Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hayter of the Trots (1972)

Book Review from the June 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hayter of the Bourgeoisie, by Teresa Hayter. Sidgwick and Jackson. £1.95.

This book is written by the daughter of the one-time British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir William Hayter. The first few chapters are an account of her personal history (childhood, education, etc.) leading on to her work with the Overseas Development Institute. While with the ODI she visited various parts of the underdeveloped world and saw at first hand the poverty and misery there and which contributed to her growing "politicization".

During her stay in the third world she came to the conclusion that the cause of all this backwardness was the dominance over the economy and the local politicians by the "imperialist" nations (America, Britain, France, etc.) and that the so-called aid programmes were really another form of imperialism in that they bound the third world nations more securely to the economies of the western exploiters.

Thus she came to write a book on the activities in this connection of the World Bank in Latin America. The ODI refused to publish this and it was subsequently published by Penguin as Aid as Imperialism. As a result of all these experiences Hayter jettisoned her liberal fallacies and became a "revolutionary". Alas, all this means is that she has embraced all the old Bolshevik fallacies instead and has joined the Trotskyist IMG (International Marxist Group).

The blurb on the dust jacket tells us that Hayter's current ideas were formed through identifying with the third world. This is nothing new for Trotskyists since, basically, they are trying to fulfill the historic task of the bourgeoisie ( the completion of the capitalist revolution) in those parts of the world where the bourgeoisie are too weak to do it themselves. Hayter and the IMG support all "national liberation" movements on the assumption that national liberation will weaken the imperialist nationals, cause a major economic breakdown, and so precipitate the working class into revolution. Leaving aside the absurdity that a frightened, politically working class will opt for Socialism (more likely to support reaction as in Germany in 1933) we should point that the author has devoted part of this book and all of Aid as Imperialism to showing that exploitation continues in other forms after independence anyway! And even if America loses all influence in, say, Vietnam does she think that the vacuum will remain unfilled by some other imperialist power, perhaps Russia or China? Indeed, when French interests were kicked out of the Far East after the second world war all that happened was that America moved in instead.

When dealing with the Russian revolution Hayter displays either a remarkable capacity for naivety or downright dishonesty. She claims "In Russia Soviet democracy survived longest in the areas where the Bolshevik (later Communist) Party was strong" and mentions Lenin arguing that "workers' councils must be set up everywhere, whether or not there were members of the Communist Party". In fact exactly the opposite happened. The Bolsheviks closed down trade union and peasant bodies which they couldn't control, shot down people who demanded that unpopular Bolshevik-dominated soviets should be subject to recall, and dissolved the democratically elected Constituent Assembly which Lenin had been clamouring for until it failed to produce anything like the anticipated Bolshevik majority.

Trotskyists, Hayter included, are fond of the theory that the revolution only degenerated with the coming of Stalin and that the Communist Party had hitherto practised "democratic centralism"—democracy within the Party (even if nowhere else). Indeed, during the wrangles between Stalin and Trotsky over the throne vacated by Lenin, Trotsky, the dazzling intellectual, complained that Stalin was suppressing his views; but Stalin, the plodder, simply ran rings round Trotsky by pointing out that he had never complained when other opposition groups had been suppressed at the Tenth Party Congress in 1921. Both Lenin and Trotsky turned a blind eye to murders committed by Bolsheviks and to the packing of factory meetings and soviets by Bolsheviks who had no right to be there. And it was Lenin, not Stalin, who introduced the dreaded Cheka which Hayter rightly calls "an abominable abuse of everything that Marxism stands for". The truth is that "degeneration" began straight away since Lenin and the whole Bolshevik theory could allow nothing less than a complete dictatorship over the proletariat. 

Although Hayter criticises the "Great Man" theory of history at Oxford she seems to have swallowed it herself. How else can we explain her claim that the "revolution" in Kenya failed because of the treachery of one man, Jomo Kenyatta? And in France in May 1968, again everything hinges on the leaders  . . . if only they had been Trotskyists instead of the traitorous Stalinists. She also has some strange notions about economics although this may be due to her determination to see heaven on Earth in Cuba. She actually claims that money is becoming unimportant there, because, owing to the widespread scarcity, no one can buy much anyway!

All this is bad enough, but when she turns her attention to what life will be like "after the revolution" (which she thinks she will be achieved at the barricades with guns and petrol bombs) then she really goes haywire. She correctly points out that the Left is always reluctant to describe what it means by Communism, so she sets out to redress this need. Apparently society will be run by workers' councils and not by the latter-day Bolsheviks. In case the reader is worried by what happened in Russia she hints that because Britain has "relatively democratic traditions" (which Trots have always said are a sham) then there should be little post-revolutionary violence. But the whole population will have to be armed. Whatever for? To ensure that the capitalists don't stage a comeback! What supermen the left make these capitalists out to be.

