Monday, September 21, 2015

Nationalism - Poison for the Working Class (2002)

Editorial from the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
Across the world nationalism has been rearing its ugly head again, most notably in the cockpit of violence that is the Middle East. As we write Palestinian and Israeli workers continue to butcher one another in a senseless round of tit-for-tat atrocities. As the shooting of Palestinian children and the suicide bombings aimed at Israeli workers in Jerusalem continue, socialists have no hesitation in stating that this violence is in no way, shape or form in the interest of the working class of wage and salary earners.
Many on the political left will argue that Palestinian nationalism is somehow progressive and different to Israeli nationalism and should therefore be supported (in a similar way to why they often think Welsh and Scottish nationalism should be encouraged in Britain and Irish Nationalism in Ulster). As socialists, we say that this is a dangerous poison that is being spread by the left and that no side engaged in such conflict can either speak for the working class as a whole or be an example to it.
History is replete with minorities in existing states using terrorist methods so that a new state may be formed or territory transferred from the “ownership” of one state to another. The working class of wage and salary earners is never in a position to benefit from this process, it is only in a position to suffer. The working class – by definition the class that does not possess any significant titles to land or private property, including capital – has quite literally nothing to gain from a situation where one group of rulers and owners is replaced by another group.
In the nineteenth century when the modern capitalist system was expanding across the globe “national liberation” struggles, typically led by a local growing capitalist class against the old autocratic empires, were part of the process which swept away the old political arrangements and opened the way forward for liberal democracy and the development of capitalist methods of production. It was often argued that it was in the interests of the working class during this time to take the side of the capitalists against the old autocracies like the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, etc. It was said that this process would open the way up for working class organisation and for the development of an advanced industrial system which is a prerequisite for a socialist society of abundance and free access to available wealth.
Since then, the capitalist system has become a world system. The alleged justification for the working class taking sides in 'national liberation' struggles has now gone if ever it existed and today all such struggles are just deadly battles between sections of the capitalist class, even though it is the workers – imbued with nationalist poison – that naturally enough end up doing the fighting and dying.
We argue that every nation state is by its very nature anti-working class. The “nation” is a myth as there can be no community of interests between two classes in antagonism with one another, the non-owners in society and the owners (the workers and the capitalists). And the state ultimately exists only to defend the property interests of the owning class at any given point in history – which is why modern states across the world send the police and army in to break strikes and otherwise seek to protect the interests of the capitalists and “business” at every turn.
The goal of the socialist movement is not to assist in the creation of even more states but to establish a real world community without frontiers where all states as they currently exist will be destroyed. In a socialist society communities, towns and cities will have the opportunity to thrive – and people will no doubt feel an attachment to places that are real and tangible – but the 'imagined communities' that are nation states will be consigned to the history books where they belong.
Our message to the workers who call themselves Israeli and the workers who call themselves Palestinian is to cease the slaughter. As workers you have no real community of interests to gain from your present struggle. You do, however, have an “imagined community” you should lose and an entire world to win instead.

Who said the Class Struggle was Dead? (1974)

From the January 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who accept present-day society see strikes and industrial conflict as an avoidable mistake. Wilson and the Labour Party, for instance, accuse the Tories of "splitting the nation" as if what they call the nation has ever been united. Tory backwoodsmen, on the other hand, see all sorts of "leftwing agitators" behind strikes. Industrial psychologists blame it all on outdated attitudes. None of them face up to the fact that industrial conflict is built into present-day society and is quite unavoidable as long as it lasts.

The purpose of production today is not the satisfaction of human needs but profit. So a car factory is not essentially a place where cars are made but a place where profits are made; and the same goes for shipyards, coal mines, railways, docks, warehouses, offices and all other workplaces, irrespective of whether they are private or State owned, The source of these profits, as of all wealth, is the labour of all those who work. Industrial psychologists and others may regard this as one of their "outdated attitudes" but, argue as they may, they cannot refute the fact that wealth can only be produced by human beings working on nature-given materials and that therefore any non-work income such as profits must come out of the labour of those who do work.

Workers are paid as wages or salaries about enough to keep them and their families in efficient working order, but can and do produce much more than this, the surplus over and above their wages being the source of profit. Workers accept these terms because, having no other source of income, they are compelled to work for wages for those who own and control the means of production.

Present-day society, capitalism, then, is based upon the exploitation of the working class. Trade unions were formed to try to mitigate this exploitation since experience showed that, if workers put up no resistance, employers take advantage of this weakness to increase profits at the expense of wages. The trade union struggle is basically a defensive struggle against such downward pressures on wages or, what amounts to the same thing, a response to money prices rising faster than money wages.

