Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Democracy or Dictatorship

From the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thirty years ago this month the Spanish Civil War began. It continued until the defeat of the government forces in March, 1939; it killed about 600,000 people (many of them murdered, assassinated or executed) and it roused passions of one sort or another all over the world.

The war was regarded by many people as a straight¬forward struggle between a democratically elected, humane government and a band of bloodthirsty rebels; in other words, as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship.

The supporters of the Republican government even played upon whatever colour prejudice they could find by citing the fact, as evidence of Franco's brutality, that he was using Moorish troops.

A few months after Franco's victory the Second World War began and again this was said to be a fight for democracy. The effect of all this was to make democracy versus dictatorship one of the great political issues of the Thirties and Forties.

A typical reaction from the so-called Left Wing was the demand for the formation of a Popular Front. Nothing is heard of this idea now; no Left Wing party suggests an alliance against the dictatorship in Russia.

In any case the Spanish Civil War showed up the fallacy of the idea. The organisations which united in the Popular Front never succeeded in sinking their differences; many of them were too busy murdering each other. Many of the participants were anything but supporters of democracy.

There were, for example, the Communists, who stood for dictatorship on the Russian model. There were the separatists who bitterly opposed the entire concept of central government, and there were the Anarcho-Syndicalists, who rejected the use of Parliamentary election and who stood for violent insurrection.

The war was used by the great European powers partly as a rehearsal for the clash which came in September, 1939, and partly for what economic advantage they could get out of it.

The Nazis practised their dive-bombing; the French tested their aviation equipment. The Germans were after the rich deposits of iron ore in Spain; the Russians drove a hard bargain for the arms they supplied to the Spanish Government and insisted on prompt payment for them.

The details of the 1939/45 war, perhaps to the dismay of many who supported it, were similarly sordid. Far from being a clear-cut conflict between democracies on the one hand and dictatorships on the other, it was one in which both sides had their share of despotisms.
It is true that there was nothing among the Allies to quite match the refined sadism of Nazi Germany. But there was the Stalin dictatorship glowering over Russia, and there were minor countries like Greece and Poland which were under the iron heel.

When the war was over and the truth began to filter out, it was time to take stock. The first thing which was clear was that the world was no safer for democracy than it had been before the war.

The military conflict had been won and lost; the economic threat from expansionist German, Italian and Japanese capitalism had been contained, at least for a time. Yet millions of people lived — and still live — under oppression.

The simple fact is that the wars of capitalism are not fought to defend democracy. This is impossible, for democracy depends on a popular desire for it and not on which country wins a war. If the majority of people want democracy they will have it; if they do not want it they will surrender it.

In this issue of the Socialist Standard we set out to discuss democracy. For Socialists this is a vital matter, for our existence would be in jeopardy if the working class should abandon their democratic rights.

When the workers have realised how vital democracy is, when they have realised that it cannot be defended by making war, and when they have grasped the fact that it is an important part of the process to be used in establishing Socialism, they will have taken a big step nearer the new society which will be organised by the people, of the people and for the people.

Cooking the Books: Down with welfare? (2014)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Times (15 January) reported that George Osborne was to tell a conference organised by the think tank Open Europe that ‘Europe will face further economic woes if it fails to cut welfare spending’:
‘As Angela Merkel has pointed out, Europe accounts for just over 7 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of its economy and 50 per cent of global social welfare spending. We can’t go on like this.’
He didn’t explain why not, but the implication must be that, to compete on world markets against the products made in countries which spend less on welfare, Europe has to reduce its welfare spending towards their levels. In other words, a race to the bottom.
One dictionary definition of ‘welfare’ is:
‘1. good health, happiness, and prosperity. 2. the maintenance of persons in such a condition; money given for this purpose.’ (OxfordReference Dictionary)
On this definition, Osborne was in effect saying that, due to competition on the world market, all countries are forced to reduce the ‘good health, happiness and prosperity’ of their population. What an indictment of capitalism! And what a confirmation of the futility of reformists’ attempts to make capitalism serve human welfare.
But is it true? One thing Osborne ignores is that ‘welfare spending’ is not motivated by a desire to improve human welfare but by a desire to improve the productivity of the workforce – a better educated, more healthy workforce feeling less insecure can produce more profits. This was in fact the capitalist rationale behind the introduction of the so-called Welfare State and why the drastic reduction of such spending to the levels in China or India which Osborne and Merkel seem to be proposing could prove to be counter-productive.
Osborne probably knows this and doesn’t regard such spending as an unnecessary burden that has to come out of taxes that ultimately fall on profits any more than he does military spending which also comes from this. For him, both will be part of the necessary costs of running capitalism. What he will be against is welfare for those who can’t or don’t work and so are useless from a profit-making point of view – the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the old, the unemployed and the unemployable. In short, the most vulnerable members of capitalist society.
The fact that welfare has become a dirty word for capitalism shows that it is not a system geared to improving human welfare. If it was, then as productivity increased (as it does slowly from year to year) more resources would be devoted to services and amenities that enhance the welfare of everyone. But this is not what happens. Far from it. The pressure is downwards not upwards.
The fact is that capitalism is a system geared to making profits and accumulating them as more and more profit-seeking capital. That’s the logic which is imposed on all countries through competition on the world market. In this sense Osborne and Merkel are right, but that’s a convincing reason to get rid of capitalism and to replace it with a system in which the welfare of all can and will be the priority. Which is only possible on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources and the end of production for the market with a view to profit.

