Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Has Bevan Sold the Pass? (1957)

From the November 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lot of people who have for years worshipped Aneurin Bevan have now turned against their hero because of his support for the H-Bomb at the Labour Party Conference. Bevan says that he is as strongly against the bomb as ever he was and that his speech and vote at Brighton (decided on "after a lot of agonising thinking"), were only designed to find "the most effective way of getting the damned thing destroyed": but this a bit too subtle for those who have passionately believed that Bevan was hundred per cent against the bomb and now find that he isn't.

But actually the disgruntled Bevanites have little ground for complaint for, as it happens, Bevan has changed his politics hardly at all. If any deception has been carried out it is their own self-deception; an obstinate refusal to take note of that Bevan has for years been saying and doing.

If a few of them are genuine pacifists who resolutely refuse to support armaments or war, they are fully entitled to be opposed to Bevan who supported World War II and the Korean War, and conscription and re-armament, but they cannot pretend that Bevan has deceived them about his record of war-supporting.

With others the revulsion of feeling may appear to be more soundly based, but again it will not stand examination. They take the view (like Bevan) that armaments are necessary and that war is sometimes unavoidable and must be supported no matter what the cost in death and destruction. They reject the Socialist view that war arises from capitalism and can only be got rid of by establishing Socialism. They can stomach it all, the millions of dead and maimed, the trench warfare, machine guns and artillery, the bombing raids, the napalm and even the A-Bomb—but the H-Bomb. No! The H-Bomb, they say is horrible, unthinkable, and on account of it they will destroy their beloved reader, Bevan. But they have no serious ground for indignation with Bevan on this count, for he long ago made it clear that in his view he and others supported the second World War and the Labour Government of 1945-51 have no moral or logical case against the H-Bomb.

Writing in the News Chronicle (9/3/1955) he said :-
"Those of us who concurred in the making of the atom bomb and tolerated the saturation bombing of the last war have no moral or logical case against the hydrogen bomb. All three are methods and weapons of imprecision, that is, it is known they will destroy the civilian population and all the civil installations of the enemy."
He went on to admit that the addition of the H-Bomb to the weapons of war would only be "carrying the logic of our past behaviour to its furthermost extremities" but put his own view that on practical grounds every effort should be made to get international agreement against the bomb. It is hard to see how those of his followers who swallowed all the other horrors of war making can justifiably wax indignant now because of a minute shift in Bevan's policy. Yet an irate reader of Tribune can write that Bevan's action has left "a gaping hole" in all the principles of the Socialist rank and file: "The tender, compassionate heart of our Socialism has been torn out and replaced with a dessicated calculating machine." (Tribune, 11/10/57).

Socialists, of course, never had any confidence in Bevan, or believed for one moment that he adhered to or ever had any understanding of Socialist principles; and, nobody with Socialist principles would have supported him or the Labour Government or the wars of capitalism that that government had a hand in.

But then Socialists do not believe in leadership, the danger and uselessness of which are well shown by the Bevanite movement. If the Bevanites had been Socialists they would have had their own clean clear conviction that Socialists do not take on the administration of capitalism, and they would, therefore, never have supported the Labour Government. They would have known that the government that runs capitalism has all to do all the obnoxious things that capitalism requires of them, including the waging of war. They would have seen the absurdity of putting a Labour Government in charge of British capitalism and of its war-machine with a mandate to keep it going and of then demanding of them that they behave as Socialists.

But the Bevanites were not and are not Socialists, they were everything and nothing, a motley collection of individuals united only by the leader's spell-bending oratory:-
"The Communist, the pacifist, the believer in the innate virtue of the Soviet State, the hater of American 'capitalism,' the general do-gooder," all see something of themselves reflected in the glowing rhetoric of Mr. Bevan." - (Manchester Guardian, 17/3/55.)    
Well, they have got what they asked for; they laboured to feed his vanity and build his reputation, and now he doesn't much mind what they do. Will it cure them? That remains to be seen, but there is no evidence yet that they have learned the uselessness of  leadership for the establishment of Socialism.

