Friday, August 7, 2015

Another Fake Goes West! (1949)

From the September 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Exit the Revolutionary Communist Party

The Russian Bolshevik movement as such really began with Lenin's scheme for control of the working-class movement by a band of trusted "leaders." After the Bolsheviks came to power they and their supporters deluged the world with literature; one of the main burdens of this literature was the necessity of correct leadership in the working-class movement. It was claimed that the main trouble with the Social Democratic Parties was "bad leaders," not lack of understanding on the part of the workers. From that time onwards understanding took a back seat and passionate controversies over the merits and demerits of leaders became the fashion, accompanied by bitter personal attacks. In the East and in the West what had claimed to be a movement for Socialism degenerated into a sordid and acrimonious struggle between "leaders" with the watchword "Woe to the vanquished."

From its beginning the Bolshevik movement was a struggle of new "leaders" against old, carried through with cunning and intrigue, and its principal exponent, Lenin, contended that the workers were incapable of developing from their own ranks the type of leaders that could establish the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat"; these leaders had to come from outside, as Lenin himself had done, from the ranks of the well-to-do. Lenin's ideas were the offspring of political conditions in Russia at the time which reflected the conditions of Europe at an earlier epoch. Even before the Bolshevik uprising the leaders within the party were at loggerheads, bitterly attacking each other for alleged "Rightism" and incapacity. After the Bolsheviks had captured power acrimony and recriminations became even fiercer, interfering with the conduct of affairs, and the uneasy co-operation of those at the head of the dictatorship was only held together by the personality of Lenin. After his death the struggle between the leaders for control of the government broke out into open warfare and the first important loser and casualty was Leon Trotzky, up yo Lenin's death the most popular leader next to him and one of the idols of the blind worshippers of Bolshevism in the Western world.

A partnership between Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, which made better use of the Party machine and of dirty linen washing, drove Trotzky out of the Party and finally into exile. He was a victim of his own wrong conceptions and of the machine he had helped to strengthen. In the course of time a new partnership between Stalin, Bukharin and Radek disposed of Zinoviev and Kamenev; then Bukharin and Radek were jettisoned, and so it went on until almost all the old Bolsheviks had either been executed, imprisoned or driven into exile, leaving the more cunning and ruthless Stalin the supreme victor with a network of secret police, henchmen and bodyguards to protect him from further aspirants to his throne. The economic circumstances that were the basis of these struggles and intrigues, and the cold brutality that went with them, have been described in these columns over the years; they are outside the subject of this particular article.

When Trotzky went into exile he carried on the struggle against Stalin from abroad and was the theoretical exponent of a new group, the Fourth International, more familiar as the "Trotzkyists." In England the Trotzkyists formed the "Revolutionary Communist Party." Between the Trotzkyists and the Stalin group there was no fundamental distinction; the former alleged that when Stalin changed his policy to "Socialism in One Country" he had "betrayed the Revolution," gone over to the reformist camp and deserted the World Revolution. This was just fantasy. The Bolshevik movement had never been anything but reformist as far as the Socialist Revolution was concerned. It was only revolutionary in the sense that it was helping capitalist production to replace a backward and semi-feudal production. It had turned back to borrow from the Jacobins of the French Revolution and from the Blanquist movement of the middle of last century. There is at least this to be said for Stalin: his present policy us the logical outcome of ideas that held sway in the minds of those who built up the early Bolshevik movement, whereas Trotzky was trying to side-step the inevitable result of the practical working out of those ideas in the Bolshevik state that he had so passionately supported.

In July of this year the English Trotzkyists, the Revolutionary Communist Party, brought out a Special Number of their paper, the Socialist Appeal, consisting of a small four-page leaflet. If there were ever any doubts about the reformist character of the R.C.P., this four-page leaflet disposes of them for ever!

