Friday, July 24, 2015

Food for Thought (1948)

From the October 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

During his directorship of the United Nations' Food and Agriculturist Organisation Sir John Boyd Orr won the approval of many people for his work in organising the supply or food to the devastated countries of Europe. Since his retirement from that post he has been tackling the problem of food production for all the peoples of the world. His approach is the direct one; his ideals mere wishful thinking, because conflicting interests in capitalist society, national and international, permit of no direct methods for the provision of a full life for all. 

Among many other things he said (Daily Herald, 29/7/48):
A world of peace and friendship, a world with the plenty which modern science had made possible was a great ideal. But those in power had no patience with such an ideal. They said it was not practical politics.
Within the structure of capitalism it is possible that the politicians are right. Inside the nation a capitalist is guaranteed protection while accumulating wealth by exploitation, providing he observes the rules of the game. Between nations the case is different. The right to trade, to colonise, and to have access to raw materials and natural resources outside their own boundaries must be wangled, bluffed or taken by force of arms. A nation having taken possession can only hold its gains by superior strength. Consequently it is futile to suggest, as Sir John does that: 
If half the effort being spent making tanks, guns. aeroplanes or atomic bombs was diverted to producing the primary necessities of life, gross poverty would be eliminated for the world within the lifetime of our children.
For each nation to cut its fighting forces by half, to convince the governments of all nations of such a necessity, while each is suspicious of its neighbours and scheming to over-reach them, such an idea is, to say the least, laughable. Moreover, Sir John only suggests a reduction in armed strength—or equipment—by half. Even he could hardly visualise capitalism being run without armed forces to deal with dissatisfied sections of the workers from time to time. 

Next Sir John says: 
A world government may evolve from the United Nations' Food, Economic, Financial and other organisations.
But he gives no hint as to which nation will be at the head. Nor does he show how the differences between nations can be reconciled to bring about collaboration in a common policy that would be of lasting benefit to the workers. He says: "Politics was but the shadow of economics" but overlooks the fact that all the power is in political control of armed force. Those who control the political machinery of any nation make the laws designed to regulate production and exchange; and by tariffs, taxes and subsidies encourage or hinder trade in the various industries according to the interests they represent. 

In one of his broadcasts Sir John suggested that the agriculturists and food producers of the world should get together and tackle the problem of world food production by mutual agreement, on the principle that they are the actual people concerned with the production of these commodities. But the very fact that these people are concerned with commodity production makes them suspect. In the past such collaboration between the captains of industry has invariably resulted in limitation, or restriction of output in order to control prices in their own interests. Rings and combines are just as common among agriculturists as other interests. They are not philanthropists but capitalists, in business to make profits. They hold the community to ransom whenever their products fall behind demand. In the past they burned millions of tons of wheat and coffee. Even since the war vegetables have been ploughed back into the soil, fruit has been allowed to rot, and hundreds of tons of fish thrown back into the sea or sold as manure to keep up prices. 

But Sir John still has hopes, in spite of the callous indifference to the needs of the people that is so prominent a feature in the normal life of those with guaranteed incomes derived from industrial enterprise, or to be exact, exploitation. He says: 
These United Nations' organisations throw a light along the road to world peace and plenty . . .  Have we the common sense, the decency, the moral purpose to follow the light? 
Unfortunately these qualities have little or nothing to do with the question. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Sir John hasn't even mapped out a road to his Utopia; while facing him is the inexorable machinery of capitalist finance and power-politics, blind and deaf to common-sense appeals, in their lust for power. 

If the decision lay with the people, he had no doubt what the answer would be. Where they had not been too bedevilled to think for themselves, they all wanted the things the organisation stood for. 
To bedevil means to confuse, and the vast majority of the workers are in a hopeless muddle of confused thinking on political and economic questions. The class that appropriates the major portion of the wealth produced, without contributing towards its production, must be deeply interested in obscuring the method by which it is achieved. The majority of capitalists are, no doubt, quite ignorant of the scientific explanation of surplus value. Yet they all know that the system in some way guarantees them wealth and privilege without effort on their part. Consequently they welcome any theory that keeps clear of this fact, and encourage any shallow, but plausible ideas that only deal with day-to-day occurrences on the surface of capitalist events, This flood of bedevilment is a free-for-all. Politicians, economists and journalists all take a hand, many of them finding it pays extremely well; especially the politicians. The so-called Labour, Fabian and Communist parties are responsible for much of the confusion.

Next Sir John says: 
The carrying out of a world food plan alone would bring a great expansion of world industry and trade such as occurred in the 19th century. 
That possibility should certainly gain capitalist support for Sir John, because the more work there is for the workers, the greater the amount of surplus value from which capitalist incomes are derived, while the workers still only get wages that barely cover their cost of living. But Sir John overlooks one important factor. During the 19th century Britain had a flying start in the race for markets. Today every capitalist country is in the race, and the share of each will diminish with the ever-increasing fierceness of the international race for markets. 

"If food production could not be doubled in the next 25 years," warned Sir John, "we were heading for disaster." Due presumably, to the estimated enormous increase in the world's population on top of tbe present food shortage. We are not told the nature of the disaster that threatens, but unlike Malthus, who visualised the time when there would only be standing room on the earth, Sir John reveals the forces already operating to avert the disaster—whatever it is—when he says: 
Of every three families in the world today, two suffered premature death for lack of adequate food and shelter. 
Sir John may hope that a world government might set a limit to the process. But such a government, especially by agreement, is just a dream, while world government by conquest is a nightmare even to the capitalist and his political stooges. 

Next he says: 
The first right of man was food and shelter to maintain life. The masses today demanded this. And they would get it because they were in a vast majority.
Not merely because they are in a majority, nor because they demand them, will they get these things. They have first to understand why they lack them now. At present the workers, between them, possess all the scientific and technical knowledge, and actually carry out all the work of production and distribution. Their failure to satisfy the needs of all is due to the incubus of trade, commerce and finance; the capitalist machinery of appropriation, that limits production to what the market can absorb. The workers must get rid of this incubus. To do so they must organise politically as a class, in opposition to all parties which maintain the present system. Only when they control the political machinery through their delegates, pledged to carry out the wishes of the workers, will they be enabled to control production and distribution in accordance with their needs. 

One of the greatest obstacles to a clear understanding of their position by the workers, is the bedevilment, or confusion, much of it considered and deliberate, referred to by Sir John Boyd Orr. However laudable his ideals and aspirations his assumption that they can be realised by a world government of capitalists is a false and dangerous fallacy. It is the working-class that suffers under capitalism, and it is only by the conscious and organised efforts of that class that emancipation can be achieved.
F. Foan

The Execution of Imre Nagy (1958)

From the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the announcement on June 17th of the execution of Imre Nagy and his associates, various notables outside the Soviet bloc have hastened to express their opinions on these latest Communist murders. Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords on the 19th June, speaking on behalf of the Conservative Government, welcomed "The opportunity to place on record the horror and indignation which this latest shameful act has aroused." Although these sentiments are, undoubtedly, true, they border on the hypocritical coming from the Tories after their support of two World Wars and many smaller ones; and that the death of four men should induce a feeling of revulsion in the ex-general Eisenhower appears somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, their one-sided wrath at the duplicity of the Communists has aroused members of the working class to demonstrate. Hungarian emigres and Nationals have attacked Soviet Embassies in Germany and Denmark, while Russians have retaliated, in Moscow, at this affront to their "national honour." 

Imre Nagy, the central figure, is lamented in the West for his actions during the Hungarian Revolt of 1956. For those workers who consider that his memory 'is worthy of demonstration or enshrining as a hero in the struggle for emancipation, let us take a closer look at his life and the aims of the 1956 Rebellion. 

