Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Political Parties and the Workers (1942)

From the May 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The two decades which separate the last war from the present were crowded with events which left their mark on the working-class and its political outlook. The sorry spectacle of the so-called "2nd International" of the workers, i.e., the Labour parties, splitting up into recruiting agencies for their respective national capitalisms, broke the spell for many who had hitherto accepted these organisations as "genuine Socialists."

The Russian revolution and the emergence of "Communist parties" raised working-class hopes anew, only to dash them to the ground as the true character of the Bolshevik regime and its puppet organisations revealed itself through actions and policies that aroused bitter criticism and disillusionment in many working-class quarters.

The inability of seemingly powerful and well-entrenched Labour and Communist parties in Germany and elsewhere to prevent the triumph of political reaction was another bitter pill to swallow. Before the outbreak of the present conflict the sole pre-occupation of these erstwhile "dynamic" parties was to deal with the menace of Fascism; that is, they were reduced to playing the negative role of maintaining the status-quo of capitalist democracy.

The conditions produced by the present world-war have aggravated the sense of working-class political impotence. In Britain, at present one of the few countries with a Labour movement of any importance, former political distinctions are rapidly disappearing as the main parties, bearing governmental responsibilities, are forced by the problems of war to exert ever-increasing pressure on the workers, Labour leaders vie with Conservative and Liberal in demanding more sweat, more blood, more tears. The spectacle of Communists begging votes for Tory admirals, air marshals and such like persons for the sake of "national unity" is a subject of mirth for some, of bewilderment for others. In the meantime, generations of workers are growing to adult and voting age without being able to express their political opinions at elections or feeling the urge of doing so.

 Before the war gives way to Capitalist peace this problem will inevitable become even more intense. Bloody battles are yet to be fought and many lives will be lost; the standards of human existence will deteriorate, and these factors will not contribute to clearer thinking by the workers.

The danger of such conditions is self-evident. Forced to abandon their traditional beliefs and failing to find satisfactory alternatives, the workers become easy prey to demagogy and trickery, and thus the very evil which the war is supposed to eliminate may re-appear as great a menace as hitherto.

This feeling of frustration is shared by comparatively advanced workers and so-called intellectuals. Many of these cultivate a cynicism towards the whole question of political action which does not mask, but accentuates, their uselessness to the cause of Socialism.

This frustration is particularly noticeable in the United States, where distance from the battle zone and comparative immunity from other hardships arising specifically from modern war have induced a state of detachment from present-day problems. The failure of the European working-class movement is attributed not merely to the particular character of existing parties;  the whole traditional belief in parties as such is called into question.

Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism, states his position in the bluntest of terms. Writing in an American magazine, Modern Socialism, he says:
The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class  . . . because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers.
Further on, however, he qualifies this statement:
If . . . persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarifications through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day.
Here Pannekoek himself is not the model of clarity, but he points to a distinction which does not exist.

However, it is not the practice of forming and supporting "parties" which has brought the workers to grief; the failure has come about by the aims and methods of particular organisations, and the membership which they have consequently recruited. Thus, with the exception of the S.P.G.B. and its fellow organisations abroad, all parties constitute themselves as groups of persons seeking power above the workers. That is just as true of Labour and Communist groups as it is of Conservative or Fascist. Though some will proclaim their intentions to abolish the present order in favour of a more equitable one, the main effect will be to replace one ruling clique with another.

A striking illustration is afforded by the Bolshevik seizure of power. The Soviet bureaucracy has formed itself into the new ruling class of Russia, and it is they who order the conditions of life and death of the workers and peasantry.

Only Socialism can guarantee the conditions of a life worth living for all. Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for Socialism as they do for reformist policies and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity.

Socialist ideas are not acquired merely by the experience of hardships and tragedy under capitalism. They must be propagated and learned.

The party of the workers, therefore, cannot be anything less than a Socialist Party; its task, the conversion of the working class to the principles of Socialism. Nor can it at present be much more. It must eschew all the cheap tricks of electioneering and propaganda; whether these consist of open support for capitalism on the plea of "urgent" problems, or a futile appeal for "a Socialist Britain now." Such activities will not bring Socialism any nearer; the workers who support them are only postponing or evading their real responsibility.

That they do so is not due to any evil machinations or secret plots by these power-seeking parties. On the contrary, the existence of these organisations and the popularity of their illusory remedies is conditioned by the inadequacy of working-class political understanding.

So long as the workers do not comprehend the necessity and meaning of a revolutionary social change they will have no choice but to leave their fate in the hands of "parties" and "leaders." With the development of Socialist consciousness (class-conciousness) will come the realisation that they, the workers themselves, must take control of society. Knowing what has to be done will give them the will and assurance needed.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it.
Sid Rubin   

Splendid anachronism (1988)

Film Review from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Last Emperor is a film about contradictions: the apparent omnipotence of Pu Yi, crowned emperor of China at the age of three and proclaimed "son of heaven" and Lord of Ten Thousand Years", who by the age of six had been forced to abdicate without knowing it and has become a prisoner in his own palace. The contradictory arrogance of a child ruler who is, at the same time, a pathetic anachronism, overtaken by history. And the contradiction of a film that is rich in form but poor in substance.

The director, Bernardo Bertolucci, captures splendidly, the extravagant pomp and ceremony, the lavish but pointless ritual, the richness of costume and location as rank upon rank of luxuriously garbed, sycophantic eunuchs bow and scrape in the courtyard of the Forbidden City before a bored three-year-old more interested in chasing crickets than in his coronation. But, by focusing almost exclusively on the person of the "Last Emperor", Bertolucci fails to address the reasons why this once omnipotent ruler has become a pathetic figurehead, first imprisoned within the palace, then driven out, becoming a puppet emperor of Manchuria with the Japanese ruling class pulling the strings, before finally ending up a prisoner once again, forced to undergo "re-education" in a prison camp prior to his being released to end his days as a gardner.

