Tuesday, October 27, 2015

'Put in the Sickles' (1908)

From the December 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard
Now the kings grow lean as they sit,
The people grow strong to stand;
The men they trod on and spat,
The dumb, dread people that sat
As corpses cast in a pit
Rise up with God on their hand,
And thrones are hurled in a heap.
And strong men, sons of the land
Put in the sickles and reap! 
The dumb, dread people that sat
All night without screen for the night,
All day without food for the day,
They shall not give their harvest away,
They shall eat of the fruit and wax fat,
They shall see the desire of their sight,
Though the ways of the seasons be steep,
They shall climb with face to the light,
Put in the sickles and reap.

Kremlin Coup—Lies, Tanks & Western Banks (1991)

Editorial from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia by a coup d'├ętat. In the elections to the Constituent Assembly early the next year a majority of voters opted for the other parties. So the Bolsheviks sent troops to close down the elected Assembly. The tactics of Bolshevism were the tactics of a ruthless left-wing fascism, contemptuous in every way of the will of the majority.

The Bolsheviks smashed the opposition parties and closed the press of their critics. The Cheka was set up to persecute those who stood against the Bolshevik state dictatorship. All of this happened under Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks. Under his second-in-command, Trotsky, the sailors of Kronstadt who dared to reject the authoritarian dictatorship were massacred. The fascistic nature of the regime cannot be blamed upon the singular wickedness of Stalin who succeeded Lenin as party chief. The apparatus of oppression was built into a regime established by minority coup.

The myth of Russian socialism has been the most grotesque political illusion of this century. Opponents of working-class freedom have used the example of the Bolshevik coup and its appalling consequences as proof that "socialism" must lead to dictatorship. The parties and sects of the Left, who have danced like puppets to the tunes of the Kremlin dictators, and have confused workers with nonsensical notions of "Marxism-Leninism", have dragged the idea of socialism through the mud.

The Socialist Party has pointed out since 1917 that Russia was creating state capitalism, not socialism. It is a system based upon state dictatorship, not common ownership and democratic control.

The beneficiaries of the Leninist governments have been the bureaucratic elites who have enjoyed much the same affluence and privilege as the capitalist masters in the openly capitalist countries. These Party bosses hate to see workers combining, whether in independent unions or for freedom to assemble or publish ideas or vote for who is to have power.

In 1981 the Polish Party bosses, backed by the Leninist super-bosses in the Kremlin, used military force to crush the independent union, Solidarity, and attempted to restore their unimpeded dictatorship. They failed. Once workers had a taste of democracy, however limited, there is no chance of stopping them from going for more.

In 1991 the Party bosses of the CPSU have orchestrated a coup to restore full state power to themselves. They feared that nationalist and other factions would break their monopoly of power. The Red Fascists of the KGB, the Red Army and Party officialdom have tried to repeat the tactic of 1917: take power regardless of the electoral will of the workers.

The democratic concessions which the workers of the Russian Empire have won over the past half-decade will not be surrendered without a struggle. When workers defend their freedom to assemble and to print literature and to vote, the Red Fascists will try to use violent force against them.

The Socialist Party is hostile to the state capitalism of the Russian Empire (as well as China and the other pseudo-socialist nations) and also to the private capitalism of Bush's "New World Order" where millions dwell in poverty and anxiety. We call upon our fellow workers to join the movement for a truly democratic society without classes, states or leaders. The movement for socialism must be conducted democratically or else it can not be socialist; it must stand for a society of free access to all goods and services, and nothing less, or else it is not proposing an alternative to capitalism. Workers of the Russian Empire—workers of Britain—workers of the world—let us avoid further bloodshed and oppression; let us take the world into our own hands.

Cobdenism & Socialism (1919)

From the September 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard


In the issue of "Common Sense" dated 16th August last, Mr. Philip Snowden, Chairman of the Independent Labour Party, in the performance of his function as a capitalist hireling and misleader of the working class, tries his utmost to traduce Socialism and identify Socialist principles and policy with those of his capitalist masters. He opens his column-and-a-half of lucrative trash with the cynical statement that "The superficial Cobdenite and the superficial Socialist would probably declare that Cobdenism and Socialism are the antipodes of political and social theories."

