Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Enemy on the Left! (1973)

The Enemy on the Left Column from the June 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

A regular column dealing with the antics of those who call themselves socialists but in practice do nothing but harm to the cause.

The material in this month's column is drawn from an article in a recent issue of the intellectual periodical Encounter who in turn are quoting from the leading ultra-left magazine in West Germany, Kursbuch. The German paper featured reports from a number of contributors, all known for their leftist views, about conditions in some of the so-called "socialist" countries. There is not room in this column to give more than a sample of the quotes from these reports but one can mention at the outset the remark of the editor (himself a well-known German left-winger) that it is noticeable that members of western communist parties are prepared to travel around Europe, even to such places as fascist Greece, but carefully avoid places like Hungary or the Ukraine. "The comrades just don't want to look at revolutionary reality."

However, the contributors did take the plunge and we follow with some excerpts from their reports. "The social system of Czechoslovakia is not socialist, but centralist, bureaucratic and totalitarian." The reporter has shied off the term capitalist, but not bad for a left-winger. As for North Korea, the state is described as an "authoritarian, nationalist, Fuehrerstaat". I prefer the term "red-fascist" but we see what he means. The North Koreans are forced to honour Kim Il Sung and his family as a holy family. Schoolchildren must recite: "The leader loves all children; all children  love the leader". Shades of Stalin. Not to mention Hitler. Party functionaries speak to the citizenry like army commanders and nobody dares get too close to the limousines in which they drive to their own separate shops and private theatre entrances.

"Cuba has been turned by Castro and Guevera into a living hell." (Yes, the same Che who was such a cult figure among the leftist students only yesterday; the name means rather less today. Tomorrow: "Che Who?") Castro's rule is a "hyphenated monstrosity: Hunger — Fear — Chaos — Terror". The support for the rĂ©gime comes from the "partisan aristocracy", the old cronies of Castro and the Officer Corps. This "closed group" lives in luxury and enjoys exclusive privileges. Their favourite car is the Alfa-Romeo deluxe 1750. "This is the new class which preaches self-denial and sacrifice to the masses and speaks lightly of 'material differences', which propagandizes for the New Man with a Rolex on the wrist and an Uppman cigar between the fingers." (Shades of Animal Farm; how these red-fascists don't change.) There are no fewer than 20,000 political prisoners — but you won't find leftist creeps like Tariq Ali shedding any tears for these poor devils when they attend Castro's junkets, or leftist scribblers like the Guardian's Gott. It remains to add, sadly, that the German editor entitles the article "The Dilemma of Socialism and State Power". Schweinerei!
L. E. Weidberg     

Violence and the Social Revolution (1924)

From the December 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is customary for our opponents to represent the Social Revolution as an orgy of bloodshed. They profess to believe that violence, in various forms, is its essential feature. Thus Mr. Arthur Henderson, Secretary of the Labour Party, in an article in the "Daily Herald" (November 19th), refers to "the odour of blood and hatred, etc, which clings to the idea of the Social Revolution." He wishes this "odour" to be dissociated from the programme of "fundamental economic transformation" proposed by the Labour Party, and expresses the opinion that the Party has suffered from some of its adherents talking about the "iniquities of the capitalist class," and "the class war."

Before proceeding to examine this conception more closely, it is worth noting that the above Mr. Arthur Henderson was for some considerable period a member of a Government which, among others, was officially responsible for the slaughter of millions of members of the working class. Apparently Mr. Henderson's aversion to blood and hatred does not prevent him from helping to carry on a war in the interests of the ruling class.

The same remark applies to numerous other members of the present-day "party of peace."

Another point which calls for comment is the fact that none of the proposals of the Labour Party which have found practical legislative shape involve any "fundamental economic transformation." On the contrary, every one of these proposals has always recognised the legality of the ownership by its present proprietors of the mass of wealth which we refer to as the means of living, that is the land, railways, factories, etc.

An economic transformation could only be fundamental if this legal right of the owner-class was abolished, through the conversion of the means of life into the common property of the whole community. The dispossession of the master-class by the wage-slave class, that is alone a fundamental change since it upsets the very basis of the existing social order; and that is precisely the essential feature of the social revolution. Any violence there may be will be entirely incidental, and will obviously depend upon the nature of the resistance offered by the master-class to the abolition of their privileges. So long as the master-class control the political machinery and along with it the major force in society it is clear that a revolutionary organisation is not in a position to use force with any chance of success, and consequently has no interest in doing so. On the other hand, once the revolutionary party has conquered political power the force it will exercise to carry out its object will then be "constitutional," i.e., the act of established authority.

