Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Young Marx (1972)

Book Review from the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx before Marxism by David McLellan. Pelican. 40p

This book, now republished as a Pelican, traces the development of Marx's ideas until in 1844, at the age of 25, he became a Socialist (or Communist, as would then more usually have been said).

Marx was born in May 1818 in Trier in in the Rhineland, which had been annexed to France between 1795 and 1814. His father was a legal official who was originally a Jew but who, on the return of the Rhineland to Prussia, had to become a Christian in order to keep his job. Marx himself was baptized as a Lutheran Protestant and went to the local high school and later to university at Bonn, then at Berlin and then back at Bonn again, eventually getting a doctorate from the University of Jena for a thesis on the Ancient Greek philosophers, Democritos and Epicurus.

Marx had originally intended himself becoming a lawyer, but then planned an academic career as a teacher of philosophy. When political considerations made this impossible—Marx had become one of the Young-Hegelians who gave Hegel's philosophy an atheist and radical-democratic twist—he turned to journalism, becoming in October 1842 the editor of the liberal Rheinische Zeitung. At this time Marx was still politically a radical democrat and argued forcefully against censorship and for freedom of the press in Prussia. So forcefully, in fact, that the paper was banned in March 1843. In June Marx married Jenny von Westphalen (whose father had not only been a German baron but also related to the British Dukes of Argyll!) and in October moved to Paris.

Here Marx came into contact with German and French Communists (indeed he lived in the same house as one prominent member of the German Workers' League of the Just, which later became the Communist League for which the famous manifesto was written) and his writings take on a more pro-working class character. McLellan dates Marx's adherence to Communism as sometime during the first three months of 1844.

Marx's writings of this period are, to a modern reader, excessively philosophical, being full of the difficult terminology of the then fashionable German philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach. Marx's whole conception of the socialist revolution too was still philosophical: he saw it as the combination of man's most advanced consciousness (German philosophy or, rather, its outcome) and man's most suffering section (the proletariat). This conception had √©litist undertones—the proletariat was to be the instrument of philosophy, i.e.,  a weapon in the hands of philosophers, to achieve Hegel's "rational reality" or Feuerbach's "true species-life"—which Marx was soon to abandon when he teamed up with Engels and the two of them began to put socialist theory on to a more scientific basis. Hence the title of this book of course.

McLellan here provides a good introduction to Marx's writings of this period: the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of the State (some unpublished notes written in March 1843 before he moved to Paris), on The Jewish Question and Introduction to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law (both of which were published by Marx soon after moving to Paris, the latter containing the famous phrase about religion being the opium of the people) and the so-called Paris Manuscripts (again unpublished notes).

These works are not essential reading but they do provide the key to what Marx and Engels meant when in later works they wrote of "the end of philosophy" and of leaping "from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom" and of Socialism as "the beginning of history".
Adam Buick

Pathfinders: The Dark Rebellion (2014)

