as so many people waste their energies on reforms. By trying to "alleviate" this or that source of trouble the Reformist helps to put off the day when it will be abolished, since every bit of energy spent on reform is one bit not spent on propagating revolution. The argument that we should strive for both revolution and reform is actually an excuse to shelve revolution "until society is ripe for it," but revolutionary propaganda will help to make society ripe for it, since only one thing more is needed to bring Socialism, a Socialist working class. If our Reformist actually meant that the working class should devote "a fair portion" of its time to revolutionary propaganda and a fair portion to Reformism (fifty per cent each?), he ought really to give up Reformism altogether, for at the moment more than ninety-nine per cent of political action is entirely for reforms. On top of this, History has shown that organisations of the 50-50 brand always end up 100 per cent Reformist.

"Gradualists" are at fault in their conception of the Socialist system of society, because a gradual transition from Capitalism to Socialism would mean that we could have bits of Socialism existing alongside bits of Capitalism, which is an absurdity. How could we be only partly wage-slaves? Or how could nations (with their frontiers, police, espionage, armies and governments making plans to blow us all up) only half exist? And even if this tissue of fantasy were feasible, surely our Gradualist doesn't think Socialism will come about without there being first the will for it. If it needs working-class understanding to introduce Socialism suddenly, how much more would it be needed to play the complex game of introducing it bit by bit? And if the working-class does understand Socialism, then there is nothing to stop an immediate overthrow of the existing order. But even these arguments are over-generous. It is up to the Gradualist to demonstrate that a Capitalist reform will bring Socialism any nearer, and there is just no evidence that it ever could.

Sorry, Mr. Reformist. The emancipation of the workers will take a long haul yet. Perhaps you're disappointed that establishing Socialism isn't easy, and prefer to devote your energies to what you think are simpler tasks, even if they are futile. We never said the revolution would be easy. It would be a damned sight easier of but for you supporters of Anti-Apartheid, C.N.D., U.N.A., etc, and all the other subsidiaries of Reformism Ltd.