Born in 1896, Nagy was an apprentice locksmith until his conscription into the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. He fought on the Italian and Russian fronts, where he was taken prisoner and sent to Siberia. When the 1917 Revolution began in Russia be fought for the Bolsheviks and took Soviet citizenship in 1918. Returning to Hungary the following year, he was given a minor post in the Bela Kun communist regime. When this was superseded by the Horthy Regency in 1921, Nagy fled to France. He was ordered back soon after and was subsequently arrested. On his release he went to Russia and studied agricultural reform. During the Second World War he was employed on the propaganda Kossuth Radio in Moscow, and when Hungary exchanged the joys of German Capitalism for the delights of the Soviet variety in 1944, Nagy was appointed Minister of Agriculture. "He took an important part in planning and enforcing Communist agrarian reform" (Times, 25/8/56). This "reform" entailed the forcible collectivisation of farms and the elimination of any opposition in the usual callous Soviet method. 

The year 1953 saw cracks appear in the colonial empire of Russia, culminating in the Berlin Uprising of June. In order to preserve their domination, the Communists began instituting "lenient" policies throughout Eastern Europe. Nagy, who enjoyed the mysterious reputation of a "moderate." became Premier in July to implement the policy in Hungary. This position he retained until April, 1955, when he was made a scapegoat for the failure of this policy to satisfy the demands of the Hungarian population and the Soviet war-machine, The ups and downs of Communist political manoeuvring led to his "rehabilitation" in August, 1956, and his formal re-acceptance into the Party on October 14th. 

Ten days later, following the outbreak of the Rebellion, he was reinstated as Prime Minister on the demands of sources within the Party in an attempt to placate the insurgents. Nagy's conduct throughout the fighting altered from determined opposition to final support even to the extent of the dissolution of the one-party system, as he was out-manoeuvred by events. His first action on being confirmed in office was to speak over Budapest radio demanding the cessation of the revolt: "Many misguided workers have turned against the state. I am calling on all Hungarians to be firm against these provocateurs," quoted the Manchester Guardian of the 25th October, 1956. The report goes on: "Therefore we have decided that all who surrender their arms and stop fighting will not be affected by martial law." The next day this paper commented on a later speech: "The announcement by Mr. Nagy, that Soviet troops would withdraw from the fighting as soon as peace and order were restored, implies a determination to rely on the Russians to the very end." 

By the 28th the rebels appeared to be winning and a cease-fire order was given to Government troops. It was also announced that Russian troops were withdrawing. The rebels demanded the following terms from the Nagy Government:- 
(1) The establishment of a democracy of the Western type.
(2) The free formation of parties of all types.
(3) Free elections.
(4) An armistice for the insurgents and complete withdrawal of all Soviet forces. 
Nagy, still hoping to retain some vestiges of the Communist dictatorship, side-stepped the first three demands and attempted to placate the Nationalist sentiment of the insurrectionists with his counter-proposals:- 
(1) An armistice for all who took part in the fighting.
(2) The creation of a new police force based on the Army and workers' and youth groups.
(3) Dissolution of the Secret Police.
(4) The reinstatement of the Kossuth coat-of-arms in place of the Communist insignia.
(5) The restoration of the 15th March as a national holiday. 
This date is the anniversary of the Kossuth rebellion of 1848, which was put down by the then Russian Czar. 

Sudden developments once again forced Nagy to adopt a different stand, so that on the 30th October, he announced the abolition of the one party system and formed a Government, including Agrarians and Social Democrats. Nagy had thus appeared to have overcome a difficult situation while still retaining the Premiership. 

On the 31st October, 1956, Britain and France attacked Suez, forfeiting their "holier than thou" advantage over the Russians. Regrouping its forces the Soviet Union recommenced the occupation of Hungary the following day. By the 4th November the revolt "bad been ruthlessly crushed and Russian domination was firmly reimposed. Nagy foolishly left the Yugoslav Embassy, where he had taken refuge, after promise of safe-conduct and was imprisoned until his recent execution. (From his long experience, he should have known better than to trust fellow Communists.) 

Much speculation has been forthcoming on the identity of the person who requested Russian aid, as he gave them the scant "legality" they required to "justify" their intervention and consequently helped make certain the failure of the rebellion. This call was made on October 24th—the day of Nagy's investiture as Premier. Subsequently it was stated that they were not summoned by Nagy, but by Hegedus, the then Prime Minister, and Geroe, the Party Secretary. Victor Zorgan in the Manchester Guardian, of the 31st October, does not appear convinced of the truth of the statement and hints at another reason for its publication. "This, if the population believes it—as it is quite likely to—will greatly enhance Mr. Nagy's shaken prestige and will help him to remain at the head of the government." Whether Nagy enlisted Soviet help or not, as has been shown he was willing to condone its employment. 

For workers the conclusion is obvious. Although winning the sympathy of the Western Powers, who will support anything against Soviet interests, Nagy is not worthy of working class commiseration. He was a lifelong Communist and was as thoroughly steeped in blood and misery as those who have invariably toed the Party line. While the 1956 Uprising in its widest form would have made no fundamental difference to the workers, its object being to leave the Hungarian capitalist class to exploit them unfettered by the demands of their Soviet counterparts. Their sole gain would have been the ability to cry their grievances unchallenged, but without Socialist knowledge this concession is useless. And the conditions which give rise to dictatorship would still remain. 

Obituary: Les Cox (2008)

Obituary from the August 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death in June of our comrade Les Cox at the age of 81. Les joined the old Fulham branch of the Socialist Party in 1948, after a short spell in the Young Communist League, and was subsequently a member of the Paddington, Westminster and, latterly, West London branches. He was a well-known member of the Executive Committee for many years as well as filling other Party posts such as Trustee and being on the Standing Orders Committee.

He was a candidate for the Party in elections in London on a number of occasions and an effective and engaging Party speaker over several decades, including at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park. Influenced by logical positivism, when questioned about religion he refused to mention the word “god” on the grounds that as it didn’t refer to anything it was meaningless.

In debates within the Party he always took a tolerant position, except with regard to infringements of democracy.

Les also did maintenance work at our head office, including the installation of the fascia (with brass screws). He had left school at the age of 14 and was trained as a carpenter.

As a conscientious objector to national service after the war, he was exempted as long as he continued to work in this trade as it was regarded as essential to post-war reconstruction.

Later he had to seek a lighter job and went to work at the head office of ICI near where he lived, first as a lift attendant but eventually – ironically for a socialist – as a clerk in the department keeping a record of the shareholders.

Les lived and worked all his life in the area on both sides of Chelsea Bridge in London and was involved in the local working class community there, being an active member of the tenants association on the council estate where he lived. He refused to buy his council house. A Party member spoke at his non-religious funeral at Mortlake crematorium.


Blogger's Note:  There's a brief ten minute audio interview with Les Cox about his early life, and how he came to join the SPGB, at the following link.

Coming up for Orwell (1971)

From the March 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The various collections of George Orwell's essays and short pieces reached their ultimate point in the four volumes published at ten guineas in 1968, and now brought out by Penguin for ten shillings each*. The writings are presented chronologically, and to them are added a great many letters which Orwell wrote to various people. Each volume has a few pages' biographical notes on the writer in the period it covers. George Woodcock's book# is a personal and critical study rather than a life-story (it was Orwell's wish that no biography of him should be written) and as such goes well with the collected work. Together these books display the author of Homage to Catalonia, Wigan Pier and Nineteen Eighty-Four fully enough for some assessment to be made. What should the verdict on Orwell be? 

At his worst — in the preposterous naïveté of The Lion and the Unicorn, or the hack propagandizing of his war-time contributions to Partisan Review — it is simple enough: a muddle-head or a penny-a-liner, or both. The problem arises because nearly everyone has not only enjoyed other writings of Orwell, but warmed to their sentiments. He had a knack of putting his finger exactly on an ordinary person's feelings in an unfair or idiotic world. It is illustrated perfectly in an essay about the pleasures of spring in London. At the end he remarks: 
How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't. 
Who has not had the same thought in a hundred situations — or can resist a writer who expresses it so lucidly? 