In 1972, after all, the miners only claimed to be fighting to restore their standard of living of four or five years previously. And most trade union struggles are the same: to maintain, rather than improve, their members' standard of living. Figures confirm this. According to New Society (25 February, 1971), in the period 1959 to 1970 the net real income of the average wage-earner (that is, his take home pay plus family allowances) rose only 19 per cent, or less than 2 per cent. a year. Hardly a confirmation of the claim that trade unions are responsible for rising prices, growing unemployment, etc., etc., because of the huge wage increases they are alleged to have got for their members. Rather it is a confirmation of their limited role of maintaining standards; that, in fact, despite strikes and tough bargaining, trade unions have to run fast just to stay still. Present-day society, in other words, forces workers to struggle just to maintain their standard of living, let alone improve it.

But the wages struggle is just one aspect of the class struggle. Ultimately this is a struggle by the workers for the ownership and control of the means of production, whether or not they realise this (and most of them at the moment unfortunately do not). The logic of their position in society as an exploited, wealth-producing class compels them to struggle for this, at first unconsciously and later consciously.

This working-class struggle of which the struggle over wages and working conditions is bit the industrial aspect, will go on as long as workers are the subject class in society. The logic of the workers' social position dictates this. This is why strikes are built into present-day society and cannot be abolished by psychologists or repressive laws; not even state capitalist Russia and Eastern Europe, for all their police state dictatorships, have been able to prevent the workers struggling against their exploitation.

To win, however, the workers' struggle must move beyond the spontaneous industrial level and become conscious and political. For capitalist ownership of the means of production is in the end maintained by their control of political power which the political backwardness of the working class gives them. Let there be no doubt about this. The workers, including those who from time to time have to take industrial action to maintain their living standards, vote for political parties which, in practice, always act to confirm capitalist control of the means of production: for Labour or the Tories, both of which have no desire to change the system of accumulating capital out of the profits produced by the working class.

What is needed is a conscious political movement aimed at ending capitalist class ownership and control of the means of production, thereby abolishing classes (including the working class). This done, a new society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interests of the whole community will have been established. On this basis production for sale with a view to profit can be replaced by the planned production of wealth solely to satisfy human needs and, given modern technology, a society of abundance achieved with free access to goods and services in accordance with the old Socialist principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".
Adam Buick 

Editorial: “Nasty Party” or Nasty System? (2002)

Editorial from the November 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Conservative Party Chairwoman Theresa May recently said at the Party conference that the Tories were perceived as being the “nasty party” the media leapt upon it as an admission of guilt. The political opponents of the Tories in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties described it as striking confirmation that they'd been right all along: the Tories were a peculiarly sorry and vindictive lot.

That the Conservative Party has long held some rather unsavoury assumptions and has revelled in the distasteful political practices consequent on them is without dispute. From single mothers and the unemployed to Afro-Caribbeans who do not support the England cricket team, the working class in Britain has felt the wrath of the Tories (and their media friends at papers like the Daily Mail) longer than most of us care to remember. That their assumptions were tainted by rank hypocrisy from the start to finish (such as with the “back to basics” of John Major) made their political swagger all the more difficult to take – and their demise when it came all the more satisfying.

But if the Tories were the “nasty party”', what do we have now? Are New Labour the “kind and cuddly” party? Or are they at least the “lesser evil” – the “not quite so nasty” lot? Socialists have an uncompromising view on this and we can illustrate it through an analogy.

If there are two other people in a room with you and the first one of them is openly hostile, abuses you at every turn and is obviously working for interests diametrically opposed to your own, you would have to be crazy to consider them a friend. But if the other person in the room keeps telling you that they are on your side, sympathises about how awful the first person is being, and says you should trust them instead – while all the while they are pursuing interests just as opposed to yours and will proceed to stab you in the back at the first opportunity – then who is your real friend? Neither of them is the answer, of course, though we can say that you are less likely to be deceived by the openly hostile one.

The function performed by the Labour Party is always to appear as the benign friend to the workers in distinction to the “wicked” Tories. In the 1950s Labour hero Nye Bevan said the Tories were “lower than vermin” and in more recent times ex-Labour MP Frank Haynes called Margaret Thatcher “a wicked, wicked woman” to her face. But at least you could say Thatcher and her cohorts were straightforward about their support for privilege and their subsequent contempt for the workers – indeed, rather more straightforward than the Labour Party.

Already since their re-election in 1997 Labour is the Party that has hit the benefits of single mothers and the unemployed, has introduced tuition fees for students (something the Tories were unable to get away with) has set its face against so-called “wreckers” and militants in the trade union movement, has allied itself with the world's greatest superpower at every turn and is now preparing to unleash war upon tens of thousands of unsuspecting Iraqis in the name of “saving” them from military dictatorship. It is tempting to ask that “with friends like that, who needs enemies?”

