Friday, October 23, 2015

Letter: Anti-socialism (2012)

Letter to the Editors from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

An enquirer from the United States has sent us the following piece of anti-socialist propaganda doing the rounds there and has asked us to comment on it, adding “why do so many people think Socialism is a dirty word?”

“An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said, ‘Okay, we will have an experiment in this class’. All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade, so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset, and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less, and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride, too, so they studied little.

The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased, as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings, and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because, when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. Socialism has never worked anywhere in the world. It cannot be any simpler than that. Please pass this on, and remember – there is a test coming up – the 2012 elections.”

Our enquirer is right: many people do regard socialism as a dirty word, and that’s because of the meaning they attribute to it. It’s often equated to the former Soviet Union or to Cuba or China or to social reforms by the state. But our  perspective on what socialism means is entirely different. So, predictably, the problem with what the ‘economics professor’ has to say about socialism is that he’s answering the wrong question. He takes on and tries to undermine the idea that in a socialist society everyone would be equal in all ways. But that’s not what socialism is about.

Socialism is a society in which everyone will be free to exercise and express their abilities and aptitudes whatever these may be and in which the whole idea of ‘failing’ or ‘passing’ would be absent. The important thing would be ‘contribution’. ‘From each according to ability, to each according to need’ sums it up. All this would be   based on a moneyless, wageless society of voluntary work and co-operation, in which everyone would have equal access to all goods and services. So there would indeed be equality in the economic sense (‘no one would be poor and no one would be rich’) but, far from creating uniformity and mediocrity and a general lowering of standards as the professor suggests, this would be a basis upon which people could work to express themselves fully and fruitfully for their own satisfaction and the good of all. In fact, the professor’s idea that, ‘when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great’, fits in well with a socialist society, for what greater reward can there be than to contribute to the general wellbeing (even many rich people in today’s highly individualistic, competitive society feel that) and to earn the approbation of others? And of course there would be no government to take that reward away, since socialism by definition depends on people running their own society democratically, not on having any government structure to do it. Socialism has indeed never ‘worked anywhere in the world’. But that’s because it has never been tried.

Socialism will be a society in which there is no private ownership (or put another way, one in which everyone owns everything). It’s hard of course to lay down the exact details of how a society of common ownership will function, but, given appropriate safeguards, is there any problem (especially with the technology we now have) in people engaging in their chosen activities (be that fruit/vegetable growing, computer designing, airplane manufacture, etc.) and delivering or making those products or services part of a common store on which people can draw as and when needed?

Human beings want to and need to exploit their potential via work if the conditions for them to do so are congenial. The problem with the current system of society is that it so often forces people to do work they don’t want to do or can see no point in – all to get money to survive. We all (or nearly all) want to do work of some kind, but employment (which is what work is in the present society) is a different thing. Capitalism in fact has put a kind of curse on work making so many of us see it as by definition something unpleasant that we are forced to do. Finally, you can’t have the fully democratic society that socialism will be until the vast majority of people want it. In other words, you can’t impose it, and if you try to do that you’ll be defeating its whole purpose. It simply couldn’t work, since it is a society based on willing  cooperation.
– Editors

Our Peace Manifesto: Why We Issued It. (1917)

Editorial from the July 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

It will be observed that elsewhere in this issue the Socialist Party of Great Britain have addressed a Manifesto to the proposed international Congress. We wish to state here briefly the reasons which have compelled the Party Executive to issue this pronouncement.