For, what this film is, perhaps unwittingly, portraying, is the ending of one social order and the ascendancy of a new one with its own ruling class of which the emperor is no longer a part. The imperial excesses and post-imperial agonies are brilliantly evoked. But what we are offered is spectacle, a series of lavish tableaux, with very little insight into the more interesting historical processes that underpin them.
Janie Percy-Smith

Party Notes. (1908)

Party Notes from the March 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrade Scholfield. of 77, Parliament Street, Burnley, is keeping our Party well to the front locally. He and others heckled Philip Snowden after his recent address there, when the latter made the remarks concerning drink and gambling which were criticised in Justice. But these same remarks were loudly applauded by members of the S.D.F. who were present.


Manchester comrades are still active, so active that when Philip Snowden lectured at the Free Trade Town Hall on February 2nd, their questions were met with cries of "Throw 'em out"!


At that meeting over then shillings' worth of Socialist Standard were sold. Up to time of writing the Manchester comrades have taken 26 doz. of the February issue.


The advertised debate between Councillor Day and Comrade Anderson drew a large audience to Grovedale Hall, Holloway, on February 6th, every inch of space and also the staircase being occupied, while scores were unable to gain admission. Councillor Dey presided and a stated that Alderman Saint, who was to have done so, was seriously ill, and that owing to the stress of recent business arrangements he (Mr. Dey) had been unable to devote the necessary time to the subject and therefore had secured Councillor Freeman to take his place. Councillor Freeman opened and was followed by Anderson. Both speakers had an attentive hearing and the S.P.G.B. is quite satisfied with the result. The collection realized 1 8s. 3d.


The meetings will continue at Grovedale Hall during March under the auspices of the Islington Branch but will commence at 8 p.m. On Wednesday, March 18th, an evening's relaxation will be provided. A Social and Dance will be held, commencing at 7.30, to which all comrades and friends will be heartily welcomed.


The debate between the Islington S.P.G.B. and the S.D.F. is "off," owing to the action of the latter. The facts are as follows: On Sunday, December 22nd, the chairman of the S.D.F. meeting at 231, Liverpool Road, accepted a challenge, issued on behalf of the S.P.G.B., to debate "The Palliative Position of the S.D.F. v. The Non-Palliative Position of the S.P.G.B." When, however, the S.D.F. Committee met, they desired to twist the subject into "Non-Palliative v. Palliative Socialism, without reference to parties." Our Islington branch wrote asking what the S.D.F. meant by "Palliative Socialism" and why they desired no reference to parties? To this the S.D.F. replied that their general meeting had confirmed the Committee's acceptance of the challenge, but they now submitted as the subject, "The Non-Palliative Policy of a Socialist Party v. The Palliative Policy of a Socialist party," and they desired no reference to parties as "this would engender acrimony." In a further letter the S.D.F. wrote: "We do not intend to debate with your Party as to whether we are a Socialist Party or not."


And there, for the present, the matter ends.

Capitalism's wars (1983)

Book Review from the February 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

One Man's Falklands by Tam Dalyell (Woolf £1.95 Paperback; £5.50 Hardback.)

Those workers who are still looking for a satisfactory explanation of the causes of the Falklands war will find few answers in this book. Apart from a couple of brief references in the first chapter to " . . . external land ownership—just under half the land (46%) and a quarter of the farms—the best farms . . . ", and to the MP for Newbury who in a parliamentary debate put forward the case of one of his constituents, a John Matthews, who owns 200,000 acres in the Falklands, there is no real analysis made of the reasons behind the conflict.

Although Dalyell does not share the bogus argument advanced by most Tory, Labour and Liberal politicians that the sending of the task force was to safeguard "high principles, such as the right of self-determination or making sure that aggression does not pay . . . " he holds an equally questionable view,  namely, that "255 young British lives were lost, more than 770 were maimed and will carry awful scars of mind and body until the end of their days . . ." (no concern here for the Argentinian workers killed and wounded) and that "£1600 million, excluding the recurring annual burden of garrisoning the islands", were wasted as the result of ignorance, misjudgment and the injured pride of of politicians in Britain and Argentina.

Dalyell is a Labour politician, concerned with the running of British capitalism, so it is understandable that he is troubled by the financial burden incurred by war; but the stakes in terms of raw materials, trade routes and spheres of influence are high: the estimated cost of a couple of billion pounds is a drop in the South Atlantic ocean as far as the capitalist class is concerned. It is the cost in working-class lives and suffering, both British and Argentinian, that socialists regret. We look forward to the day when workers are no longer prepared to give up their lives fighting in capitalist wars which can never serve their own interests. Workers have to learn that socialism alone will guarantee them full, useful and secure lives. Reading books like One Man's Falklands will not provide them with the necessary knowledge.
Dave Chesham 

Why Socialists Oppose the Political Levy. (1926)

From the January 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard


"Ilfordian" asks for our comments on a cutting in which figures are given of the number of members of various trade unions who claim exemption from the Political Levy. As there is so much confusion surrounding this question, let us first state some of the facts. The Labour Party, which came into existence in order to seek by political means to gain legal protection for trade union funds, derives the chief part of its finances from trade unions. Legally, trade unions may spend on political objects only those amounts which are contributed for this purpose, and those members who do not wish to support the Labour Party can decline to pay the Political Levy. Actually many who pay do so not because of any active sympathy towards the Labour Party, but because they are too indifferent to claim exemption. Knowing this, sections of the Tory and Liberal Parties favour an amendment to the law in order to weaken the Labour Party machine; and the Labour leaders seeing their political careers endangered have voiced their protest with a fervour and degree of indignation such as they never show when capitalist attacks are being directed against the workers.