It might help them on their way to getting a better understanding if they noted that Bevan, whom they think has played them false, had his own ideas on leadership. The leader of the Labour Party ought to be, he said, not someone from "the top drawer of society" (meaning, presumably, Attlee and Gaitskell), but should be drawn "from those who had spent their lives in the Labour and Trade Union movement, and who not only understood Socialism with their heads, but knew it with their hearts." (Manchester Guardian, 18/6/51). And it all ends with the heart of Bevan and the head of Gaitskell and Attlee, uniting as one on the Labour Party's H-bomb policy. So little difference does the kind of leader make, and so necessary is it that the workers should learn to think for themselves and not leave their thinking to leaders. 
Edgar Hardcastle

Embarrassing Marx (2005)

Book Review from the January 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and Anglo-Russian Relations and Other Writings.  By D. B. Riazanov. Francis Boutle Publishers, 2003, £10.

Marx’s views on the Russia of his day have, to be frank, always been a bit of an embarrassment. Not that they cannot be explained, and even to a certain extent understood, in their historical context, but it is still rather hard to take from the pen of Marx arguments about Russian Tsarism wanting, like Genghis Khan, to conquer the world and that it had been plotting to do so for centuries or talk of a threat to Europe of “Mongol rule” and “Eastern barbarism”, let alone constant calls for war against Russia. This was unacceptable even in Marx’s day, and we have said so on many occasions.

The historical context was that, for most of the 19th century, capitalist economic and particularly political forms were not all that securely established in continental Europe where the army of Tsarist Russia was a constant threat to them. This led Marx and other revolutionary democrats to regard Russia as the main enemy, to be contained and countered. In the 1850s when Marx was earning a precarious living as a journalist, some of the articles for the New York Tribune putting an anti-Russia position came to the attention of David Urquhart, a former Tory MP and Russophobe. Urquhart encouraged Marx to write more in the same vein published them in his papers which in 1857 he republished as a pamphlet entitled Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century, republished in 1899 as The Secretary  Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century. In these Marx tried to show how British foreign policy under the Whigs had always been pro-Russia. He also ventured some ideas on the origin of Tsarism and on Russian history.

In a special supplement to Neue Zeit, the theoretical organ of the German Social Democratic Party, in 1909, the Russian Social-Democrat David Riazanov analysed in detail Marx’s theories of Russian history and of British foreign policy towards Russia and, respectfully, argued that they were largely mistaken. This lengthy article makes up three-quarters of this 200-page book (the rest being two other pre-WWI articles by Riazanov, on Marx and Engels on the Polish Question - they wanted an independent Poland so there would be a buffer between Russia and Europe - and on the Balkans). It is well worth reading as an application of the materialist conception of history to Anglo-Russian relations from the 16th century onwards.

Riazanov in fact applies this better than Marx did in this instance, bringing out the importance of changing trade conditions which Marx had neglected in favour of purely political considerations. Riazanov’s article reflected a growing understanding amongst second-generation Marxists that the situation regarding Russia had changed since Marx’s day in that Tsarist Russia was no longer capable of being “the gendarme of Europe” but was now itself threatened by overthrow by internal forces; and that therefore it was no longer the main enemy. Even so, those members of the German Social Democratic Party who backed their government in WWI still quoted Marx’s anti-Russia stand as a justification for their position.

At the time Riazanov wrote this work he was not a member of  Lenin’s Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democrats but he did join the Bolshevik Party in July 1917. He became the leading Marx-scholar of his day, setting up the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow in 1921 to track down and publish the collective works of Marx and Engels. He was dismissed from this by Stalin in 1931 and sent into internal exile. During the purges he was arrested and shot in 1938. 
Adam Buick

Halo Halo!: All Things Bright and Beautiful? (2014)

The Halo Halo! Column from the April 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘The rich man in his castle the poor man at his gate,