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

10 years ago this month the British worker Ken Bigley was murdered in a video beheading by the leader of an Iraqi insurgency group, one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, despite appeals and interventions from, among others, Yasser Arafat, King Abdullah of Jordan, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and even Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi.
Zarqawi’s group affiliated to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network at this same time, and became known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The following year, 2005, Zarqawi received a letter from Bin Laden’s military commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, outlining al-Qaeda’s four-stage strategic plan for expanding the Iraq war. The stages were, first, expel the Americans and their allies, then establish an Islamic caliphate, widen the conflict to engulf neighbouring states, and finally declare war on Israel.
Zarqawi continued to run AQI, specialising in extortion, kidnappings, hotel bombings and hostage beheadings, until a US Air Force F-16 dropped 460kg of high explosive on his safe-house in 2006. AQI lived on, however, and the same year merged with several other groups to form the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
AQI thereafter became increasingly unpopular because of its targeting of Iraqi civilians, and open war developed between AQI and other Sunni groups. Bin Laden himself was said to regard the brutality of AQI’s video beheadings as counter-productive, and his commander, Zawahiri, had also criticised Zarqawi for recklessly squandering civilian sympathy and support. The US in 2007 began arming rival Sunni militias who agreed to fight AQI instead of the Americans (Guardian, 12 June 2007). This resulted in the ‘Anbar Awakening’ of Sunni counter-attacks, and by 2008 the ISI described itself as being in a state of ‘extraordinary crisis’.
With the withdrawal of US troops in 2009, AQI’s fortunes started to pick up again. They began blowing up government offices in a bid to destroy the Iraqi administration and sabotage the 2010 elections. But they hit problems again as communications with al-Qaeda in Pakistan were cut and, it was estimated, around 80 percent of their leadership were captured or blown up.
But like the mythical Hydra, AQI could grow heads as well as cut them off. The new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began recruiting Saddam Hussein’s former military staff, and thereafter pursued an energetic campaign of highly successful prison breaks to free veteran insurgents held at, among other places, the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
And then, the Arab Spring fell upon Baghdadi like manna from heaven. Suddenly the regional strongmen who were able to contain and maintain regional stability fell or were in trouble. Baghdadi seized the moment and began planting ISI seeds in Syria which sprouted into the al-Nusra Front. This Syrian group, unlike ISI, was not interested in establishing caliphates but only in ousting Assad, and recruited its foreign fighters solely on this basis. In April 2013 Baghdadi announced, without consulting either al-Nusra or al-Qaeda, that al-Nusra and ISI were merging as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Isis or Isil). It was the equivalent of a hostile business merger, and the al-Nusra Front leader protested vociferously. Al-Qaeda promptly ruled against Baghdadi and ordered Isis to be disbanded. After months of argument, al-Qaeda got nowhere and severed all connections with Isis. After more months of internecine conflict, al-Qaeda resignedly told al-Nusra to stop fighting Isis. Elements of al-Nusra subsequently saw no option but to go over to Isis, as did parts of the Free Syrian Army, JMA and other anti-Assad groups. In June this year Isis declared itself a caliphate with Baghdadi as its caliph.
The brutality of what followed has been of biblical proportions. The Islamic State rolled over Mosul and cleared out its bank vaults, while crucifying opponents and non-Sunni Muslims, eviscerating women and reputedly executing children and putting their heads on spikes on Mosul Park. The West has looked on aghast at the scale of the atrocities.
Despite its chilling barbarity the Islamic State seems to know what it’s doing. With an estimated fund of US$2m it is building all the infrastructure of a new state with efficiently-functioning public services and administrative and military control systems amid continued revenues from robbing banks, ransoming hostages and allegedly, selling captured Syrian energy supplies back to the Syrian government. It is noted for its unusually professional management of social media and even its harrowing beheading videos, clearly a key part of its conception of asymmetric warfare, are described as looking increasingly slick and well-produced. It employs if not ‘awe’ then certainly ‘shock’ in its campaign to subdue opposition and deter western and regional powers from intervening.
Some commentators speculate that the brutality is so excessive that the world’s Muslim communities will recoil from it, if they haven’t already done so, forcing IS towards moderating its behaviour in the future. But this is the legacy of the killer of Ken Bigley ten years ago, and they didn’t get where they are today by being moderate.
A recent edition of New Scientist (13 September) carried two articles that bear on the subject. In the first,Lifting the black mask, academics have been demanding access to US intelligence data as part of studies to establish the factors which go towards radicalising western-based jihadists. Some conclusions are already in, however, in particular that the idea of jihadists being ‘brainwashed’ by recruiters or radical imams is wrong. These young people who go to fight for Isis have simply absorbed and applied the views of their own circle of friends and family. Socialists say that capitalism, in oppressing workers everywhere, spontaneously assists the spread of socialist ideas. What we also have to acknowledge is that capitalism is also fostering a ‘dark rebellion’ which is, in many ways, the antithesis of everything that socialism stands for. Capitalism plays the same hateful pop song on an endless loop, while socialists aim to press Fast Forward, but there are also those who are keen to press Fast Rewind, all the way back to the Middle Ages.
The second article concerns a reappraisal of two notorious and now considered unethical psychology studies, which now suggests that acts of deliberate cruelty are not perpetrated as a matter of routine by ordinary people who are ‘just following orders’, an argument known as the Nuremberg Defence, but only by individuals who can be characterised as ‘committed’ believers.
In the 1960s series of ‘shock’ obedience studies conducted at Yale by Stanley Milgram, it turns out that participants were regularly badgered to administer electric shocks, and that up to 50 percent refused, while in the 1971 Stanford prison experiment, participant ‘guards’ were heavily coached to mistreat ‘prisoners’ by having forms of mistreatment suggested to them. In both studies participants were repeatedly told to conform and obey ‘in the interests of science’. The reappraisal suggests that those who bought into this formulation of the ‘science ethic’ tended to conform, while ‘non-believers’ did not.
Capitalist ideology loves to demonise ‘human nature’, and media reports of torture and murder barely seen outside the Old Testament seem almost to justify that demonisation. But we don’t just do what we’re told, like mindless zombies. It matters what we believe. Whatever excesses the world’s unhinged fanatics manage to drive themselves to, the capacity for evil does not, after all, lie dormant in the banal heart of humanity.