The front page of the leaflet contains nothing but the following, in large type:—
"On the Dissolution of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the entry of its members into the Labour Party."
The second page informs us that after several months of discussion a Special National Conference was held in London, June 4th, 5th and 6th. and that the only items on the Agenda for this Conference were:—
"The current political situation in Britain: what forms the class struggle would take in the next period, and how best the energies and activities of its members could be utilised to further the cause of Socialism."
We are told that:—
"After a two-days debate, this fully representative Conference decided, by a substantial majority, to dissolve the organisation and call upon the members of the Party to enter the Labour Party—to which the majority already pay the Trade Union political levy—as individual members. Within the Labour Party they would carry on the fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system and for a Socialist Britain."
The last sentence is an exposure of mental bankruptcy; after originating as a challenge to the nationalism of the Stalinites the R.C.P. falls for the "Socialism in One Country" idea. We also like the touching phrase "to which the majority already pay the trade union political levy." If they had thought of the "Socialist Britain" and the political levy ideas beforehand they would have saved themselves the trouble and disappointment of forming a party. The R.C.P. is only one more of those impotent groups that have worked themselves into a perspiration ranting against the Labour Party and then, when their excitement has subsided, gone back where they really belong, to sleep peacefully in its fold along with the other sheep.

The reformist character of the R.C.P. is simply evident in this four-page leaflet which considers that the proper policy to be followed is further steps in the direction of nationalisation and only criticizes the Labour Government because it believes the Labour Government has not gone far enough. Again on the second page we read:—
"While the Labour Government has introduced a series of economic and political reforms, we do not believe that these reforms have gone far enough, or that they have basically undermined the capitalist structure of the country. The experience of two years of nationalisation has brought to the forefront the problem of workers' control and management of the nationalised industries; of further nationalisations and inroads into capitalist enterprise—key questions for a future Socialist development of the country."
In what way nationalisation has made inroads into capitalist enterprise we are not told, but it is interesting to notice that it has not basically undermined the capitalist structure of society—so they are going inside to carry on the same policy! In fact there is not a glimmer anywhere in the leaflet that the members of the R.C.P. have any idea of what Socialism is; instead they confuse it with nationalisation and defend the basic economic structure of Russia from the same point of view.

The immediate impetus for dissolving the Party appears to be contained in a paragraph on the third page:—
"An offensive against Capitalism is above all necessary to secure a decisive victory for Labour at the forthcoming General Election and to effectively combat Tory reaction."
So the offensive against Capitalism, according to them, consists in supporting a government that resists wage increases, breaks strike, prepares for war and generally carries on the fundamental traditions of Capitalism by ensuring that capitalist investors hold on to their privileged position of living on the backs of the workers!

One mystery the leaflet does not solve; why the members of the R.C.P. ever thought of wasting time and energy forming the R.C.P. when the Labour Party so adequately expresses their lack of understanding.

The R.C.P. was a fake revolutionary party, battening on the impetuosity and genuine enthusiasm of misguided workers who were perplexed by the antics of Russia. It demonstrates once again that Communist Parties, Left, Right or Centre, along with the fellow-grovellers, help to mobilise the workers for the familiar route march along the reformer's road in the bosom of futility.

So ends, ingloriously, a brief and uneasy span of spurious Marxism.

Letters: Passage from Marx that Jeremy missed (2015)

Letter to the Islington Tribune, 7 August, 2015

HAVING seen off the might of the Socialist Party at the general election, Jeremy Corbyn has clearly got cocky, and thinks he can take on all-comers.

I notice he has gone on the record as saying: “I haven’t really read as much of Marx as I should have done. I’ve read quite a bit, but not that much.”  

Maybe this is the bit he missed: “The working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles… Instead of the conservative motto: ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the wages system!’” (Value, Price and Profit).

Mr Corbyn does not call for the abolition of the wages system. As the Labour leadership election campaign goes on, he reveals that all he has to offer is the ghost of Harold Wilson warmed up.

North London branch, The Socialist Party

Looking at Football (1955)

From the February 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sport for profit

Four hundred years ago, seven countrymen from Ryslippe were indicted for playing "a certain unlawful game called foote-ball, by means of which unlawful game there was amongst them a great affray, likely to result in homicides or serious accidents." Today the "unlawful game" is a huge branch of the entertainments industry: more, it is part of the social life of Britain. And, as a touch of irony to make the seven men turn in their graves, the Queen goes to watch the Cup Final not seven miles from Ruislip.