This is the prime appeal of Animal Farm. Despite his harsh experience in Spain of Communist motivation, it is doubtful if Orwell ever had enough knowledge of political theory and history for Animal Farm to have the depths attributed to it. In reality it is a quite unsophisticated book, a plain man's bitter-funny version of how things were in Soviet Russia. Its sparkle comes partly from Orwell's skill with words and phrases, partly from that talent for touching on how people felt about it all. Moses the Crow is a perfect image for organized religion as apprehended by the working class; rulers do look like pigs to underdog eyes. Likewise, The Road to Wigan Pier derived much of its success from describing explicitly how the fad-ridden Left of the 'thirties looked to hard-up working men —" ... every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England . . .  This kind of thing is by itself sufficient to alienate plenty of decent people." 

Orwell's fluent fellow-feeling is what makes him such a likeable writer. It is also, however, the wallpaper over the cracks and inadequacies of three-quarters of his thought. The phrases and sentences quoted here do not stand up, for all their first-glance attractiveness. To speak of important persons wanting to prevent one's enjoyment is really playing to the gallery, and a piece of gross misdirection about the nature of social grievances. The phrase "plenty of decent people" means politically uncommitted people specifically, the miners he had been among and admired so much; but if one grants the admiration for their role in society, does that make their opinions superior? The attack on fruit juice, sandals, feminism etc. has to be seen in the context of attitudes in the 'thirties, of course. But Orwell follows it with his well-known story about the two I.L.P.  men in shorts and pistachio shirts on a bus, displaying in their dress the Bohemian crankiness associated with the Left. One, he says, was "obscenely bald" as well; and this pointless, shoddy item in the diatribe serves to cast doubt on the sense of all the rest of it. 

In many ways, Orwell is like a man marching to throw open some pearly gates and abolish mendicancy, who never gets near the gates because he keeps stopping to tell beggars he is on their side. Every discussion of him makes much of his obsession with "class", his upbringing and early life as a police officer in the East. The common theory is of his trying to expiate Eton and Burma by identification with the working class — certainly be referred to that background often in his writings, apart from the pieces specifically about Burma. The fact is, however, that Orwell had no comprehension of what class meant in society. 

It is worth digressing here to point out that Orwell's presumed attempt to atone for a well-to-do upbringing is by no means unique. Among the leadership of the agitating Left today there are professional and business people whose main-spring is compunction over not having horny hands and greasy overalls, the stigmata of the bona fide exploited worker. Anyone who has observed them has seen the idealizing of the factory-bench man, the conviction that he has an instinctive wisdom about society that is denied them. This is exactly what Orwell felt. But one has to see that the guilt and the consequent radical outpourings arise from failure to understand what class really is. 

Woodcock, while pointing out and criticizing many of Orwell's weaknesses, passes this one. Indeed, he falls into it himself. Writing about Orwell's experience in Spain, he quotes a piece from the essay "Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War" where Orwell describes a militiaman shaking his hand in Barcelona: 
When I remember — oh, how vividly! — his shabby uniform and fierce, pathetic, innocent face, the complex side issues of the war seem to fade away and I see clearly that there was at any rate no doubt as to who was in the right. In spite of power politics and journalistic lying, the central issue of the war was the attempt of people like this to win the decent life which they knew to be their birthright. 
Woodcock goes on to quote a poem Orwell wrote about the same episode. It is, he says, "a lyrical summary of all that he [Orwell] learned from the Spanish Civil War"; the title of his own book is taken from its ending. Yet, for all their ardent feeling, both the passage and the verses are nonsense. Could Orwell or Woodcock really tell from looking at a soldier's rig-out and his face that his side was "in the right"; or — vide the poem — see something "no power can disinherit"? As for "the central issue of the war", Woodcock says only four pages earlier that Orwell was "still politically rather green' when he went to Spain and was under a series of misapprehensions as to what was going on. 

To say Orwell's chief talent was for the commonplace is not to denigrate his ability as a writer. His tours de force are the essays on boys' weekly papers, comic postcards and so on. He was able to see clearly enough the ideals and life-patterns they represented without having to go too far under the surface. For all his introspection, his analytical capability stopped near the surface. One of his least successful essays is "Decline of the English Murder" where, having described the social characteristics of some popular murder cases, he appears not to know what to say about them. More seriously, Orwell's justifications for supporting the war and working as a BBC propagandist were almost too superficial to be worth argument: that whoever in Britain refused to support the war was by default supporting the Nazis, that war propaganda was less dirty if "decent" people helped in it. 

The greatest part of his reputation, however, rests with Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a melancholy thought that the reputation has derived largely from the things which have been read into the book, even wrongly attributed to it. It was taken by the Right as a massive indictment of Russia, by many of the Left as a guide to the doom awaiting us if the Right had its way; twenty-odd years after its publication its name is still a popular cry against bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the forms taken by society in Nineteen Eighty-Four were not generally Orwell's invention. They were a compound of Zamyatin's We, which had already contributed to Huxley's Brave New World several years before, and James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution. In the present volumes essays by Orwell on both these books are re-printed, showing how strongly they affected him. 

The impact of Nineteen Eighty-Four comes not from the hypothesis of a power-structure, but from the recognizability of the detail. Woodcock says: "The elements of this horrific new world Orwell saw existing in the world around him." They are in fact all extensions of agencies and tendencies in 1948, when the book was written; or today. The spying and hate-fomenting, the distortion of language and history for political ends, the exploitation of psychological knowledge, the State regulation of sexual life, are all arguable further developments from things happening in the present. This is usually seen as giving the book an impressive plausibility. Yet they bring it back also to Orwell's perennial identification with the everyday man's surface thoughts on life. What he is saying in innumerable instances, put simply, is "If it goes on like this, the next thing will be . . . " 

The failure of such logical-conclusion, this-is-how-we'll-end-up prophecies is that they attribute dominance to what in fact are subsidiary motives in society. One could say with equal logic, for example, that if the motives of most Conservatives were carried out there would be nothing on television but cricket and public hangings. If that sounds absurd, it is actually a parallel with Orwell's prediction of the city environment in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is the shabby, bomb-damaged austerity of 1948: evidently, Orwell thought the maintenance of such a standard suited the Labour Party and the bureaucracy, and had no hesitation in projecting it as a future inevitability. 

But the book's most fundamental weakness is the lack of any consideration of production and the class struggle. The characters in Nineteen Eighty-Four are all administrative workers. We gather that the "proles" booze and sing and do the necessary work. Do they acquiesce in it all the time? Is there no labour trouble or resentment of a chronically squalid life? Orwell's two chief characters rebel because of intellectual doubt in the man's case and sexual vitality in the woman's. These are fair enough sources of rebellious feeling, but they do not represent the substance of social unrest. True, Orwell has Winston Smith gaze admiringly at a blowzy, Florry-Capp prole woman and reflect vaguely on "people who had never learned to think but who were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world". This is not at all concrete, however, and does not answer the questions. (Nor does Woodcock's assertion of a "hidden truth which Bakunin once knew and which the Marxists have obscured — that the love of power is stronger and more perverting than any material or economic motive".) 

Politically, Orwell described himself as an anarchist at some times and a socialist at others: and both these avowals were qualified by a strong patriotism. He was not a socialist at all, of course — for him the word carried simply connotations of decency, brotherhood and the working man being admirable. Commentators invariably praise his refusal to accept political commitment, as showing his integrity. Perhaps; but it is also a luxurious position, in which one has one's cake and eats it without having to think about the ingredients. One has to wonder in what direction Orwell would have moved had he lived. It is hard to see his having become anything other than another of the writers who are rootless social critics, advancing commentaries with no standpoint of their own. 
Robert Barltrop

* The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, 4 vols.; The Crystal Spirit, A Study of George Orwell, by George Woodcock, Penguin Books.