Notes on "Solo Trumpet" (1953)

From the August 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

A book has just been published by Lawrence and Wishart which calls for some comments from us because of what it says and what it does not say. The book is "Solo Trumpet" by T. A. Jackson.

In the description of his early days, in the '90's and the beginning of the present century, Jackson gives an authentic picture of working class life at that time and of the struggles to clarify the socialist outlook. So also is his description of the events leading up to the formation of the Scottish Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Whilst he quite correctly points out that the two groups were dubbed "Impossibilists" at the time, by the leaders of the Social Democratic Federation, he frequently mentions the S.L.P. by name. But nowhere throughout his book does he refer to the S.P.G.B. by name; whenever we are concerned he always uses the old sneer "Impossibilist." Furthermore whilst he is lavish in detail about other parties he does not give any details about the formation of our party. This is curious because Jackson was one of those who left the S.D.F. to take part on the formation of the Party. He was a member of the early Executive Committee, and he spoke for the Party regularly from 1904 until he left in 1909. From page 64 onwards he makes references to the "Impossibilists" but in such a way that at times it is difficult to know whether he is referring to us or to the S.L.P., though he generally refers to the latter under its own name.

The complete silence about the S.P.G.B. is intriguing, particularly since the other parties and groups, about which he has so much to say, are either dead or moribund, apart from the Labour Party which might as well be dead. At the beginning of the Twenties Sylvia Pankhurst told one our members—Hardy—that instructions had been issued to Communist Party members to have nothing to do with our Party and not even to mention it. Can it be that this ostrich policy still operates?

Jackson gives two reasons for leaving the Party, though only those who know the circumstances would know who he is writing about. One reason is correct, the other is apparently a face-saving afterthought.

From pages 87 to 91 he explains the circumstances that led him to leave the Party and to become a freelance speaker. These circumstances were well known to members at the time, and the present writer is not going to throw stones at him for what he did then. He was having a very rough time, was badly on the rocks, was unable to get employment and needed what money he could get as a free-lance speaker in order to obtain the means to live and keep his family. As he himself puts it, he tried all kinds of jobs,
"But a permanent job eluded my seeking. In those circumstances I was driven at last to 'turn professional' and charge a fee for my services as a speaker. This was quite a recognised thing, in those days—indeed just as there were free-lance journalists (whose ranks I tried vainly to join) so there were free-lance Socialist propagandists—who lived wholly or partly upon their earnings as lecturers and propagandists." (page 90.)
That this was the real explanation of his leaving the Party is borne out by letters he wrote to members at the time.

After a short time speaking for the I.L.P. in the West of England he went North to join J. W. Gott of the Freethought-Socialist League. He carried on the agitiation for that body in Leeds up to the outbreak of war in 1914. This propaganda he refers to as his "whole Atheistic interlude" which "A stern critic would condemn" and after some general and footling explanations, he opens the next paragraph with the following statement:-
"In any case, in the purely personal sense I had little choice: It was the only means of living open to me—I had burned my boats' and there was no going back." (page 98.)
Surely he has given in his own words the complete explanation of the reason for his leaving the Party and for his subsequent career? Why then does he try to slip in another slant in other parts of his book? For example on page 87 where he writes:-
"Thus, as I had sickened of the doctrinaire rigidity of the 'Impossibilists,' and found both the Hyndmanites and the MacDonaldites hostile to the ideological struggle for Marxism," etc. 
Sickness "of the doctrinaire rigidity" had nothing to do with the action he took that burned his boats, but his subsequent activities may have influenced him to change his outlook—if he really has changed it!

Although he refers to the attitude of the B.S.P., the I.L.P., and the S.L.P., on the 1914 war, about which they were hopelessly at sea, he makes no reference to the opposition of the S.P.G.B. which was stated in clear terms immediately the war broke out. If he did not know this at the time he must have known it soon after. He tells us that he was in Leeds at the time war broke out and that it came as an unexpected shock with which he was associated, groping in the dark.

In the course of his book he speaks very well of two members of the Party who have passed out—Fitzgerald and Baritz—but refers to them as belonging to the "Impossibilists." He tells a humorous story of Baritz's escapades in Manchester, when he climbed on a roof to blow a horrible clarinet obligato through a ventilator shaft while Hyndman was speaking at an indoor meeting. The story is funnier still when one realizes that Baritz was perfectly serious. Jackson refers to Fitzgerald as the man who took him through Marxian Economics and writes very appreciatively of him. It may interest him to know that Fitzgerald always had a regard for him, in spite of the line he took. He is mistaken in thinking that he and George Hicks (another ex-member of the Party) were the only two "outsiders" at Fitzgerald's funeral: there were others.