The implication is, of course, that Mr. Snowden is not either a "superficial Socialist" or a "superficial Cobdenite." He is right. Qualify the Socialist and the Cobdenite in any way and to the very utmost limit that will leave them still a Socialist and a Cobdenite respectively, and you have not the political likeness of the Chairman of the I.L.P. in either. Both the Socialist and the Cobdenite, superficial (whatever that may mean) or otherwise, must declare that Cobdenism and Socialism are the very antipodes of the social and political spheres. It is only the pretenders, the twisters, the hired assassins of working class thought, that try to reconcile the one with the other, and the sordid and sickening motives that lead them to do so protrude like the stinking members of a half-buried carcase from the slime of some pestilential pool.

When Mr. Snowden says that the "aim and purpose of Cobden and his school" as he understands it (sic), "is precisely the aim and purpose of Socialism," he lies. He does not understand the aim and purpose of Cobdenism to be "to secure the largest possible measure of individual liberty in a well ordered State and in a well-ordered world." No one knows better than Mr. Snowden that the school of Cobden are not at all concerned with the liberty of the individual where that individual is a worker; no one knows better than Mr. Snowden that Cobden and all his school and disciples—yes, even as he understands them—cling with might and main to the capitalist State, the capitalist world, to the last pinch of gunpowder and the last loyal bayonet; and no one in all the wide world knows better than Mr. Snowden that, except from the capitalists' point of view, the capitalist State and the capitalist world can never be well ordered.

When Mr. Snowden says "Cobden differed from modern Socialists in his ideas as to the best method of attaining that desirable state of complete individual liberty, but there are certain fundamental conditions of attaining to that state of liberty, without the practical application of which neither Socialism nor any other plan of social organisation will achieve the purpose," he is simply resorting to "Words that weary and perplex, and pander and conceal." The fundamental condition under which alone the Cobdenites can realise their aspirations is the slavery of the workers based upon the class ownership of the means of living. The fundamental condition for the achievement of the aspirations of the Socialists is the abolition of class ownership—of private ownership in any form—of the means of living, and the establishment of society upon a basis of common ownership, as the only method of setting the workers free from the domination of those who own the means whereby they live.

Brought face to face with this aspect of the case, the Chairman of the I.L.P. would have to admit its truth. This in itself proves the falsity of the implication of his statement concerning the probable declaration of the "superficial Cobdenite and the superficial Socialist." The Cobdenite stands for the abolition of private property. These two things ARE "the antipodes of political and social theories," all the bought and paid for capitalist servants of the I.L.P. notwithstanding.

"It has been customary previously, whenever any reference was made by Socialist writers and speakers of fiscal policy, to dismiss the controversy between Free Trade and Protection as a quarrel on the most effective method of enriching the exploiting classes," our confusionist goes on. "But when Mr. Chamberlain made the issue one of practical politics the Socialist realised that the matter was one which vitally affected the welfare of the wage-earning classes."

The argument that that which, when it was merely in the merely controversial field, was "a quarrel on the most effective method of enriching the exploiting classes," could, when it was made a question of "practical politics", become a matter vitally affecting the welfare of the workers is the argument of the opportunist twister. What he really means is that as long as the Protectionists did not seriously threaten to impose their fiscal fetters upon the Free Traders, Mr. Snowden and those of his kidney, for and on behalf of whom he lays claim to the title "Socialist," could afford to tell the truth about the question of Free Trade and Protection, but as soon as the question became an "issue of practical politics," a rallying cry for party leaders, a plank for party platforms, an inscription for party banners, a bait to trap the votes of workers in their exploiters' interests, then the pretenders became involved. They had to enthuse. They had to discern in the question something that had never revealed itself to them before. Why? I will tell you.

Some time ago Mr. Snowden declared that the Labour Party is not a Socialist party, and that its fucntion is to keep the Liberal Party in office. The inwardness of the statement provides the explanation for his brotherly feeling towards the Cobdenites. He himself is no stranger to the Labour Party, which is the medium for providing £400 a year for certain twisters who are ready to keep the Liberals in power when they are in power, and to help get them into power when they are under a cloud. Mr. Snowden is simply trying to get his bread buttered—that is all.

Refuse to be the victim of the labour sharks any longer.
A. E. Jacomb

Old Mr. Capitalism (1977)

A Short Story from the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poor old Mr. Capitalism. He was in a very bad way indeed. Pains all over his body, from head to toe. He put on his hat and coat and decided yet again to see his doctor.

Poor old Mr. Capitalism. He could hardly walk, dragging his feet along as though each step were his last, and causing many a sympathetic eye to glance knowingly in his direction. After all, he had been around a very long time. Too long, he had heard some say—sometimes discreetly, sometimes openly for all to hear.