Socialists and the police (1984)

Editorial from the October 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

When members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary fire plastic bullets into a crowd of demonstrating workers; when miners are truncheoned to the ground by police-un­iformed men of violence; when "suspected criminals" are beaten up in police vans and those doing the beating will only be investigated by their own colleagues if a complaint is lodged; when trade unionists are stopped on the roads and forced to drive home because they are suspected of travelling to a picket line; when black youths, who are roaming the streets because poverty deprives them of a place to go, are frequently stopped and subjected to racist abuse by police officers who are bigoted and inexperienced; socialists are forced to answer the question, Are We Anti-Police? To that question we give an emphatic answer: No; we will not be driven into the simplistic analysis of hating workers in uniform who constitute the police force, when we are attacking the system which forces them to respond to its violent needs. 

The police force is made up of members of the working class. In other words, police officers are dependent on selling their labour power for a wage or salary in order to live. As wage slaves, the police have to do what their employers — the state — ­order them to do. It the interest of property conflicts with that of workers who own little or no property, the role of the police is to defend what belongs to their masters. In short, police are members of the exploited class doing arduous and dirty work for the exploiting class. 

If socialists were to fall into the trap of being anti-police we would be attacking the symptoms instead of the cause. Those on the Left who see the police as the enemy, rather than as the hired agents of the enemy, put themselves in the absurd position of blaming workers for doing what they are paid to do. But why stop with the police? Why not condemn all teachers as class enemies because of the nonsense which many of them teach or insist that civil servants are non-workers because they administer the dirty work of the capitalist state? If socialists were to follow the foolish logic of the confused Left we would be splitting the working class and attacking our brothers and sisters whose work we dislike instead of attending to the cause of their anti-social activities. 

The capitalists need the police to defend their laws and their order. Against whom is the defence needed? Not the "enemies" about whom we are told regularly in the press: the Russians or the Chinese. In fact, while the capitalists are telling the workers about what evil enemies the latter are, they are busy doing multi-million pound trade deals with the Russian and Chinese ruling class. No, the police are employed to protect the capitalists from what Margaret Thatcher called "the enemy within" ­— that's us, the working class. The capitalists pay for the upkeep of the state in order that their system can run smoothly, without interference in the legalised robbery process by unofficial thieves, picketing trade unionists or dissidents. 

The average policeman joins the force because he needs the money to live. That is why most of us do the unpleasant jobs which most of us end up doing. Of course, the police do have certain independent powers and socialists would be the last to understate the extent to which these can be, and often are, abused. But it is not in the interest of the state to have racist police or police officers who act beyond the violence permitted by the law. In fact, the bent or sadistic or racially prejudiced cop is as much a problem for the capitalists, who want their hirelings to do what the law says, as for the workers who have to bear the brunt of anti-social police behaviour. After all, there are plenty of bent civil servants and sadistic school teachers and racist DHSS clerks; why pick on one section of the working class, as if the police are the source of our problems? 

Most police officers want to earn their wages and keep as far away from trouble as they can. Because we are living under a capitalist state the function of the police is to carry out the actions which will defend the political and economic interests of the owners and controllers of the means of wealth production and distribution — even though this frequently means hurting workers who are in conflict with capitalist interests. The use of the police in the current miners' strike is a classic example of the police having to attack workers in order to support their pay-masters. As the Daily Mirror rightly commented, the strike has been turned into "a war started by a government which is using the police as weapons". (29 August 1984) 

The socialist case is presented to all workers, whatever their occupations. Capitalism is not and never can be run in the interest of the working class. To workers in the police and armed forces we say that it is foolish to be used as the tools of class privilege when, united with the rest of the working class, there is the far greater mission to be accomplished of winning the world for its inhabitants. The establishment of a society which will know no need for police or soldiers or courts or prisons or bombs of any description might seem strange to those who have never thought about the idea. But why not think about it — and why not let thought give rise to the excitement of realising that there need be no plastic bullets or picket line violence or authoritarianism? For, with the conscious establishment of socialism by the workers, the epoch of property and the state will be over.

Lessons of the fall of Marcos (1986)

Editorial from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have always argued that it is possible to establish socialism by peaceful, democratic means, through the working class organising into a mass political movement and using existing elective institutions, imperfect as they are from the standpoint of pure democracy.

Our attitude has often been criticised by people who argue that "no ruling class has ever given up power peacefully" and that "the capitalist class will never let the workers use elections to dislodge them but would refuse to accept a socialist electoral victory".

To these criticisms we have replied that once the vast majority of wage and salary workers want socialism the game is up for the capitalist class and that, even if they refused to accept a socialist victory at the polls, this would not save them. Once a majority want socialism, nothing can stop them getting it since capitalism just could not continue in the face of a population which refused to accept the right of a minority to own and control the means of production and to exploit the rest of society. In other words, what is decisive is not so much the socialist electoral victory as the understanding and the determination to achieve socialism which this would reflect.

The recent event in the Philippines which led to the downfall of President Marcos have confirmed this analysis of what is likely to happen when a government enjoying only a minority support tries to defy a majority movement. Here was a dictator who falsified the election results and tried to use his apparent control of the machinery of the government and the armed forces to stay in power. But in the end, however, he had to surrender power because the ideas of the mass opposition movement had penetrated the armed forces and so rendered them unusable as an instrument of oppression.

Of course the issue at stake in the Philippines was not socialism or capitalism, but what happened there was nevertheless still an example of a confrontation involving a government trying to hang on to power in the face of a hostile population. In fact, a capitalist government faced with a mass majority socialist movement will be in an even weaker position than Marcos was, for not only will the tiny handful of capitalists enjoy less support but the socialist movement will be even more organised and determined than was the Philippines opposition.

In these circumstances the capitalist class would be compelled to surrender straightaway. If they were so foolish as to try to resist the clearly expressed will of the vast majority of the population they would find that their armed forces, composed of workers and inevitably penetrated by socialist ideas and so sympathetic to the movement for socialism, a broken reed in their hands. They would simply be swept aside.

People's power? (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is tempting in politics to see things in stark black and white terms: if a regime is obviously "bad" then those who oppose it are necessarily "good". This tendency to reduce complex situations to simplistic terms has nowhere been more evident in recent times than in the Philippines. Marcos was so evidently "bad" that Aquino must be "good". 

The Philippines is a cluster of islands in the Pacific Ocean with a total population of 54 million. Formerly an American colony, it achieved independence in 1946 although the United States maintained strong economic and military ties with the new state. Immediately after independence the Philippines was ruled by a coterie of the landed aristocracy. Ferdinand Marcos was elected in the mid '60s when he was seen as a radical, reforming politician, especially by progressive industrialists and businessmen. He received considerable support from the Americans, who were at this time extending their war in Vietnam and therefore concerned to maintain a strategically important foothold in the area. Although Marcos did not keep his election promises he secured re-election in 1969 and began to develop what came to be known as "crony capitalism", members of his own family, business associates and political supporters were granted favours and allowed to build up monopolies at the expense of economic efficiency. At the same time Marcos installed his own supporters at all levels of government and administration. 

Under the terms of the constitution Marcos was ineligible for a third term as President, and so he decided to abandon any pretence of democratic government. In 1972 martial law was imposed and justified by the need to deal with armed rebellion by the "communist" New People's Army (NPA). Marcos continued to rule in this way for a further nine years, during which time opposition politicians (including Benigno Aquino) were arrested and imprisoned. Torture and inhumane treatment of those deemed subversive became common. In 1981 martial law was lifted and Marcos secured re-election for a further six year term.