Every Saturday about a million people go to see League football—nearly enough a thousand watchers to every player. The cry that we are all onlookers today is not quite fair, however. For one thing, playing football requires agility, keen senses and good stamina—is, in short, a young men's occupation. For another, facilities for it are increasingly limited. Land is valuable, and several acres can accommodate only two or three football pitches. In fact, almost every male adult has played football at some time, and most would probably rather play than watch; as it is, only a minority can do so.

To say that football is big business is not to say that every professional club is a thriving concern. A good many of them are companies which have never paid a dividend, financed mainly by local business men who want a hobby, and like to be in the public eye. The big clubs however—Arsenal, the Spurs, Newcastle and the rest—are each as profitable as a chain of cinemas, and their methods have changed the game itself. There is no need to consider the pools much in relation to footnall. Merely the bigger, better successors to prize crosswords and "Bullets", they have little influence on the game: as much money would be wagered on cockroach races if the rewards were big enough.

This is the age of professionalism in sport. It is a quite recent development: within living memory, the F.A. Cup was won by an Old Etonian side, The nineteenth-century sportsman was an amateur in the ideal sense, a well-to-do man who played football or cricket for recreation and because he had been taught to do so. The public schools fostered football (in various forms) to help develop the character of empire-builders, in line with what Wellington said about the playing fields of Eton. And the professional eighty years ago, was a lowly man indeed who drank beer and touched his forelock tyo the gentlemen.

Ordinary people had played football long before there were public schools, however. For three centuries, their rulers tried to stop them; there were half a dozen statutes against football in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the kings and preachers railed against it still in the seventeenth. It was certainly a rough affair. There were no rules; whole villages, sometimes whole districts, played against one another, and the rough-and-tumble fights were not much related to the ball's progress. Philip Stubbes minced no words in "The Anatomie of Abuses":
"As concerning football playing, I protest unto you that it may be rather be called a frendlie kind of fyghte than a play or recreation—a bloody and murthering practice than a felowly sport or pastime. For dooth not everyone lye in waight for his adversarie, seeking to overthrow him and picke him on his nose . . . ?"
What concerned the ruling class was not the folly of it or the broken heads, but its distraction from military exercise. It interfered with quarterstaff and archery practice; that called for legal action.

The first universal rules for football were an attempt to compromise between the various codes and make competition possible. Cambridge, the public schools and the old boys' clubs proposed model rules, but there was little unanimity until the Football Association was formed in 1863—at the same time establishing the distinction between "Rugby" and "Soccer". Once competition was on its feet, professionalism was the inevitable outcome. Watching competitive games became a popular recreation in the northern industrial towns, and success-hungry teams used the obvious means to get good players to join them. In 1885 professionalism was recognized; in a few years football meant Preston, Blackburn and Sheffield instead of the Wanderers, Royal Engineers and Carthusians.

One of the first things professionalism did to football was make it less violent. Injury meant nothing worse to the amateurs than an interruption of their favourite game; to a professional it could mean displacement and loss of livelihood, and so heavy charging was outlawed. The style of play changed, too. The old amateur forwards could juggle delightfully with the ball, but a paid team wanted only the quickest way to goal. Individualism declined and "combination play" became the thing: a famous back, writing in 1906, complained that modern forwards passed the ball before they could be tackled. 

The biggest changes were still to come. However skilful its play, a losing team has few followers—that is, its income falls. The huge partisan crowds at football matches in the ‘twenties were prepared to see only their own sides win, and applaud any sort of play to that end. The Arsenal introduced the “stopper” centre-half, a player whose business was to obstruct the opponents and nothing else. The method caught on because it was successful; it still dominates football. The units in the pattern of today’s teams are the rough, destructive centre-half, the fast-chasing wingers and the hard-kicking, opportunistic centre-forward.

Meanwhile ball play, the real craftsmanship of football, has declined. The mechanization of leisure and the increasing congestion of towns have had a lot to do with it. Thirty or more years ago, boys spent half their spare time kicking small balls in the streets or on waste ground; now they watch the Telly instead, and in any case there is less waste ground and they have been taught that playing in the streets is dangerous. Then, too, the young model themselves on the professionals.

