Sunday, June 14, 2015

Abandon The Idols. (1923)

From the May 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The need for knowledge, lest we be duped, is constantly forced upon us. The clergyman tells us the ins and outs of the twilight land—and takes our humble offerings. The doctor doses us for complaints for which we do not suffer—and takes our humble pence. The lawyer assures us that our case is worth fighting, drains us of what little money we have, then finds our case too weak to contest. The average politician asks for our trust, and promises to cure our social ills; experience afterwards informs us that we have been "sold again."

Where knowledge is possessed in these different directions, how altered is the position! Knowledge of the laws of nature frees is from the clergyman's assistance; unnecessary medical attention; knowledge of the laws of "Justice" enables us to instruct the lawyer; and knowledge of the laws of society enables us to appreciate the limits of the politician's power.

There are limits to the quantity of knowledge each individual can acquire, but one department is open to all to acquire sufficient to free them from dependence upon self-appointed guides. As far as the worker is concerned, that department is connected with his position in society and the method whereby it can be improved.

It has become a habit for the worker, in his struggle for better conditions, to depend upon the instructions of individuals supposedly possessing to an unusual degree the intelligence necessary for conducting the struggle in the best way. This dependence generally consists of a blind trust in a "leader," and a faithful carrying out of his instructions wheresoever they may lead. The disasters that constantly accompany this idol worship eventually bring about the fall of one popular idol, only to leave room for another. The position is further complicated by a war among the idols for the favours attached to leadership.

A case in point, with regard to idol worship, is that of J. H. Thomas, whose popularity at present among railwaymen is probably greater than ever, in spite of the disasters that have accompanied the policies he put forward and his openly boasted friendship with the railwaymen's opponents.

As long as the first place in the minds of the workers is occupied by this blind and unreasoning trust in another to accomplish that which one can accomplish readily and satisfactorily oneself, the condition of the majority of the people will continue one of slavery and misery.

Ideas that have been fixed in the mind by habit are difficult to remove. When such ideas serve the interests of a ruling class, their removal becomes still more difficult. The idea of "Leadership" is of the latter kind. Born of the delegation of function in early societies it has grown into the slavish habit of placing the hands of a popular idol the power to settle the affairs of large groups almost as he wishes. Times innumerable, these popular leaders have used this influence to put their followers at the mercy of the enemy. In the London Transport Strike of 1911 the workers held out for some time, in spite of going hungry for weeks, and, when finally the proposition to resume work was put before them, they voted it down by a large majority. Immediately after the result was announced, Tillett, Jones and Gosling signed the agreement that sent the dockers back to work under worse conditions than before the strike.

The leadership idea has cursed the working class movement from the beginning. At an earlier period those supporting the ideas had motives of benevolence, its later supporters have  also benevolent motives—but the benevolence is directed towards themselves. They make stepping stones of their followers to reach comfort and security.

In France, in 1793, Babeuf and his friends sacrificed their fortunes and lives in the attempt to relieve the misery of the mass of oppressed. The method was a sudden attack upon the central seat of power by a courageous and determined minority. Once the centre of power was captured, the conspirators were to issue the regulations that were to guide the people in the formation of the new society. Whether the mass of the people wished it or not, they were to be forced into the new regime. The energetic minority were to hold on to the power they had grasped until such times as the mass of people understood and accepted the new social regulations.

Babeuf's intentions were excellent, but his method was rotten at the root. Instead of first getting the mass of the people to understand and desire the new programme, he proposed to force it upon the, from without. The idea being that the intellectual few knew better what was good for the masses, than the masses did themselves.

Later, Blanqui, also a Frenchman, attempted to carry out Babeuf's idea, modified in the light of experience by altering the form of the secret organisation. Leadership of the many by the enlightened few was still the basis of the movement. In May, 1839, and again in May, 1848, Blanqui led an attaclkon the seat power, but his attempts were crowned with as little success as Babeuf's. He also had good intentions, and paid for them by spending nearly half of his life in prison.

In 1836, an association of working men were formed in London that blossomed out into the first national movement of wage workers. This association took the name of "The London Workingmen's Association" and published an address, the concluding words of which put forward a new outlook for the oppressed, telling them to have done with leaders and trust only in themselves:
"Be assured that the good there is to be must be begun by ourselves."—(Lovett's Autobiography.)
Marx has put the case more definitely, as follows:
"The emancipation of the working-class must be the work of the working-class itself."
Here the essence of the position is stated. Leaders, no matter how energetic, courageous, or good intentioned, cannot introduce fundamental social changes that the mass of the people do not understand. This, quite apart from the fact that fundamental social changes are not the work of this or that individual, but are the result of economic development, and are accomplished under the direction of the social group that will benefit by the social change.

