Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The War - Capitalism does it again (2003)

Editorial from the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The organised slaughter has begun. It is now clear that this was always the intention of Bush, the nominal head of US capitalism, and his British counterpart, Blair. They cynically allowed the diplomatic wrangling to go on at the UN so as to buy them time to get their forces massing on the borders of Iraq up to full fighting strength. This done, diplomacy was discarded and the military given the go-ahead.

This war is not being fought simply to overthrow a brutal dictator – though this will surely happen. Nor even to stop the spread of chemical and biological weapons – even though countries like the US and Britain are anxious to maintain their monopoly of such weapons. It is being fought over a key energy source – oil, of which Iraq has the second biggest reserves after Saudi Arabia. The chief aim is to secure future supplies of such energy resources, essential to their political and economic demands.In other words, this war is no different from any of the wars that have taken place in modern times. It's a business war. Capitalism is driven by the competitive struggle for profits between corporations and states. Conflict, economic, political and, as a last resort, military is built-in to capitalism over sources of raw materials, investment outlets, markets, trade routes, and strategic points to control and protect these. When a state judges that its “vital interest” is threatened – e.g. needing to secure access to a key raw material, trade route or military outpost – it goes to war. Iraq did this when it invaded Kuwait in 1990 and America is doing this now in invading Iraq.

Capitalism breeds war, though most people would prefer to live in peace. Consequently massive propaganda exercises are employed by the state to stoke people's fears and anxieties that stem from their material poverty and insecurity. Invariably these also endeavour to present it as being in some way humanitarian. This is because people have a healthy horror of war. They know war means death and destruction. Death not only of the soldiers on both sides, but also of women, children and old people as “collateral damage” – who make up four-fifths of casualties of modern war – and destruction not only of military installations and hardware, but also of bridges, roads, power stations, ports, hospitals and other socially-useful constructions.

This particular war may be over quickly. The Iraqi armed forces are no match for the US army and its awesome weapons of mass destruction. It is, however, going to be followed by chaos and massacres throughout the region, as Bush and Blair well know but have dismissed as “a price worth paying” to secure control of oil supplies.

Many people's gut reaction is simply that war is crazy. Socialists share this anti-war sentiment. It is one of the reasons why we are Socialists – real Socialists that is, not supporters of the sort of state capitalist dictatorships that failed in Russia and Eastern Europe, but advocates of a united world community without frontiers based on all the Earth's resources, natural and industrial, becoming the common heritage of all humanity and being used to satisfy people's needs instead of for profit. We have concluded that capitalism means war and that therefore to get rid of wars and the threat of wars – and the constant preparation for war represented by maintaining armed forces – you have got to get rid of capitalism.

That voices are raised against the war, millions of voices, shows that there is hope. That workers – whose experience of life stems from using their energies and talents to co-operatively solve problems and achieve goals; who realise the potential for mutual dependence and support; who enjoy some security of life won through the class struggle – are determined to oppose the war shows that opposition to war has its basis in material reality rather than mere moral condemnation.

War is completely unnecessary. We are living in a world that has enough resources to provide plenty for all, to eliminate world poverty, ignorance and disease, to provide an adequate and comfortable life for everyone on the planet. Yet under capitalism resources are squandered on armaments, of individual as well as of mass destruction, and, as now, in actual war. Even in times of peace – as the armed truce between wars is called – capitalism's pursuit of profit pollutes and plunders the planet and upsets the balance of nature with potentially devastating consequences. The economic law “no profit, no production” applies implacably, resulting in millions dying of hunger and related diseases every year simply because it is not profitable to produce the food to feed them and, in fact, often while the food that could feed them is destroyed so as to maintain prices and profits.

As World Socialists, who are opposed to war and to capitalism which breeds it: 
  • We place on record our horror that capitalism has once again provoked the orgy of death and destruction known as war.
  • We extend the hand of friendship to our fellow workers in Iraq who our political masters have designated as targets for destruction.
  • We pledge to do all within our means to bring the slaughter to an immediate end.
  • We pledge ourselves to continue to work for the establishment of a world socialist society of peace and cooperation.
  • We call upon fellow workers everywhere to join in the struggle for World Socialism.
One World, One People! Unite for World Socialism!
The Executive Committee,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain,
Companion party of the World Socialist Movement.

Editorial: Mr. Bevan: Another confusionist to fog the issue (1951)

Editorial from the June 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is an old established custom of the reformist movement that the astute rebels of to-day become the leaders of to-morrow, only to be pushed aside in turn by new rebels. The explanation is simple.

The reformist movements such as the British Labour Party are founded on the belief that Capitalism can be gradually improved and humanised if only the right men are put in control. It does credit to their hearts but not their heads, for it is demonstrably false. Capitalism can function at all only so long as those who control the Government enable the capitalists to make profit out of the exploitation of the working class. The most direct illustration of this is shown in governmental policy on wages. Notwithstanding the Labour Government's professed desire to see wages rise, immediately it came into power it had to start discouraging wage increases. If it had not done so higher wages would have eliminated profit and brought the system to a standstill.

So the regular phases of Labour Party internal policy are the election of vociferous rebels to leadership, their rise to governmental office, their loss of popularity through administering Capitalism, and their removal to make way for new confusionists.

And all the time the workers suffer from Capitalism and its wars, pacified by glowing promises of more reforms which end only in more disillusionment.

The latest claimant is Mr. Aneurin Bevan who resigned over the charges for false teeth and spectacles and over what he regards as the over-hasty plans for re-armament.

Following the example of all the earlier rebels who have trod the well-worn path to leadership, he claims that his policy is more truly socialist than that of Attlee. Having himself been occupied since 1945 trying to make Capitalism work he suddenly discovers that his "socialist” conscience requires him to resign and smugly writes to Attlee that “ it would be dishonourable for me to allow my name to be associated in the carrying out of policies which are repugnant to my conscience and contrary to my expressed opinion” (News Chronicle, 23/4/51). Having swallowed Capitalism whole and backed the policy of greater armaments, he strains at the gnats of charges for false teeth and too quick re-armament.

Writing in Reynolds News (6/5/51) he resuscitates the old slogan of “Socialism in our Time," claims that the Labour Party is socialist (he names it the “ Socialist Party ”), and that it has been engaged in building up Socialism and that it is only now that the question arises of “diluting our socialist policies” in order to secure electoral victory.

The truth is that Bevan, like the others, never got into Parliament on a socialist vote and if he had stood for election simply on the programme of establishing Socialism in place of Capitalism he would never have been a Member of Parliament.

How little he is concerned with Socialism is shown by his quaint remark that “the first glory of the Labour Government was the nationalisation of steel" and “the second glory . . . was the free National Health Service. That is a piece of genuine, undiluted Socialism.” (Reynolds News, 6/5/51.)

Political commentators are wondering what will be his future. We can tell them. So long as the working class can be deceived into believing that State Capitalism and reforms of Capitalism are Socialism they will refrain from establishing Socialism and will be content instead to chase after "leaders” each as futile as his predecessor.

Either they will continue to be misled by Attlee, or will choose Bevan (or some other) in his stead, and the difference between the one and the other will not matter the price of a pair of spectacles.