The Second International and the 1914 War (1972)

Book Review from the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and the Great War, by Professor Georges Haupt. Oxford University Press. £5.00.

In this revised edition of a work published a few years ago in French and German, Professor Haupt sets out to examine the activities of the International Socialist Bureau and its affiliated national parties in the years before 1914 and to explain why it failed to prevent the war.

Professor Haupt has had access to the archives of the Bureau and claims that his re-examination of the reasons for the collapse of the International has led him to reject or modify various earlier attempts to explain why, when the war came, the International disintegrated. If we accepted the view shared by the organisations which belonged to the International and by Professor Haupt, that it was a body representing the Socialist convictions of millions of organised workers, there would be a mystery needing to be explained; but of course this belief is a myth. Most of the affiliated organisations were non-socialist, most of the four million workers supposed to be represented at the International congresses were indifferent to it and were neither internationalist nor Socialist in outlook. There was never any real unity among the organisation and not even the leaders who attended congresses took the Bureau seriously.

It is absurd to treat the electoral success of the German Social Democratic Party in 1912, with its 4 million votes, as a victory for Socialism, and the half-million votes given to the candidates of the British Labour Party in 1910 as another—the Labour Party at this time was running hand-in-hand with the Liberal Party. When Bruce Glasier made an impassioned speech declaring that "the British proletariat was ready to obey the International's instructions to the last detail", he was speaking without any mandate from British workers and simply deluding himself and the other members of the Bureau.

The material unearthed by Professor Haupt from the Bureau's discussions and resolutions shows an almost universal inability to understand how capitalism engenders war, and an equal ignorance of Socialist principles. When the war was about to begin the members of the Bureau were relying for the preservation of peace on the belief that capitalism had outlived its warlike propensities and on blind confidence that the German, French and British governments were all "against war".

It is not that the non-socialist outlook of the Bureau and its affiliated parties was entirely unknown. It was pointed out repeatedly by the Socialist Party of Great Britain but, strangely, Professor Haupt's researches into the Bureau's archives fail to disclose this. Having sent delegates to the Congress at Amsterdam in 1904, the SPGB tried in vain to secure that membership should be restricted to genuinely socialist parties based on recognition of the class struggle—at that time the British affiliates were the ILP, Fabian Society, SDF and Labour Representation Committee (later to become the Labour Party). Failing to secure this, the SPGB withdrew from membership of the International.

Though Professor Haupt still thinks that what happened in 1914 needs to be explained, it came as no surprise to the SPGB that war found most of the parties affiliated to the International supporting the policies of their respective governments and most of the prominent individuals who had declared their intention to oppose war—including Keir Hardie—supporting it.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Death of Khrushchev (1971)

From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The former director of Russia, who died last month. was not a member of the SPGB so this is not that kind of an obituary. Nor is it a salute to the passing of a "great man" in the manner of the capitalist press (whether so-called left or right). Rather do we take the opportunity of the passing of the former despot (one of the rare cases in the Soviet Union of an ousted top man who managed to die of old age), to point out that this man, who started to climb the ladder of Russian power nearly fifty years ago, has contrived to die with his country as far from justifying its assumed title of socialist as ever it was. In fact it is probably true to any that nowadays there are far more people around who fail to register shocked surprise at our contention that Russia is a capitalist country, like all other countries in the modern world. The fact that it is state-capitalist (instead of only partly thus and partly private enterprise capitalist like England) is a matter almost of indifference compared with the salient fact that it is not socialist and has never remotely justified its claim to that title. Khrushchev's country is just as much a wage-slave economy as the USA.

The capitalist papers (such as the Morning Star and the New Statesman) can safely be left to recount the career of the Stalinist today who danced the gopak for his master (and also acted as his henchman in the slaughter of untold thousands of his fellow countrymen).