In working out his emancipation, the worker must study the conditions that surround and oppress him. He must look to "great principles." and not to "great men" in his struggles. The great man view breeds arguments as to whether this man is a good leader, or that man a bad. The energy that should be given to a study of principles is wasted in endless arguments over idols; and apathy and discouragement often follow the finding of the idol's feet of clay.

He who would enter the land of promise, must first cut his path to the gate. A little study of elementary principles will clear off the brambles that strew the way. Armed with knowledge the worker can direct his organisation himself, and will then abandon the slavish worship of leaders.

Commodity Struggle or Class Struggle? (1920)

From the November 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is an old view still floating about that only workers who are class-conscious and organised politically for the overthrow of capitalism take part in the class struggle, and that the average worker, who is not class-conscious, takes no part in the struggle, being simply a commodity seller.

Ideas don’t fall down from the sky but are drawn from the material at hand, consequently the idea of the class struggle must have existed before we could become conscious of it. Therefore the class unconscious must have waged the class struggle in the first place, so why cannot the class unconscious still take part in it?

Those who contend that the class struggle only exists where there are class-conscious workers, and then only between the class-conscious and the ruling class, are driven to support the absurd position that the class struggle is imposed on society, that instead of ideas being the product of material conditions, material conditions are the product of ideas—the utopian view.

In spite of contentions to the contrary, no individual with a mighty brain came on the scene possessed with the brilliant idea of imposing the class struggle on society and ordering the combatants to line up and get on with it. The combatants were there; the struggle existed; but whereas formerly it was fought blindly, now some of the combatants, having a clear knowledge of the position, fight with understanding, and therefore to far better purpose.

While there is a similarity between the worker coming upon the market to sell his commodity and the average capitalist coming upon the market to sell his wares, yet there are essential differences—the differences that breed the class struggle. There are opposing interests between buyers and sellers of commodities—sectional interests—but there is a class struggle between buyers and sellers of the workers commodity and class interest enters the matter. It is a class commodity that the worker sells, not an ordinary commodity, and it is in his capacity as a member of the master class, as opposed to the working class, that the capitalist buys it. The workers combine among themselves to sell their commodity (labour power) as high as possible—the masters combine among themselves to buy it as low as possible. The worker cannot make a profit out of the sale of his labour power, he can only live more or less well. The capitalist, on the other hand, buys labour-power to make a profit out of its consumption. It is out of the consumption of labour-power that all surplus wealth is derived.

The interests of the workers as sellers of labour-power and the interests of the capitalists as buyers thereof are diametrically opposed, and so are the ideas with which each class sets out. The main objective of the capitalist is buying to sell—investing capital. The main objective of the worker is selling to buy—selling his energy to obtain the wherewithal to live.

The commodity the worker sells is the basis of value, and consequently the amount of surplus value the buyers of it obtain is determined by the difference between the value of the labour-power and the value produced by using that labour power.

The value of the labour-power, however, is determined by its cost of production, which depends upon, among other things, the standard of living social development and physical surroundings have handed down. Around the question of the standard of living a constant struggle goes on. This struggle is peculiar only to the labour-power commodity and this peculiarity bears fruit in the form of the class struggle.

Workers and masters meet upon the market as equals only in the sense that they are both either sellers or buyers of commodities—but here the equality ends. The worker is bound to sell his commodity or starve; he can’t go into a refrigerator, and it is this fact that binds the worker to a status of slavery—it is this fact that illustrates the sham nature of the “equality” of buyers and sellers so far as the labour-power commodity is concerned.

As soon as a child of the working class enters employment he takes a part, however insignificant it may be, in the class struggle. This struggle, in its early stages, is not a struggle for the overthrow of the system; nevertheless, it is a class struggle—the struggle of a class for existence. Ultimately this struggle develops into the struggle for the overthrow of the class that suppresses. In other words, the industrial struggle, the struggle to resist the encroachments of capital (the early form of the class struggle) develops of necessity into the political struggle, the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. It is out of actual class struggle experience that knowledge of it, and of the method with which to wage it, is obtained.

To sum the matter up:

The labour-power commodity is like all other commodities in that it is bought and sold upon the market, its value being determined by the cost of production, around which the higgling of the market allows its price to fluctuate.

It is unlike all other commodities in that it is the commodity of a subject class sold to a dominant class, and further in that the standard of living, an historical element, enters into the question of its cost of production.

It is these two fundamental distinctions that make the matter a class conflict as apart from the ordinary matter of the competitive buying and selling of commodities.

The modern class struggle presents two aspects. On the one side the struggle to sell labour-power under the best conditions—the industrial struggle for wages and hours of labour; on the other side the struggle for the overthrow of the wages system—the political struggle for Socialism. The un-class conscious worker takes part in the former but only the class conscious worker takes part in the latter.