It will have struck our readers that since the war broke out the word "Socialism" has loomed large in the international Press, and that since the Russian Revolution this prominence has rapidly increased. Interested parties with chestnuts to pull out of the particularly fierce fire of current events, turn to that conglomeration of letters for an instrument to serve their various purposes. From the German emissaries Grimm and Scheidemann, to the British emissaries, Thorne and MacDonald, there is, all round, an endeavour to exploit the name of Socialism for the purpose of leading the working class in the different countries and their different local circumstances, to believe that the demands of the war-mad ruling class are in reality the demands of the people, expressed through their most democratic mouth-pieces, the Socialists. In Russia, we are told by the English newspapers on the morning these words are written, Socialist opinions dominate everything—a statement which is belied by the new Russian offensive. Kerensky as the Socialist saviour of Russia, whereas we know him to be merely the Russian Lloyd George, the embodiment of capitalist cunning, the capitalist revolutionary who brought the workers to the aid of the revolutionary capitalists under the cloak of Socialism, and now, under the same cloak, essays to save his capitalist masters from their wage-slaves on the one hand, and from their German enemies on the other.

In other countries the same tale is to tell. Everywhere the name of Socialism is being linked with the manoeuvres of the master class with the object of throwing dust in the eyes of their victims, and meantime the pseudo-Socialists are given ample opportunity to add their quota of support to the confusion, while the Socialists are denied the means of communication and therefore of effective expression.

In order to dissociate the Socialist name from the trickery of those who would besmirch it we place in record our attitude toward the war and show that the class-struggle basis of our organisation sufficed to keep our hands unsoiled by the blood of our fellow workers, and we ask any foreign comrade into whose hands our manifesto may come, to assist us by bringing it before the notice of the Executive of the Socialist organisation of his country.

Old People in America (1965)

From the May 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was reported in The Guardian (March 19th, 1965) that the recent Russian space success is going to spur America on in the race to be the first put a man on the moon. The cost of this project is estimated at between £7,000 millions and £14,000 millions.

A few days after this was announced, a film was shown by the BBC television of the plight of the aged people in America. Doctors run nursing homes as businesses, and some of them who were interviewed on television admitted that at present there was a boom in nursing homes. Elderly people who have no relatives to look after them go to these homes and have to hand over all their possessions—insurances, cash and (according to the commentator) their personal effects such as jewellery, wedding rings etc.

If they could afford it they had a room to themselves costing about £50 a week, but the majority had to share a room with as many others as could be packed in. Naturally they were fed inadequately, in the hope that they would not be too long dying. Medical attention was only obtainable if they could afford it, and doctors' fees were so high that this was impossible for most of them. The elderly, according to this BBC report, were being pillaged mercilessly.

It is more important to capitalism to land a man on the moon than to look after the aged who have given their energies in a lifetime of exploitation. Now that they cannot work and continue to make profits for capitalism, they can go on to the human scrap heap. Who cares?
Horace Jarvis

Socialist Party Meeting in London (2015)

Lambeth Socialist Group

'All Coppers are Workers: The Police, the State and the Working Class'

Thursday, October 29, 2015 - 7pm

Venue: The Socialist Party's premises, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN

Directions: About four minutes walk from Clapham North tube on the Northern line and three minutes walk from Clapham High Street station on the circular overground line

Free admission and refreshments

Letter: Not just political (2012)

Letter to the Editors from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

A friend recently brought to my attention the history of the turmoil that took place in GB following WWI when the principal unions had apparently coalesced for unified action and apparently got cold feet when confronted with the situation of the potential power of their organized resistance to capitalist exploitation. The dilemma was expressed in the statement made by the Prime Minister to the Triple Alliance accordingly:
 "Gentlemen, you have fashioned in the Triple Alliance of the unions represented by you, a most powerful instrument. I feel bound to tell you that in our opinion we are at your mercy. The Army is disaffected and cannot be relied upon... If you carry out your threat to strike, then you will defeat us... If you do so, have you weighed the consequences... if a force arises in the State which is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the state, or withdraw and accept the authority of the State. Gentlemen, have you conferred and if you have, are you ready?" (David Lloyd George to Union Leaders in 1919) 
This seems to have taken the wind out of their sails.