The Press chooses to pretend that it is a fight between Socialist supporters of the Levy and non-Socialist opponents—a view which is sheer nonsense. The attitude of the Socialist party is plain, and follows from our Declaration of Principles. With the personal squabble between the wire-pullers who control the three parties we are not concerned; all that we need ask is whether support of the Labour party is compatible with our work for Socialism. It is plainly not compatible; hence our open and unqualified opposition to that party along with other parties—Liberal and Tory—which support the private property system. Whatever may be said about the persons or the detailed aims of the Labour party, the inescapable fact is that while they can successfully organise a large part of the working class for non-Socialist objects, Socialism is impossible. No member of the Socialist party would wish or be permitted to give any kind of voluntary assistance to the Labour party. The general position is plain, and the reasons have been and are continually being given by our speakers and in our literature to show that the position we take up is justified. But in actual practice it is not always possible to avoid helping our opponents, little as we may wish to do so. Anyone who is familiar with the internal organisation and political activities of many trade unions will be quite well aware that money contributed for ordinary "trade" purposes finds its way by various paths to the funds of central and local Labour parties. Much of the time of trade union organisers is spent on political work without any attempt to charge the political funds; money is contributed to such definitely political objects as the maintenance of the "Daily Herald," and against these and other ways of evading the law, the Socialist is helpless at present, even although he obtains exemption from the levy.

It is, however, a matter of little importance. Socialists are as yet a small minority in the trades unions as outside, and must bow to the will of the majority. When we are more numerous we shall be able to make our views prevail, as the Labour party does now—with one important difference. We shall depend on the willing and active support of workers who understand Socialism; we shall not, as does the Labour party, build up an organisation on the illusory strength of thousands of "supporters" who in reality pay the levy because they are too apathetic to refuse.
Edgar Hardcastle

Editorial: The Rational in Politics (2012)

Editorial from the July 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists in the Marxist tradition used to call themselves ‘Scientific Socialists’. This was a way of avoiding associating the theory of socialism with one man, which the term ‘Marxist’ fails to do. But it meant more than this. It meant the application of the scientific method to the question of working class emancipation as well as to the world in general.

But what is the scientific method? It is a method of understanding the world based on first observing and recording experience and then analysing it and looking for correlations; then suggesting a cause and, finally, repeatedly testing this hypothesis against further observations until it can be said to a reliable guide to future experience.

Humans have always applied this to the production from nature of what they need. They have always been practical materialists here. It’s the only way that the knowledge of how to improve methods of production, which has gone on throughout history, could have increased. Science is the more systematic and more consistent application of this approach.

The application of the scientific method to the study of the world around us has led to the rejection of the idea of the intervention, or even the existence, of ‘super-natural’ beings such as gods or a single God. This brings science into conflict with religion. But not just religion. Religion, with its ancient texts and dogmatic insistence on such things as the resurrection of the dead or the reincarnation of souls, is an easy target. In the attempt to explain the world around us, it has been replaced by beliefs in the operation of equally mysterious but impersonal forces. Such pseudo-scientific, “paranormal” beliefs are now fairly widespread.

Believers in such forces don’t base their theories on sacred texts. They claim to accept and apply the scientific method and to offer an alternative scientific explanation of the same phenomena that science does. The problem is that, although they do observe and record experiences, analyse them for correlations and propose hypotheses for testing, they proclaim that their hypotheses have been proved despite their not having met the conditions for this. If these hypotheses could be verified then they would be incorporated into the general body of scientific knowledge: they would cease to be paranormal and become normal. In fact, there’s surely a Nobel Prize waiting for anyone who can prove that psychokinesis or ley lines or qi exist.

In the field of politics and economics, the idea of divine intervention has been replaced by that of secret human intervention –conspiracy theories, the conspirators varying from the Illuminati and the Elders of Zion to the Bilderberg group and international bankers. This is another case of drawing an unwarranted conclusion from observed facts. Under capitalism we really are dominated by the impersonal force that is the Market. Some people, sensing that they are dominated by something they can’t control, wrongly attribute this to the deliberate actions of some shadowy group.

This is not to say that under capitalism scientists are completely objective. Capitalism suborns everything to commercial interests, including science. Money can buy a scientist as a hired gun to promote a hypothesis favourable to the buyer or rubbish one that is not. Only the non-commercial society that socialism will be can free science and scientists from such perversions.

Forced Labour Camps In Russia (1963)

Book Review from the November 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

So there were forced labour camps in Soviet Russia after all. Remember those days during Stalin's reign when this was hotly denied by the servile Communist parties, when even to suggest it was to get yourself called a liar, social fascist, reactionary imperialist, or whatever other term of abuse happened to be fashionable at the time? Well, that's all gone now that Alexander Solzhenitsyn has told his story.

His novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Gollancz, 18s.), describes the appalling conditions in one such camp, where the prisoners were made to toil over twelve hours a day outdoors despite the sub-zero temperatures of the Siberian winter, Their food rations were utterly inadequate, their clothing pitifully thin and ragged. It was indeed an achievement merely to survive from one day to the next.

This was one of many "special" camps, as they were known, set up by Stalin's Security Chief Beria (who was later executed when Khrushchev rose to power). It was organised for those serving from eight to twenty-five years under the notorious Article 58 of the old Criminal Code, but lucky was the man who served only the sentence originally imposed on him. For the authorities had a very convenient habit of adding another term quite arbitrarily, just as soon as the first one has expired. And then perhaps there was exile after that, if he was still alive.

There were many "crimes" for which he could be incarcerated. The hero—not really an inappropriate term—is sent for a ten year stretch on a trumped up charge of spying. Solzhenitsyn himself can speak with some authority here, because he spent eight years in a camp in Kazakhstan. His offence? Making remarks derogatory to Stalin.

This story first appeared in the Russian literary journal Novy Mir (New World) in November last year, and this in itself is significant of a trend in the Soviet Union since the death of Stalin. There has been a tendency to relax the iron fist somewhat, but although thousands of prisoners have been released and allowed to return home, it seems to be the first time that such writing has been allowed to be published. One might almost call it a tacit official admission of the existence of the labour camps.

But more than that, Khrushchev has striven to destroy the image of Stalin for ever, something he had to do if he was to consolidate his own power and gain support for the economic and political changes he knew must come. In the light of this, it was not surprising that Solzhenitsyn was allowed to publish his novel, although it was a sensation when it appeared and caused heated discussion and controversy throughout Russia.