It has fallen to Labour Party peer, Lord Amwell, formerly Mr. F. Montague, M.P., who during the war was successively Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, to expose the hollowness of the claims of both Bevan and those he criticises. Lord Amwell has been thinking back to the time when he was in the Social Democratic Federation and he now writes to The Times (26/4/51) to tell the readers of that journal what he says he has long tried, in vain, to force on the attention of his fellow members of die Labour Party. Here are some of his remarks:—
“Bevan and his friends .... are not socialists, only ‘ sharers-out.’ ”
   "The Welfare State (not originated in 1945) is part of the technique of scientific Capitalism.”
   "Nationalization as part of a scheme designed to capture world markets has nothing in common with public ownership to build a co-operative society.”
    "Nationalization is not what we meant by Socialism.”
It will be seen that on the above questions Lord Amwell has come round to what the S.P.G.B. has been saying for 46 years. Maybe he did hold those views long ago but nevertheless he has remained in the Labour Party and thereby helped to bring about the result he now deplores.

Which all goes, to show how right the S.P.G.B. was and how wrong Lord Amwell and the S.D.F. were on the question whether socialists could enter the reformist Labour Party to any useful purpose. The odd scraps of socialist propaganda delivered inside the Labour Party's ranks have no effect at all on its policy. It is not going towards Socialism and a change of leadership from Attlee to Bevan will not change its direction. The only place for those who do want Socialism is in the ranks of the Socialist Party.

It's Not Only Heroin That Blows Your Mind (1998)

Theatre Review from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Oxford Stage Company are an enterprising group with a good track record for producing realistic, contemporary drama. They are soon to go on the road with Roots, Arnold Wesker's masterpiece about working-class enlightenment, but at present they are touring with a play about heroin addicts, adapted from Melvin Burgess's book Junk.

The adaptation has been managed by the play's director, John Retallack, and the result points, yet again, to the danger of allowing one person to both write and direct. Another director would surely have said to John Retallack, the author, "The piece is too long and unhelpfully repetitive. If it is to work as a drama it needs pruning."

But if Retallack doesn't always manage to keep the narrative taut and lean, there are other more substantial failings. Burgess's book is set in Bristol in the early 1980s. It tells the story of a group of junkies, an especially two fourteen-year-olds, Tar and Gemma, who have run away from their homes in a nearby small town-he because his father assaults him regularly, she to escape her small-minded parents. Never mind that Gemma's parents are comic caricatures masquerading as real people, the picture that is painted of homeless junkies is absurdly romantic. Well-appointed squats are seemingly easy to find, drugs are plentiful, and money appears hardly a problem when drugs are paid for by casual prostitution. There is no mention of the uncertainties of life, the possibilities of mindless violence fuelled by addiction, the cost of drugs paid for by petty crime.

Burgess describes his book as "a piece of entertainment", and I think this fairly describes its Mills and Boon-like mixture of naïve and uncomplicated fantasising. Unfortunately many people, not least teachers, seem to have seen the book as some kind of definitive description of the 1980s' drug scene. When I saw the play the theatre was packed with parties of 14-18-year-olds and their accompanying teachers. The programme approvingly quotes one fourteen-year-old as follows: "Well the pop stars are all saying how great drugs are. And the press is always saying how awful they are. This is a book that tells the story and lets me decide for myself."

The thought that reading Burgess's book (or seeing Retallack's play) might be a suitable basis for making an informed decision about drugs seems a sick joke of almost tragic proportions. The idea of choice presupposes the existence of acceptable alternatives, from which a choice is possible. But there is nothing in the story that is retailed here that even begins to sketch the nature of such alternatives. This is because the nature of these alternatives would only become clear after a considered analysis of the use of drugs, seen from a number of perspectives. And it is no part of the function of schools, colleges and universities to give access to such perspectives, since the interests of those who at present manage society are not well served by an educated, discriminating population. It would involve an appraisal of the use of drugs through space and time: an attempt to answer questions like, "What are the physiological effects of tobacco and alcohol-is it only illegal drugs which are dangerous?" "What is it about contemporary life that makes taking hard drugs attractive?" "Why is it that life is so lacking in appeal for so many young people that they need to escape by 'blowing their minds'?" "Is it possible to imagine other social arrangements which are sufficiently fulfilling for use of mind-blowing drugs as a form of escape to be unnecessary?" etc, etc.

That teachers should think that exposure to the kind of inadequate fantasising that is at the heart of Junk has something to do with education and enlightenment, is a fair indication of the way in which they have succumbed to the fictions of contemporary capitalism. When it comes to mind blowing the ideological apparatus of capitalism, whether realised in newspapers, TV programmes, books and plays, or education, can be very bad for your mental health.
Michael Gill

Votes for some women (2016)

Book Review from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Women and Socialism: Class, Race, and Capital'. By Sharon Smith. Haymarket Books. 2016

This is a ‘fully revised’ re-edition, with a new subtitle, of a book with the same title that came out in 2004 by an American Trotskyist. In the meantime Smith had revised her previous derogatory attitude towards ‘middle class feminists’ (who merely want equality under capitalism). She also wanted to emphasise more her view that there is a need to unify feminist and black struggles.

One interesting fact that emerges from a couple of passages is that we were not alone in opposing the suffragettes, who were demanding votes for women on the same terms as men then had, for wanting 'Votes for Rich Women'. Some in the German Social Democratic movement took the same position in regard to the same demand in Germany (where universal male suffrage did not exist either). Smith tells us:
'… the early-twentieth-century German women's suffrage movement did not challenge the property requirements that denied working-class men the right to vote – knowing that such requirements would also deny voting rights to working-class women. Maintaining such property requirements could only strengthen the political weight of the middle and upper classes, while the working class would remain politically voiceless.'
'Some women's suffrage organizations demanded (and in some European countries, won) partial suffrage for women – with voting rights based upon property holding and the payment of taxes (that is, restricting voting rights to those women of financial means). But in many of these same societies, male suffrage was also partial, denying working-class men the right to vote. Thus, partial suffrage merely increased the voting power of the upper classes.'
In the USA universal male and female suffrage was instituted in 1920 but only on paper in the ex-Confederate States where black men let alone black women were excluded under various pretexts, an anomaly not put right until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Smith sees not insisting on this at the time as a failure on the part of earlier feminists which, she argues, should now be rectified by seeing the black and women's equality movements as part of the same struggle. Multi-identity – gays and lesbians are invited to join too – politics, if you like, instead of class politics.

She argues that the basis for women's equality has to be pay for housework. But this is not going to happen under capitalism and won't be necessary in socialism where people won't have to have a money income to access the goods and services they need. Instead, the principle 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs' will apply, a much better and more rational way of putting women and men in a position of equality in that respect.
Adam Buick

The Moscow executions (1927)

Editorial from the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Editor of the “Sunday Worker” (June 19th), defends the execution of 20 political prisoners by the Soviet Government as an “act of stern revolutionary justice.” My thought on reading this was to wonder why the Russians allow soft-headed Communists in this country to broadcast such sentimental poppy-cock in their name. When professional politicians like Lloyd George or MacDonald speak as if they are the humble instruments of the Almighty, dealing out even-handed justice in a wicked world, we recognise an accepted trick of an old-established trade, but the Communists should be above such things. The working-class movement has no need to defend its actions on the illogical ground that they are in accord with some everlasting standard of abstract justice, or on the ground that those who suffer from those actions have “deserved” what they get. If the working-class should ever be compelled to take human life, its only justification—and that a sufficient one—is that working-class interests necessitate that action. If one may believe some of the Communists, these 20 prisoners were executed out of revenge for the assassination of Voikoff in Warsaw. If so, that is a piece of indefensible emotionalism, for which the working-class movement has no use. If the rigid test of working-class interests is applied, it is hard to see how this action could assist the progress of Socialism. It may be answered that those in control of the Russian Government thought that it was called for in order to serve some interest of State, to enhance the prestige of Russia by a defiant gesture. Our answer to this is that as Socialists, we are not interested in the game of Statecraft and we repudiate the notion that “reasons of State” can be adequate grounds on which to base working-class policy. When the Russian Communists allow themselves to be drawn into the bogs of diplomatic intrigue, trying to play off one capitalist state against another, they may prove as cunning as their opponents (although this is doubtful—certainly, the present incident has not added to their reputation for wisdom or strength) but the pleasure gained through the satisfaction of their desire for revenge will be at the direct expense of the real interests of the working-class.