If this statement and the history surrounding is accurate, it would suggest that tactically the idea of a parallel class conscious unified union organization to that of a political party is desirable and indeed, essential in order to use its power to back up the mandate of a socialist ballot plurality. That the Triple Alliance didn't have the mettle to act does not invalidate the potential tactical necessity of unified working class action. During the formation of the IWW Daniel De Leon wrote a series of responses to those who argued that either political or economic action alone were sufficient to create a socialist transformation ("As To Politics") demonstrating with decisive logic that both were essential.

Your Party has apparently steadfastly resisted the dual necessity of working class action, vague allusions notwithstanding, and has given the impression of pure and simple political action as being the sole necessity to transform society into the cooperative commonwealth. Yet David Lloyd George's comment seems to suggest the latent power of working class economic action is a decisive factor.

Perhaps you can enlighten me on the historical significance of what happened way back in 1919 and your reaction to those events and your subsequent applications of lessons learned.
Bernard Bortnick, 
Dallas, Texas

The words you quote are taken from, In Place of Fear (1952) by the Labour politician Aneurin Bevan, and published many years after the events in question.  Bevan recounts that, the miners’ leader Robert Smillie, (who died in 1940) told him - and this must have been some years after 1919 - that this is what Lloyd George had said.  So this is a third-hand report - not that Lloyd George would not have said something like this but it can be doubted that these were his exact words.

If correct and Lloyd George wasn't just windbagging, this would illustrate precisely why a political party is essential - the unions had no programme to seize the power that supposedly lay at their feet and backed down. Contrary to what you keep on asserting, the Socialist Party doesn't reject industrial organisation as a key plank of a revolutionary strategy. We are dissimilar to Industrial Unionists and the like in refusing to cut one of our legs off before running the race. We are for the working class using all the resources at its disposal, both political and economic, and chasing the rulers into every centre of their power, wresting that power from them.

For the record, here is what the Socialist Standard of the time (April 1919) said (note the rather different approach taken by Bonar Law, who was the leader of the Conservative party and a Minister in Lloyd George‘s coalition government):
“It was when the Reports of the Commission were given to the Government that the great lesson for the workers emerged. In announcing that the Government had accepted and would act upon the Report of the Chairman's section of the Commission and referring to the possibility of a strike, Mr. Bonar Law said
‘If such a strike comes the Government—and no Government could do otherwise—will use all the resources of the State without the smallest hesitation.’
If such a strike came, the mine-owners, if they decided to fight it out, could win by simply pitting their immense resources of wealth, an indication of which is given by the figures above, against the few pounds the miners could gather together. On the economic field the masters are in a far stronger position than the workers and can beat them any time they decide to fight to a finish. Yet in this, as in so many other cases, they threaten to use the overwhelming power of the State for their purpose because it is so much more speedy and decisive.

But how comes it that they can use the State for this purpose? Because on 14th December, 1918, the miners, in conjunction with the large majority of the other workers, placed the State in the hands of the masters when they voted the latter into possession of political power.

While the workers accept the poisonous nonsense that ‘capital should have a fair profit,’ while they swallow the lies and humbug of the labour leaders like Thomas, Brace, Williams, and so on, that the interests of the master class are the interests of the ‘community,’ or ‘society,’ they will be easily led to vote their masters into possession of the power to rule society.

When the working class rids itself of this stupidity, and realises its weakness in the economic field against the power of the employers, then it will turn to the facts of its situation for a solution and find that the way to salvation lies through organisation for control of the political power. Not until that is assured can the workers own the means of life and operate them for their own benefit. When that lesson is learnt the day of Socialism will be dawning.”

The Red Brigade (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The most serious political crime in the last 30 years", was the way an Italian newspaper described the kidnapping of leading conservative politician Aldo Moro. On March 16, in the middle of Rome, left-wing "guerrillas" murdered Moro's bodyguard, snatched him from his car and vanished without a trace. On May 9, Moro's bullet-ridden body was found in a car in Rome after, according to his captor's communiqué, he had been sentenced to death in a "proletarian trial". The secretary of the United Nations had intervened, so had the Pope, but to no avail. In return for Moro's life the "Red Brigade", the organisation which carried out the kidnapping demanded the freedom of other violent left-wingers at present being held in Italian gaols. The Italian government's refusal led to Moro's murder.