Britain has always been regarded (by Britain as well as the others) as the world's schoolmaster in football. Since the war, half a dozen other nations have produced teams which have beaten Britain's best and started everyone asking what has happened to football in this country. Hungary, Uruguay, Yugoslavia and the other nations have the best of both the old and the new football worlds; ardent for personal skill, their players have learned besides the most useful elements of commericalized English football. It is true that nationalism plays a considerable part. Rapidly developing countries (like those mentioned) are hungry for every sort of prestige, and sporting success can carry a great deal of it. That is why the governments of Russia and the satellite nations spend large sums on sports facilities and give great honour to their leading footballers and athletes. International sport, commonly believed to promote goodwill more often contributes to its opposite.

In recent times there has been strong criticism of the transfer system. Fifty years ago a player named Common was sold for a thousand pounds, and the football world shook (indeed, the F.A. tried and failed by legislation to prevent any more of it); a few weeks ago a player was bought for thirty thousand. A great deal of nonsense is talked about footballers being slaves; they are no more so that any other wage-slaves. Most transfers take place at the players' wishes, and the only time a player is victimized is when the club asks a fee for him that nobody will pay; the legal validity of the transfer system, incidentally, was established in 1912 when a player named Kingaby sued Aston Villa in exactly those circumstances. Players themselves receive no share of transfer fees, though a sought-after man usually looks for such inducements as a house and a side-line job. The worst aspect of the transfer system is that it tends to produce a monopoly of talent by the wealthy clubs, emphasizing again the business character of modern football. 

A footballer’s maximum wage is fifteen pounds a week in the playing season (many clubs pay nothing like the maximum). Players receive bonuses of two pounds for a win and one pound for a draw, and a few of them are famous enough to make a little more by writing newspaper columns or advertizing. Thus, a first-class player is lucky if he take £700 in a year. Certainly his earnings are not to be compared with a jockey’s, and his playing career usually ends before he is thirty-five (though every footballer understates his age). A small number become managers, coaches and so on, but obviously there is not room for more than a few to do so.

Football combines some of the best things games can offer—physical exercise, skill, co-operation with others. Commercialism has shaped it along certain lines, making success more important than enjoyment. Watching it played well can give us much pleasure as a ballet or a symphony. More often, however, it is a weekly relief from tedium or a source of vicarious satisfactions ranging from dreams of fame to revenge fantasies. Nor can too much be said for commercial football from the players’ point of view. It would be wrong to suppose they do not enjoy it (even the ones who say they play just for money). All the same, it is their bread and butter, and only the exceptionally skilful players can afford not to help the fair means with some of the other sort (so you can see the same nasty little tricks aped in schoolboy games, too). A professional footballer has several years with play instead of work and a great deal of adulation, and afterwards he is turned into a workaday world almost completely unprepared for it.

It seems a pity that a good sport should be tarnished by the profit system. But then, what isn’t?
Robert Barltrop

Obituary: Louis Langford (1977)

Obituary from the October 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been learned that this long-serving member died on Easter Monday this year.

The writer met him whilst working in Salisbury, Wilts., two years ago and remained in touch with him. Despite his 85 years, Louis kept up-to-date with the world around him, even with the difficulty of deafness in both ears and the effect this had on his movements.

He was a member of East Ham Branch in his earlier years, and recalled that during the first world war he had the Branch books buried in his back yard as a precaution against the authorities' attitude towards the Party at the time.

He was a violinist and played the music-halls, and had many good tales to tell of those bygone days. Despite poor health and disability, he continued to propagate Socialism and passed on pamphlets to anyone who showed interest in the SPGB's case.