The Labour Party along with their Communist supporters encourage the idea that revolution and political activity along peaceful and legal lines are in some way opposed to one another. The Socialist Party denies such opposition. With the social revolution as its avowed object it proclaims the necessity of the workers becoming organised consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government (see Declaration of Principles) as the means of accomplishing that object. Its activity consists in endeavouring to convince the workers of the need for Socialism, which consequently brings it into conflict with all parties which seek to persuade them that some other object is worthy of their support.

In conducting this activity we are guided by the fact that the interests of the workers and their masters are opposed to one another. The established order is responsible for poverty; it is therefore to the interests of the workers to abolish it.

At the same time the present basis of society provides the few with wealth. We need not be astonished then they they defend it. This elementary fact is continually being obscured by reformers of every description.

They profess to be able to harmonise class interests and see no harm in exchanging political support with the parties of the masters. Thus the Labour Party held office by consent of a majority of Liberals and Conservatives in the late Parliament. Such a position would be inconceivable in the case of a Socialist Party. Acting in the interests of the workers, it would oppose the parties of the masters at every step, and would consequently meet with their opposition in return. Such a party can only exist and develop as a result of an increasing mental grasp by the workers of their own position.

Mr. Arthur Henderson and his associates fear such a development. Hence their aversion to any discussion of the class war. The fact of such a conflict in society, evident throughout every section of economic life, must be kept apart from political issues to suit their ambitions to be successful statesmen. But economic evolution is no respecter of personal ambitions.

The class war continues and becomes more intense in spite of all efforts to hide it.

The question is not fundamentally one of morality. The Socialist Party does not talk of the iniquity of the master-class. They, like ourselves, are the creatures of social development. Consequently we do not howl for their blood. Candidly, it is their property we want, and if they are determined to die rather than yield, die they must; but we do not imagine that social evils are due to their sins or that any altered outlook on their part will remove these evils. The system is the cause of these evils, and the system must be abolished. Instead of abolishing the system the Labour Party proposes to camouflage it by turning shareholders into Government Bondholders. They simply propose to paint Capitalism red (like a pillar-box) and call it Socialism.

The social revolution is the only logical outcome of the existing struggle between the classes. The master-class cannot exist without a slave-class and that class in its turn cannot exist except as a result of a continual conflict with its masters for its means of subsistence.

Strikes and lock-outs are not the results of mere differences of opinion. They proceed from an antagonism of interest. In order that the masters make a profit, wages must be kept as low as will allow the worker to produce that profit. Both sides realise this in practice, however little they grasp its implications in theory; but it is not the workers' interest that the masters should make any profit out of them. Hence their struggle over wages questions.

Wages, however, become more and more insecure; unemployment increases and wages fall. What outlook, then, has the wage-slave? No hope, certainly, under capitalism.

Emancipation from want can only with the abolition of class-ownership of the means of life, i.e., in the social revolution.

The common ownership of the means of life, with production carried on in a socially-organised manner for the provision of food, clothing and shelter for all, that is Socialism, the object of the Socialist Party, the party of the Social Revolution.
Eric Boden

"The environment will force the hand of the world (2015)

Interview of Howard Pilott, The Socialist Party's Brighton candidate in the last election and a member of the Brighton Discussion Group by the University of Sussex Students' Newspaper, The Badger.