War games (1991)

Book Review from the February 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Playing Them False: A Study of Children's Toys, Games and Puzzles. By Bob Dixon. Trentham Books. £11.95.

From earliest age children’s toys are clearly divided into boys’ and girls’: the boys’ miniturising outdoor pursuits, construction and “manly” activities while the girls’ are based on the kitchen and domestic activities.

Adventure kits for boys as young as three are intended to "make little men out of boys” with gear appropriate to various aggressive roles. Take you pick from, among others, the Para Kit. Assault Kit or Tank Commander. Speaking of tanks. Bromley Council in 1981 purchased for its playgrounds fighter plane and tank climbing frames; on the latter there's a gun which you can fire in the turret.

The first toy soldiers, made of flat tin, were produced in Nuremberg in 1775 and Germany remained the main producer and exporter until the late nineteenth century. By 1893 hollow-casting had been developed in Britain, making the toys cheaper and more widely available. During the 1914-18 war a printed rag-doll soldier called Tommy Atkins became so popular that filename was adopted for British foot soldiers. During the 1930’s khaki-dressed dolls were on sale. Their sophisticated descendant, Action Man, is described in the trade magazine Toys International as “a fully mobile moulded plastic toy for boys which could be equipped for every phase of military service".

IPC have, since 1975. published a comic Battle (now called Battle Action Force). If you grow up thinking that war is a game it will be easier to persuade you to participate in the real thing when you grow up; the war games entered into by certain groups of adults are evidence of this. Even "peaceful" boys’ dolls such as Star Wars. Masters of the Universe. Power Lords or the latest Turtles craze, stress the desirability of toughness, domination and strength. Books, games. T-Shirts and even cakes and yoghurts promote these toys and keep tills ringing.

As children grow older the process continues with games promoting wars. These arc considered OK as long as they don’t get too near home. When they do, there is an outcry— Waddington’s Bomb Disposal and Mayfair's War in the Falklands in this country are examples. Avalon Mill’s USA game about the Arab/Israeli conflict was fine when it came out but. with the present US involvement in the Gulf, would be condemned today.

Board games became popular in Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century and, until the twentieth, were mainly concerned with improving morals and teaching children their "correct" place in life (including the superiority of the male and the subject position of women). The suggestion that poverty is caused by laziness often propounded by these games is mouthed with equal hypocrisy by politicians today. Monopoly and Rat Race are about the "desirable" goal for workers under capitalism—the need to succeed when entering the labour market. Role playing and simulated business games arc encouraged in schools and are often sponsored by interested parties such as the Financial Times or banks.
Eva Goodman

The Media Versus the Workers (1982)

From the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it . . . the ruling class regulates the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. (Marx, German Ideology.)
What the Sun says today millions of workers will be repeating tomorrow. If the Daily Mail informs its readers that strikers are greedy and the Daily Express demands that patriots tighten their belts “for the sake of the nation” it is called news, not propaganda. Fed upon lies and distortions, who can blame most workers for regarding the mass media as a source of enlightenment? The distorting mirror of the press was not created by accident: it lies because it is dangerous for its owners to tell the truth. Their power is dependent on a majority ignorance about the nature of social reality.

In Britain three-quarters of all daily newspapers are owned by three companies. Rupert Murdoch’s News International owns the Sun (average circulation of 3,837,000) and the News of the World (4,472,000). These two account for 25 per cent of all national newspapers sold in Britain. Last year The Times and Sunday Times were added to Murdoch’s Empire. Reed International, publishers of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People, also owns IPC which produces 37 per cent of all consumer magazines sold in Britain. Trafalgar House owns the Daily Express, the Daily Star, the Sunday Express, the New Standard (now London’s only evening paper) and has substantial investments in the Morgan Grampian magazine-publishing corporation. All of these multinationals have investments in capital projects other than newspapers. For example, Reed International receives only about 12 per cent of its profits from newspapers; its main investments being in pulp, paper and packaging, building products and home decorating. Trafalgar House is a major property company, owning ships (including the QE2), aviation projects, hotels (including the Ritz) and investment concerns. Associated Newspapers Group, publishers of the dreadful Daily Mail (1,985,000 copies a day) also owns fourteen provincial dailies, four commercial radio stations, Weekend magazine. National Opinion Rolls, the Wyndham and Picadilly Theatres, the London Cab Company, Teledata, several building and furniture companies and the Blackfriars Oil Company. The men who own the press have a great deal to defend—too much to allow the truth to get in their way. When Daily Mail editorials refer to “our” country the joke is on the readers, not the owners.

The press uses its power to mould working class prejudices. When workers are on strike the press takes the side of “the public” against the “anti-social troublemakers” who have dared to defy their bosses. When any aspect of their system is criticised the critic is immediately attacked as an “extremist”. Submissive wage slaves are “patriots” and political leaders who do not rock the boat are “moderates”. Newspaper editors preach to their working class readers about the need for austerity, honesty and moral righteousness, while the capitalist class live in luxury, deprive the workers of the fruits of our labours and indulge in the morality of a class which can afford to break their own rules. Praising the parasitism of their own class, the newspaper controllers make sure that the term “scrounger” is reserved for the unfortunate wage slave who is caught receiving more from the dole than the law allows. One only has to study the editorials of the press to understand just how much contempt the rulers of capitalism feel towards the working class.

Where the press cannot blind workers to their interests by direct preaching or by fraudulent reporting they do so by sensational diversions. In the 1960s the popular press hit on the idea of printing pictures of nude women to increase their circulation. More recently the fantasies have become more material and daily Bingo numbers are printed in order to con wage slaves into thinking that they too could become a Rupert Murdoch. Horoscopes, racing tips and trivial tales of men biting dogs have become part of the intellectual diet of the working class. The product of this massive outpouring of ruling class propaganda, through the columns of the daily press, is the existence of a class of men and women whose response to their exploitation is almost universal consent.

Experience is the greatest demystifier. Apologists for capitalism may be able to fool most of the people most of the time, but ruling class propaganda cannot perpetually hide the antagonism of interests between those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. One recent example is the awakening of working class consciousness in Poland. The newspapers there are controlled by the government and official censors ensure that nothing is published which will expose the exploitative nature of the dictatorship. What passes for “news” is simply government propaganda.