Perhaps there will now be other such novels to push the lid a little further off the Soviet cauldron. Who knows, we may even get a glimpse of life in some of the camps which exist now in that unhappy country. Where else, we wonder, would the thousands of youngsters have gone after being torn from their homes and forcibly transported eastwards, following the 1956 Hungarian revolt? The Russian ruling class can be just as ruthless under Khrushchev, when their interests demand.

For the time being though, it is well to read this book and reflect on the horrors which capitalism is capable of inflicting on us. Solzhenitsyn is a promising writer who has a direct and simple, yet telling style, which even in the first few pages gives us a fair picture of the brutality and degradation of camp life. But perhaps the outstanding tragedy is that it has all been perpetrated in the name of Socialism so that, welcome though the truth now is, the job of the real Socialist is just as hard as ever.
E. T. C.

Labour's plan for capitalism (1983)

From the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Millions of workers will vote Labour in the next election; for many of them it is a habit. But like watching the Boat Race or going to church, the tradition of blind allegiance to the Labour Party is on the decline. Some Labourites are turning to that gang of political tricksters, the SDP, with their instant policies to suit all prejudices and their moderate vision of a capitalist system in which the exploiting and exploited live in perfect consensual harmony. The politicians who dominate the Labour Party are worried by the mass exodus of members, supporters and voters from their ranks. Having in the past gained working class allegiance by the most sickening opportunism, the Labour Party is now viewed as no more capable than any others of eradicating the inherent ills of capitalism.

There are still those who believe that Labour is, or could be, a socialist party. Indeed, Labour's enthusiastic activists are workers, often young and energetic, who are fired by the illusion that a Labour government will one day do something about establishing socialism. In many respects, the hatred of the iniquities of the present social order and the sincere pursuit of "something different" is to be admired; it is also proof of the socialist contention that capitalism is doing the job of creating class conscious workers for us. But the militancy of Labour's Leftist activists is misdirected; their conception of socialism is vague at best and, when clarified, amounts to little more than a programme of widespread nationalisation — state capitalism — which can provide no solution to the problems of the working class. It is for this reason that the Militant Tendency, despite all the rebellious rhetoric and the zeal for nationalisation, is no real threat to capitalism as a system. Support for the Labour Party in the misguided belief that this is support for socialism leads inevitably to disillusion; the ranks of political apathetics are filled by more than a few workers who wasted their energies "fighting for socialism" in the party of Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan and Foot.

According to deluded Labourites, the transformation of the Labour Party into a genuine socialist party is always just about to happen. In 1963, when Left-wing Harold Wilson was elected as Gaitskell's successor, the Communist Party's Central Committee was so overjoyed that it passed a resolution stating its confidence in the new leader's socialist credentials. In 1982 we debated in Croydon against a representative of the Militant Tendency who stated emphatically that his faction was destined to grow within the Labour Party; at the Labour conference that year a resolution to expel Militant "supporters" was carried. Just as Christian workers tolerate their drab existences and repressed moral codes only by believing in a heavenly paradise, so the Labour Left can only put up with the tedium of futile Labour reformism as long as they have an illusory hope that one day, maybe soon, a Labour government will do what none has done before: make society run in the interest of the wealth producers — ban the bomb, end inequality and abolish poverty. The fundamental question which any reasonable political activist must ask, but which the Labour Left refuse to pose, is: How would a Labour government set about changing society?

we have seen what has happened in the past. Labour governments have carried out every anti-working-class action which the Tories have gone in for: they have supported wars; initiated the British atom bomb; sent in troops to smash strikes; established the vicious Special Patrol Group and set them on the picket lines at Grunwick; passed racist immigration laws; imposed "monetarist" expenditure cuts leading to the closure of hospitals and other vitally needed services. They have left power and, above all, the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution in the hands of a parasitic capitalist minority. The record of Labour governments is one of total subservience to the needs of capital — of the rich and powerful and privileged — against the material interests of the class which produces, but does not possess.

Understandably, modern Labour supporters like to forget; a qualification for allegiance to the Labour Party is a short memory. But under Michael Foot, we are told, all will be different. Foot — who insisted in the House of Commons Emergency debate on the Falklands that the government should send its armed killers to the South Atlantic — has a reputation as a man of peace, a true radical. Indeed, if his past writings are anything to go by, Foot is a more literate, articulate and "radically" inclined politician than his four predecessors. But what does such radicalism amount to? The Labour Left sees in it reason to anticipate "socialist" policies from a Foot-led government. Apart from the fact that socialism cannot be enacted by a government, and that Labour's Clause Four definition of socialism is a recipe for state capitalism, there is evidence that Michael Foot has no intention of doing anything — if he ever obtains power — which has not been tried and failed before.

Foot's recipe book for changing society is the dated, tried, tested and failed theories of John Maynard Keynes. It was Keynes's intention to demonstrate the invalidity of Marx's analysis of capitalism as a system which can never run in the interests of the working class. He set out to show that capitalism can be made to work without economic crises, high unemployment and wars and in the 1930s was regarded by many as the new messiah. Since then Conservative, Liberal and Labour parties, in and out of government, have adopted versions of Keynesianism as the solution to capitalism's problems. By the mid-1970s the Keynesian "answer" was wearing rather thin. The last Labour government began to abandon Keynesian theory for recent American monetarist theories and Thatcher's Tory government has adopted monetarism as fanatically as earlier politicians had taken the Keynesian cure. Neither theory is in any way able to change capitalism from the anti-working class system it necessarily is.