Just how politically "serious" was this terrorist act and the sequence of events that have followed it? Certainly at the time of the kidnapping the talk was of "civil war" (a leading politician of the Italian Republican Party) and of "armed attack on the heart of the state" (editorial in the Corriere della Sera). And when he was killed " . . . the First Italian Republic is ended" (former President Saragat). But this was not the first time political violence in Italy had provoked crisis rhetoric along these lines. The Red Brigade began their operations against the Italian state in 1970 gradually escalating their violence to the kidnappings, leg-shootings and murders of more recent times.

Judges, magistrates, journalists, business men, minor politicians and others considered to symbolise or uphold the power of a repressive state have been their victims. Each time the cry of "political crisis" has gone up — and each time, within a short period, the whole thing has been quietly forgotten, along with the individuals who have suffered in the affair. The plain fact is that the violent acts of a small band of fanatically determined individuals (the Red Brigade numbers a few hundred at the most), for all the media coverage they obtain and the temporary panic they provoke, pose no threat to a state that commands a superior potential for violence and above all the support and allegiance of the vast majority of the population.

The Moro affair may have caused a bigger stir than the others, dragged on longer and made politicians and other VIPs shiver in their shoes but in perspective, it will be seen, like the acts that precede it, to have been a mere surface feature of Italian capitalism, a wild ineffective lunge at the armour of the state not a blow at the heart of it.

The killers too are quite mistaken as to what will be the effect of their violence. When they talk about "striking at one man to educate a hundred" (Red Brigade slogan), they imagine that terror tactics will stir the population to a mood of insurrection which they can then harness to topple the state. The effect their activities have in fact is just the opposite. Far from persuading people to accept their ideas they frighten them into even greater solidarity with the powers-that-be (witness the spontaneous general strike of 15 million workers immediately following Moro's kidnapping and the demonstrations and strikes immediately after the discovery of his body) and make it possible for the tangible democratic rights and freedoms that do exist under capitalism to be eroded or removed.

The repressive laws passed by the Italian Parliament (easy interception of telephone calls, arrest on suspicion, interrogation without legal representation, random identity checks, compulsory notification to police of accommodation let or bought) several days after Moro's disappearance are of course what the Red Brigade were aiming at. They believe that measures of this kind following their acts of terror expose the repressive nature of the state and force it to "shed its mask" of liberalism and benevolence. They fail to see however that such measures will, given the circumstances have wide support among the working class and will not be condemned as being anti-democratic and repressive.

We should in fact have no illusions about the coercive nature of the state and should not attempt to provoke further repressive measures to illustrate the constraints it puts on the vast majority who sell their energies for a wage or salary. Instead of this we must, unlike the violent organisations on the Left, face up to the fact that for the moment the majority of wage and salary earners are quite willing to live with capitalism in its present form and realise that their minds will not be changed by acts of violence. Such violence can only strengthen their attachment to the established order and create an atmosphere of unreasoned emotional reaction in which it is all the more difficult to put Socialist ideas across.

The insurrectionists, the Red Brigades the world over, are right only about one thing — the capture of the state is a prerequisite for revolution. But not for a revolution of minority violence (which would anyway be just another replacement of one kind of repression by another), but for a revolution by the ballot-box in which a majority of convinced Socialists in all the advanced parts of the world will use their votes to establish a society of free access and democratic control. In Italy as elsewhere the left-wingers — both those who practice violence and those who tacitly approve it — would do well to think carefully on the consequences of minority action and decide whether there is not a more constructive way of expressing their dissatisfaction with life under capitalism.
Howard Moss