The Polish press “sympathises” with strikers in Britain just as the British media suddenly found itself in militant recognition of the interests of the Polish strikers (while doing everything in its powers to oppose strikers here). The Polish newspapers are full of articles about the need to defend the Warsaw Pact against NATO aggression, just as British newspapers call for NATO vigilance against Warsaw Pact aggression. But despite the government-controlled media and the censorship and the overwhelming forces of indoctrination, the Polish workers did defy their masters. Their experience of poverty led them to go on strike, even though the media claimed that their actions were “unpatriotic”, “subversive” and even “anti-socialist”. The first action of the Gdansk strikers, in August 1980, was to publish a newspaper which would put their views, rather than the state’s. The first issue of Solidarity stated that
The whole country awaits genuine and accurate news . . .  but the news in the press, radio and television is both distorted and incomplete. (23.8.80.) 
Before long the Polish workers’ hunger for real news led to the creation of a number of new journals which were owned and controlled by the working class. In the northern port of Szczecin, the Solidarity journal Jednosc (Unity) was selling over 100,000 copies each week. It is in this journal that some of the most penetrating analyses of Polish state capitalism by Polish workers have appeared. The new military junta in Poland has banned the publication of all working class-controlled publications, but they cannot ban the ideas which such journals have encouraged in the minds of the working class.

In Britain, the “right” to publish a newspaper is open to everyone, as is the right to rent a suite in the Ritz Hotel. Much as the ruling class remind the workers of Britain about this generous freedom to publish what we like, most workers realise that printers have the freedom to charge what they like. In September 1904 a group of working class men and women did take up the “right" to produce and distribute their own publication. They called it the Socialist Standard, they sold it for a penny and they refused to compromise a single word for the sake of obtaining advertisers or attracting empty-headed readers. Seventy-eight years later the same party is still publishing the same journal the longest-running working class journal in the world.

Why do we do it? Because socialists realise that every newspaper, magazine and book which is produced under capitalism must make a fundamental decision: will it take the side of the capitalists or will it take the side of the workers? 99 per cent of what can be bought on any news stand is unadulterated pro-capitalist nonsense which deserves the contempt and ridicule of the working class. Unlike those journals, the Socialist Standard always takes the side of the workers’ interests. We do so for exactly the same reason as the capitalist press unceasingly takes the side of the bosses: because we share their class interests. The Socialist Party of Great Britain urges our fellow workers to reject the myths of the ruling class press and to join with us in producing and distributing the message of freedom.

  • Take out a subscription to the Socialist Standard. It only costs £3.90. (including post) for a year's supply.
  • Take an extra copy of the Standard to give or sell to a friend.
  • Persuade your local bookshop/newsagent/ library to subscribe to the Standard
  • Contact your local SPGB branch or group and help them to sell the Standard.
  • Send a letter to your local newspaper/ union magazine urging workers to try the Standard.
  • Send the names of local people who may wish to read the Standard to SPGB, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. We will send a free copy to them with a subscription form.
Steve Coleman

Free speech: official cuts (1977)

From the November 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

A ban on all public meetings and processions was imposed by the Greater Manchester Council in August. Other local authorities have considered such a measure and announced that their halls shall not be let to the National Front and “extreme left-wing” organizations. This reaction to the violent disturbances at Lewisham and Birmingham in August was not unexpected. The councils say they have a responsibility for public order and the protection of property, which take precedence over legal rights of speech and assembly. The ordinary apolitical citizen agrees, on the reasonable grounds that he doesn’t want to have his windows broken or be exposed to danger through rioting.

All right: grant the validity of that. What about “free speech”? The Manchester ban is on everyone, and the Salvation Army and the Scouts have complained that it is unfair to them. (Should the ban last several months, it will be interesting to see if it is applied to the annual Catholic procession in Manchester.) In London, local restrictions and authorities’ reactions have already obstructed the holding of socialist meetings. The position now is that the elbow-room to argue a case in public has seriously diminished.

This is precisely what socialists forecast as an outcome of efforts at “confrontation” by the Socialist Workers’ Party and other groups. In pursuing a policy of violent attack on the National Front meetings and demonstrations, and thereby opposing the law, they put existing facilities at risk. It is a lesson which advocates of violence for political purposes refuse to learn. Eugene Debs was once quoted as saying that when a policeman’s club struck a demonstrating worker’s head, if the worker listened carefully he would hear the echo of the vote he cast at the last election. More correctly stated, what should be heard is that the state has superior force to support legislation: confrontation cannot win.

The SWP’s contention is that something must be done to prevent the National Front from flourishing. The course they have chosen is probably just what the NF want, and is irrational in every way. If attacking the NF because it is a repressive movement produces repression, what is achieved? Less than nothing. A sensible line of action would be to urge everyone to ignore the NF’s marches and not provide them with audiences—to treat them as mature people treat other cases of indecent exposure, by taking no notice. But underlying the SWP’s policy is the idea of taking charge of a situation and acting above the heads of all and sundry: in short, assuming leadership.

However, the SWP and the local councils are not the only people to whom, like the National Front, democracy is of little consequence. The majority of the working class, because they support capitalism, do not comprehend and therefore do not value democracy. The present restrictions on meetings have been accepted with little demur in the frame of mind that the need for a quiet life justifies them. In the western world legal rights are eroded or vitiated in this “soft” way. Thus, in the last twenty-five years public meetings out of doors have been made all-but-impossible in most areas not by dictatorial edicts but by traffic, parking, town planning, and regulations arising from them. The Civic Amenities Act of 1967 ended free bill-posting and chalking as means of advertisement for organizations without money. All these things represent public preferences for facilities for the motor-car, clean cities, etc.; and each of them takes for granted that free speech is not to be bothered about.

The matter is thrown into sharper relief by a proposal to raise the candidate’s deposit in parliamentary elections from £150 to £1,000. The argument for such a change is a frankly anti-minority one. The head of Parliamentary Research Services, F. W. S. Craig, said in a book published on 22nd September:
At least three thousand candidates are likely at the next general election unless the £150 deposit is increased . . . unless the deposit is increased the next election will undoubtedly provide a very large number of ‘crank’ candidatures.
   'I would have thought that a deposit of £1,000 would not be unreasonable considering that every candidate is entitled to send one free communication through the post to each elector’, Mr. Craig says.
(The Times, 22nd September)
The deposit is forfeited by any candidate who gets fewer than one-eighth of the total votes cast, and most minority candidates accept the likelihood that they will lose their deposits. The cost of a candidate including printing, hall hire etc. for the Socialist Party of Great Britain is currently about £650; if the deposit rose as suggested, it would be £1,500.

An alternative put forward in The Times of 6th October was to restrict candidates to those from parties with certain numbers of members and supporters The writer, Michael Steed of Manchester University, agreed on the need to keep minorities away from the media and the free post, but did not think high deposits would be a sufficient deterrent. In fact an election is a rare opportunity for a minority to make its existence and its case known. The SPGB does not receive big donations from wealthy organizations as the Labour and Tory Parties do; the money for election campaigns is squeezed out of our limited funds, and a thousand-pound deposit would have the intended effect.

There has been no sign of an outcry against these proposals to prevent us and other minorities from addressing voters on a level with the major parties. The response has been similar to what happened in 1960, after the SPGB had established that party political broadcasts arranged by the Labour, Liberal and Tory Parties with the BBC were a breach of the Representation of the People Act. Under the Act, every candidate in an election was entitled to the same facilities. So the system was amended to give broadcasting time in proportion to the number of candidates fielded—that is, to appear to comply with the law while still keeping minorities out.