Despite the abundance of technical and natural resources which mankind now has at its disposal, we are told that the abolition of exchange relationships and the introduction of production for use is "a remote ideal" so the wages system (rationing) must continue with, in good Leninist tradition, equal wages for all. Perhaps it is just as well that the Left don't try to describe Socialism more often, There's enough confusion on that score already.

Hayter's book is nevertheless a good buy for anyone who wants to have just about every error in the Trotskyist repertoire conveniently placed between two covers.
Vic Vanni

Socialism v. Peacemongering. (1915)

From the November 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard
The so-called "Peace" propaganda of to-day is associated by most people with Socialism and the Socialist Party.
The plain fact, however, is that Socialism has very little in common with it, and judged by the essential features the two movements are as the poles apart.
What is distinctive about Socialism that separates it from all other movements of social activity ?
Briefly, Socialism differs from other phases of social thought in that it stands for the overthrow of modern society based upon class ownership of the necessaries of life and the building up in its stead of a society of wealth producers owning the means of life in common. What, on the other hand does the "Peace movement" specially signify? It stands for an alteration in diplomatic methods between various capitalist Courts, and at the present time it is in favour of stating the terms upon which the combatants are willing to declare "peace."
Socialism fights for the removal of a system of society which works out to the detriment of the many. The "Peace Crusaders" are out for an alteration in the method of government whereby the wars between capitalist countries can be reduced or abolished.
Socialism declares in favour of a new system wherein capital and capitalist governments cease to be. "Peace" propagandists by no means unite in condemning capitalist society, and they are mostly opposed to a change in the system altogether.
What is the Socialist attitude to war? It is that war as we know it is produced in the main by the conflict between the interests of capitalists of various nations. It is born of the rivalry between sellers of goods for profit, and it can only die when selling for profit is abolished. In other words, Socialist theory holds and capitalist practice proves that only by ending the entire capitalist system can war with all its attendant horrors cease.
War, in the words of the "Peace" propagandists, is due to secret diplomacy, misunderstandings between Courts, and a vicious newspaper Press. These things, however, are but results of the workings of the system itself, and whilst the latter remains, the effects, in the shape of secret diplomacy, etc., will continue.
This article is being written in mid Atlantic, away from all books of reference, and consequently exact quotations cannot be given. But the reader need only refer to the literature of the Union for Democratic Control and the Peace Societies for confirmation of the statements made.
Consider the personnel of the Peace advocates and see what sanction of Socialism there exists amongst them.
Mr. Ponsonby is one of the most noted of the Peace persuaders of the day and he is a Liberal M.P. Mr. Trevelyan is a late Minister of the Liberal Government and resigned upon the occasion of the declaration of war. Mr. John Burns resigned his Cabinet membership upon the same occasion. Lord Morley left high office at the same time. Mr. E. D. Morel has never been associated with Socialism and is simply a reformer who, when occasion calls, can be quite as much an Empire builder as the most notorious supporter of the war. Witness his appeal for British versus French sovereignty in the Congo. (See "The British Case in the French Congo," by E. D. Morel.)
All sorts of appeals are made to the Socialist Party to join forces with these "anti-war” organisations, but it is deaf to all such cries. Not because we do not yearn for the cessation of the war. By no means so. Socialists above all others realise the horrors always following in the train of war. We know and feel the wreckage of human ties, the break-up of family life, the sorrow and suffering arising from the brutal carnage. But there are two important reasons why we cannot associate with the various "Peace" and "Stop the War" organisations.
Firstly, because we abide by the dictates of the class struggle. Because we stand for Socialism and they do not. Because we refuse to associate with those who support the capitalist class during "peace" time and who fight for the subjection of the working class. Therefore we cannot ally ourselves with these capitalists and clergymen, ex Cabinet Ministers and would-be Cabinet Ministers. We refuse to lower the Socialist flag to march with the enemies of Socialism. We know that, given of the realisation of the whole of the Peace parties' programme, the horrors and misery of working-class slavery would be left untouched for the better. The very men who seek our help for "peace" now would be amongst the first to "war" on the working class.
The second reason for which we cannot unite with the stop the war movement is that it is impotent for its very object. Even if we held that it was policy to unite to stop the war it would be foolish to join in the programme of these societies. What machinery have they for stopping wars ? None. Appeals to capitalists are their general methods. They propose to leave in power the makers of wars, the capitalist class. They intend to continue the profit-making system which itself produces commercial rivalry and inevitably international warfare.
Surely it is not now doubted that wars are born of the fight for spoil between capitalists. Throughout the last hundred years the economic objects of the various wars has stood out so clearly as to compel even capitalist writers to admit it.
Men such as the War Correspondent of the "Daily News," H. N. Brailsford, in his "War of Steel and Gold"; the member of the late Liberal Government, John M. Robertson, in his "Psychology of Jingoism " and "Patriotism and Empire"; the "Daily Mail" War correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War, F. A. McKenzie, in his "Tragedy of Korea." These and a list of others can be quoted to show that wars are caused in the ultimate analysis by the struggle for trade and territory by the master class.
Listen to the present clamour for "capturing the enemy's trade," putting a tariff upon enemy's goods, and such pocket appeals and judge the truth of the Socialist view.
If you wish to stop all wars you must stop all commercial competition and to do this you must work for Socialism.
Adolph Kohn

