Wednesday, June 17, 2015

American Tour (1961)

Party News from the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the beginning of September I visited the World Socialist Party Conference in Boston as a delegate from the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The Conference lasted two days and the subjects that came up, concerning reviews of past activities and methods of improvement and increasing propaganda efforts in various directions, were discussed at considerable length, with enthusiasm and also, at times, with some heat! Owing to the vast distances between branches and groups over there the delegation present was of necessity not large.

At the outset taped and written greetings from all over the world were heard and read. Then various reports of the year's work were given. These showed a 100 per cent increase in subscriptions to the Western Socialist, an increase in the number of articles coming in for the paper, and a general resurgence in activity, particularly in Canada. The sending out of letters to Libraries and Colleges during the year had brought excellent results. A proposal to produce two new Pamphlets, one on the Materialist Conception of History and the other on The WSP: What it Stands For, was referred to the Editorial Committee for attention.

A Conference Social was held at a member's house on the evening of the first day of conference. It was a very pleasant, comradely and lively affair, attended by about fifty members and friends.

On September 5th I left for Detroit, accompanied by comrades Rab and Orner, and we held three meetings there. They were small but interesting with plenty of questions. On the fourth evening there was a meeting at which a proposal to form a discussion group was agreed to. I have since learnt that the discussion group has made a very good start, at a place that has been rented, and a large number of interested people are attending it. The members concerned have put in a lot of time and energy to ensure its success. It appears to me that it is a method that could be widely copied.

On September 9th I left for Vancouver and Victoria—Comrades Rab and Orner going on to Chicago. On the morning of the 11th I was given a long newspaper interview in Victoria and a brief TV interview—it was cut short because of mechanical difficulties during the recording. The next day there was a good meeting in Victoria with plenty of questions and some opposition. There was a short disturbance at this meeting on account of the interruptions of a local celebrity. However this resulted in some considerable newspaper publicity.

After the Victoria meeting I went up the coast of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo, about 80 or so miles. I had an interview with the editor of the local paper and spoke at a meeting in the evening—not very well as I was feeling very tired. However there were interesting questions, particularly from some young people and discussion. Comrade Stafford, a man 84 years old, proposes to run classes there—he writes regularly to local papers. After the meeting we had a hectic drive back to Victoria, arriving at 2 a.m.

The next meeting I spoke at was in Port Alberni, about 40 miles beyond Nanaimo. This was also a small but good meeting. One or two people came a long way to it. There was also an excellent report of the meeting in the local paper. The following day, Saturday, I left Port Alberni for Vancouver.

Before finishing with Vancouver Island I must express my appreciation of the excellent work being done there by Comrades Luff, Jenkins, Tickner and Poirier. The last three just swept me off my feet with their energy—they travelled to Nanaimo and Port Alberni to post bills and distribute leaflets advertising the meetings, as well as arranging for newspaper interviews and attending the meetings. They also received considerable help from sympathisers.

On September 16th I left Port Alberni for Vancouver. Comrades J. and M. Ahrens, Watkins and Cannon had been busy with Radio, TV, and the newspapers. In spite of strenuous efforts they were unable to get me on TV, but succeeded with Radio. They also sent out 150 letters advertising the meeting there and asking for financial support—they got in over 200 dollars.

I had a ten minute interview on the Radio—Webster's Channel, and appeared on "Town Meeting"—a radio meeting that I understand goes across Canada and down into the northern part of the States. This was probably the best part of the tour. I appeared with three others—budding MP's—and we each had to supply a copy of the script which we read at the meeting. Mine lasted about nine minutes. Then we were given a short time to answer each other. After a short break in the radio whilst questions were collected from the audience, we each answered questions put to us by the audience, and then were given a short time to sum up. The studio was crowded with about 135 people and the subject we were speaking on was "What Future has Socialism in Canada".

The meeting that had been arranged in Vancouver was not large but there were plenty of questions and discussion. At the end of the Vancouver visit, Comrades J. and M. Ahrens took me for a long week-end to a bungalow they had built in the mountains where I was re-vitalised for the rest of the tour. I should add that the members are making strenuous efforts to get an open air meeting place in Stanley Park.

On September 26th I left for Winnipeg. There were two meetings there but the attendance was not good—possibly because the weather was perishing cold,  about 20 degrees. However I was glad to renew acquaintance with old members and sympathisers there, who went out of their way to make my stay as pleasant as possible—and it certainly was, in spite of the cold! Winnipeg has changed over the years. Old members have died or moved west and south-west, leaving the others to carry on under great difficulties. Some of those who left were active speakers.

On October 2nd I left for Toronto and Comrades S. and G. Catt and Comrade Brodie met me at the airport—literally falling on my neck! They are very much isolated there, but are doing a very good job stirring things up. An open discussion group has been formed not connected with any political party in which every week one of the members reads a paper, which is then discussed. I was invited to address the group. After I had opened up, questions were addressed to me for about 1½ hours, and then there was discussion. The business started around 8.30 p.m. and finished at 11.30 p.m. It seems to me to be a well worthwhile effort. There are 21 members of the group and another 16 wish to participate.

On October 5th I left for Montreal late at night. Comrades George and Karla Ellenbogen have recently gone to live there and started stirring things up. I stayed with them, and the morning after my arrival the fun started. In the course of the morning three newspaper interviews were given and two TV. The whole of it lasted over 4 hours. Two leading French newspapers gave excellent reports running to about 1½ columns. There were also three English newspaper reports and one in the McGill University paper. The meeting in Montreal was excellent with plenty of questions and discussion. There should soon be a branch of the Socialist Party of Canada there and also in Toronto. I should also add that I was taken on an excellent trip to the Laurentian mountains about 100 miles north and south along the Richelieu river. The autumnal colours were very good.