The class struggle is, therefore, both industrial and political—the latter being its ultimate, its revolutionary, form.

‘Bandh’ Strikes: Not the Answer (2015)

From the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
A statement on the one-day general strike tactic, commonly applied by political parties there, from the World Socialist Party of India.
In this era of capitalism's decadence the general strike (or ‘bandh’) for more reforms or mere protest is futile. It has lost its edge. Its usefulness has become ineffective vis-à-vis world level productive abundance. It is not the answer to the problems produced by the potential and from time to time actual ‘epidemic of overproduction’ (Communist Manifesto) that is prevalent today.
During its rising phase capitalism, i.e. the capital/wage labour relation, was spreading out by swallowing up antiquated pre-capitalist economic relations and transforming the feudal social classes into two great modern antagonist classes – the minority collective capitalist class vis-à-vis the majority collective working class – or as in recent parlance 1 percent vs. 99 percent. Feudal relations of production were giving way to the capitalist relations of production. The capitalist class got the working class to help them to accomplish their historic assignment of socio-economic and political change, which had been effectively accomplished by the beginning of the last century.
Until that juncture, despite ongoing exploitation and periodical economic crises – booms and slumps – the working class had benefited from some overall rise in real wages at the expense of profits in this phase. Thereafter, despite periodical rises in real wages in times of booms, their relative wage i.e. their share in the total global wealth they produce in relation to that of the capitalist class, has tended to fall. From then onwards the task of making history has become the exclusive responsibility of the working class, since the productive forces have outgrown the capitalist relations of production, signifying that the way of life under capitalism has grown old, antiquated, causing extreme inequality, harrowing austerity, unrelenting impoverishment, abysmal poverty and dehumanizing suffering for members of the great producer class. You cannot rejuvenate capitalism with its own rules, but can only understand it; it is anachronistic; it has become utterly reactionary; it has to be done away with lock stock and barrel; it has to be abandoned on the dumping ground of history.
The wasted century of Leninism
The working class, the class that has the power (pending unity) and the means (organisation and ballot) to change the world, has transiently lost their revolutionary vision and wisdom generally in the blind alley of Leninism, and in the quagmire of leftism. They have, for now, due mainly to the Leninist distraction, forgotten about the responsibility which history has conferred upon them. Leninism has been a deadly infectious blight over all revolutionary principles and messages of Marxism which declared: ‘the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class’ (Communist Manifesto). Leninism has utterly distorted the lessons of history and kept the working class under the servitude of capital in general and of all-powerful overweening dictatorships in particular. Up until now this class-collaborationist ‘vulgar socialism’ (state capitalism) has stolen over a century from genuine socialism’s life. As far as human freedom is concerned, a century has been lost.
So, now without further delay, the working class has to tear off the snare of Leninism- reformism, ruthlessly criticise and reject all reformist maneuvers as useless and organise world socialist parties and groups everywhere for self-emancipation and thereby the emancipation of the whole humanity from the clutch of the division into classes. The working class is the producer class; we produce, store and distribute everything needed to sustain society; we secure, defend, protect and run the society and the state. Then why should we beg anything from our exploiter and oppressor parasites who actually are takers, and not givers? We can get everything we need simply by taking possession of the entire affairs of life. We have to become class-conscious and united for socialism here and now. Why should we settle for anything less when abundance is knocking at the door? Abundance for all, that is socialism. However, the task of taking possession of abundance remains pending. Its historical taker – the working class is still lacking this revolutionary will. Hence decadence.
Unsold stocks
The all-round application of science and technology has created potential abundance and, from time to time, unsold overstocks at world level, on the one hand, and devastating unemployment on the other. Then goods remain unsold; means of production and machines remain idle, while work-hands remain jobless. This situation has become a regular problem for the global capitalist class. In their ultra-modern factories, farms and workplaces a continually decreasing number of workers are daily producing huge amounts of goods and services and adding to the already existing potential and actual plenty.
Under this circumstance a bandh can sometimes actually bring some relief for the capitalist class, by helping them to relinquish at least a part of their overstocking, and in two ways. Firstly, as the people have to live on during the strike period, when shops too are closed, they will require to buy and store food and all other necessaries for consumption whereby a part of the overstocking will be sold out before the strike begins; secondly, during the strike period production will remain suspended making no further addition to the stocks. Moreover, the daily wage workers, i.e. the lowest strata of the collective working class become hard hit owing to their loss of wages; they become more impoverished. Further, a bandh called by the leaders of some minority group, party or parties (as is often the case) boils down to an imposition on all, including those disinclined, hence is undemocratic. In addition, during the strike period people have to remain confined at homes due to absence of any transport, but the capitalist government bosses are at liberty to move about and deploy the armed forces as they deem necessary.
Beyond reformism
Therefore the working class has to raise their consciousness and organisation, beyond and above their ongoing conservative, defensive and reformist state, to revolutionary consciousness and organisation, breaking through the barriers of reformism. They ought ‘to win the battle of democracy’ (Communist Manifesto) through political class struggle. They ought to turn themselves from their present status as a class-in-itself into a revolutionary class-for-itself as an independent political party and peacefully and democratically seize political power state-wise and worldwide. They must self-organise and take decisive political action via universal suffrage, via ballots sending mandated and re-callable MPs as socialist delegates to the parliaments to make the one historical declaration: annulment of all property and territorial rights and all that is on and in the Earth will become the common heritage of the whole humanity.
The basis of the society that Marx envisaged as going to replace capitalism will be: ‘an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common’ (chapter 1 of Capital); ‘a co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production’ (Critique of the Gotha Programme); ‘abolition of private property’, ‘the Communistic abolition of buying and selling’, ‘the conversion of the functions of the State into a mere superintendence of production’ (Communist Manifesto); and ‘abolition of the wages system’ (Value, Price and Profit). In short, a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless, leaderless society based on the common ownership of the means of production and articles for distribution.
Binay Sarkar