By this time, however, his failure to implement the promised reforms, the evidence of economic and political corruption and mismanagement and the inhumane treatment of political opponents had lost him the support of many industrialists and professionals who had backed him in the 1960s. Increasingly he was forced to turn to the Americans, who were willing to ignore his corruption and human rights violations so long as their bases in the Philippines were secure. However, as opposition increased and the NPA began to attract popular support, American backing began to weaken. 

This year, Marcos called a snap election in the hope that he could demonstrate to the Americans that he still commanded popular support. He had, however, under-estimated the degree to which the previously fragmented opposition groups had united after the assassination of Benigno Aquino on his return from exile in the United States, and the subsequent acquittal of leading members of the army elite who, it was widely assumed, were guilty of his murder. The opposition united behind Corazon Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino, whose lack of political experience and aspiration was viewed as positively advantageous. A devout Catholic, she also had the support of at least the most conservative elements of the immensely powerful Catholic hierarchy, who deplored what they saw as the moral degeneracy of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. 

While Cardinal Sin, the leader of the Catholic church, called for divine intervention to ensure a free and fair election, Marcos relied on the physical activities of his political henchmen: ballot boxes were stolen, voters intimidated, Aquino supporters subjected to physical violence and, finally, attempts were made to "cook" the voting figures. It was becoming obvious that Marcos' final political gamble had not paid off, but the American government was still unwilling to give him the "kiss of death''. Clearly concerned over the fate of their bases and unsure to what extent Aquino would protect their interests, they were unwilling to declare the election fraudulent. In fact Reagan pathetically asserted to a press conference that there had probably been an element of fraud on both sides. 

By now sections of the army had staged a rebellion and Aquino returned to Manila and called for a campaign of civil disobedience. The Americans sent an envoy, Philip Habib, to discover what they might expect from Aquino and, having got a satisfactory response, decided to cut their losses and run. Marcos and his family were "advised" to leave, which they did with gold worth $240,000 and crates containing $1,179,000 in cash. 

As the new President, Cory Aquino is unlikely to have an easy task. Although the opposition was united against Marcos it is doubtful whether Aquino has a political programme which can hold together all the different factions. Indeed, the mere announcement of her cabinet was sufficient to threaten the political marriage of convenience between herself and her Vice-President, Prime Minister designate and Foreign Minister, Salvador Laurel. Laurel had originally stood as a presidential candidate for his Unido party, but was persuaded to join forces with Aquino so as not to split the anti-Marcos opposition. However, in the post-election carve-up of political jobs it was felt that Unido was not being given sufficient recognition. 

Laurel is by no means the only problem that Aquino faces from within her own ranks. She came to power on the back of what was called "People Power" — a populist desire for changes not dissimilar to those pledged by Marcos in the '60s. She promised land reform — the majority of Filipinos are poor, landless peasants who work for subsistence wages on large plantations, provision of agricultural support schemes to permit small-scale peasant farms to be developed, an end to "crony capitalism", and to seek more favourable terms for the Philippines' $26-30 million international debt. 

The problem for Aquino is that she has promised what she almost certainly cannot "deliver". She will need to negotiate loans from the lMF, who will probably demand curbs on public expenditure in return, thus restricting her ability to offer much in the way of support for peasant farms. Her ability to control the direction of economic reconstruction is also likely to be hampered by the fact that much of Philippine industry is owned by American multi-nationals, which have been only too happy to exploit cheap domestic labour. If Aquino fulfills her promise to free the trade unions from the draconian controls imposed in the Marcos years, then there is also the likelihood that cheap labour will become organised labour engaged in industrial action against low wages and poor working conditions. If that occurs the multinationals may decide that Filipino labour power is no longer such a bargain and move their operations elsewhere. 

Politically, Aquino faces opposition not only from Laurel's Unido faction but also from the New People's Army, which has been waging a guerrilla war in an attempt to bring about a state-capitalist, anti-American regime. So far she has sought to placate them (to the alarm of the Americans who fear that Aquino may turn out to be "soft" on communism) by releasing those held as political prisoners. But if Aquino does not move fast enough in the direction of land reform and the removal of the American bases, they may step up their activity once more. 

The American bases — Clark airfield and Subic Bay — are crucial to an understanding of contemporary Filipino politics. At a time when the Russians are thought to be developing their bases in Vietnam — at Cam Ranh bay (ironically a former US base) and in North Korea at Wosan — the Americans are anxious to retain their strategic foothold in the Philippines. This has become even more pressing given that their other allies in the area are beginning to look less secure there is increasing opposition to the authoritarian, American-backed dictatorship in South Korea; tension exists between America and Japan over trade (in any case, there is no way that Japan would permit strategic, offensive US bases in the country); and controversy with Australia and New Zealand over harbour rights for American ships carrying nuclear weapons. Aquino could placate the NPA by not renewing the lease for the American bases which expires in 1991, but this is unlikely given the strength of the opposition and the economic sanctions that this would inevitably provoke from the Americans. 

Aquino's government is also likely to be pulled in opposite directions by the National Democratic Front — an illegal confederation of radical clergy, left-wing trade unions, students and single issue groups, and reformist businessmen and church moderates like Cardinal Sin who played an important part in bringing Aquino to power. 

Finally, Aquino faces opposition from the rump of loyal Marcos supporters who still hold crucial positions in the judiciary, civil service and local government. It will not be easy to replace such officials quickly and in the meantime they are weIl-placed to sabotage attempts to introduce reforms. It should also be remembered that the Philippines parliament contains two-thirds Marcos supporters who are in power until 1990. The army, too, remains a problem for the new President: the "rebels" — Enrile and Ramos — were both architects of martial law. Enrile worked for Marcos for twenty years, and although Ramos is depicted as the new "professional" soldier who finally lost patience with corrupt political appointees in the army (notably Marcos' right-hand man, General Ver), in fact he was head of the Philippines constabulary — notorious for atrocities like the shooting of 18 sugar cane workers on a plantation in Negros last September. Both men have nevertheless been incorporated into the new administration. 

The Aquino family owns one of the world's largest sugar cane plantations and is part of the landed aristocracy that has dominated Filipino politics since independence. While the new President enthuses about "People's Power", it is significant that her cabinet contains not one single representative of "the people" — they are all businessmen and members of the political elite. Her regime may be more humane but, given her commitment to capitalism, the free market and private property, any hopes that the lot of the majority will improve should soon prove to be misplaced. And if, having flexed their political muscle once, "the people" realise that Aquino cannot deliver the reforms and decide to flex it again, it will be interesting to see how long she retains her political innocence. Among capitalist politicians "Peoples Power" is supported so long as it is tending in their direction; if it is not, it is just as likely to be condemned as subversion.
Janie Percy-Smith

Cromwell, Lord Protector (1954)

From the February 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just over three hundred years ago, on December 16th, 1653, Oliver Cromwell took the oath as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. The occasion of the ter-centenary of this event summoned forth a number of articles in the Press. Maurice Ashley, in The Times (15-12-53) was shocked to find how far the materialist conception of history (though, of course, seldom acknowledged as such) has spread among the younger school of historians. He quotes an Oxford historian as having tried to show "that Cromwell represented 'the men of the new wealth' who purposed to overthrow the established ruling classes," and goes on, 
"An older generation of university historians would rub their eyes at so fanciful an economic interpretation of history. Could any reader of Cromwell's letters and speeches, they might ask, genuinely picture him as an upstart moved by jealousy and greed, or any student of contemporary tracts suppose that religion had not been a central fact in the puritan revolution?" 
This article does not propose to discuss the place of Puritanism in the Great Rebellion; this has been done with consummate skill by Professor R. H. Tawney in "Religion and the Rise of Capitalism." But it is proposed to enquire how far the picture of Cromwell as the representative of the men of new wealth is a true one. 