God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate’.
Remember having to sing that during school assemblies? It was before schools discreetly dropped the verse because, to those of us whose estate was more likely to have been a council one than an ancestral mansion with a few hundred acres of land, it pointed out where God’s political sympathies lie just a bit too bluntly.
Ah, the good old days. The Church of England wasn’t known as ‘The Tory Party at Prayer’ for nothing and they could be honest about their views on the place of the working class. 
But things change. These days, just as in any other business, the old firm of Church of England Ltd has stiff competition, and to retain its share of the market has had to update and improve its public image. And the competition to recruit gullible believers has never been fiercer. While the C of E now attract smaller and smaller congregations, and thus smaller collection plates, the ‘happy-clappy’ born-again, and the born-yesterday brands are recruiting hard and forging ahead. And they frequently need plastic buckets for their collections.
So once the rumours that poverty and food banks do actually exist in working class Britain finally penetrated Lambeth Palace, and it dawned on them that unlike other banks, these don’t pay out millions in bonuses to their bosses every year, the bishops have swooped into action. Prodded on perhaps by stories in the press such as ‘Woman in coma told to find work by DWP’ (Independent, 28 February) and ‘Vulnerable man starved to death after cut to benefits’ (Guardian, 1 March) they have come flying to the rescue of the poor like a heavenly host of dog-collared Batman and Robins.
They’re quite cross too, and have told David Cameron that ‘We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cutbacks to and failures in the benefits system’. And to show they mean business they’ve launched an ‘End Hunger Fast’ campaign. This involves asking volunteers to join them for a ‘National Day of Fasting’ on 4 April and, as an added attraction, includes a couple of vicars announcing that they would only be taking fruit juice and water for 40 days. That will certainly give Cameron and Co something to think about.
Is the Halo Halo column being a bit churlish here perhaps, do you think? This attack by the government on the poorest in society is one of the most vicious for some time and, as the bishops point out, the fact that in the world’s seventh richest country thousands are forced to rely on food banks, 5,500 have been admitted to hospital with malnutrition since last Easter, and numerous single mothers are skipping meals to enable them to feed their children is nothing short of scandalous.
The problem is that religious do-gooder events are no answer to the problem. Thousands are already fasting full time – because they don’t have any choice. Instead of stunts where vicars pretend to go hungry, or Tory MPs pretend to live (for a couple of days) on fifty quid a week to show that it can be done, the only solution is conscious class action against the system which causes the problem.
The bishops may be outraged by unemployment and poverty, and rant on about loan sharks, but what the hell do they expect? That’s capitalism for you. And the Church of England itself holds investments of about £5.2 billion in capitalist ventures – which included, as came to light last July, a hefty sum invested in Wonga, the payday loan outfit. Political virgins they may be, but how do they think the profits on their investments are generated?
Patronising the poor with charity stunts is insulting and useless. Instead of skipping your corn flakes for Jesus, we urge all members of the working class get involved in the class struggle to end this degrading and unnecessary nightmare.