The prospect of Foot and Thatcher fighting over the claim to be the true followers of Keynes is a comic reflection of the similarity of the two apparently opposed parties of British capitalism. It was in the Sunday Times of 27 February 1983 that Margaret Thatcher stated: "I would say that I really am the true Keynesian, when I'm taken as a whole". This profoundly upset Michael Foot, who in the same newspaper on 6 March 1983 wrote that "To claim that what she's doing is in any way blessed by Keynes, or Keynesianism, is an insult to the memory of Keynes". Having denied the Tories the blessing of Keynes (a blessing of little value to the Keynesian Wilson, Heath and Callaghan governments), Foot goes on to point out that a future Labour government will repeat the failed Keynesian policies of the past:
First of all we'll get into operation a new budget, which will start on the road to expansion and stop all this nonsense that is going on. A full-blown Keynesian budget, with expansionary protections built in.
Foot's Keynesian offer is a request to the working class to accept a repeat performance of an unworkable, discredited economic theory. In the run-up to the general election the Labour Party will drag out all sorts of previously failed policies and put them before the electorate as brand new solutions. Michael Meacher has already given his Leftist support to the idea of a pre-election deal between the Labour Party and the TUC, promising voluntary wage restraint under a Labour government. Tony Benn has called for all factions to rally behind Foot and Healey—because defeating the Tories is more important than anything else. A watered-down policy on defence has been published which is designed to deceive the unilateralists, while satisfying Labour's multilateralist Foreign Affairs spokesman and the majority of Labour voters, who nationalistically support NATO and the need for nuclear weapons. The old game of opportunism for the sake of electoral success is once again being played within Labour's ranks. For how much longer will members of the Labour Party be prepared to mouth the rhetoric of radical change while accepting the expediency of policies which leave the capitalist system firmly intact?

The Labour party must be defeated. The energy and commitment of Labour activists must not be wasted on the struggle to elect yet another poor person's Tory government. The alternative is not apathy — or the SDP, which amounts to the same thing. The Socialist Party is serious about changing society. Unlike the Labour Party, we understand what capitalism is and how it works. Unlike the Militant Tendency, we have a conception of socialism which is fundamentally different from any form of capitalism. To elect another reforming Labour government promising to make a better society for the workers while jumping to every demand of the profit system would be a tragedy for those who desire a peaceful, united, free society. The only alternative to the capitalist system is a world where  everything is owned in common and controlled democratically — where there is free access to all wealth — where the sole aim of production is to satisfy human needs. There can be no socialism without conscious socialists; it is time to give up hope in the sterile fantasies of Michael Foot and his fellow Keynesian reformists — it is time to take socialism seriously.
Steve Coleman

Obituary: Isaac Rabinowich (1987)

Obituary from the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have learned of the death of Isaac Rabinowich - or Rab as he was known - a founder member of our companion party in the United States. He was a warm, boundlessly energetic comrade who will be surely missed. As an obituary, we publish this account of his life which he gave in an interview with an American student newspaper in 1978.

'Rab': a lifetime in the socialist movement

On Sunday mornings, a small group of people meet in a room over Church's Fried Chicken on Huntington Avenue. This is the public discussion group of the World Socialist Party, a small, proud party. One man who prides himself in "telling it like it is" in these meetings is Isaac Rabinowich, or Rab for short. He helped found the party in 1916 and has been active in it ever since. The Fenway News interviewed him on a recent Sunday.

Fenway News: How did you first become a socialist?

Rab: From my birth, I've been exposed to socialist ideas. Both my mother and father were revolutionary socialists in Russia before they came to the US. They came to Boston in 1893, and I was born later that year. The first thing my father did when he came to Boston was to inquire whether there was a socialist group in Boston . . . 

About 1897, they had organised a socialist Sunday school in Boston, for kids 6-10. We used to have socialist songs a general good time. About 1905, the labour unions of Boston organised a march to protest the trial of Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone for killing the governor of Idaho. The labour unions picked out the socialist Sunday school to be at the head of the parade, and I was the marshal of the parade.

Fenway News: What led you to form the World Socialist Party?

Rab: Well, I joined the Socialist Party of America in 1909 and remained a member until 1916. In 1915 I went to Detroit. I had many jobs there -  some good, some poor. I worked in the tool cribs as a carpenter. I worked in the automobile plants. The original auto workers' union was formed in Detroit in 1915. I joined that union.

At that time workers were coming from all over the world to Detroit. Detroit was a prominent maker of war materials, so workers expected to find good jobs at good pay. Among the workers were scientific socialists from Canada and England. They organised study classes and held lectures. As a result of the classes, I became aware that the Socialist Party of America was a reformist organisation and not a scientific socialist one. So 43 of us organised a new party called the Workers' Socialist Party (later changed to the World Socialist Party) in 1916.

Fenway News: What stand did the WSP take on the issues of the day—like the world war?

Rab: On the war, the Socialist Party was divided. They took a milk and water attitude; they didn't "approve" of capitalist wars. But they really weren't anti-war. We were opposed to the war, and to all wars. Wars are only of benefit to the capitalist class: to win markets, trade routes and spheres of influence . . . 

Fenway News: When did you come back to Boston?

Rab: I came back in 1921 to help my father run his cigar and tobacco business. He delivered all over the Boston area with a horse and wagon. Later I worked in an electrical, locksmith and hardware shop.

Those were the days of Sacco and Vanzetti (two Massachusetts labour activists who were framed and executed for murder). At their funeral, there was a huge parade. My wife and two children and myself were in the parade. On the 50th anniversary of their execution last year, the Globe ran a picture of the parade and there were the four of us! 

I spent six years almost single-handedly holding street meetings, directing boys' clubs, and especially conducting classes in socialist theory. Then in 1927, the Boston local of the WSP was formed. It wasn't long before we had a wonderful membership. Seven days of the week we had activities going on.

Fenway News: I understand you later joined the Boston Typographical Union. Did you do organising in that union?

Rab: I wasn't organising. I was just teaching and explaining. I was a proofreader, and men would always come into the proofroom for explanations of science or other things.

Above all, I was a militant guy. For example, sometimes contract provisions were violated by the foremen and managers. The other guys would hesitate about calling them on it, but I never did.

Fenway News: What do you see for the future?

Rab: I'm an optimistic guy. They say the guy on the street is dumb, but he's not. I think the wheels are beginning to turn up here (taps head). He's not acting on it yet, but he realises there's something wrong with capitalism. The conditions have never been better for socialism, and there will be a majority of people in favour of socialism.
(The Fenway News, October 1978).

The verdict of history (1964)

Editorial from the August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Millions of words will be published this month about the world's first Great War. Few of them will be complimentary.