The smug patrician’s-speech view is that we live in a democratic and “liberal” society. The reality is that socialists have to struggle to make the most of limited means of “free speech”, against pressure from opponents who plead necessity but are glad to find excuses for further restrictions. If election deposits are raised or some other procedural obstacle created, and as a result we find it impossible at times to put up candidates, we will do what we have done in the past: urge workers to write “Socialism” across their ballot-papers. But the real answer is to build a strong socialist movement. With growing numbers we shall be better able to resist the pressure to box us in, and to push outwards all the time. Socialist consciousness is democracy-consciousness, and its spread is the only positive answer to all repressions.
Robert Barltrop

Bevan and the Labour Party Leadership (1955)

Editorial from the April 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Bevan has declared that what he said and did in the row that caused his censure was "not a challenge to the personal authority and position of Mr. Attlee as leader of the Party. Differences are on policy and only policy.” (Daily Herald, 12/3/55.) As the Attlee and Bevan standpoints in the H-bomb debate in Parliament on March 2nd differed by only a hairs-breath the statement is surprising; unless he was speaking of policy in general not just the H-bomb issue. And if that was intended to mean that Mr. Bevan does not aspire to the leadership it is hard to reconcile it with his views and behaviour. The Labour Party’s policy and form of organization require a leader, and though the leader does not formulate policy he can and does exercise much influence on the policy votes at annual conference and in the Parliamentary party. Mr. Bevan believes that he has a policy different from that of the Labour Party’s “Right-Wing” (as he now describes it), and his own description of the kind of leader the Labour Party ought to have bears a clear resemblance to himself. What then could be more natural than that he should seek to further his policy, side by side with becoming Party leader? Mr. Bevan, speaking while the Labour Government was still in office but after he had left it, depicted the kind of leaders required. They must, he said, be men of courage, guts and character; not experts or men from the “top drawer of society,” but men “who had spent their lives in the Labour and trade union movement and who not only understood Socialism with their heads but knew it with their hearts.” (From a speech at Cumnock reported in the Manchester Guardian, 18 June, 1951.) From this it seems more than likely that he measured himself for the Party leadership and found it an admirable fit.

The opinion of a leader-writer in the Manchester Guardian (17/3/55) is that the difficulties began when Bevan failed to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s job.
“It is just four years since Mr. Bevan began to show his displeasure that he had been passed over when the time came to choose a new Chancellor of the Exchequer. A little later he pranced out of the Labour Government. From that he passed on to organising his private group within the Party, and two and a half years ago was told (by 188 votes in the Parliamentary Party to 51) to disband it and to stop his attacks on his colleagues. Since then the story of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been of one long succession of disturbances connected with Bevanism.”

The Bevan Business (1955)

From the April 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bevan and the H-Bomb

Mr. Bevan’s quarrel with Mr. Attlee in the House of Commons on 2 March, when he and some 60 other Labour M.P.s abstained from voting for an amendment that had been agreed beforehand at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, was serious because of the number who followed Mr. Bevan’s lead. The violence of the dispute certainly cannot be attributed to any wide gulf between the Bevan and Attlee standpoints on the H-bomb. Only a month earlier one of Mr. Bevan’s principal supporters, Mr. R. Crossman, M.P., had not only supported the Attlee line in favour of making the H-bomb but had declared that this, along with the Attlee attack on American policy, had “reasserted his command of Labour in Parliament” and was “nicely balanced for the purpose of achieving Socialist unity.” (Sunday Pictorial 6-2-55). Mr. Bevan’s revolt was as much a repudiation of Mr. Crossman as it was of Mr. Attlee. Mr. Bevan's reason for his action was that Mr. Attlee would not give a satisfactory answer to a question about the precise circumstances in which the Hydrogen bomb should be used. Mr. Bevan’s question to Mr. Attlee was:—
"If the Russians invaded Europe with conventional weapons, would the Party officially support a government that counter-attacked with hydrogen bombs? ” (Daily Mail, 3/3/55.)
But it must not be thought from this that Mr. Bevan is a pacifist or that he refuses to support war. His quarrels with Mr. Attlee have not been in that field. A correspondent writing in the Manchester Guardian (8-3-55) recalls that during World War II., when Attlee was in the National Government under Churchill. Bevan did indeed campaign against the government but it was for the early opening of the second front.

He was in the 1945-1951 Labour Government that built the Atom Bomb and that imposed peacetime conscription, for the first time in a 100 years. He supported the Korean war and the re-armament drive. He was Minister of Labour in March 1951 when the Ministry published a booklet “Wage Incentive Schemes,” the Foreword of which urged the adoption of piece-work and other incentive schemes in order to reduce costs and increase output, the need for which “has become, even more urgent in face of the unavoidable diversion of a substantial portion of the labour force to the carrying out of the Government’s defence programme.”

He said himself in June, 1951, “He did not believe in having no armies . . . (Manchester Guardian, 18/6/51.) And in an article in the News Chronicle (9/3/55) he admitted that in view of his past record he had no logical case against the hydrogen bomb:—
“Those of us who concurred in the making of the atom bomb and tolerated the saturation bombing of the last war have no moral or logical case against the hydrogen bomb. All three are methods and weapons of imprecision, that is, it is known they will destroy the civilian population and all the civil installations of the enemy."
What he asked therefore was that “we should pause before carrying the logic of our past behaviour to its furthermost extremities” (News Chronicle, 9/3/55). He wanted negotiations immediately with the Russians.

He also wanted, or so we may gather from his question to Mr. Attlee on 2 March, acceptance of the view that the hydrogen bomb will never be used by the British Government against an attack which itself does not include use of the hydrogen bomb.

As this is in effect an attempt to ensure that the next war will not be much more unpleasant than the last we are not grateful to Mr. Bevan and we don’t think that his plea that he is being “practical" has been made out.

* * *

Top Level Talks

One of the issues on which the Government, the Opposition, and the Bevanites are in principle agreed though heatedly differing as to timing, is that of top-level talks between U.S.A., Russia and Britain, with the possible addition of China and France. They are all agreed that there should be such talks and that these should not be conducted by the professional diplomats, the Ambassadors, or even by Foreign Secretaries, but by heads of States, Eisenhower, Churchill and Bulganin. The idea behind the plan is that something for the good of humanity can be achieved at informal talks between heads of States that cannot be achieved at the United Nations, which was specially set up for “friendly talks,” and that cannot be achieved by diplomats taking their orders from heads of States. None of the leaders who favour top level talks have so far explained what is the supposed magic in them. And it isn't as if they have not been tried before. A century and a half ago Czar Alexander had “top level" talks with Napoleon and with the heads of the Prussian and Austrian States, and cooked up the notorious Concert of Europe, through which the ruling class in the different countries hoped to stifle revolutionary movements. It set the pattern for all subsequent international gatherings in that the protestations of mutual love and harmony were only the cover for projected double-crossing by the top-level participants. Do top-level talks stop war? In this generation we have had the example of the top-level talks between Chamberlain and Hider at Munich which were the prelude to the 1939 war.