Marching with the Band in Front 
It is of course possible for a leader or figurehead to be motivated (so far as he himself understands his motives) entirely by religious considerations, while his "followers" are acting to protect or advance their economic interests. "Followers" is put in quotation marks because in such a case the great mass of men making up the movement would not be followers at all; the leader only "marches with the band in front" like children do. The movement only follows such a person because it is in the interest of those making up the movement to do so. As soon as the" leader" gets out of step, he finds that the movement has pursued its own course, and he has been left a general without an army. For example, Mohammed, a religious fanatic got his big chance when the inhabitants of Medina invited him to come and rule over them. This they did not because of religious conviction, but because they wanted to share in the profits of religious pilgrimages, which were then going entirely to the great rival of Medina, Mecca. Five hundred years later, the call of successive Popes to the faithful to go on Crusade against the Saracens was successful not because of religious enthusiasm, but because there was a surplus of younger sons in the great landed houses who in this way carved out for themselves estates in the Middle East. In such cases, is the root cause of the movement in what inspires the lender, or in what inspires the "followers"? For as Sir Ernest Barker put it, "what makes national history most is the action not of lonely leaders, but of big battalions; and by big battalions I mean social groups." (Introduction to L D. Jones' "The English Revolution 1603-1714.") 

Righteous judgment 
Even it it is allowed, then, that the Great Rebellion was caused by the emergence of a new class of men made rich by large-scale trading, allied to the class of yeomen or small landowners who were found chiefly in the south-eastern counties, we must still consider if Cromwell himself was inspired mainly by puritanism. There is some evidence for this view, but more against it. First, the evidence for this view. 

Certainly Cromwell, like the Kaiser, was always sure that God was on his side, When he was faced with the task of subjugating a rebellious Ireland, in 1649, he stormed Drogheda; of the 3,000 troops which had defended it, he himself wrote "I believe we put to the sword the whole number of the defendants, I do not think thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did, are in safe custody for Barbadoes "—that is, were sold into slavery. This bloody work he described as " a righteous judgment of God," and he wrote back to the Speaker of the House of Commons more fully: 
"Sir, what can be said of these things? Is it the arm of the flesh that hath done these things? Is it the wisdom and counsel, or strength of man? It is the Lord only. God will curse that man and his house that dares to think otherwise. Sir, you see the work is done by a Divine leading." 
Cromwell then stormed Wexford, slaughtered the garrison there too, and wrote again to the Speaker that "God hath blessed you with a great tract of land in longitude alongst the shore." It is curious that a full knowledge of this butchery does not prevent our modern Nonconformists claiming Cromwell as a blood brother, inspired by the Holy Scriptures. 

Stubble to our swords 
After some months of this, Cromwell left to his lieutenants the work of murdering and enslaving the Irish, and himself went north to deal with Scotland. Though at first the English army seemed in a perilous situation, Cromwell wrote "We have much hope in the Lord, of whose mercy we have had large experience." On this occasion the Lord's mercies took tangible shape in the battle of Dunbar, where 3,000 Scots were killed or injured, and 10,000 captured. After the battle Cromwll boasted that "the Lord made them as stubble to our swords." Further evidence may be found in the well-known fact that before the battle Cromwell gave the command to sing a Psalm; surely this means that he was motivated by religion? But on further consideration, one observes that Cromwell chose none of the bloodthirsty Psalms, of which usually he was inordinately fond; for example, Psalm 110 (the Lord "shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries") or Psalm 
69 ("Let them be blotted out of the book of the living")—or many more. Psalm 117, which Cromwell 
chose, is a very mild one, with nothing to recommend it—except its brevity; of all the 150 Psalms, this is the shortest, having only two verses. The moral perhaps is that if Cromwell hadn't been attentive at Sunday School, he might well have chosen Psalm 119, which has one hundred and seventy six verses; and the Scots would have been able to withdraw to the trackless moors in their rear before the English army had finished Psalming at them.

Providence seemed to lead us 
These examples of the pious-sounding words used by Cromwell could be multiplied many times. "The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell" by Thomas Carlyle, is full of instances. But to find the true character of a man, and the true reasons for his policies, it is always necessary to examine not only his words but also his deeds. And we find that both Cromwell's home and his foreign policy were shaped by the desires of the commercial class, not by any religious abstractions. 

In 1651 England went to war with Holland, in spite of the fact that the brand of religion professed by the Dutch was very similar to that of the Puritans themselves. It is true that at that time Cromwell had not yet become Protector, but he was already so outstanding a figure in the Government, as well as being Commander-in-chief of the army, that the Rump would not have dared to take any action of which he disapproved. The cause of this war was unashamedly commercial—the Rump had passed the Navigation Act, which was an attempt to win back the carrying trade of England and the colonies from the Dutch. Cromwell brought this war to a successful conclusion in 1654, and then turned his attention to the Spanish Empire. England had a large navy at the end of the Dutch War, the Spanish West Indies were inadequately defended, and altogether, as Cromwell himself said, "Providence seemed to lead us" to an unprovoked aggression against Spain. This war gained Jamaica and Dunkirk (also previously a Spanish possession) for the English Empire. As it happened, Spain was a Catholic power, which suggests the view that the war was really a war of religion; but since England was at the same time allied with another Catholic Power, France, this view is untenable. 

First to his Englishmen 
Even Cromwell's speeches themselves show us that he was by no means blind to economic considerations. In a speech to the first Parliament elected under the Instrument of Government, in 1654, he bemoaned the fact that the trade of the nation was ruined and the manufacture of cloth at a standstill for want of a market. (This market Cromwell attempted to provide by attacking the Spanish Empire.) In another speech to the same Parliament he pointed with pride to the fact that the Sound, leading into the Baltic, was now open, and said "that which was and is the strength of this nation, the shipping, will now be supplied thence "—with rope, masts, pitch and tar. Cromwell even carried his patriotism into his religion. G. M. Trevelyan tells us in "England under the Stuarts" that Cromwell held, along with his secretary Milton, that God revealed himself "as His manner is, first to His Englishmen." 

A study of Cromwell's home policy reveals plainly the same lesson. Some of the reforms carried out under the Commonwealth, although they were all held to be nullities at the Restoration, were immediately re-enacted by the extreme anti-Puritan Anglicans who held power after 1660—for example, the Navigation Act, the provision in the Instrument of Government for triennial Parliaments, and the abolition of the system of holding land by military tenure. Many more of Cromwell's reforms and policies were abolished in 1660, only to be resuscitated later. Among these were the abolition of the monarchy (since the last century this country has been, in effect, "a crowned Republic"); the reform of the franchise; the unification of Ireland and Scotland with England in one united Commonwealth, and free trade within that Commonwealth; the reform of the court of Chancery, and an attempt to codify the common law; the abolition of patronage in the Church of England, and the establishment of civil marriage; the maintenance of a fleet permanently in the Mediterranean; and the setting-up of an efficient system of local government and police (which is called in the history books "the rule of the Major-Generals "). These reforms and policies were not brought back all at the same time. Some were re-enacted by the High Church Anglicans of Queen Anne's reign; some by the Low Church, freethinking Whigs of the eighteenth century; and some by men of all shades of religious belief, and of none, in the nineteenth century. All these men were very different, in point of religion, from the sternly Puritan and evangelic Cromwell. What they had in common with him was not any particular set of religious principles, but the desire to preserve and extend the interests of the commercial class, and to carry out the reforms in the structure of society desired by that class. Cromwell genuinely thought of himself as a chosen instrument of God, carrying out God's will. But no newly- emerging ruling class has ever been accurate about its motives. Every man likes to credit himself with higher motives than the pursuit of self- or class-interests. But it is what a man does, not what he says, that shows what he is: and Cromwell's policies reveal him to have been, just as much as his comrades-in-arms, a man of the middle class.