Over the last fifty years the war has come under a detailed scrutiny. The official propaganda has been exposed as a mass of blatant lies. The leaders, worshipped at the time, have been shown up as incompetents. The motive behind the war has been pronounced as a naked economic struggle. The popular verdict seems to be that the war was a ghastly mistake, which would never have come about if the world had been run by cleverer, more humane leaders.

In the manner of historical fashion, this verdict may one day be modified, and men like the late Earl Haig become restored to favour. The millions of killed and wounded may be ennobled into heroes whose lives were not wasted, but who suffered for a worthy cause. Historians may decide for us that we should be grateful the war was fought.

But whatever historians may decide, whatever historical fashion may decree, facts are facts. And the facts of the First World War have not changed.

In the first place, it is true that the war was a stupid and futile business. War always is. But it was not a mistake.

Whatever incidental errors may contribute to its horror, war in the modern world does not happen by accident. If it did, then the massive armed forces which all countries always maintain are mistakes. Weapons—nuclear and otherwise—are mistakes.

In fact, all these things are quite logical, once we have accepted the basic condition of the existence of the capitalist social system. We live today in a world in which a minority own the means of producing and distributing wealth. This minority—the capitalist class—are always in competition among themselves for economic advantage.

They compete for markets and for fields of important raw materials and minerals. They anxiously guard the trade routes which connect them with their markets and material resources abroad.. They are always trying, with their economic conferences, their tariff walls, their international trading clubs, to protect what spheres of influence they have and to expand into others.

Here is the root of war. The minor conflicts which have flared up since 1945 in, say, the Middle and Far East were not caused by a chain of mistakes, or by opposing designs on the ownership of an arid desert or of an impassable jungle. Neither were they caused by a concern in the world's more sophisticated capitals for the welfare of a few impoverished Arabs or Asian natives.

Those wars were fought for material advantages -  for oil, for tin, for rubber, for uranium, for access to key strategic points like the Suez Canal.

It was no different in 1914. At the beginning of this century Germany was struggling to establish itself among the other capitalist powers, who had got in first in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The German ruling class wanted an outlet to the markets in the Far East, they wanted to stake their claim in the Mediterranean. At the same time, France wanted to regain the valuable provinces which she had lost in the war of 1870, and Great Britain had her eye on the German colonies in Africa.

This was the power behind the headlong arms race of the early 20th century. This race provoked the political tensions in Europe, which needed only a fortuitous assassination to release them into the catastrophe of a war the like of which the world had not thought to experience.

That war shattered Europe's morale. It left the world set in the pattern from which came the battlefronts of the Second World War, which in its turn has bequeathed areas of conflict which have come close to provoking World war Three.

This is a continuous process, inevitable under capitalism. There is nothing accidental about it; it is not the result of miscalculation.

It is easy for the historians to show up the errors of command of 1914/18, just as it may be easy some time in the future to do the same thing about 1939/45. War can only bring untold misery misery to the people who suffer most under it—yet it solves no problems of theirs. It is, in fact, as foolish and as wasteful as the social system which causes it.

The solution to this is to put an end to the social madness of private property and to replace it with a new system in which the world's entire population own the things which are used to make and distribute its wealth.

This system is called Socialism. It was the solution faithfully propounded by the Socialist Party of Great Britain against the mob patriotism and official repression of 1914/18. Capitalism never climbs out of its own pit of turpitude, but in those years it was indeed impressive for its depravity.

If we are to look for some relief among this depressing memory, it can be found in the records of the Socialist Party—in the history of our members' gritty defiance, in the old copies of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.

The word pride does not come easily to a Socialist's tongue. So we are weighing every word when we say that we are proud to recall that our party stood out, in the bloodthirsty confusion which pulled down the human race fifty years ago, for a world fit for human beings.

When everyone else was dabbling in the slime, we kept our hands clean. While the "practical" men, the "respectable" men, the "courageous" men, were slaughtering each other, we persistently propagated the case for a world of decency, abundance and liberty.

We are proud to be identified with this history, and to carry on so worthy a tradition.

Editorial: Labour's lost illusions (1953)

Editorial from the February 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Right from the formation of the Labour Party the S.P.G.B. opposed it, holding that its doctrine of changing class relationships through social reforms and its hope of abolishing war through international expressions of goodwill were founded in error about the nature of capitalism and socialism.

The S.P.G.B still opposes the Labour Party for the same reasons but in the meantime the Labour Party has undergone a profound change, one that would have surprised and dismayed its pioneers. At its birth it had a genuine belief in its principles; now the fire and inspiration have died and what is left are the vote-catching manoeuvres of a caucus of disillusioned political managers, hardly distinguishable from those who control the Tory Party machine.

Two early themes of the Labour Party propaganda were nationalisation and the search for peace. The words are still in use but the content has changed almost out of recognition. At first, as in Keir Hardie's “From Serfdom to Socialism,” nationalisation was urged (mistakenly but with apparent sincerity), as a stepping stone to Socialism. Then came a later state when nationalisation became an end in itself; and a third stage when “Public Boards” were discovered to be better than nationalisation.

Lastly came the discovery, openly voiced Mr. Herbert Morrison and others during the recent Labour Government's six years of administering capitalism, that the Labour ideal is a co-called “mixed economy,” a partnership between the Government and private capitalism.

Even this does not satisfy Mr. Morrison, for in a speech at Norwich, on January 5th, he rebuked those of his Party colleagues who are so "conservatively minded" as to be reluctant to adapt themselves to the "new" conditions.
"We have evolved a society which is certainly not a socialist society, but which is a changed and more socialistic society compared with that of fifty or even twenty years ago. In these circumstances our ideas, our policies, our language—these things are bound to be somewhat different—require from us adaptability, and modifications are bound to occur as society evolves."
(Manchester Guardian 6 January, 1953)
The other inspiration of the early Labour Party was its reluctance to support war and armaments. At its annual conference in January, 1914, a few months before it was caught up in the war fever, it passed a resolution opposing increased armaments and conscription, endorsing the idea of international working class action against war, and seeking "to replace our present system of armed peace by an alliance between all the workers of the world for the purpose of lifting the burdens of poverty which press upon them today." (Report, Page 121).

