Thursday, June 25, 2015

Letter from Ireland (1964)

From the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrades, here is a brief outline of the activities undertaken by the World Socialist Party in Northern Ireland since their "Seven Days for Socialism" campaign last October. Immediately following the Belfast Branch arranged a series of lectures putting the Socialist attitude on aspects of capitalism. Every member of the branch took an active part in carrying out this programme, and every effort was made to bring the public in. The series produced some new, good speaking talent.

Regular outdoor meetings were maintained every Sunday at Customs House Square until the first week in December when bad weather set in. These meetings will be resumed as soon as possible. The canvassing of the SOCIALIST STANDARD in the slumland of Belfast has been maintained. The branch has discussed methods of increasing its efforts in this direction.

The Armagh Branch has also maintained its SOCIALIST STANDARD sales drive into surrounding areas despite a multitude of obstacles. The World Socialist Party is well known but unfortunately for the purposes of debate, well ostracised. This branch has recently been strengthened by the return of our Comrade Carson (late Coventry member) who should give added force to their activities.

What of the immediate future? A series of lectures on Marxism commenced in January and the debate between the W.S.P. of Ireland and the N.C.L.C. took place. (Details of this in the next News Letter). In the forthcoming local elections the W.S.P. intend to field five candidates. This will make them the third largest party in the contest. Quite a lot of local publicity should follow.

It is intended to run a Summer School this year. However, it is much too early to give any clear details. The necessary information will be given in due course to all Companion Parties.

That about sums it up. It only remains to convey Belfast's greetings to comrades everywhere and to return to the job of demolishing capitalism.
D.J. McCarthy (Belfast)

Syndicalism (1982)

From the November 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever its theoretical mistakes, syndicalism has a place in the history of the working class, especially in the "Latin" countries (France, Italy, Spain, South America).  Syndicalisme is in fact the French word for trade-unionism and it was in France, where it was known as "revolutionary syndicalism" to distinguish it from ordinary trade-unionism, that the doctrine originated. In 1906 the main French trade union grouping at that time, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), adopted the famous Charter of Amiens.

The doctrine is also sometimes called "anarcho-syndicalism" because many of its leading advocates were anarchists. The Charter of Amiens, however, which inspired similar trade-union movements in other countries, was not as "anarchist" as it is sometimes made out to be. It did not repudiate political action, as anarchists do, but merely said that political considerations should not enter into the trade union struggle as this would divide, and so weaken, workers in face of their employers. After stating that the very fact of having to work for wages imposes on workers "whatever their opinions or their political and philosophical views, the duty to belong to the essential grouping which is the trade union", it went on:
Therefore, so far as individual members are concerned, Congress declares complete freedom for every Trade Unionist to participate, outside of the trade organisation, in any forms of struggle in accordance with his political or philosophical views, confining itself only to asking him, in return, not to introduce into the trade union the opinions which he professes outside it.
This of course is a sound principle and has always been the basis of participation of individual members of the SPGB in trade unions. 

The original French CGT had an attitude towards the state — complete independence from it, as well as from all political parties — which was also correct. In their view, the role of a trade union was to defend working class wages and conditions through direct negotiations with employers and not by bringing pressure to bear on the state to pass reform measures. This elementary principle of trade unionism has been largely forgotten today (though not by socialists active in their unions). As a result the TUC in Britain, for instance, has become more of a reformist, than a trade union, organisation as well as becoming partially integrated into the state machine.

The great mistake of French syndicalism was its theory that capitalism could be overthrown by a more or less spontaneous general strike, whereas in fact this can only be done by a working class majority, which wants and understands socialism, taking democratic action. Syndicalism was also confused — and its remnants still are — over the nature of the society that should be established in place of capitalism. Its declaration, in the Charter of Amiens, that "the trade union, now a unit of resistance, will in the future be the unit of production and distribution, the basis of social organisation" was wrong, as it was to carry over into future society the occupational divisions of workers under capitalism. Socialism, as the word itself implies, is the ownership and control of the means of production by society as a whole. Trade union ownership and control, as implied by such syndicalist slogans as "the mines to the miners", would not be socialism.

Syndicalism died out as the predominant doctrine in France with the First World War, which a majority of CGT leaders and militants supported, and the Russian revolution, which most of the minority, mistakenly believed to be the overthrow of capitalism they had been working for.
Adam Buick

The Churches (1967)

Book Review from the July 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Churches and the Labour Movement by Stephen Mayor (Independent Press, 36s.)