Asking the right questions (1997)

From the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Clear political thinking arises from asking the right questions. Ask bad questions and your answers will lead nowhere. 

For example, given the question, "Should I support the government of the day or a new government, much like them?", it is inevitable that the result, inherent in the flawed question, will lead to an effective non-choice between more of the same and more of something similar. Again, the question, "Should we federate within the European Union?" carries within it enough wrong assumptions to guarantee a useless answer. Who are the "we" in question: British millionaires or British wage slaves? Do both have common interests? Do workers have any interest in which trading bloc their bosses join? But, by confining the question to the narrow issue, the answer is bound to lead the questioner astray.

So, before seeking great political solutions, the task is to raise great political questions. These are not likely to coincide with the questions raised by the mass media. These tend to be narrowly based on the agenda of the capitalist system and its immediiate problems. So, media discussion is rather like observing the fire brigade at work after a bomb has exploded. Questions about who saw it in their interest to make the bomb and why they decided to do it and what other options they had are relegated to the margins. The mass media dismisses such 'why' questions as being too obscure. They want to know who planted the bomb, when it went off, how many people it killed or injured, what the scene of the fire fighters and the flames look like. An election—just like the recent one—might well be described as a competition between rival fire brigades to hose down the flames of the inferno, the cause of which is of no concern to them.

The most illuminating questions are those which concern cause and effect. These are the questions which have traditionally interested scientists. Had Newton's response to the apple falling been to merely study the effect and ask, "What's the best remedy for a bump on the head?", his enlightening thoughts about gravity might not have occurred to him. For most of us, it is the occurrence of regular metaphorical bumps on the head (experience, in short) which leads us to ask the question, "Why is this happening?"

Political headache
Here are some good examples of how experience determines questions:

A man is employed by Ford for twenty years. He is skilled and he needs the money in his wage packet. One day he receives a notice with his wages telling him that the job's finished. He is to be made redundant. Capitalism has given him its version of a thump on the head. What does he ask himself? He has a range of questions which he could ask: "Why is it me losing my job and not the other worker who is a different age, colour, gender . . .?" This kind of question (scapegoating) will only lead to frustration and bitterness. Or he might as, "How can I beg for my job back? Could I convince my employer that I can become even more productive for even less money?" This is the desperate reasoning of the wage slave. How about asking a few more useless questions:"Where was God when I needed him?" or "Why can't I get the right numbers for the lottery now that l'm down on my luck?" Some people spend years entrapped by such useless questioning. They end up with huge political headaches and a conviction that asking questions leads nowhere.

Someone has a small business and a mortgaged home. The business goes bust because other small businessmen are unable to pay their bills on time. The bank is owed money. The business folds. Without a business income the mortgage payments fall into arrears. The family home is repossessed by the bank. Once again, the array of useless questions which could be—and often are—asked is huge: "Why weren't the other business men more prompt at paying their bills? Why wasn't the bank more flexible? Why should my family suffer from being homeless when I have done nothing but work my fingers to the bone? Why should this happen to me and not the people who own supermarkets?"

The need for these people, and millions like them suffering to a greater or lesser extent from social problems, is to ask the right questions. The right questions are ones which go to the root cause of the problem. Imagine going to a doctor with a pain in your leg: "Shall we cut your leg off or pray for a miracle relief?" she asks. Any sensible sufferer will soon be limping out of the surgery of such a lunatic. Any serious scientist will want to know the cause of the pain.

Religious people have their own answer. The cause of humanity's pain is original sin. Why is life full of woes? Because Eve was tempted by a snake to eat an apple. Well, if that kind of fairy story satisfies you there is little point in looking for further root causes. Why Hiroshima? Why the gas chambers? Why do millions of innocent children starve to death? Blame Adam and Eve. The Fall of Man. Human Nature. This is the most erroneous causal explanation in the history of ideas. It is a humanity-hating analysis which substitutes self-blame and guilt for more reasoned questioning.

The root cause
The socialist takes the opposite approach to questioning. We ask, "What is it about the way that society is organised which leads to effects which repeatedly harm so many people?" The same question could well be asked by people who are not socialists. Answers could range from "Because the government is lousy and we need a new government" to "Because there are too many people being born." All of these imagined root causes have been put from time to time. They are all wrong. Governments come and governments go, but still the basic social system remains. In fact, the system governs the government and not the other way round—as Messrs. Blair and Brown will soon come to realise. What these fail to do is address the nature of the way society is organised at root.

The root cause for socialists is the social system. By this we mean a particular network of social relationships existing at this point in history. It has not always existed. It will not always exist. It will stop existing after enough people have questioned its practicality and desirability as the best possible social system.

Put simply, we state that the current social system is one which puts production for profit before production for human needs. Why does it do so? Because a minority own and control the productive resources of society and will only allow these to be used as long as they are making a profit for them. How do they make profits? By getting the majority of society, who own little but our mental and physical energies, to work for them in return for wages or salaries which amount to less than what we are producing. Why does the majority work to make profits for a minority? Because they have yet to question why it is that their problems arise directly from a social system where minority profit comes before majority needs. And a good deal of money and energy is devoted to diverting the majority from asking such dangerous questions.

So, in an age filled to the brim with awful social problems and countless wrong solutions, let's conclude with some questions rather than answers. Think long and hard enough about the right questions and the answers will take care of themselves. 

Why are we living in a society capable of producing enough to feed, clothe and shelter everyone, yet millions are deprived of these needs being satisfied and hundreds of millions face relative poverty?

Why is production of goods and services geared to sale on the market with a view to profit rather than solely to meet people's needs?

What kind of a society could we have if production solely for use replaced production for profit?

If the socialist alternative of common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, and production for use, is so sensible, why aren't millions of people insisting that we organise society on that basis?

Why not do something about working with other socialists to raise these vital questions and act upon the answers?
Steve Coleman

Great Men and greater nonsense (1990)

From the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

By and large, socialists have little truck with what is sometimes called the "Great Man Theory of History", much preferring the Materialist Conception of History. Propounded by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, this offers a much more satisfactory explanation of the forces that have shaped and changed human societies since the beginning of written history, which Marx pointed out was the history of private property society. 

It still remains a fact that there are libraries of literature, and hosts of avid readers, concerned with the biographies of men and women whose lives have captured the public imagination for one reason or another, probably because most of us feel our own lives to be lacking in romance or significance and we like to escape from our own humdrum stories into the larger canvases of supposed "larger" lives. 

The largest slice of this literary market is concerned with the enthralling inner secrets of film stars, hitters or kickers of balls, criminals in a variety of fields and the guardians of law and order who have never, "honest, guvnor", fitted-up anyone in their unblemished careers. Now and again there is a blockbuster about a Cromwell or a president, or some scientist, whose lives or discoveries seemed to leave their mark on a changed world. 

Mathematically, it should not be too surprising that, in a species which is as richly and variously talented as humanity and is numbered in multi-millions, there should be the occasional supremely talented individual, just as from week to week there are men and women who win the pools. 

Of course the materialist conception of history acknowledges the different qualities and contributions of individual men, women and groups in the development of society throughout the ages, and socialists would far rather pass an evening in the company of Louis Pasteur and his wife, than share a pint with Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Stalin or Alfred Krupps, but they recognise that the society in which these individuals operated were the greater forces in the equation. 

Apart from anything else, genius or talent is not inheritable. It is unlikely that the grandchildren of Puccini would qualify for lifetime free tickets to La Scala, Milan, and even the descendants of Pavarotti are not too likely to inherit his magical tonsils. But there is one property that even the completely talentless can inherit, and that is private property and the public use of power this entails. This is why humanity has had to suffer the dynastic rule, in politics and industry, of so many Neros and Caligulas. 