We extend our sympathy to his family and the nephew who informed the writer of Louis's death.
Bill Buchanan

The One Virile Class. (1915)

From the June 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is fairly safe to assume that never before in the history of the civilised world has such a profusion of literary slosh been printed as during the present period of human slaughter. The worker is, on one hand, lauded to the skies as a very fine fellow and on the other, roundly cursed as a drunkard and slacker. Thousands of letters bristling with puerility find place in the Press dutifully heaping up the gigantic confusion already created by their professional brethren. Hundreds of oratorial geniuses—so-called—find free expression for their doubtful eloquence; reports of their speeches being eagerly devoured by those whose mental equilibrium, never at any time strong, collapsed quite early-on under the extraordinary avalanche. To quote from such mountains of piffle extensively would serve no useful purpose, indeed, it might quite easily lay the present writer open to affront, but no actual apology is needed in introducing just one extract from the "London Mail," dated Nov. 3rd, 1914. It reads: "I suppose foreigners will never quite understand the incurable habit that our soldiers and sailors have of persisting in believing even this frightful war as the biggest bit of fun they have ever enjoyed." The advocates of compulsory military service are having the time of their lives in proving the essential truth of the dictum that "old men love to give advice because they are no longer in the position to set a worse example."

But it is upon the public platform that one also is enabled to perceive the growing intellectual bankruptcy of the master class with even better results. One good lady who has suddenly found herself famous owing to her relationship to someone of military magnitude, speaking in the North of England said: "Trust them!" (the great leaders) "They know, we don't!" "They are more clever than we!" Placed alongside reports of the incompetence of certain officers in the early stages of the war, such as Joffres notes on the Mons defeat, the statement suffers somewhat. This delightful "we are it" attitude is, however, very characteristic of the master class. But where, pray, may we find evidence of this expression? I have before me an official circular issued by a State department. In this circular there appears a paragraph headed, "Awards for Suggestions," and details follow explaining how money is distributed for suggesting affecting improvements in plant and economy. This circular is addressed to the whole of the staff. During April, 1915, some 19 suggestions were awarded a total sum amounting to £13. The appeal itself throttles the very life out of our sentimental charmer's prattling remarks: "They know! We don't" "They are more clever than we!" Birket Foster, whose praises are seldom heard, was born in humble circumstances in the unsalubrious town of South Shields. His water-colour work is truly glorious. One biographical dictionary actually says, "he sketched before he walked." Did not the great Jean Millet, the painter of pastoral subjects, die in poverty, standing testimony to the world of the great versatile ability of the international working class.

Epictetus, the slave Stoic philosopher, had such respect paid to his memory that when he died the lamp by whose light he was wont to study was sold for a considerable sum. Then last but by no means least, we have cherished memory of the great genius of Treves, Karl Marx. Speaking of Marx, Chambers' Biographical Dictionary says "at the British Museum he acquired his marvellous knowledge of economic literature and the economic history of modern Europe," and later adding, "Marx was a man of extraordinary knowledge which he handled with masterly skill." But 'tis merely part and parcel of the huge game of keeping the intellectually starved proletariat in subjection, these tales of the superior brain force exercised by the master class.

With the certain conviction that the working class are a fitting instrument for their emancipation once they grasp a class-conscious attitude, we affirm our determination to carry on the fight. Renouncing with loathing and contempt all efforts to defile the Socialist case by the pseudo-Socialist and labour poltroons, we stand now patiently working our way along the road that leads to the Red International.
B. B. B.

Past, Present and Future (2015)

From the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

We examine key changes in society and why they happen, using a Marxist perspective.

An essential part of the socialist analysis of our world is the intellectual grasp of its restless dynamic of change. Everything is in the process of becoming something else: an acorn becomes a seedling which becomes a tree which becomes a home to animals and produces acorns which those animals bury to become seedlings. A star explodes and seeds space with dust that becomes other stars and planets which develop life from that stardust. In any single object, and the abstraction that we use to comprehend it, we can see that it is composed of the memory of its conception together with the seeds of its future.

To restrict the understanding of anything to just its present form would be very misleading. When we look at a baby we think of the adult it will become, when we see beauty we are conscious of its inevitable corruption by age and when we look at a building under construction we imagine its final fa├žade; we see the piles of bricks as what they will become just as an archaeologist will see a less structured pile as what it once was. Cultural and political history are subject to the same dynamic –although reactionary ideology is dedicated to denying this obvious truth. We are told that capitalism is the paradigm of human cultural achievement and that any denial of this, especially with reference to the universal dynamic of change already described, is hopelessly idealistic and politically destructive. People say to socialists: ‘how can you possibly be sure that what you advocate will be better than what we have now?’ or ‘the revolution will only make things worse’. Nobody can look into the future with absolute clarity but if we’re correct in our belief that everything is composed of both its past and possible future, then can an analysis of the present give us some reliable clues as to our future? What are the elements within the present that give socialists the confidence to believe that the new world is emerging within the womb of the old?