A Red Flag flying from the tower of an English parish church, a "Socialist" Archbishop of Canterbury, and even more startling a "communist" Dean. These and similar things puzzled and intrigued people in the Thirties. They were always good for a headline in the Sunday papers, very useful in fact when more orthodox sensations were in short supply.

There was much alarmed speculation; 'was the C of E going Bolshie?" or "was this just another example of the decadence of the times?" Others built up false hopes that the bastions of privilege were being breached at least. All seemed to be amazed that they got away with it, and were not expelled from the Church.

There was in fact nothing particularly remarkable about all this, "Socialist" Bishops were by no means new. The Christian Socialist Movement, or rather a succession of movements with different titles but roughly the same aims, had existed from the early 19th century. They had been influenced by the theories of Fourier and Owen, and much of their earlier efforts were directed toward Co-operative schemes.

Their "Socialism" was in most cases a form of Radicalism, and they later played a part in the formation and growth of the Labour Party. The main stream was High Anglican and from the start they were wealthy and influential. Always small in numbers, their wealth and contacts gave them a say in affairs that belied their numbers.

Marx argued that the "movement arose from the guilty conscience of the upper classes": "Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat." However there was much sincerity, and no little self-sacrifice, by many of its members. There had been bitter opposition to them in the early days, but by this century they had become accepted as part of the scene.

This is one of many movements described in the book The Churches and the Labour Movement by Stephen Mayor. The author accepts all the usual definitions of class without question. He talks of working class, lower middle, middle and so on. His definition of the Labour Movement is just the Labour Party. He deals at great length with such subjects as the influence of various religious denominations on the Trade Unions, and gives a great deal of information on minor aspects of working class life in the 19th century.
Les Dale 

New Pamphlet: Socialist Principles Explained (1976)

From the March 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The original pamphlet under the title The Socialist Party of Great Britain—Its Principles and Policy was first published in 1934 and ran through four editions up to 1956. It has been out of stock since the mid-'sixties. Therefore this new pamphlet Socialist Principles Explained, is long overdue. It is completely re-written.

It is overdue also in the political sense as a counterblast to the confusion and total lack of principle, which characterize all the other political parties. They are all dedicated to the expedient of the moment. They all depend upon working-class apathy and political ignorance, to continue their mandate to run capitalism.

It speaks volumes for the great gulf of differences which separate the Party for Socialism from the reformist parties (whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist) that we, in 1976, enthusiastically proclaim the validity of our Principles, which were drawn up in 1904, while they cannot remember any further back than the last election and have no real commitment to anything they said last month.

Our Declaration of Principles identifies the class division in capitalist society. It shows why class antagonism must remain for as long as capitalism remains. It points to the ending of classes and class antagonism through the establishment  of common ownership of the means of production and distribution. It records the historic fact that capitalism is the last class system and repudiates all leadership. It makes clear the nature and function of the state machine and the need for a conscious working class to democratically gain political power in order to overthrow capitalism and thereby end political power. It shows that logically political parties must represent class interests and that no party can represent both the working class and the capitalist class, because their interests are conflicting. There can be only one Party expressing the interests of the workers.

The new pamphlet develops all these points with concise argument. For those countless people with a vague and emotional attachment to changing things and solving social problems, it sheds a flood of new light on the world because it supplies the answer and explains principles. As we say in the Preface, it is essential reading for those considering applying for membership. As only clear-thinking Socialists can work for Socialism, the most vital need is to spread Socialist understanding. This pamphlet makes a valuable contribution to that end.
Harry Baldwin 

Manchester Workers Crowd to Party Meetings (1939)

From the July 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those already acquainted with the Socialist Standard and the Socialist Party will know that until now all the editorial, propaganda and organisational work of the Party has been carried out on a purely voluntary basis. We have never concealed the fact that, as far as we are concerned, it was a case of making a virtue of necessity. For, although we have recognised for a long time the desirability, not say the necessity, of comrades devoting their full time to working for Socialism, we have never been in a position to make this possible.

For the first time in the history of the Party the energy and self-sacrifice of Party members and sympathisers has made possible the appointment, for an experimental period, of a full-time organiser-propagandist for the Provinces. During the last two weeks Comrade A. Turner has been in Manchester, and has been devoting his energies to propagating the case for Socialism, and in assisting the Manchester branch in its organisational work. In spite of the difficulties which are bound to arise in connection with what is for the Party a new venture, the results so far more than justify the most sanguine anticipations. If members and sympathisers of the Party could have witnessed, as the writer of these notes did, the keen and intelligent interest with which almost a 1,000 workers from the Fairey Aviation Works listened to the Socialist case; if they could have seen the smaller, but no less keenly interested audience at lunch-hour meetings outside the Manchester Tramways Dept. and finally, could have seen the large and attentive audiences that attended our Sunday afternoon and evening meetings in Platt Fields and Stevenson Square, their hearts would have leaped with joy!