It doesn’t feel like the setting for talk of revolution. It’s a rainy day in Lewes, and I’m sat in Howard Pilott’s large open plan kitchen as he stands distractedly making tea. His springer spaniel Rose nestles against my leg, and I’m a little intimidated by the affluence of my surroundings. He dismisses the idea that this conflicts with his socialist ideals: “In order to advance the case of the working class in this society I’m not sure it particularly serves for me to say: Right, I’ve got to live in sackcloth and ashes for the rest of my life”.
Pilott is passionate about socialism, that much is clear; a self-confessed ‘political-butterfly’ (he’s been a member of both the Labour and Green Party), Howard Pilott contested Caroline Lucas’ seat for Brighton Pavilion in the 2015 general election for the Socialist Party of Great Britain. What does socialism mean for him? He’s clear that it is, and will be (although not within his lifetime he wearily concedes), a  leaderless movement. He looks at me seriously as he discusses how our government is structured towards the representation of vested interests, a system supported through clever spin and media monopolies, and yet “there seems to be this consensus that there is no alternative”.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain envision instead a system of local organisation: “Decisions about what are in the interests of the majority of the population should be taken by the majority of the population; local collectives organising on a local basis with other local collectives”. There’s no monetary system, no particular political agendas: “People freely choose what they aspire to, what needs to be made. They contribute what they can”.
I ask Pilott if his running for MP was in line with this conception of a leaderless movement, and whether the change for which he speaks, a socialist revolution, the end of capitalism, is something that could be achieved by working from within: “Voting for me wasn’t about my intentions to become an MP, to go to the House of Commons, be a backbencher…It’s not that kind of thing. A vote for us is a statement of rejection of the current society. Saying you want something very different. To reject capitalism. A rejection of the idea that power is in the hands of the few”.
“We’d gradually get a large sector of the community turning round and saying ‘we don’t want this’. That a large part of the population are outside of this [system of governance]. At some point sooner or later the majority of the population will have to seize power; turn around and say, actually we’re not playing by these rules anymore”. Pilott maintains the necessity of a peaceful revolution, and he’s evidently wary of being associated with the legacies of former communist states: “To seize power tends to conjure up images of storming the Winter Palace. I don’t think it would be like that – violent revolutions don’t get you very far”. He reflects on Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan, observing that violence is cyclical and self-repeating; a poor foundation for an egalitarian society: “If you start off being violent, it’s hard to stop – you’re on the road to notown”.
When I first heard Howard Pilott talk, during the first waves of Corbyn mania, I was surprised by his hostility to the new Labour leader and the wider Labour party, which he criticises enthusiastically and with a seemingly greater regularity than the Conservatives; is this an explication of the much lamented fracturing among the British political left? The problem with Jeremy Corbyn, according to Pilott, is that he represents “a kind of sense of false hope. Joining the Labour party may be a bit like giving to charity or buying a copy of the Big Issue in order to change things – because they’re in bed with capital”. He contends that the Labour party is tearing itself apart: “It has got this really difficult path to tread, because it’s not talking about abolishing capitalism, it’s talking about running capitalism a bit more nicely than the Tories can”. However, Corbyn is not entirely dismissed: “I welcome the existence of everybody on the Left, because they may be asking the right questions”, although Pilott wrily adds that Labour’s solutions are often “half-baked”. Either way, for Howard Pilott, questioning the system will eventually lead to answers; to the structural change anticipated by the SPGB.
Indeed, Pilott considers that Jeremy Corbyn may be the recruitment drive the SPGB desperately needs. He contends that newer members of the Labour party, enthused for a new voice platforming popular dissatisfaction with mainstream politics, will begin to see that in actual fact Corbyn’s Labour represents more of “the same old same old; squabbling over Trident, talking about bombing Syria, not doing anything about tuition fees”. To be in Labour, according to Pilott, is to be “bogged down in the minutiae of managing capitalism”. Yet, despite Howard Pilott’s passions for the advancement of socialist ‘rationalism’, the SPGB struggles with attendance at public meetings, even in Brighton. Does he get dejected? “It’s a bit demotivating at times. We’re not a big party at the moment (he laughs, adding that he only got 88 votes in the general election), we’re not going to make a major dent in the world”.
“I think it’s a bit like ‘what did you do in the war Daddy?’, ‘what’s the bit you’re doing towards the environment?’ It’s about what you’re doing in these areas on a personal level. I think it’s really important to keep the flag flying. We’re still here: this is the alternative, opportunities are available for you”. Whilst Howard Pilott thinks that there’s “not a chance” capitalism will end within his lifetime, he thinks there’s already steps being taken: “The thing that is going to force the hand of the world is the environment. Even Bill Gates now has said that he doesn’t think the market system can deliver [a solution to climate change]. What will happen is that there will be an increasing polarity of interests”.
The consequence of environmental pressures could go either way, Pilott says, according to this polarity; he’s afraid of the alternative: “Society could become more oppressive, more fascistic”. Yet he’s mentioned previously that socialists should vote Tory. He laughs when I ask him about this, but admits that “this is something I’ve always struggled with. I subscribe to the Marxist idea of false consciousness – people are arguing in favour of things that are not in their interest”. He ascribes UKIP’s popularity to this notion: “What is Nigel Farage? A city trader, a millionaire. They think that because he’s got a pint and a fag in his hand he’s one of them. What does he want to do? Cut taxes for the rich”.
If there is a false consciousness, as Howard Pilott attributes, how can there be the break necessary for a socialist revolution? Pilott smiles, “well you can talk to them, which my party has tried to do for 110 years. Or alternatively, you can wait for capitalism to do its work for you. For things to begin to get so bad that people start to become more agitated”. This is his logic behind the idea of voting Tory – the necessity to shock people from their inertia: “You get more full-blown capitalism [under a Tory government], less of the amelioration of a welfare state; workers rights are removed, social provision is scrapped, markets are let rip…Maybe what would happen is that the inequalities, the deprivations this creates will wake people up”. Pilott’s uncertain however of this tactic: “That was a facetious remark I made – I don’t know whether or not it’s true”.
One thing is clear for Howard Pilott though: we are reaching the final crises of capitalism. He thinks people need to be shocked in order to ‘wake up’ to the oppression and inequality inhered in a capitalist system, and that this will happen through environmental pressures, through climate change, as we fail to take effective mitigative action: “The environment will certainly wake people up, but the trouble is, it may wake them up too late”.
Is there no hope then for socialism? Howard Pilott I think is quietly optimistic; he possesses the certain dogged idealism necessary for the contemporary socialist, trusting in the ‘ingenuity of humankind’: “I don’t believe that a society which can come up with triple heart bypass surgery, that can effectively bring people back from the dead, can take a piece of machinery on this planet, fire it at another planet that is further away than the sun and get it to land on an asteroid smaller than Lewes, can’t arrange things on this planet other than a way where a handful of people have to own half of it, and millions of people have to starve. I simply don’t believe it. It doesn’t strike me as sensible, rational or intelligent, and I’m sure actually we’re beyond that”.
Kathryn Cheeseman