But does this make the Labour Party any more “nasty” or “evil” than the Tories? The answer is irrelevant. Both organisations (just like any others wishing to take over from them like the LibDems) are “nasty” parties in effect because they are attempting to run a thoroughly nasty system which pits human being against human being in a never-ending struggle for existence. Even if the Tories and the Labour Party had the best of intentions they would be unable to operate the system in any other way than that demanded by its internal logic. And its internal logic is what leads to the wealth of the privileged few being placed before the satisfaction of the needs of the many, to a crumbling society where community is destroyed by rampant individualism and competition, and to constant warfare across the world over trade routes, spheres of influence, power and profits.

Hoping that the Labour Party will behave differently to the self-styled “nasty party” – or hoping that the “nasty party” itself will behave any differently in future should it form the government is an unrealistic – indeed utopian – expectation. Any party that tries to run capitalism gets its hands grubby, as a matter of course, in what is a very dirty business.

Socialists are revolutionaries and that means we recommend struggling against the capitalist system as a whole rather than just one or other of the various parties that support it. A democratic socialist revolution would relieve the Tories of the embarrassment of unloading their guilt and hypocrisy in public any more and Labour of having to do the same the next time they're kicked out of office. Indeed, a socialist revolution can help build a society where honesty and mutual respect are the norm rather than the headline-grabbing exception to it. And for that reason alone, it must be an option worthy of consideration.

Activities at Home and Abroad (1933)

From the March 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Excitement in Stepney
On Friday, January 20th, Stepney Branch held a meeting at Whitechapel Library. The speaker, Comrade Cash, took as his subject, "Why I left the Communist Party." A large audience assembled, some of whom were Communists, who did their best by heckling and shouting to prevent the speaker getting a hearing. When the Chairman asked the leader of the disturbers to leave the meeting he (the Chairman) was threatened with a baton, and, for a while, pandemonium reigned. However, the Socialist Party members present proved themselves more than capable of dealing with the situation, and, in spite of this display of organised hooliganism, the meeting was a success, many people being turned away through lack of accommodation.

It is clear that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is beginning to make its influence felt in Stepney.

*    *    *    *

On Sunday, February 5th, literature-sellers from Southwark Branch attended the T.U.C. Unemployed Demonstration in Hyde Park and managed to sell nearly 100 copies of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.

*    *    *    *

The newly-formed Gateshead Branch is leaving no stone unturned to make Socialism and the Socialist Party of Great Britain better known in that district. The demand for Socialist literature has been met and encouraged in Gateshead and neighbouring towns. Although open-air meetings have had to be suspended owing to inclement weather, good work is being carried on in other fields of propaganda. The Gateshead I.L.P. and the Bensham Grove Settlement have been addressed on "The Principles and Policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain."

Publicity for the Socialist Party was secured by the publication in The Gateshead Weekly Star of a letter on socialism and religion, which mentioned our pamphlet, "Socialism and Religion," and drew attention to the SOCIALIST STANDARD and its purpose.

*    *    *    *

The S.P. of Canada
The Socialist Party of Canada continues to make good progress. Two economic classes and a history class are held each week at N. Battleford, Sask., and have a regular attendance. Whist Drives and Raffles have been arranged to increase funds.

Half-a-dozen study groups have been formed at small points out West, resulting in a considerable demand for our literature.

*    *    *    *

New Zealand
The Socialist Party of New Zealand has had its difficulties increased by the ban on public meetings, but this has not prevented propaganda activities being carried on in other directions. Two study classes are held, one at Head Office and one at Wellington, both of which report excellent progress.

The Labour Party and Communist Party were challenged to debate, but both declined. The Labour Party claimed a "common objective" (though it would be interesting to learn on what grounds), and the Communist Party refused to give "Socialism a hearing at their own expense," after accusing one of our members of running away from them.

*    *    *    *

Debate with a Conservative at Canning Town
A debate took place on Monday, February 13th, at the Public Hall, Canning Town, between Mrs. Tennant, for the Conservative Party, and the S.P.G.B., represented by Comrade Hardy.

The Hall was full to overcrowding. A group of Communists in the audience kept up a running fire of interruption while Mrs. Tennant was speaking, and, towards the end of the debate, they prevented both speakers from being heard by a continual chorus of shouting.

*    *    *    *

As the possibility of sustained outdoor propaganda is always diminished during the winter, the only alternative is indoor meetings, and these present serious financial problems to a party such as ours. The possibility of covering the expenses incurred with, perhaps, over a half of one's audience in serious economic distress, is very remote.