Direct action: reformism by blows (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Five Days That Shook The Labour Government in September should have given the advocates of "direct action" to further the interests of the environment, animals and disadvantaged groups something to think about. Other minorities can play at this game too and some of them can wield this weapon much more effectively in terms of disruption caused and notice taken. In a battle to "reclaim the streets" between environmentalists and their bikes and failing businessmen and their lorries and tractors who will win?
Sectional interests
The fuel tax protest by lorry owners was clearly a purely sectional issue with one group of small capitalists trying to shift, by direct action, the burden of taxation from them on to other sections of the capitalist class. No wonder the government, as representative of the general interest of the capitalist class as a whole, felt that it had to stand firm and insist that this was not the way to decide how the tax burden should be shared amongst the various sections of the owning class. If they conceded on this one, who would be the next sectional interest to try the same tactic (as the weaker, or less far-sighted, French government discovered)?

The government stood firm and the lorry owners did back down, realising that they were in no position to win a full-scale trial of strength with a government able to mobilise emergency powers and the armed forces. Nor was it in their interest to set a precedent by toppling an elected government. Knowing this the blockaders' leaders were shrewdly able to turn their retreat into a propaganda victory by quitting before the state moved against them and while they still enjoyed a high degree of popular support.
That popular support, however, was not for their sectional interest of saving their failing businesses but for the idea of bringing petrol prices down by reducing the tax on fuel. This tax is, technically, an excise duty, i.e. the government establishes an artificial monopoly which allows the oil companies to sell their products at a monopoly price; only they don't get to benefit from this as the government creams off the resulting extra profits as the tax. The oil companies really are, as they protest, only collectors of this tax for the government. Actually, the price of petrol has gone up, but largely because the basic pre-tax price has. Having said this, a reduction in the tax would of course bring the price at the pumps down to some extent. Lorry owners and the motoring public would be happy but the government would find its revenue cut and, to maintain its expenditure, would have to increase some other tax. This is why it can be said that what the lorry owners were trying to do was to shift the burden of taxation from them to some other section of the owning class.
 Only the Greens made a stand against the demand to reduce the duty on petrol; if anything, they want it increased so as to discourage the use of petrol- and diesel-burning cars and lorries. They have a point. Burning fossil fuels is not the best use that could be made of them. The individual motor car has become an irrational means of getting to work—and, increasingly, even getting around—in urban areas. Long-distance freight should be carried on the railways. A comfortable, efficient and comprehensive public transport system is the rational answer. All this is true, but the problem is not going to be solved under capitalism where what happens is not decided by what is in the best interests of the community since there is no community but by the play of market forces supplemented by the lobbying of sectional interests. It is certainly not going to be achieved by "green" taxes and subsidies as advocated by the Green Party. What is required in fact is a complete change in the basis of society to create a real community through ending the division of society into classes by establishing common ownership and instituting production purely to satisfy human needs instead of for sale on a market with a view to profit.
The visionless thing
But talk of a "complete change" in the basis of society is precisely what is rejected by the campaigning charities and environmentalist activists. This wasn't always the case. In the not-so-distant past both the Labour Party and then the Green Party did talk in terms of changing society True, this was only as a long-term prospect, but the idea of an alternative society was there. Now this has gone and those of us who are left proposing this are denounced as "unrealistic" for continuing to advocate a "big solution" when supposedly there is none.