But the results so far obtained have not been confined to well attended propaganda meetings. From quite reliable sources we know that the series of dinner-hour meetings held outside the works mentioned above has resulted in keen discussions of the Party's case within the works. Many workers who, until now, were ignorant even of the existence of the Party are debating with their workmates the policy of the Party in relation to war and the other social problems with which the workers of Manchester, as elsewhere, are faced.

At the last weekly meeting of the Manchester branch more visitors were in attendance than ever before in the history of the branch. As a result of special appeals and announcements we hope that this week's attendance will cause serious concern — to find the necessary accommodation! A series of lectures has been started, and will be given every Monday at 8.30 at the party rooms, 15a, Shudehill, Manchester. All readers of the Socialist Standard in Manchester and district are heartily invited to attend and bring along their friends.

Last, but by no means least, and in spite of the relatively unfavourable weather conditions, we have to report record sales of literature. During the fortnight Comrade Turner has been in Manchester, the branch, with his assistance, has managed to dispose of £5 2s. 6d. of literature.

This, then, is a brief, and we fear, inadequate report of the beginnings of an effort which it is hoped may become a permanent feature of our Party life. Here is something which is worth while, and which deserves and demands the whole-hearted support of every member and sympathiser of the Party. With the active, and above all, the financial support of all concerned, it will be possible to gave not only one full-time worker for Socialism, but many. What is now being done in Manchester can then also be done in every important industrial centre of Great Britain, and we shall the be an appreciable step forward in what is at the moment our most pressing task in the struggle for Socialism—the building of a strong Socialist Party.
Arthur Mertons

Police Spies and the Communist Movement (1930)

Editorial from the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 6th the American Communists organised a demonstration in Union Square, New York City. The police were ordered to clear the streets on the ground that the Communists had not obtained a permit for a parade. Five Communist leaders were arrested and the crowd were beaten up by the police with great brutality.

That, of course, is a common story. There is, however, an additional feature of some interest. The Police Commissioner, Mr. Grover Whalen, declared on the following day that he had his agents inside the Communist Party keeping him informed as to all their plans and the movements of their leaders. He was greatly amused because the uniformed police, in order not to give away the spies to the Communists, cracked their heads along with the others. Mr. Whalen has also supplied to employers the names of workers who are members of the Communist Party.

We refer to this because it illustrates once more the danger to the workers of organisations which advocate violence, and attempt to carry on illegal activities in the absurd belief that they can do so in secret. Illegal activities result invariably in some unfortunate workers falling into the hands of the authorities and paying with imprisonment for the dangerous policies of their leaders. In this country during recent months there have been several heavy sentences on workers caught distributing inflammatory leaflets to soldiers. The Communist Party leads its unfortunate victims into trouble and can do nothing whatever to help them. Even if they succeeded in getting in touch with soldiers or sailors, it is almost certain that the latter would be discovered. It is exceedingly doubtful whether any of the so-called activities of the Communists are secret from the police. The only people who appear to be kept in the dark about the activities of their leaders, are the rank and file members of the Communist Parties.

A few years ago the American police were actually able to get one of their agents sent as a Communist delegate, to represent the American Communists at a Congress in Moscow.

The only sound line for the socialist movement in countries such as Great Britain and the U.S.A. is to organise on a basis which makes secrecy unnecessary. This rules out the Communist policy of street fighting, but that policy is one which is of no use to the workers. On the contrary, it has, in many countries, often been engineered by the authorities themselves, through their inside agents.

Double Jeopardy (1993)

Book Review from the November 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Double Jeopardy. The Retrial of the Guildford Four by Ronan Bennett. (Penguin Books £4.95)

On 5 October 1974, history, prodded by events in Northern Ireland and served by an IRA gang, visited Guildford. Bombs were left in two public houses and seven people were murdered and ten times that number injured.

The anger of the bombers was reciprocated in the subsequent thuggery of the police, in the frame-up of three innocent men and one innocent woman all signally undistinguished in any ability to defend themselves, in a remarkably incurious judge and a jury of people who knew that British justice does not make mistakes.

But British justice had made yet another mistake and, after that, the mistakes kept happening and they were generally facilitated by the Labour Party's anti-Irish Prevention of Terrorism Act. But the police had been too undiscriminating, too anxious for convictions and their choice of victims were so lacking in any vestige of reality that questions were bound to arise.