Material World: Burma - More Rounds To Go (2015)

The Material World Column from the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Burmese generals throw in the towel’ was the headline in the Times (12 November). ‘President Thein Sein, the former Junta general, promised to hand over power to Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.’
Office maybe, but not power. The fact is that the military of Burma (these days also called Myanmar) have not yielded political power to the will of the people. 
On the Common Dreams website Mark Farmaner explains the constitutional reality (LINK.): to end economic sanctions and their pariah status, but having no wish to surrender control of the country and aware that they couldn't win an election, the solution for the military elite was a new constitution which has the appearance of democracy yet which still left them in control.
The democratically elected MPs will be joined in the new parliament by another 116 MPs, all appointed by the head of the army, 25 percent of the total, who will choose one of the two vice presidents, and like them, will be a soldier. The head of the Burmese army also gets to choose key government ministers. The Defence Minister, Home Affairs Minister and Border Affairs Minister who will all be serving soldiers. This puts the armed forces outside of the control of the new government. The new government will not have control over the police, justice system, security services or issues in ethnic states where the army, according to numerous human rights organisations, have been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Without control of the police or being able to create a truly independent judiciary people will still be able to be jailed for their political beliefs or actions. A National League for Democracy (NLD) government won’t be able to use the military budget to try to rein in the army. The army sets its own budget. The government has to make do with the money left over. No surprise, then, that military spending is higher than health and education combined.
Just in case an NLD government should still try to implement policies the military doesn't like, above both parliament and government is a 'National Defense and Security Council'. Constitutionally, it is the most powerful body in Burma. It has eleven members, six of whom come from the military, so it has a built-in majority. It could overrule decisions made by an NLD government. If these checks on the power of the government were not enough, the military also inserted clauses in the constitution that give it the right to retake power for vague and unspecified ‘national security’ and ‘national unity’ reasons. In the special case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the military placed a specific clause in the constitution that a president can't have children who are citizens of foreign countries, which she does, just to prevent her ever becoming president.
Perhaps the constitution can now be amended? The generals foresaw the possibility and this is the importance of the 25 percent of seats quota for the military in parliament. To change the constitution, more than 75 percent of MPs have to vote for it so the military have a veto over constitutional reform. No change unless they agree to it.
This is not political democracy. The military dictatorship has tried to ensure that the state continues to be their ‘executive committee’ while offering the sop of token democracy. The military are fully integrated into the commerce of Burma, trading as capitalists in their own right, and to preserve their business interests they want to remain in control of the state. Mark Farmaner aptly describes it as ‘democracy on a leash’. Even so the NLD won enough seats to be able to appoint the president.  In Western democracies, a situation where the military are not under the control of the government and where the military appoint key government ministers, would be considered completely unacceptable.
The fact is the global capitalist system is willing to turn a convenient blind eye to reality if it provides access to Burma’s resources and markets. Aung Suu Kyi’s international reputation will help attract business and the multinationals are eager to see many more ‘Made in Myanmar’ labels. Despite what the Times claimed, there are a few more rounds to go before Burma attains political democracy.