Just a week before Mr. Morrison made his speech about adaptability the Daily Herald, mouthpiece of the T.U.C. and Labour Party, showed how well it had learned the lesson—and to what depths the once idealistic movement has fallen. This was in an editorial called 'Partnership," published on 29 December, 1952.

It dealt with the latest version of the Labour Party's attitude to capitalism and dealt in a way with its ideas on peace and war. It should have earned top marks from Mr. Morrison. It began with "warm congratulations"; addressed to all who have had a hand in a recent outstanding technical achievement. And it ended, on the right Morrisonian note, with "all praise to the British industry for a fruitful partnership between public and private enterprise."

The reader will wonder what can have been the sweet (or bitter) fruit that lifted thus the heart of the Herald leader writer. What kind of product could it be that led the writer to say that "it is to such triumphs of skill and planning that Britain must look for victory in her battle for economic survival?"

It was "the new Scimitar jet bomber," described by an equally enthusiastic writer in the Herald's Conservative rival, the Daily Express (28 December) as able to fly "faster, further, higher than any other bomber," with "ten times the power of last war's best."

The only discernible difference of approach between the Labour Herald and the Conservative Express is that the former sees in it a justification for the new Labour Party ideal of "large grants from the Ministry of Supply" which enabled the private firm to get ahead of American rivals.

Workers who still believe that the Labour Party is not like other parties of capitalism should ponder these things and draw the obvious conclusion. 

Demonstration in Washington (1963)

From the October 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The demonstration by two hundred thousand people in Washington recently to protest at discrimination against the American Negro was an example of self-disciplined protest —restrained, yet massively determined. August 28th marked the flaring of accumulated frustrations that had smouldered for over two centuries. From this time forward the character of the Negroes' struggle is altered, they have a national organisation and specifically formulated demands that they can pursue in the spotlight of world-wide publicity.

‘Nobody knows the trouble I seen’ is a familiar lament of a Negro blues song. It expresses the special misery of 19 million people who have inherited a legacy of hatred and violent suffering. Although it is possible to recognise it as a fact, nobody who has not experienced it can feel on his shoulders the harrowing burden of American Negro history. And even now, for the Negro, life offers unstinted humiliation, for added to his exploitation as a wage worker, in every corner of American social life he faces the pointed finger that accuses him of racial inferiority. 

In public transport, he is still to a large extent accommodated on sufferance, unseen at the rear of the bus, or on segregated trains he is refused the privilege of using the dining car. Of perhaps more importance, he is denied any equal access to education. In the area of employment, he is the last hired and the first fired, which in an economy that for years has supported millions of unemployed, involves the Negro in semi-permanent economic depression. In housing and other social amenities the Negro gets the worst of everything. In respect of freedom of speech and the franchise he is prevented by brutal intimidation, more particularly in the southern states, from exercising his ostensible right to vote. Here again, his right to assemble is jeopardised and made physically dangerous by the police. In some localities, the Negroes' struggle is reduced to one about basic democratic rights, which for many decades white workers have been able to take for granted. In these areas, the political climate for the Negro is no different than in the police state.

Again the repressive atmosphere in which the Negro still has to live, there exist counter tendencies. On the one hand there are social pressures acting against the exercise of colour discrimination. Without doubt there is an hardcore of prejudice built into attitudes of older generations, younger generations will be more susceptible to attacks on this issue through the media of radio, television, cinema and the press. There are dozens of books and pamphlets now available on archeology, biology and all departments of the social sciences that refute, and reveal the intellectual shallowness of, bigoted views on race. Against this phalanx of argument, documented with detailed evidence, the enunciation of prejudice remains the preserve of those whose thought processes are captivated by blind irrationality.

On the face of it, there would seem to be a good deal of affinity between the aspirations of Negroes in America and the economic and social reforms that the Kennedy administration seeks to bring into effect. But in truth, the American Government is moved by political and economic compulsions that take into account the interests of Negroes in only an incidental way. It was the Eisenhower Administration that saw the uneducated, under privileged Negro represented the greatest single aspect of manpower wastage in the United States.

To an economy dedicated to a doctrine of steady expansion, the unfitness of the quality of Negro labour power is an enormously inhibiting factor. This applies especially in the southern states, where  since the end of the second world war, there has been a rapid development and intense concentration of secondary industry, a phase in the history of the total economy which amounts to a second age of expansion. Indeed, the financial cost of local prejudice to the American capitalist class runs high. Enormous amounts of money are invested in the institutions and general facilities for education. This represents an investment in the quality of tomorrow's available exploitable labour power. That a large section of the working class should remain more or less unaffected by this preparation process is a costly economic absurdity.

The unfitness of the Negro for exploitation in a community geared to production of an increasingly complex technical nature is of critical relevance to the future of the American state, both economically and militarily. Reformist politicians who exercise power in the administration of capitalism are not men of principle but are flexible "realists," who react promptly to the needs of the moment. And though they may describe their ends and their motives in terms of glowingly humane moral appeals which are often hard to resist, ultimately their eye is on the fast buck and the military strength of the power they represent.

The question that Negroes must ask themselves is whether capitalism can accommodate all their needs and aspirations towards material security, the freedom and opportunity to develop their individuality and the realisation of harmonious integration with the rest of humanity.

Capitalism cannot give the working class of any colour material security. Its entire method of producing and distributing wealth is based on a system of sale for profit and there can be no security in a distribution system that overrides human needs in favour of the vagaries of market demands. A system that always includes the risk of creating unemployment and so shutting off the provision of material necessities. Even the earning of a regular wage is not enough to provide these necessities for individual needs from birth until death.

The part of this Negro protest demanding scope for the development of individuality cannot be realised within capitalism, the very basis of which is the exploitation of man by man. The contribution of the individual to society through his work is made under capitalism the very means by which he is being brought under economic subjection. Under the duress of his poverty, the worker is forced to sell his physical energies to an employer for wages. The very essence of his individual existence, his power to labour socially, is brought under the control of another, his employer, in exchange for wages. How then can any wage worker of any colour, who donates his whole life in the employ of other men, who works most waking hours of most of his working life at the direction of other men, possibly develop individuality?