Looking at the past we can see elements of our present within it; cities built on trade such as Venice, London and Amsterdam were developing a flourishing merchant class during Europe’s renaissance and the reformation periods. The wealth of this emerging ‘bourgeoisie’ gave them the means to challenge the power of the ‘ancient regime’ of the King and aristocracy. The technologies of navigation, steam power and the mechanisation of production gave rise to this emerging ‘middle class’ and the economics of capitalism which today is ubiquitous in every part of human existence. Of course the rise to political power of this new class did not go unchallenged and the resulting struggle we call ‘the bourgeois revolutions’.

Class struggle
Using this perspective of history we can see that technological change leads to new forms of production which in turn creates new economic relationships between members of a community. When such a new group or ‘class’ becomes conscious of its economic importance and how the contemporary political structure frustrates its development it will then challenge that structure for political power (usually to help accelerate its own wealth). The dynamic element within history is this ‘class struggle’. Can we glimpse elements of our future using this historical analysis? Socialists believe so: and whenever the current ruling classes start howling about ‘threats to the health of the economy’ we know they are pointing to social reforms such as health and welfare expenditure, etc.

The greatest emergent quality within capitalism is, ironically, social production itself. All of the necessities of life are produced socially but acquired individually (by the capitalist). That the producers (the working class) perceive that their economic interests are not represented within the present political power structure reflects the similar relationship of the past between the bourgeoisie and the king. So, in this way, we see the seeds of our future (socialist revolution) in the economic relationships of the present. Human culture is a dynamic economic and political process that is always changing. Any attempt to analyse economics and politics without a realisation of this most important factor is like trying to get onboard a speeding train while wearing a blindfold. The popularity of this ’blindfolded’ approach to the study of political economy is obviously in the interests of the status quo whose agency within industry and the centres of learning has encouraged superficial theories such as ‘neo liberalism’ etc. In this way almost all contemporary economic and political theories have been merely attempts to rationalise the irrational realities of the market system which is conceived of as eternal and essentially unchanging.

Marxian approach
Does this Marxian approach imply some kind of ‘economic determinism’ and its proponents as ’crystal ball gazers’ and prophets? It is impossible to conceive of the ’present’ without reference to the past and future; our understanding of all three can be more or less comprehensive depending, decisively, on their mutual inclusion. All Marxists do is recognise this inescapable logic in our analysis - the efficacy of which can be tested on recent historical events such as the failure of the Soviet regime to establish socialism and the rejection of ‘state capitalism’ by its citizens.

Our rejection of any socialist content or potential within the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was based on the historical analysis described. The contention that the future is ‘unknowable’ is the same as contending that the past and present are also ’unknowable’ - as, indeed, they are when any one of the three components is absent within the analysis. Economic determinism is a leftist misinterpretation of Marxian theory because it excludes the vital concept of ’majority’ consciousness becoming a material force for historical change. The economic elements for making Socialism a practical alternative have been in place for at least a century but as is painfully obvious the mass consciousness necessary for revolution is almost entirely absent.

Many aspects of the history of the last century are discussed as reasons for this: the carnage of two world wars and the subsequent loss of confidence in human potential to make a better world (poignantly expressed in Adorno‘s phrase: ‘Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’) and the ubiquity of the distraction of consumerism together with the minority control and ownership of the mass media being two of the most probable. None of these explanations, however, can disguise the cultural, political and moral bankruptcy of 21st century capitalism. If you, the reader, are convinced by our analysis we invite you to become a part of the ’material force’ for revolutionary change; by doing so you validate the theory you embrace. The Left may advocate endless slogans and demonstrations generated by their elitist view that they know what’s good for you and that they can lead you to a better life. We know that mass consciousness and self-determination is the only way to create socialism; history will decide if we are correct because, among other things, it can never betray you.