And the Press in mid-March was convulsed by the disclosure of what went on at some other top-level talks, those at Yalta in 1945. At those talks the three great Powers (except when two of them met to double-cross the absent one) were concerned in disposing of the world in much the same way as the Concert of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon and with as little foresight, wisdom and humanity. The Daily Mail's comment is typical of many in the British Press:—
“What we have read of the American version of the Yalta Conference leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. But why there should be any shock or astonishment at the disclosures of President Roosevelt’s attitude we do not know. It is not news that he tried to 'gang up' with Stalin against Churchill . . .  His naive belief that Stalin was a democratic idealist and Churchill a ‘wicked imperialist' helped to bedevil the post-war world. We should have been safer today, and Communism less of a menace, but for that” (Daily Mail, 18/3/55.)
The attitude of Attlee, and even more that of Bevan, to the present proposal is particularly illogical. Their professed belief is that if Churchill meets the other two face to face the war threat may be dispersed, and that this is impossible or, at least much more difficult if they don't meet face to face. Do Attlee and Bevan believe that Churchill's charm may smooth away the friction between the Russian and American ruling groups and that Churchill, Eisenhower and Bulganin have qualities of wisdom denied to their deputies? If so this admiration for the three leaders has been conspicuously absent from Attlee’s and Bevan's speeches and writings. From these we had gathered that the continuance of Churchill as Prime Minister is a menace to the well-being of the population.

The belief in the likely fruitfulness of top-level talks plainly rests not on a substantial basis of logic or on happy results of past experience, but on the despairing feeling that we must clutch at this straw because there is no other hope left for humanity.

Bevan not a Socialist

Debating whether Bevan will succeed in winning over majority support in the Labour Party, the Daily Mail (16/3/55) concedes to him that he is “ a dynamic figure, a powerful speaker, and the exponent of the pure doctrine of Socialism." The last claim is nonsense and we suspect that the Daily Mail leader writer knows it as well as we do. Mr. Bevan’s alleged Socialism did not deter him, any more than it deterred the rest of the Labour leaders, from running British capitalism for six years after the war, with all that entailed from the use of troops in strikes to the preservation intact of the capitalist social structure. Only the muddle-headed think that the change over of certain industries from private to state capitalism has something to do with Socialism or affects in any way the structure or stability of capitalism or the wealth of the capitalist class. The Manchester Guardian (17/3/55) is nearer the mark is its assessment when it says that the attraction of the Bevanite movement 
“lies in its beautiful sentimental vagueness. The Communist, the pacifist, the believer in the innate virtue of the Soviet State, the hater of American ’capitalism,’ the general 'do-gooder,' all see something of themselves reflected in the glowing rhetoric of Mr. Bevan. Yet, as Mr. Attlee has pointed out, Mr. Bevan himself does not differ doctrinally from the official policy he condemns. But he appears to differ and that is enough."
He may be, as is claimed, a great orator in the Churchill class but if so it may still be true of him as he said of Churchill
“The mediocrity of his thinking is concealed by the majesty of his language." (Daily Herald, 3/3/55.)
Edgar Hardcastle

Workers' Control ? ? (1946)

From the May 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Trade Disputes Act is to go. Hurrah! The workers have wrenched from the Capitalists one of their vilest weapons. Just a minute, there's a catch in this. Here it is, in the words of Sir Hartley Shawcross. Opening the debate for the Government in the House of Commons on February 12th, he pointed out that:
“In any case the pre-1927 law gave ample powers for dealing with strikes."
Speaking of the proposal to allow Civil Servants to belong to Trade Unions to which outside workers belong and to be affiliated to the T.U.C., he said:—
“I take this opportunity of making it quite clear that this Government, as an employer, would feel itself completely free to take disciplinary action when any strike situation which might develop demanded it."
That’s not all—this “workers’ Government ” has a duty to perform—duty to whom? Could it be to the Employers?
“But that is not to say that it is not the duty of the Government to deal with any strike that may arise. That is a duty the present Government will loyally discharge." (Our italics.)
Now we know. Thanks for those kind words, Comrade Sir Hartley.
(All quotations from News Chronicle, 13/2/16.)
D. M.

Editorial: The Friends of the Trade Unionist (1946)

Editorial from the May 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

The trade unionist who has simple faith and a long memory must wonder sometimes at the number and variety of self-proclaimed friends he has among the politicians. The Liberals have frequently “saved” the trade unions from the Tories. No less frequently the Tories have “saved" them from the Liberals. In 1927 both together claimed to have performed that righteous act against the Labour Party; and the Labour Party, by repealing the 1927 Act, has just restored the position as it existed under Liberal and Tory legislation before 1927. The I.L.P. and the Communists have also from time to time announced themselves as potential if not actual saviours. With so much unselfish attention the trade unions ought surely to be healthy, happy and carefree; but many trade unionists can find little about which to be happy in the present state of affairs. The unions have record membership, ample funds and more M.P.s than ever before. Their officials are consulted by Government departments, sit on official bodies and have a finger in every pie. Their names increasingly appear in “Honours” lists. Yet there is something amiss. The union officials seem to be forgetting what trade unions are for, and more and more members are dissatisfied. They see abundant activity concerned with increased production, export drives, savings campaigns, austerity appeals, and the defence of the Labour Government, but less and less concern with the trade union object which is the struggle with the employers over wages and conditions of work.

The trade unionist who starts by wondering at the number of friends he has among the politicians may end by suspecting that their interest is in his votes and his subscriptions to political funds. When trade union political activities were mainly in support of Liberal and Tory candidates the two parties never objected to the way trade unions raised and spent their political funds, but they discovered objections when they saw that tens of thousands of pounds every year were going to the Labour Party alone. So in 1927 the law was altered. Before then the trade unionist who did not want to pay political contributions to his union had to sign a form in order to be exempt. After 1927 it was the man who wanted to pay who had to sign a form. If all trade unionists were actively interested this would have made no difference, but as many were indifferent on this question the change of law meant the loss of over 1,000,000 affiliated trade unionists to the Labour Party. The unions and the Labour Party were worse off to the extent of over £100,000 a year. The Labour Government, by restoring the pre-1927 position, is hoping to get back for the unions and the Labour Party what was lost. But all is not plain sailing. Communist Party influence in trade unions has grown, and whether or not they succeed in getting enough trade union block votes at the Labour Party conference to gain affiliation there is the likelihood that some trade union political grants will go to the Communist Party. This the Labour Party leaders, naturally, do not like. For years the Labour Party has taken advantage of the apathy of trade unionists to get a big flow of money from trade union political funds that did not really reflect active support for the Labour Party. Now, to their chagrin, they see the possibility that the Communist Party may muscle in. While the two parties fight out their quarrel over trade union money the S.P.G.B. looks forward to the day when the working class, having become Socialist, will refuse to give financial or other support to either of those parties.

It will be known to our readers that we do not share the Labour Party view that the repeal of the 1927 Act will make a vast difference to the working class in their struggle with the employers. This is obvious common sense when it is recalled that the workers enjoyed all the benefits now restored to them during the period from the passing of the 1913 Trade Union Act up to 1927. We do not think that the Labour Government itself really imagines that the new position, apart from the change affecting political funds, will be much different from the old. In one respect they have clearly shown that they do not intend it to he different. Asked if a general strike would now become legal, Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Labour Government’s Attorney-General, replied:—
"The revolutionary strike should be and is illegal . . . . Under existing powers any revolutionary action, whether on the part of trade unions or any other body, would be dealt with adequately, effectively.” (Report in Daily Herald, 3/4/46.)
So there we are. The repeal of the 1927 Act will not make much difference to anyone, but the Labour M.P.s obviously enjoyed themselves over it and sang the Red Flag. Trade unionists will be well advised to give their attention to the more important question of getting the unions back to their proper function of looking after the economic interests of the working class as far as that can be done under capitalism.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Trotskyism Rehashed (1973)

Book Review from the December 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tariq Ali, a leading member of the so-called International Marxist Group writes in his book The Coming British Revolution that the socialist revolution will be produced by the long dreamt-of big slump and not working-class understanding. Indeed he categorically states that the working class is incapable of ever developing a socialist consciousness on its own and must have “leaders” (guess who) to do their thinking for them. Apparently the need for workers to recognise the leaders now is crucial since British capitalism is already on the brink of collapse and only needs one more good push. And not only will the Trots provide the workers with political direction during the revolution but will also throw in the direction of military operations for good measure!