Anyone familiar with IRA organization knows that "hoods" (IRA-speak for ordinary criminals) are not, for obvious reasons, welcome in the organization. One of the Guildford Four, Conlon, in his book, Proved Innocent, admits that he and Paul Hill were involved in petty crime, heavy drinking and drugs. Judith Ward lived in a world of drug-induced make-believe and Armstrong, whose confession started the ball rolling, is described by Bennett thus:
"By his own admission he was at the time a habitual drug-user, taking anything and everything he could lay his hands on. He lived with motley crews in squats and abandoned houses in the Kilburn-Cricklewood area, he signed on, he shoplifted from supermarkets and fantasized with his friends about 'big scores'."
If the police and the judiciary were prepared to see these unlikely characters as IRA bombers many others were sceptical and a number of people who knew their way around started looking at the police case. The upshot was that after nearly fifteen years in prison, the Guildford Four, like the Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six, were exonerated. They had won a famous victory over British Injustice!

The be-wigged fraternity who administer the rules of British capitalism were not amused. Bennett argues that senior figures in the judiciary relayed comment about the guilt of the Four on a lobby basis. Some, like the Recorder of London, Sir James Meskim, voiced his bitterness, inferring that the Four were really guilty, but, after a newspaper article claimed that some of the Four were going to sue, he retracted his statement.

Lord Denning, paragon of the British legal system, revealed the arrogance and bitterness that lay under his wig when he told the Spectator that it would have been better of the Birmingham Six had been hanged so as to avoid damaging campaigns on behalf of plainly guilty men. It was the attempt by British justice to retrieve the situation through indirectly re-indicting the Guildford Four that is the substance of this book. Bennett, with skill and insight, reveals a squalid conspiracy of legal eagles, journalistic liars and the police to tailor the finding of a subsequent trial of three of the many police officers who were instrumental in kitting out the Guildford Four so as to make it appear that the Four were guilty.

Socialists have no illusions whatsoever about the justice enshrined in the code of rules needed to run a system based on theft and exploitation. But Bennett's exposition of this particular legal scam is an interesting read and one that shows that, in court, scoundrels are not confined to the dock.
Richard Montague

Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Ireland (1950)

From the May 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

What a welter of violence and confusion is suggested by the term "Irish Politics." It brings to mind Sinn Fein, the Easter rising, De Valera, Home Rule, Fine Gael, Costello, Black and Tans, Irish Free State, Fianna Fail, Connolly, Ulster, Cumman nan Gaedheal and a host of other things that are difficult to sort and see in their proper perspective. Why is the country divided into Eire and Northern Ireland? What are Fine Gael and Fianna Fail? Who are Mulcahy and McGilligan? What is Vocationalism? These are questions that it is difficult to answer from the news and reports contained in English newspapers.

Our companion party, The Socialist Party of Ireland, has published its manifesto and all these questions are answered in language that is simple to understand. Our Irish comrades draw no punches. They take each of the Irish political parties including Labour and Communist, both in Eire and in Northern Ireland, and they lay them wide open to show what they are and what interests they serve. The manifesto shows us the condition of the Irish workers before and since the establishment of the Republic. It tells of the differences between the two Labour Parties in Northern Ireland and the two Trade Union Congresses that function there. It treats of the "Border Question" and the way in which it is used to confuse the Irish workers. From this manifesto we learn of "Vocationalism," a peculiarity (?) of Eire politics, which, upon analysis by our comrades, turns out to be nothing more nor less than the "Corporate State."

This is a pamphlet well worth reading by workers in all parts of the world. Its language is forceful and it hits out at all the Irish confusion-mongers and enemies of the working class in that island. Its statements are proved by quotations from the mouths of politicians that it condemns. It is a welcome addition to a Socialist library.

You should read these 28 pages of information-packed writing. The price is only 6d. plus postage.
W. Waters

The Three Pillars of Marxism (1995)

From the June 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
According to all the political pundits, the collapse of state capitalism (or "communism" to them) in Eastern Europe and elsewhere represented a refutation of the theories of Karl Marx. Needless to say, not a shred of evidence derived from Marx's writings has ever been produced to support this view. The main theories of Marx are as sound as ever.
To be a socialist is not to be chapter-and-verse Marxist spouting quotations from the works of Marx and Engels at every given opportunity, rather in the manner of Jehovah's Witnesses, whose ability to regurgitate passages from the bible compensates for their general lack of understanding of life. The Socialist Party is indeed Marxist, but in the sense that we agree with the bases of Marx's main theories and apply these to all aspects of society. A knowledge of Marx's view is, therefore, a useful adjunct to understanding the case for socialism.