Isn't there? Let's suppose for a moment that there isn't. What would that mean? It would mean that we'd have to continue with what we've got—capitalism, to give it a name, if that's not too "ideological"—and try to make the best of it, as individuals and as sectional interests. Political parties have already become rival groups of professional politicians with virtually identical policies and certainly identical practices, offering themselves as the best managers of the system. So it would mean that politics would be reduced to pressure group politics as different sections of the population tried to persuade governments—whichever the party in power—to make changes in their particular sectional interest or, in the case of campaigning charities, of the disadvantaged group they have chosen to champion. Political action would consist of lobbying, backed up from time to time by direct action, for reforms in the sectional interest of some group.
This is not an attractive prospect but it is one that is, somewhat surprisingly, championed by a number of people who are severely critical of capitalism. What they like is the idea of "direct action" as such. This, they think, is the way to get improvements; electoral action via local councils and parliament, they say, doesn't get you anywhere. But "direct action" is merely a method, a tactic, not an end in itself and can in fact be employed for different ends. In the present political context it is being advocated as a better way to get reforms than elections. May be it is, but maybe it isn't. One powerful argument as to why it might not be has just been demonstrated: those with the biggest vehicles can reclaim the streets more effectively than those without. In other words, with direct-actionist, pressure group politics, those who can exert the most pressure will tend to come off best, and it is the more powerful who can generally exert the most pressure.
 In any event Socialists don't get involved in this argument because it is one amongst reformists as to the best way to obtain reforms while we seek to end capitalism not reform it. Our view is that those who concentrate on trying to obtain reforms within capitalism—whether by direct action or through the electoral process—are on the wrong track. What is needed is precisely what most of them refuse—and in fact have consciously rejected doing—and that is raising the issue of an alternative society as the only framework within which the problems for which they are seeking short-term relief can be solved.
Adam Buick

Cooking the Books: After the Revolution (2012)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

In its Review section of 17 December the Guardian invited various artists and others to design new banknotes. The subject was introduced by the anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber who broached the question, “what will money look like ‘after the revolution’? How will it function? Will it exist at all?” He wrote that with the exception of Pol Pot “no state socialist regime ever attempted to eliminate money”, adding, “none, in fact, even attempted to eliminate wage labour.” Which is true enough (though we’d call them ‘state capitalist’).

Graeber blames this on Marx:
“For Karl Marx, money ultimately represented the value of human labour, of those energies through which we create the world. It was a way of measuring and parcelling it out, though, in the process, allowing those who controlled the resources to play all sorts of tricks and games. Since socialist systems insisted that labour was indeed sacred and the source of all value, it would have been hard for them to simply stop paying people for their work. The usual idea was to keep the money, just remove the games.”
This is indeed what the rulers and supporters of these state capitalist regimes thought. But it wasn’t Marx’s view. His Labour Theory of Value was a theory to explain how capitalism works, not a model for a post-capitalist, socialist society. He did ague that work was the source of all economic value and that this was measured and represented by money. But he regarded this as arising only where wealth is produced for sale, as under capitalism. In socialism, where there would be production directly for use, there would be no economic exchange value and so no money.

In his early philosophical writings Marx identified money as one of the two main manifestations of human alienation (the other was the state) and looked forward to its abolition in a communist society where human values would apply: where the standard by which something would be considered ‘valuable’ would be human welfare.

Marx also fully endorsed the slogan “Abolition of the Wages System!” a system which he, just as much as Graeber, regarded as a form of slavery. That the state-capitalist regimes retained the wages system was sufficient proof in itself that they were not socialist.

Graeber went on to say that “money could equally be conceived as a ration chit. Here’s a coupon redeemable for so many loaves; here’s one for butter; here’s one that can be traded for anything” and that “what they’re calling a ‘free market’ turns out to be one where everything is rationed.”

Quite true. That is what the market system is, but does he think that money can be done away with?

Graeber has his own theory of the origin and nature of money and has written a couple of anthropological tomes on the subject. He doesn’t agree with the theory that money originated to facilitate trade, but argues that its origins go back further as a means of measuring what farmers and artisans owed temples in places like Ancient Mesopotamia and even further back as a means of settling social obligations (e.g. dowries) in pre-state societies.

Be that as it may, in his Guardian article he does say that we should ‘perhaps make basic necessities freely available, and provide coupons for the more whimsical stuff’. As a good anarchist he is against these coupons for non-essentials being issued by some central body but by individuals and groups producing such goods.

No doubt in a socialist society people will produce ‘whimsical stuff’ for each other, but why would they want to issue and be paid in circulating chits? Why would they not apply the ‘generalised reciprocity’ that anthropologists define as “the exchange of goods and services without keeping track of their exact value”?