"Not you again, Mr. Capitalism," the doctor shrieked, and rose from behind his desk to help the wheezing old man into a chair.

"I'm afraid so, doctor," Mr. Capitalism sighed. "I've been having those same old pains again. All over me they are. I just can't get rid of them."

"Take a breath and tell me all about the,," the doctor said. So poor old Mr. Capitalism gathered as much strength as he could muster and poured forth his troubles.

"Well, to start with," he began, "I've got those Conservative pains in my  . . . you know, doctor . . . "


"Yes, that's right. I've tried everything. Exercise, hot flannel, the lot, but they're always there—as though they sort of like me the way I am, old and decrepit. It's hard to explain really. All I can say is that they're nothing but a pain in the  . . . the  . . . "

"Ar . . . posteria?"

"Yes, that's right. Then there's those Labour pains I get in my stomach. If I wasn't a man I'd swear it was  . . .  They double me up at times. It's a queer sensation. I get the feeling they're trying to change my basic metabolism—you don't mind me saying that, do you? trying to change the way i walk and things like that. Yet fundamentally they're just the same as the Conservative pains in my  . . . my . . . "

"Go on," urged the doctor impatiently, getting a little tired of the same old complaints. "What else is the matter with you?"

"Well there's this other pain, the one in my neck. You called it the Liberal pain, I think. I get it when I'm undecided, you know, like when I can't make up my mind. It's as though it doesn't quite know whether it wants to be a Conservative pain or a Labour one, if you can see what I'm driving at? Then there's the same old CP ailment, those red rashes that keep appearing at odd places on the surface of my body."

"You've been sleeping under the bed again, haven't you?" the doctor said chastisingly. "What have I told you about the little bugs that dwell under mattresses and on bedroom carpets?"

"I know, doctor, but sometimes I get to thinking that perhaps if I sleep that way my other pains will disappear and I'll only have to worry about the rashes."

"Rubbish. I've told you before that they're really no different, and will give you exactly the same suffering."

"I know," old Mr. Capitalism acceded with a groan. "But I've tried everything else, haven't I? I took those reform pills you gave me but the relief only lasted for a very short while. It hardly seemed worthwhile taking them. Then there was the anti-inflation medicine and the wage-policy drug. Even the TUC capsules didn't make a scrap of difference. I don't know what's going to become of me, doctor. What kind of future has a man in my position got to look forward to?"

He left, and the doctor shook his head. "Poor old fellow, he's not long for this world." He rang the bell and asked: "Where's my next patient, nurse?" 

"There aren't any," she said.

"No patients! Nobody ill! What's happened?" said the doctor.

"A new crowd moved into the neighbourhood today", said the nurse. "They say they don't need any pills or potions, and the've got a big van waiting to—"she whispered in his ear.

"Bury Mr. Capitalism! He's not dead yet."

"As good as," said the nurse." I'm thinking of helping them actually. They're re-naming their house 'Socialism'."

"I'll come with you," said the doctor. "Old Mr. Capitalism was as much as I could stand."
Paul Breeze

The Baader-Meinhof terrorists: Majority understanding or minority action? (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 5th September this year, Dr. M. H. Schleyer, a West German industrialist and ex-member of Hitler's SS, was kidnapped. He was later murdered. Connected with this, a Lufthansa aircraft carrying 86 paasengers was hi-jacked, and the pilot was later killed.

These activities were carried out by a group of West german terrorists or, as some people call them "freedom fighters": the Baader-Meinhof group. Hi-jackings and kidnappings like these have been happening fairly frequently in recent years.

Who are these terrorists? Groups like the Baader-Meinhofs, the Angry Brigade, the IRA and the PFLP in Palestine are all minorities in their countries of origin; and they act, generally, by attacking an individual, or several individuals, to frighten and coerce a number of others. Sometimes, as with the various factions of the IRA in N. Ireland, the activities of the terrorists take place mainly in their own countries. Such groupings may be given support by sympathizers in foreign countries; the IRA is given funds and weapons by some of the Irish in America. At other times, as for example the kidnapping of the OPEC oil ministers in Vienna in 1975, international terrorist groups act in countries in which they have no interest but which serve as a stage for some spectacular kidnapping or hi-jacking.