Obviously that’s a piece of romantic nonsense as Trotskyists know little or nothing of such matters, but such extravagant flights of fancy enable us to see the appeal Trotskyism can have for some youngsters by conjuring up a vision of themselves as latter-day Lenins dramatically leading the masses into world-shattering action. However, if past behaviour is anything to go by such a revolution is doomed to be an awful flop as Ali, Robin Blackburn and co. would be unable to resist the urge to get themselves arrested after five minutes.

Ali wants to see the Labour Party back in office on the grounds that it will finally (again!) disgrace itself in the eyes of the workers and so drive many of the disillusioned into the ranks of the Trots. This is what they always hope for from a period of Labour government and it should be obvious to them by now that they are on a loser. What is much more likely to happen is that disillusioned, politically ignorant workers will be driven into supporting, say, the Liberals or even Enoch Powell. So here is a blatant disregard of what has gone before, and a knowledge of Marxism must include the recognition of history’s lessons in order to avoid repeating mistakes.

And while we’re on the subject of Marxism, Ali correctly attacks anti-dialectical methods of thinking and points out that it is wrong for Trotskyists to parrot what Lenin said in 1919 or 1920 since the circumstances will be very different today. But this is exactly what they always do, especially in connection with Marx. IMG’ers are forever backing up their claim that socialists should support Irish nationalism and the various nationalist movements in the Third World by quoting what Marx said on the subject back in the middle of the 19th century (see Socialist Standard December 1972).

The point is that Marx and Engels found themselves in a very different historical situation from the one we live in today. They supported the emergent bourgeoisie of Europe in its struggle with feudal reaction because at that time the two forces were pretty evenly balanced and it was just possible that reaction could crush or at least hold back the progressive force which the bourgeoisie then represented. By the turn of the century the victory of the bourgeoisie was all but complete. All over Europe they had vanquished feudal remnants and unified dozens of tiny states into large capitalist nations.

To the founders of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904 it was clear that the victorious bourgeoisie needed no help from them and had in any case, having fulfilled their historic task in increasing the productive forces, now become in turn the reaction. The task of Marxists from then on was to point this out at all times and to concentrate on propagating the case for the next stage in social development, the establishment of a worldwide production-for-use society. In dealing with the basic principles of the Marxist case (the materialist conception of history and the class struggle) Marx and Engels correctly stated in the preface to the 1872 German edition of The Communist Manifesto that
The practical application of the principles will depend, as the manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing . . . 
It is we who apply these principles within the context of the present day and not the followers of Lenin and Trotsky.

Like Trotskyists everywhere Ali sees revolution round every corner. He even thinks that the 1945 Labour government introduced the National Health Service only to stave off revolution and goes on to argue that the capitalists can no longer afford to buy-off the workers with more such reforms. Of course as even Ali should know the NHS was introduced in order to save the capitalists money by ensuring that workers didn’t spend the part of wages required to pay for medical attention on other things by having it deducted from their wages and paid into a central fund. And the most likely reason why the capitalists don’t produce other such reforms is that they can’t think of any worth their while. Perhaps Ali and other leftists could help them out by suggesting a few? Anyway, the capitalists are not under any great pressure from the workers to require buying them off.

So Ali in 1973 is as wrong about Britain in 1945 as Trotsky was in 1935. Then the man Ali describes as “a perceptive observer of the British political scene” was writing that the revolution was about to break out in Britain only a few months before the Tories were returned to power with a massive majority. Some “perceptive observer”.

Ali thinks that “large areas of the world have liberated themselves from the tyranny of the world capitalist market”. Where is this true? Russia? China? Cuba? Actually the first two are entering the world markets just as fast as they can and are busy negotiating with Nixon and other western political and business leaders to accelerate the process. And Cuba is only kept going at all by the “aid” given by Russia and China for reasons of strategy and propaganda alone.

Predictably the usual lip-service is paid to the idea that socialism means “To each according to his needs. From each according to his ability”. But is this concept any nearer realisation in Russia where Ali claims a “new set of property relations” have been established? Does the working class still not have to work for wages there? Of course Trotskyists always identify capitalism and exploitation with western-style ownership of bonds, stocks, shares, etc.; in fact capitalism as it had developed in Marx’s own lifetime under peculiarly western conditions. That the Russian form of state capitalism developed out of a different historical background with capital accumulation carried out by a dictatorial political party — the Bolsheviks — instead of private entrepreneurs has escaped them. They imagine that the capital-wage labour relationship must develop in the same way everywhere despite vastly different historical circumstances and so provide us with one more example of their ignorance of the Marxist method.
Vic Vanni

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Should the Workers Fight for Russia? (1928)

From the April 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before the Great War there were many workers in this and other countries who would have agreed without a moment’s hesitation that a working class movement should not support a capitalist war, and who, again without hesitation, rushed into the war when it came. This war, they said, was “different "; this was a “defensive” war; the workers must defend their homes, their wives, their liberties.

Since 1918 the vague sentiment against war has grown up again, and we are asked to put our trust in the illusory determination of the organised trade unionists to stop another outbreak. But those non-socialists who are most emphatic in their refusal to support another capitalist war are frequently to be heard expressing their willingness to fight for Russia, and their approval of the Russian military preparations. Thus the Sunday Worker (February 19th), shows a picture of a handsome Russian soldier in full fighting equipment, and under it the words: “Soviet worker in the Red Army ready to defend the factories and land of his class.”

We tell the workers of each capitalist nation that support for capitalist wars, offensive or defensive, is not in accordance with working class interests, for the simple reason that “their” country does not in fact belong to them but to the capitalist class. The factories and land of England do not belong to the workers but to their masters, and the same is true of Germany, America and other countries. What the workers have not got they cannot lose. What then does it matter to them if "their” country, which isn’t theirs at all, is taken away from the English section of the capitalist class by another section? Win or lose, the workers are still workers, and the kindly interest taken in them by English capitalists is precisely the same in kind as that of American, German, or any other exploiters, i.e., the desire to make a profit out of them.

So far the members and followers of (he Communist Party in this country would doubtless signify their agreement. But the next step in the argument is to consider whether Russian workers are in an essentially different position. Do the factories and land in Russia really belong to the Russian working class, and if not why should they defend interests which are not their own, but those of another class ?

Let us first take the land. In theory the land of Russia belongs to the State, as in this country all land is in theory held from the Crown; in fact the land belongs in Russia to the peasants as it belongs here to the landowners. Issuing decrees declaring that the land has been socialised is of no significance whatever except as an evidence of good intentions. The Soviet Government has not the machinery to carry out such decrees, nor the power enforce them. The consent of the peasants is unobtained and unobtainable, and the Government never did in fact seriously regard such a step as practical politics. No Russian Government would survive for a month if it endeavoured to dispossess the peasants of their land. They were the makers of the "revolution” and they would crush any Government which openly opposed their interests. Their seizure of the land preceded the Bolshevik coup d’etat and they will resist fiercely any change from Monarchists to go back or from Communists to go forward.