The most illuminating incident in his career was one which does not appear to have been noticed in the obituaries. This was the argument with Molotov at the time when Khrushchev was establishing his power which involved smashing the "anti-party group". His rival had just gone on record as saying that Russia had by then (some forty odd years after the revolution) laid the foundations of Socialism. Khrushchev seized the opportunity to slam into him. Foundation be damned. We have built Socialism. And as Molotov was the one who was exiled into Outer Mongolia (a welcome change from Outer Space, of course, where previous failed leaders went), it was Khrushchev's version which carried the day. It was an argument which had a lot of fascination but it attracted little or no interest in the papers. What can you think of a house when two people can look at it and one says it's a fine house and the other says it's a fine foundation? (And not just lay people mark you. These were a couple of architects of this kind of edifice.) The only possible answer is that Lenin and his heirs were frauds. There is no Socialism in Russia and all the millions of deaths have been merely to establish a capitalist tyranny where, pre-Khrushchev and post-Khrushchev, the propagation of Socialism is punished as treason. A grisly and tragic story.
L. E. Weidberg

Politics not history (1969)

Book Review from the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Revolutionary Movement in Britain 1900-21. by Walter Kendall. 5 gns.

Who could write a book about those who said they were Marxists in the period 1900 to 1921 and only mention the Socialist Party of Great Britain once, and that in a couple of footnotes? Answer: almost any Labour historian. We have commented before on the bias of such people, and Walter Kendall is well in this tradition. The SPGB, according to him "unwilling to enter the political fray even to the extent of adopting a programme of 'palliatives' retained its political virginity only at the cost of failing to reproduce anything at all".

We have met Kendall's type before (indeed we have met Kendall); his pro-Labour bias comes through everywhere. Labour is "the mass party of the working class". Those in the early Communist Party who supported its affiliation to the Labour Party were "essentially activist and involved" while their opponents were, of course, "notably propagandist, passivist, and detached". Kendall's own illusions also come through in his criticism of Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation for not trying "to assume the leadership of working class struggles once they were under way".

We have no doubt about accusing Kendall of deliberately ignoring the SPGB's active existence in this period out of blatant political bias. After all, what else explains his praise of the Socialist Labour Party's journal for having "the highest level of Marxist literature in Great Britain" without a mention of the SOCIALIST STANDARD or the SPGB? We do not necessarily want the superlatives; we only want some recognition! In any event, Kendall is not in any position to judge which journal had the highest Marxist discussion since he obviously did not bother to read the SOCIALIST STANDARD—otherwise he would have known that E. J. B. Allen, the syndicalist, was once in the SPGB. Mind you, it is Kendall who loses by ignoring this obvious source of material for his book. He misses, for instance, a scoop about Litvinov's statement to the conference of 'Allied Socialists' in February 1915. Litvinov was the Bolshevik representative in Britain and was barred from reading his anti-war statement to the conference. Kendall refers his readers to journals published in France and Switzerland for the text. We have a better suggestion: look up the SOCIALIST STANDARD of March 1915.

During this period, the SPGB exposed syndicalism and industrial unionism, opposed the first world war from the start and foresaw that the Bolshevik coup could not have led to Socialism. All these are matters central to Kendall's theme but he prefers to search around for someone else to give the credit to. He comes up with John Maclean of Glasgow. Only Maclean and his followers, says Kendall in a passage he knows to be untrue, raised the socialist revolution as an alternative to the war. The SPGB (who must have numbered more than Maclean and his followers) consistently opposed the war on socialist grounds. Maclean was a member of the British Socialist Party (the successor of the SDF) which like the ILP and even the SLP, was split over its attitude to the war. The depth of his 'Socialism; can be judged by his support for Scottish separatism and the formation before he died in 1923 of a Scottish Workers' Republican Party. Maclean never joined the Communist Party and it is this, in view of the current unpopularity on 'the Left' of Russia, which makes him attractive to people like Kendall.

To be fair, Kendall makes one or two good points: that the SDF played a useful role in introducing Marxist ideas into Britain; that the CPGB was an artificial creation sustained only by Russian gold; that the Comintern put the clock back for the workers' movement in the rest of Europe. But even here Kendall's bias gets the better of him. He accuses the Communist Party of playing a major role in destroying the whole of the pre-1917 revolutionary tradition in Britain. Wrong again! The SPGB has been in continuous existence since 1904, a constant source of embarrassment to the Communists' bid to palm off their views as Marxism—and of course to the likes of Walter Kendall.
Adam Buick