Success (2003)

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Living in a consumer society tends to make us measure our own success not in terms of genuine happiness but in terms that are mainly decided by the ad men and women of this world. They sell by getting into our brains and creating a false universe of dream houses, sunny days, sexy nights and beautiful cars; planting ideas of what we think will make us feel better, make us a feel successful, liberated and free. That's the deal – "buy this product and it will make you feel good about yourself. Life will be better."

We've all done it – at least I certainly have. I see a BMW on the box and want one; not because I need one as I have a perfectly good car already. No, although a BMW is a very nice car, I am not actually interested in the car – it's the dream that comes with it. That drive through the twisty roads of the Italian hills on a sunny evening. A warm breeze blows and I drive swiftly, quietly along, feeling as successful as hell. That is how they sell.

But of course it's a myth. You buy your brand spankers BMW and six weeks later the dream has not materialised and you have become no happier than you were before you bought it. Your life has not become one endless round of trips to Italy and you have not suddenly become an overnight success. You've been conned. You may turn the envious head, but your dream machine has no more turned you into a sex magnet than it has knocked ten years off you.

The trouble is that we have forgotten how to measure our success in our own terms. Instead, we have fallen for the IKEA, BMW, flat screen, and NICAM Digital Stereo ad-man's version of what will make us successful and happy. And if we are to measure success in terms of how happy we are then I would bet a BMW to a DVD player that most of us have failed to succeed and are, for the most part, unhappy with our lot.

So, what is success? How do we measure it? How do we obtain it in a society that has fetishised it and distorted the term? For myself I measure success in terms of "Am I happy?" and "if not, why not, and what can I do about it?"

Many institutions use assessment methods to see if they are succeeding in the goals they have set for themselves or which have been set for them – schools, hospitals and councils among them. But both here in the UK and in some towns in the US they are starting to use such assessment in a totally new manner. Rather than a town simply measuring its success in terms of "Did we stay within budget for the new police station?" and other forms of bean-counting, they are asking the people – yes, that's right, the people – to say what they think would make that town a success – in terms of happiness.

People have responded with such things as wanting more vegetarian restaurants, a safer and less polluted environment where children can play, more people using the library, to be able to sit in the park and hear no traffic noise and to have ducks and swans on the local river. Simple things, really. In follow-up surveys, once some or all of these goals had been achieved, people responded saying they felt a lot happier.

And I guess that's my point here. The admen have made us forget how to measure our own level of happiness and how to improve it. I refer to the simple things in life, sitting by a river in peace and quiet, perhaps sharing a chat with a friend, socialising with peers, and the laughter of children. Instead we have fallen wholesale for the empty promises that are sold to us, of happiness bought over the counter, and all in the name of profit. We have forgotten that real success is to feel and be free, to know community and mutual respect, to co-operate because you want to be helpful and not because it makes you a couple of quid.

Trouble is, they keep selling the lie and we keep buying it. Success and happiness is not a BMW; it is a world where we don't kill one another for the profit of others, where we do not measure a person by their wealth, but where we share a world we all own, where we work together to enhance and protect it. A world in which we all have become successful is one in which we work for the common good because we want to, taking from the communal stockpile of wealth according to our own needs. Sitting back by a river and listening to bird song and watching the swans after a day of work you enjoyed because you wanted to do it, safe in the knowledge you live in a world without waste and want and war – that's success. A world away from money, profit, ad-men, and their empty dreams.
Carol Taylor