What are the aims of these people? It is often difficult to answer this question, because the Angry Brigade and the Baader-Meinhofs  are minority groupings who are unsympathetic to the existing state machine. Hence they are unlikely to get publicity from the press and television etc.

One can understand something of the aims of groups like the Baader-Meinhof by their actions, and by the occasional piece of propaganda. On the 21st October this year, the Paris daily Liberation, carried this statement from the Baader-Meinhofs: "We will never forget the blood spilled by Schmidt and the Imperialists who support him. The battle has only begun. Freedom by the anti-Imperialists." (Quoted in The Times Oct 21 1977).

So, like the present Eurocommunists, the Baader-Meinhofs believe that the section of the population to be overthrown is not the capitalist class as a whole, but only part of that class. (The Eurocommunists would claim that it is the "monopoly capitalists" whereas the Baader-Meinhofs make out that it is the "Imperialists".) And like the 19th century Blanquists, the Baader-Meinhofs believe that they can change society by confrontation with the state power. But it is impossible for such action to succeed, because they have to take on the ruling power: the existing army, the police force, etc. The existing state machines have access to vastly greater resources to build armaments etc. than any minority group can hope for. Often the result of terrorism is to increase repression. The governments of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have adopted ruthless methods against terrorists; and there has been talk, in the Conservative Party in Great Britain recently, of bringing back hanging for terrorists.

The British government refused to give way to the demands of the Tupamaros when they held captive the British Ambassador to Uruguay Geoffrey Jackson. And the Dutch Government held firm while the industrialist Dr. Herrema was held by members of the IRA in 1975.

Moreover, in the rare event of the minority grouping succeeding in taking over state power by force, it is inevitable that the group will have to maintain power by force, or by being prepared to use force if and when necessary. In the 1940s in China, Mao Tse-Tung and his guerilla army succeeded in building up a sufficiently strong force to overthrow the legitimate government of the Kuomintang. They were able to do this partly because of hostility among large sections of the Chinese peasantry towards the Japanese who were occupying parts of China. But the Chinese "Communist" party have kept a 2.5 million strong so-called "People's Army" (which, of course, is not an army of the people, a concept which is nonsensical, but an army which, if necessary, would act contrary to the interests of the people.)

Terrorism is no new force of warfare: the slaves led by Spartacus in Rome were in many ways like the PFLP. But, as a form of "warfare" it does seem to be growing. Richard Clutterbuck, in a recent book on the subject, argues that though as old as civilization, terrorism has replaced old-style wars between armies as a form of international coercion. Whether or not this is true terrorism cannot be an agent of socialist revolution, because Socialism requires a majority understanding and accepting the socialist case. Instead, terrorists are making the task more difficult by bringing into disrepute the word Revolution.
Alison Waters

Lion That Failed to Roar? (2015)

Book Review from the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Orwell’s Faded Lion. Anthony James. Imprint Academic. £14.95. 2015.

The focus for this book is the ‘Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945-2015’ as the subtitle would have it, and it is an entertaining and potentially thought-provoking read. The book examines the evolution of British society since Orwell wrote about Britain as the Second World War was coming to an end. James has travelled widely and he is able to draw on many of his experiences to give a comparative slant to his observations. He especially focuses on Britain’s insularity and failure to live up to the revolutionary hopes he says Orwell had for it.

He writes from a generally radical and leftist perspective without any transparent alignment with any particular political party. As often seems to be the case with books like this, much is traced back to the Thatcher era and its shortcomings, though perhaps without a full recognition of the wider economic forces within capitalism that brought this sort of phenomenon about (including, over time, in other countries).

While well-written in many respects, the book suffers structurally. This is mainly because it is part political tract, partly a collection of literary critiques and part personal memoir. It is the latter that appears to be its greatest strength – while the politics is quite strong on the analysis there seems little by way of clear solution proffered, while the literary sections read rather like a series of mini-book reviews of the works of the major authors of post-war British fiction melded together, not altogether successfully. The style is journalistic and the narrative thread that links these various elements is not perhaps as strong as it might be.

The best section relates to a period James spent in a South Wales hospital and turns out to be the inspiration for the book. It examines the treatment he received, the conditions of the hospital workers and – most perturbing of all – the views of a number of the fellow patients he was forced to share a ward with. Let’s just say the fact that UKIP got around 20 per cent of the vote in many South Wales valley seats at the recent General Election is entirely consistent with the account here and the interpretation James places on it. The challenge is still how to transform these types of views within the working class and the assumptions that seem to underpin them.
Dave Perrin