Again, capitalism can never provide the Negro with his dream of true social integration. Because capitalism is based on the ethic of material interest at the expense of other men, it inevitably must remain a divided society. There can be no social integration for any man whatever his colour where there is no genuine world wide community of interests and where almost every aspect of social life is in vicious competition, individual against individual, group against group, nation against nation.

It is vital that sooner or later Negroes should transcend any strong identification they have with what they may regard as an exclusively "Negro" interest. At the moment, at least in America, this is made extremely difficult for them. In a hundred and one ways, American life drives the Negro into insularity and narrow fugitive attitudes, and to some extent, especially where democratic rights are concerned, their views can be understood.

At the same time, it must be remembered that there are no solutions to the problems of this world that hold out hope to any particular section of men without holding out hope at the same time to all men. Individuals have had the courage and the generosity to rise above the embittering agony of their recent history. James Baldwin writes ‘I am not a nigger—I am a man.’ We equally wish to simplify things and join in the refutation of ‘ Niggers,’ ‘ Yids,’ ‘ Wogs,’ ‘ Proddydogs,’ ‘Jocks’ and ‘White Trash’. We too want to celebrate —Man.
Pieter Lawrence

Hard Work (1954)

From the April 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many of the opponents of the Socialist Party of Great Britain often tell us in defence of present-day society, that hard work is the keynote of success in the modern world; and they go on to illustrate this argument with pictorial descriptions of the lives of those wonderful self-made men, within whose illustrious ranks we find Lord Nuffield, Ford, Dawson and Sir Bernard Docker. Indeed to listen to some of our opponents the lives of these men read like Hans Andersen fairy stories.

It is one of the tragedies of life, that many members of the working class cannot see the fallacy in this argument. They believe that they too can emulate the success of that figure of British big business, Mr. George Dawson. They see themselves holidaying on the French Riviera, dining at the Ritz, and driving from place to place in luxury cars.

The reasons for this attitude of mind are not far to find. In almost every facet of our daily lives we are subjected to as intense a barrage of propaganda as could be imagined. The ideas of hard work and success are pumped at us in our newspapers, from the radio and television, and at the cinema; they are as inescapable as death itself.

To a member of the working class, hard work can be guaranteed to bring one thing, a great desire for rest and sleep. What foundation of success is laid by the man digging a hole in the road? Reaching Australia perhaps? Does the cotton worker find that hard work breed success? Far from it. He finds he has worked so hard that he has produced a glut of goods and ended up in the dole queue. For every George Dawson or Lord Nuffield there are millions of men and women whose sweat and energies have entitled them to one thing; a place on the old-age pension register, with the prospect of receiving some paltry weekly sum, which is hardly sufficient to keep them in tobacco, let alone provide the necessities of life.

Hard work offers no solution to the problems of the working class, for the only real solution is the abolishment of the causes of these problems; of war, poverty and insecurity. It is the very nature of society which is to blame—a society which invests the ownership and control of industry upon one section of society and brings the rest to a state of relative poverty. A society where things are produced not for use solely but for sale at a profit. A society which pits man against man and nation against nation, leaving a trail of wars, booms and slumps.

Only when things are commonly owned, when goods are produced only to satisfy the needs and desires of men and women, when wars no longer ravage the face of the earth, when man will really be brother unto man; only then, under Socialism, will man inherit his rightful heritage. Let's work hard for that.
Michael Gill

Cooking the Books: Organised waste (2011)

The Cooking the Books Column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last September the French Friends of the Earth published a study of “L’obsolescence programmée”. In his 1960 book The Waste Makers Vance Packard mentioned Brooks Stevens, a well-known industrial designer of the time, as one of those favouring the practice. In the February 1960 issue of The Rotarian Stevens quoted from the Weekly People, the paper of the SLP of America:
“But there is another form of waste that is deliberately planned by the capitalists, and which the outspoken among them openly admit is essential to their prosperity. It is called planned obsolescence, or forced obsolescence. This consists of a deliberate scheme, carried out by means of advertising and product design, to persuade people to become dissatisfied with what they have purchased a year or two ago, and to throw it away before it is worn out.”
He replied that obsolete items such as cars were not in fact thrown away but were bought by people who couldn’t afford to buy a new car. His other argument was that it provided jobs. As he had already claimed in 1958: “Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence, and everybody who can read without moving his lips should know it by now. We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make these products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete.”
Stevens had a point about cars and to some extent about some other goods such as fridges, washing machines and TV sets, but that some people are so poor as to have to rely for basic appliances on second-hand, shoddy stuff is itself a criticism of capitalism. According to the French study, some new goods are not much better:
“The search for a low price takes place to the detriment of the solidity and quality of appliances. This is flagrant for other current consumer goods such as textiles, but also affects household electrical appliances: some drums in washing machines are not made of metal today but of plastic, which increases their fragility.”
This provides a clue about why capitalism has recourse to “planned obsolescence”. It’s to provide cheap goods for wage and salary workers so as to keep wages down. To argue that “our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence” is wrong. The organised waste that planned obsolescence represents does take place under capitalism and the fact that it does is part of the case against capitalism, but capitalism is not kept going by repeat sales of goods consumed by workers.
In fact capitalism is not kept going by consumer demand at all as this is only a consequence of what does keep it going – the accumulation of capital out of profits extracted from wage-labour and converted into money through sales on a market. Consumer demand represents for the most part what workers and their dependents are able to buy out of their wages and salaries, and goes up and down with the level of employment which in its turn depends on capital accumulation.
There is no technical reason why solid and reliable electric and electronic appliances with easily changeable and compatible parts and able to incorporate innovations could not be produced. Industrial designers would surely love to do this but under capitalism it is the marketing department that calls the shots, as what is being produced are not simply products to be used, but commodities to be sold on a market with a view to profit.