On October 10th I left for New York. There again I was glad to renew acquaintance with old members I had met on previous visits—including Comrade Orner, who is endowed with superlative energy. The meeting there was better than on my previous visits. The questions were slow in coming but there was plenty of discussion. I met a number of sympathisers, including a seaman who had met our comrades in London at the Russian Exhibition, and now wanted to join the WSP which shows how seeds sown at a venture can flower in distant places.

The New York members of the WSP meet regularly and open-air meetings are being held in Greenwich Village.

On October 14th I left for Boston. Comrade Morrison had worked like a trojan and got me in two Radio programmes—one over the phone. Both were quite good - one lasted nearly a quarter of an hour and I have brought the tape of it back with me. Unfortunately Boston had received reports that I was in a bad way physically (in fact I was in excellent condition!) so they did not go out their way much to advertise the meeting there. There was a good attendance of members and sympathisers. I gave a talk on the tour. Arising out of something I had said (nothing to do with the tour) there was an excellent discussion relating to war and the H-Bomb, in which there were contrasting views expressed.

There is a great deal I have missed out of this report on account of the limitations of space, and many members and sympathisers who gave me a warm greeting, but whose names I have had to leave out. I would like them all to know how much I appreciate what they did for me.

During the last weeks in America I stayed with the Rabs, and I have to thank them for the warmth of their hospitality and the way they put themselves out to see that I had rest and recreation, including some lovely trips to see the magnificent autumn plumage—I have never seen anything like it before. Members here will also be glad to know that Comrade Gloss is well again and back in harness. He sends his greetings to all he met here on his visit (so also do Comrades Rab and Milne) and hopes to make another visit soon.

Finally I found in the States and Canada plenty of sympathy for our outlook, as shown in the questions and discussions, much more than on my previous two visits, and the future for Socialism is certainly brightening up on the other side of the Atlantic.

The nature of Russian capitalism (1986)

Book Review from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Soviet Union Demystified by Frank Furedi, (Junius Publications, 1986, £5.95)

This book is not as bad as its front cover - a mystifying photo of Russia's first post-Tsarist dictator Lenin stroking a cat - suggests, even if it is written by a member of the Trotskyite sect, the "Revolutionary Communist Party". The author's knowledge of Russian has allowed him access to first-hand sources about the way the Russian system works and some interesting facts are to be gleaned here and there, but all this is undermined by the mistaken conclusions he draws from these facts.

Nowadays the original trotskyist nonsense about Russia being a "degenerate workers' state" is so absurd that most modern trotskyites dare not defend it; instead they argue that Russia is some new form of society that is neither capitalist nor a "workers' state" (whatever this contradiction in terms might be) and this is the basic thesis of this book.

Furedi gives as some of the reasons why Russia cannot be described as capitalist that labour power is not a commodity. He claims: "Soviet workers do not sell their labour power - labour power is not a commodity, and there is no market in labour". But if this is the case then it is not legitimate even to talk of there existing in Russia a working class in the Marxian sense of a propertyless class forced to sell its labour power for a wage or salary in order to live. The producers in Russia would then have to be described as "state slaves" or "industrial serfs" or some other term denoting their position in the new, non-capitalist social system that supposedly existed there.

But Furedi does not go this far and continues to speak of a working class existing in Russia. This is a concession to the facts which undermines the whole of the rest of his theory. No one can deny that there exists in Russia a class of people who are excluded from ownership and control of the means of production and who, in a monetary economy, depend for their survival on the money received from the sale of their mental and physical energies. It is true that the labour (power) market in Russia is not as free as in some other countries — though even Furedi himself cites evidence that enterprises in Russia compete for labour power by offering higher wages and fringe benefits — but workers still sell the only commodity they possess, their ability to work, even if this is restricted by state intervention. It is, if you like, a state-controlled labour market, but a labour market nevertheless. That the Russian producers work for money-wages and that what they produce over and above the value of these wages is appropriated by another group within society is the basis of the Russian economic and social system and a sufficient reason for describing it as capitalist. In fact the terms "wages system" and "capitalist system" are merely alternative ways of describing the same system.

Furedi gets into similar difficulties over the nature of the ruling "group" (to employ a neutral term for the moment) in Russia. According to him, the "bureaucracy" (which corresponds more or less to the famous "nomenklatura") is neither a class nor the caste orthodox Trotskyites describe it as being, but a "political order". He bases this on his view that the bureaucracy has no economic but only  a political, oppressive role within Russian society. But this too is patently absurd: the group which stands between the working class and the means of production and which, indeed, forcibly excludes the workers from these means is said to have no economic role! As a group which monopolises the means of production to the exclusion of the rest of society, the "bureaucracy" is clearly a class in the Marxian sense and as a group which presides over, and benefits from, the accumulation of capital out of the surplus value pumped from the working class through the wages system it is a capitalist class.

In so far as its monopoly rests on its direct control of the state rather than on legal property titles vested in its members individually, it is a collective capitalist class best described as a "state capitalist class", to distinguish it from the species of private capitalists more common in the West. But it is just as much an exploiting, privileged class and Russia is just as much a capitalist country as those which openly admit and proclaim this.
Adam Buick