Mr. Arthur Ransome (Manchester Guardian, 2nd March) quotes from Pravda an article on this question in which it is shown from official records that whereas there were at the end of the Civil War between 15 and 16 million separate peasant holdings there are now 25 million. Peasant proprietorship is growing, not declining.

There are, it is true, some Soviet Government model farms run on up-to-date industrial lines and intended to undermine the barbaric individualism of the peasants and their methods of cultivation. As a means of raising the standard of cultivation they have had some success, but as the basis of social ownership of the land and a socially organised agriculture they are negligible. Out of a rural population of some 116,000,000 (see Statesman’s Year Book, page 1227) only “about 500,000 workers, of whom 45 per cent, are permanent workers, are employed in the Soviet farms and their dependent enterprises." (See Weekly Bulletin of the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee, 23rd February 1928). That is to say that less than one-half of one per cent, of the rural population are employed on these model farms. The value of the output of the State Agricultural Syndicate and the Sugar Trust is only 5.5 per cent, of the gross agricultural output in 1926-27. (See above Bulletin.)

The land in Russia belongs not to the working class but to the peasants. It is privately owned and controlled by them and cultivated on an individualistic basis for private profit. The Russian working class have no more direct interest in the defence of peasant proprietorship, than have the French workers in the defence of peasant proprietorship in France. Peasant proprietorship is economically backward and socially reactionary. As sellers of farm products, as purchasers of manufactured goods, as employers of wage earners or exploiters of the unpaid labour of their wives and children, and finally as owners of land, the interests of the peasants are in direct conflict with those of the working class and are directly opposed to the movement towards socialism. The Russian workers emphatically do not possess the land of Russia. Why. then should they fight to defend what is not theirs?
Now let us consider the factories. Do the Russian workers own the Russian factories and workshops, railways and steamships, and industrial capital in general? The answer is plainly No! The Russian workers are wage-earners as in this country. Some are employed by Russian and foreign private capitalist undertakings, frankly carried on for profit. Others, as in our Post Office, are employed in State capitalist concerns, their general conditions of labour being governed as here by the general standard of living of the workers and by the need of the Government to pay; interest on borrowed capital and foreign credits, and to run the concerns at a profit on ordinary commercial lines. It has even happened that wages in the Russian State concerns have been lower than in outside industry. This, however, is due to special circumstances and is hardly likely to be more than temporary. It has been explained in Russian official quarters as being due to the willingness of State employees to take lower wages in order to build up capital reserves for the expansion of State industry. Workers in private concerns have, on the other hand, been directly encouraged to, stand out for higher wages among other reasons for the purpose of crippling their accumulation of reserves.

Profit and interest only come from the exploitation of wage labour, and capitalism in Russia is no exception. That is not to question the sincerity or good intentions of the Bolshevik administrators of Russian capitalism. But whatever their intentions may be there is in essentials only one way of administering capitalism, that is in the capitalist way. The policy of the Soviet Government is dominated by the solid resistance of the peasants to any attempt at socialisation, by the need to produce manufactured goods cheaply and by the necessity of paying for the capital which they must borrow at home or abroad.

The peasants already complain of the fact that they are compelled to buy home produced manufactures at prices well above those ruling abroad. As their knowledge increases so they will press more and more strongly for the destruction of the State control of foreign trade, for the right to sell their products in the dearest market and the right to buy manufactures in the cheapest market. To meet this the rulers of Russia will in turn be compelled to introduce all the modern capitalist methods of speeding up in the endeavour to make their employees produce goods cheaply enough to compete with goods produced in Germany, England and elsewhere. The Russian workers are wage-earners like any others, living under capitalist economic conditions and exploited like any other wage-earners.

The issue of the Sunday Worker from which we quoted above gives very pointed evidence of this.

Under the heading “Big Chance for Investors,” it spreads the glad tidings that a Russian Government Railway Loan for £6,000,000 has been placed on the English market, offering a total actual return of over 11 per cent. The Sunday Worker says: “High yielding loans are usually not available for public subscription, especially with the security this offers. The profits on the railways last year would cover the loan four times.” Here we have our old familiar enemy capitalism in all its nakedness. The Russian workers have no more interest in defending Russian capitalism than we have in defending English capitalism.

But, we are told, surely the control of the Russian Government by the Bolsheviks makes a difference; as also the numerous and important improvements in wages and conditions of labour which have been introduced. Should the Russian workers not be willing to fight in defence of these gains?

Let us clear the air, by stating one or two facts. First, it is evident from the more reliable accounts that the condition of the Russian workers is better than before the war, as measured by the amount of real wages. Second, it can readily be admitted that the “sympathetic” and enlightened administration of the capitalist system can bring certain definite but limited gains to the workers. For example, it is plainly better for the workers to be protected by Factory Acts than not to be protected, and probably better to be scientifically exploited by a Ford or a Cadbury than to be brutally and unscientifically sweated by some unintelligent early Victorian who has not realised that it pays to have healthy and contented workers. But while this may be admitted to be true that is no sufficient cause for the workers to sacrifice their lives. In the first place, the difference of degree is small and certainly not worth fighting about, and more importantly, the workers will not lose these small advantages by any action or inaction of theirs, because the motive is not at all the welfare of the workers. The changes in methods of exploitation are due to the development of capitalist industry itself. It is not kindness but necessity which compels the factory owner to raise the standard of living of the coolie when he takes him from his field work and introduces him into the more exhausting factory system. Russia, whether ruled by Bolsheviks or as an adjunct of a British-American Banking trust, cannot compete with foreign highly developed capitalist industry unless it gives its wage-slaves approximately the same physical standards and inducements to work. Carrying the argument to its logical extreme, the conquest of Russia by America, might result in the Russians being forced to accept the American more developed system of intensified exploitation based on the payment of those higher wages of which we hear so much.

There is of course the possibility that the Russian Government might come to be controlled by a peasant party, openly hostile to and ignorant of capitalist industry and its needs. (This is in Trotsky’s view the present tendency.) Should that happen capitalist industry and incidentally the care of the workers as profit-producing agents, would be neglected. This is no doubt the reason why Factory legislation, health and unemployment insurance, etc., are so backward in France with its largely peasant dominated parliament, as compared with Germany. But that danger in Russia would point to the need of the workers endeavouring to protect themselves against the encroachments both of the peasants and of the capitalist class and not to the fatal policy of lining-up under the national flag in the pathetic belief that they have an interest in defending their "country.” Their county, like our "motherland” and the German “fatherland,” belongs not to them but to classes with interests opposed to those of the working class. The chief enemy of the working class is the capitalist class and the task of the Socialist is to overthrow the capitalist system in Russia as elsewhere.

In conclusion, it may be as well to point out that this is in no sense a condemnation of the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 Our criticism was and, is that they claimed to be able to achieve the impossible. Certain definite tasks lay before them and have been achieved. They brought Russia out of the war, exposed the purely capitalist nature of the conflict to the workers in both camps, and hastened the building of capitalism in Russia at a time when there was no other party with sufficient experience or determination to tackle so great an administrative work. They cannot, however, by legislation solve the fundamental conflicts between contending classes in Russia. They cannot permanently make the working class content with the capitalist economic system, and it would be better that they should recognise before it is too late that if they remain in office the discontent of the workers will come to be directed against them.
Edgar Hardcastle