Broadly, the essential principles of Marx's theory are three — the materialist conception of history, the class struggle and theory of surplus value. They do not exist independently, but are interrelated and one cannot be used without reference to the others.

The materialist conception of history argues that the general course of historical development is ultimately determined by the changing character of the powers of production.

Productive powers are simply the human command over nature and its resources that enable humans to live. As the powers of production develop, there is also a change in the class structure of human society, and political structures and social ideas change accordingly. Throughout history, as people have developed new and improved ways of tapping and harnessing the world's resources with a greater productive output, there have been corresponding changes in social and economic relationships. This is because any advance in the way people exploit the world's resources, any development in human ingenuity in the arts of producing and distributing wealth, requires a more complex system of social organisation.

Marx saw human history as a succession of epochs, each characterised by humankind's advancing knowledge of the productive arts. In past history, Marx identified three phases of development following the break-up of the classless tribal communism under which all humans originally lived: societies based on slave labour; feudal society, where labourers worked the land giving a share of what they produced to lords and barons for the privilege, and society as we know it, based on wage labour.

These three broad phases Marx saw as paving the way for a fourth, in which "pre-history" would end and true human history would begin — Socialism — a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing wealth, a moneyless society free of rank and privilege and of exploitation by any dominant class. Marx saw socialism as a society in which each would take from the stockpile of communal wealth according to their needs and plough back into society according to their physical and mental ability.

Marx believed that each economic phase of human development went hand-in-hand with a particular political structure. Slavery went with the despotic states and belligerent empires of the ancient world; serfdom was accompanied by the feudal system that based rights, privileges and duties on the tenure of the land; and the wage system (capitalism), where propagandists claim is the economic system for political democracy, allows its subjects certain legal and political rights. Capitalism, however, is as exploitative as all preceding systems, surviving by living parasite-like off the back of the majority working class who must continually sell their mental and physical powers to live.

Marx believed that a democratic society would only come about when the means of production and distribution were collectively owned and their fruits freely available to all.

Class struggle
Marx's theory of the class struggle ties in with the materialist conception of history. For Marx, conflict had been the dynamic for human progress. In human history there was no smooth transition from one historical epoch to another. The dominant class withstood change even when their system of authority ceased to be a method for advancing the powers of production and became a hindrance to their improved use.

Therefore, once a ruling class had outlived its usefulness, the productive powers having reached a potential it could no longer accommodate, it had to be removed from power by the class below, the class with an improved method of organising production and distribution of wealth.

The ancient and classical empires which operated a system of slavery were overthrown by the lords and barons of the feudal system, and the feudal aristocracy was in turn overthrown by the burgeoning merchant and capitalist class, with their improved system of production, but for profit not use.

The capitalist class, Marx argued, could only be overthrown by the working class, the "proletariat", the exploited majority. Marx believed it was the responsibility, the "historic mission", of the working class to see the forces of production and distribution fully socialised by becoming the common property of the whole of society.

The fourth stage of human history will be when true human history begins, because a victory by the working class over the capitalist class would unchain the powers of production and because a society of free associated labour would leave no subject class capable of being exploited. Once the working class had consolidated their position, classless society would spring up, free of rank and privilege, with production unfettered by the bondage of the money system, and with the exploitation of one section of society by another expunged for ever.

Surplus Value
Marx's third general theory is that of surplus value. In the simplest terms, Marx realised that the wage slaves, the people who needed to work to exist but couldn't work unless they exchanged their mental and physical powers for a wage, were continually being exploited. This is because the capitalists, by virtue of their ownership of the means of producing wealth, appropriate a share of the product of their labour.

Because capitalists have the upper hand, stemming from their ownership of the means of wealth production, they are able to buy a workers' power to work on terms favourable to themselves, paying the worker less than the value of what they produce. The difference between what workers are paid for their labour power, and the price the capitalist gets for the finished commodity, once overheads have been taken care of, is what Marx called surplus value — the source of profit, in a sense wide enough to include rents and interest as well as industrial and commercial profits.

The reason the majority working class have never posed a threat, so far, to the system that exploits them is because most believe there is no alternative system. The explanation for this can be found in Marx's materialist conception of history. Marx observed that the ruling class of any historical epoch controlled not only the economic sphere of society. Their influence extended further. They perpetuated their own philosophy and ideas that justified their position as masters. So prevalent have been their ideas that so far the subject class take them for granted but this is being continually undermined by the contradictions of capitalism.

Marxism is not a dogma, but a system for the understanding of human history and society. It basically asserts that as securing the means of living is the predominant influence in human life, it has to be the most dominant historical influence.
John Bissett