On Sunday, February 12th, the branch held a meeting in the Lower Hall of the Town Hall, at which Comrade Bellingham spoke on "Socialism and Unemployment." The meeting was well attended, some 150 persons being present. The questions asked and the criticism entered took the usual form, that is, in the main, they consisted of an attempted I.L.P. cum C.P. criticism of the Parliamentary method without the advancement of any alternative line of action.

Literature was sold to the value of three shillings and eightpence, and specimen copies of our party organ were given away at the door as the audience left.

All things considered, the local branch are satisfied with this meeting. 

Political Notebook: Thorpe is Guilty (1979)

The Political Notebook Column from the August 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Thorpe Trial is over. The newspapers desperately search for a new scandal with which to divert workers from what really concerns them. Readers of the Socialist Standard and readers of Private Eye No. 458 will be relieved to discover that contrary to its letters page, no analysis of the Thorpe et al. case appears in this issue, not have we played any part in the journalistic voyeurism which organs of the capitalist press have indulged in. Whether Thorpe was found 'guilty' or 'innocent' in accordance with the sickening laws of capitalism makes not the slightest difference to the working class. Secondly, Thorpe, like all upholders of the system which condemns a person for not conforming to conventional sexuality but glories in the murder of innocent workers for the sake of winning markets in time of war, is guilty of a crime against the working class which is far greater than any for which he was tried at the House of Hypocrisy, the old Bailey. We should be concerned to remove the disease, not pick off the unsightly scabs. When that job is done, Thorpe and his fellow political scabs will be found guilty of the conspiracy to defraud which is the keystone of capitalist legality.


On a warm Saturday afternoon last month a few thousand boneheaded bootboys marched through the streets of London waving Union Jacks. Members of the army earning their pay, perhaps? No, these were members of the National Front protesting that their culture (sic) is being swamped by a mass influx of Vietnamese refugees to Britain. And what did these promoters of international brotherhood, the Communist Party, have to say about such nonsense? Unsurprisingly, not much. Their silence is not unrelated to the fact that they support the Russian control of Vietnam and that the refugees are fleeing from the tyranny which the Communist Party exists to defend. Both the Communist Party and the National Front are nationalists of one kind or another; they both serve to divide the working class.


Anyone who went along to a recent meeting at the North London Polytechnic could listen to some 'Marxist' wisdom being dispensed  by speakers Ken Livingstone (ex-Labour candidate for Hampstead) and John Ross of the International Marxist Group. The subject of the meeting was 'Why Labour Lost'. Needless to say, the answer to the question was never given, but the audience was told that the workers need more class struggle — the one thing that all workers are involved in whether they want to be or not. When one of the super-radicals urged us to unite for a minimum wage of £60 a week, one of the audience pointed out that Marxists don't want any wages at all, but the abolition of the wages system. The super-radical pseudo-Marxist replied: "You might not need wages, but we need them in order to live." Audience response: loud laughter and universal agreement. Political conclusion: these clowns know as much about Marxism as they know about why Labour lost.


If you listen to the left wing for long enough they'll have you believe that capitalism never existed until Maggie Thatcher moved in to Number Ten. Indeed, Socialist Worker's first issue after the election had the headline: 'Capitalism Is Back In Office'. Presumably the SWP would describe the previous government as something other than capitalism. The Callaghan fan club from the SWP might actually swallow their own shallow propaganda but those with capital at stake seem to be less certain about the major differences between the two main parties. For example, a report published before the election by the British United Provident Association, the largest of the private health insurance schemes, was markedly sceptical about the differences in the Labour and Tory health policies. Of Labour it says:
During the era of the present Labour government, private practice, especially in the independent sector, has flourished and it is likely that if the Labour government is returned with a large majority in 1979, or even if it remains a 'hung' government, its attitude towards private practice in the coming three to four years will be a moderate one.
And the Conservative Party:
. . . In spite of offering considerable incentives to the insurance side of private health care, [a Conservative government] could seriously undermine the independent sector if its policies on the provision of facilities were implemented. There were strong indications to suggest that health care was high on the list of Conservative priorities and that action would be taken shortly after the formed a government.
Which means, in short, that neither Labour nor Tory will make a scrap of difference to the system in which the rich have the privilege of superior health care and the poor wait in the long queues of the NHS.


The Guardian (29.6.79) reports that "The Biggest Soviet-American trade deal ever is brewing", which involves a joint American-Japanese-Russian 50 million dollar investment to extract natural gas from the vast field beneath the Yakutia republic. For those who still believe that Russia is socialist, that it opposes American capitalism and that profits are things of the past in the land of Tsar Brezhnev, we are sorry to have to announce that the deal will not be finalised until each of the partners can be sure of obtaining a profit from the deal.
Steve Coleman