Karl Marx and Albert Einstein 
However, back to Great Men. Columbus discovered America and Newton discovered the gravitational forces, though both America and gravity had been there for some time before their "discovery". Nonetheless Columbus and Newton are worthy names in the history books. Karl Marx revealed the nature of the forces that operated to affect the human societies in the political and economic field, and postulated a society where poverty would be abolished along with buying and selling and money. He has been scorned, and ridiculed since for his ideas. 

A more recent Great Man was Albert Einstein, who set the world of physics ablaze with his theory of relativity. Few informed people would deny that Einstein was a twenty-four carat genius. Shortly after other Great Men had ended four years of ordering men to butcher and be butchered, an eclipse of the sun enabled Einstein's postulates to be confirmed. He then became news, as quotable as Garbo or Valentino, and journalists in popular science had a field day. Relativity was a strange concept, but no-one hated Einstein for it. Karl Marx envisaged a society where poverty would be abolished, and a lot of people still hate him for that theory, and we mean hate. Weird. 

Einstein did not confine himself to physics. He also had views on politics and world affairs. When he was interviewed by the world press arriving off some liner or aircraft he would tell them to "never forget to mention that I am a pacifist". He was scathing in his contempt of the military mind, stating that the magnificent human brain was wasted on such who only needed a broomstick for a spine and a place to support their helmets. But genius or no, he had, as we all do, to live in the real world, and that real world had made him a political refugee, as earlier it had Karl Marx. 

In time the developments of that real world led Albert Einstein, genius and avowed pacifist, to pen a letter to the President of the United States, who was also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, pleading that he set up research into a super-weapon. 

Thus was the Manhattan Project started, Hiroshima devastated and a climate of cold-war fear and fever created that threatened the very survival of all life on planet Earth. Many of the team that built the atomic bomb were, like Einstein, pacifists and some (enough to worry the military mind of Colonel Groves) had "left-wing" views. It is obvious that not only has the Ultimate Weapon which arose as an antidote of the Final Solution failed in its purpose, but that there are still some very nasty political ideas and regimes thriving yet. 

Karl Marx did not appeal to men and women of genius, or leaders. He addressed his message to the working class of the world, as his words show—"Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win!" 

Marx was not a pacifist. Einstein was. How strange that one led to the possible losing of the world and the other is still hated for pleading for it to be won. Like Einstein, Marx was a man of exceptional talent, but he knew that changing the world would not be the work of exceptional men and women. That is why we emphasise in our Declaration of Principles that "this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself" . We may not be a party of exceptional men and women, but we are a party with an exceptional idea. 

We would like ordinary men and women (and geniuses, too) to read our case, then help us spread it, any ordinary way they can.
Ed Blewitt

Castro's brand of capitalism (1979)

From the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now twenty years since the hated Cuban dictator Batista went into exile. As he did so the small army led by Fidel Castro finally took control of Havana, the capital city, after years of rural guerrilla warfare. This event, coupled with a series of economic and social reforms, is widely regarded as a revolution; it was no such thing. The new rulers nationalised much of the economy, set-up a one-party system, established diplomatic, economic and military ties with the Soviet bloc and to an increasing extent adapted their radical nationalism to a tropical version of Bolshevism. Not only was it described as a 'communist state' by the horrified defenders of United States' imperial interests, but also by young leftists elated by an initially unbureaucratic, indeed light-hearted and popular, new system that contrasted favourably with the familiar Soviet pattern. What really happened and why the misrepresentation? 

Cuba remained a Spanish colony 73 years after mainland Latin America had won its independence. When her 'liberation' was finally achieved in 1898, it was largely the result of United States military intervention. A short period of US administration was followed by the setting up of an 'independent' constitution in 1902 which nevertheless embodied the 'Platt Amendment' restrictions on its authority, enabling the US to intervene in Cuban affairs when deemed necessary. Having displaced Spanish political power, the United States proceeded to supplant local and European economic interests. The value of US exports to Cuba rose from $27m in 1897 to $200m in 1914. By 1929 78 per cent of Cuba's sugar cane was milled by foreign (mainly North American) owned companies and 25 per cent of the cane plantations were owned by 4 United States firms The US, by means of trade agreements, was the major market for Cuban sugar, and using a preferential rate of exchange sold cheap items of manufacture which strangled embryonic Cuban industry. 

By 1955, 40 per cent of raw sugar production, 23 per cent of non-sugar industry, 90 per cent of telephone and electrical services and 50 per cent of the railway network were American owned. This domination gave rise to resentment, especially among students, and the nationalism which had inspired the struggle against Spa in now took the form of Anti-Americanism. 

Cuba's economy depended on sugar (55 per cent of its arable land was devoted to growing cane) yet from 1925 onwards this section of the economy ceased to expand, causing general stagnation. Indeed, many countries began producing sugar from home-grown beet, resulting in a conflict of interests between American domestic producers and those upholding the sugar agreement with Cuba. 

The subservience to Washington of Cuba's governing circles and the fragmented character of social groupings militated against positive moves towards greater economic development and independence. Neither the rich nor the poor effectively coordinated their activities. The politicians were far more interested in the spoils of office than in advancing national development and corruption was virtually unchecked. As for a radical capitalist solution, the best organised body of people that might bring this about, the Communist Party, was seriously compromised by its record of deals with repressive regimes for the sake of real or illusory increases in its power and influence over the working class movement. Their alliance with Batista in 1938, helped him into power, played a significant part in alienating many young radicals from the political process. They had witnessed one leader after another promise radical changes for the better, only to be disappointed They had seen the Communist Party prostitute itself to dictator after dictator in the crude quest for power (through the first Batista regime they had received control of the CTC, the Cuban Trade Union organisation, as well as obtaining two cabinet seats). These radicals were well aware of the political chaos Cuba was in and of its social and technological backwardness and in desperation they turned to violence. During the Forties many students took part in 'Action Groups', small units carrying out terrorist activities but with little or no political success. From this hope of a regenerated Cuba a new movement arose under the leadership and powerful oratory of Eddy Chibas. But just when it seemed on the point of a break-through, Batista led a second coup d'état and re-installed himself as dictator in 1952. This event marked a turning point in the struggle for reform had been undertaken by the 'Orthodoxo' movement. Many of its former adherents became convinced of the need for the violent overthrow of the existing system. On the 26 July 1953 Castro led an unsuccessful attack on the Moncada Barracks but later the movement which took its name from the occasion was to gain support. Starting with twelve survivors of a landing party, in 1956 an army was built with the aid of the peasants of the Sierra Maestra. After a period of struggle the Fidelistas took complete control and the new regime was established in January 1959. 

Having gained political power, what was Castro to do with it? He had no efficient political organisation and, apart from his radical nationalism, no real programme. Breaking the US domination of the Cuban economy and being seen to be conducting a foreign policy independent of the USA were a vital requirement for Castro if he was to keep power.. However, in the conditions of the 'Cold War' a foreign policy independent of Washington, especially from a country only 90 miles from the US coast, could only be construed by the American Government and 'public opinion' as pro-Soviet. Further, the nationalisation of many American firms (prompted by the need to further concentrate and plan the investment of capital) led to the cutting off of all aid. The shortage of spare parts, new machinery and above all technicians and administrators led Cuba to seek increasing aid from the USSR and it was ultimately that country which replaced America as the major purchaser of Cuban sugar. 

The re-organisation of the Cuban economy and state required a political movement to ensure its success. Castro, by taking the Communist Party ready made and merging it with his own organisation, was merely creating the necessary instrument for his purposes. His claims of a long-standing adherence to 'Marxism-Leninism' provided a justification for union, with the CP, the introduction of a 'one-party state' and the establishment of his own rule. In pre-Castro Cuba the dominant social relationship was that of wage labour and capital. All that the Castro regime achieved on gaining power was the nationalisation of much of the economy (state capitalism) and a number of social reforms — not the abolition of capitalism. 
Brian Philips