Pathfinders: Mission Statement (2014)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Interest was pricked recently in socialist circles by a Guardian environmental blog report of a NASA-funded study suggesting that a ‘perfect storm’ of five economic and environmental factors, namely population, climate, water, agriculture, and energy,  were leading to the imminent collapse of industrial civilisation (‘Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?’, Guardian Online, 14 March). According to the Guardian’s Earth Insight blog, the study is funded by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and is the product of a cross-disciplinary team of natural and social scientists based at the University of Maryland (UMD). Their argument is that there is a 5000 year history of civilisation collapses and that they all have two crucial and related factors in common, the ‘stretching of resources due to the strain on the ecological carrying capacity’ (also key in Jared Diamond’s 2005 study Collapse) and, somewhat more controversially to anyone but socialists, the ‘economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or ‘commoners’)[poor]’.
Reading eerily like a Socialist Standard editorial, the study states that ‘... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.’ Technology won’t help, the study says, because net consumption will simply rise to match net increased output. Neither will appeals to those elites themselves be any use, because their monopoly on wealth and resources means that they are protected from the ‘detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners’ with the result that they blindly continue their policy of ‘business as usual’. This I’m-alright-Jack mentality, argues the study, is why ‘historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory.’ But even where elites bother to address these problems at all, they tend to oppose any conclusion requiring fundamental structural change in society and instead ‘point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing.’
It’s worth distinguishing between collapse as envisaged here and two other kinds of collapse as described by ecologists and left-wingers. Ecological collapse, where the world simply dies, is an extreme and largely nonsensical idea. It’s also unlikely that humans could damage the world so badly that it became uninhabitable to humans. The collapse of capitalism through its own internal contradictions,  a kind of Get-out-of-capitalism-free card devoutly wished for by some on the left, is equally unlikely and anyway undesirable (see Cooking the Books, page 18). This study describes scenarios which are more plausible because they are consistent with evidence from historical events. In its view, it is not so much nature which fails but workers, through catastrophic immiseration: ‘the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this [possible scenario] is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.’
The two key solutions in the study, as quoted in the blog article, are as follows: ‘Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.’ Since the study has already identified the fact that all the wealth and power are in the hands of elites who don’t listen to reason, the likelihood of achieving either of these aims through political reform of capitalism stands at zero. That being the case, the logical conclusion to draw is that the global elites must be forcibly dispossessed and overthrown along with the capitalist system which placed them in power.
Is budget-strapped NASA really promoting global socialist revolution? It hardly seems likely. It’s not so far been possible to obtain a copy of the study, and investigation of the sources behind the story has proved frustrating. A search of NASA’s website reveals no trace of any such study. Ditto the Goddard Space Centre. Apart from a brief synopsis of a seminar given by the named lead researcher last October, there is also no report offered by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), based at UMD and supposedly where the study originates. The researcher is a bona fide graduate student whose PhD studies may well be funded in some part by Goddard, and his cross-disciplinary colleagues are mostly respectable Maryland professors of public policy, hydrology, geography, meteorology and a weird hybrid, ‘econophysics’. However the study is set to be published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Ecological Economics, which has had a rocky history and some credibility issues, as has the field of ecological economics in general. According to its current Wikipedia entry the journal has lost focus on its core field and now ‘seems to accept anything to do with the environment and economics from any field’.
Hard to fathom too is the role of the Guardian journalist behind this scoop, Dr Nafeez Ahmed, whose by-line bills him as executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD). Apart from a member page entry on the Stanford University MAHB website (Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere) which describes IPRD as a London-based ‘voluntary global collective of specialist scholars, scientists, and analysts, working in different fields of the social and physical sciences’, this Institute appears to exist in name only, with a web address that doesn’t work. Dr Ahmed is also the author of a 2011 book, The Crisis of Civilization, whose main thrust seems if not identical to that of the UMD study then along very similar lines (see review of this in Socialist Standard, February 2011). He advocates certain key resources like energy and water being placed in a ‘global Commons’ which is immune from monopolisation by any elite. This is encouraging, but then why not all resources? He argues for ‘more equal access’ but then why not just ‘equal access’? Disappointingly the agent of much of this redistribution is, he proposes, banks, an idea which shows that even would-be revolutionary thinkers just can’t let go of capitalist institutions no matter how hard they try. It turns out that Dr Ahmed also has a day job as chief research officer for the London-based PR company Unitas, which lists among its services ‘media positioning’ and ‘pre-empting negative media coverage’. This prompts a number of wild speculations. One is that the research team have adopted the increasingly common but dubious practice among scientists of engaging a PR firm to ‘spin’ their study in the popular press prior to academic publication, either for simple promotional purposes or to offset anticipated hostile reactions. Another is that the Maryland team and the Institute are in cahoots, or even one and the same, while preferring to appear as objectively independent for purposes of academic credibility. As we go to press enquiries to Dr Ahmed and to the lead researcher of the Maryland team have not met with any response.
It would be good to know for sure whether NASA is genuinely behind this, even indirectly. It certainly ought to be. NASA gives itself a bold strapline: Earth. Your Future. Our Mission. So in among its studies of hurricanes, sinkholes, salt and the anatomy of a raindrop it really ought to find space for any serious study that suggests Earth has no future unless the mission parameters change drastically.
Paddy Shannon