Friday, January 1, 2016

Leninism versus socialism (1986)

From the November 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year sees the seventieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. In November (October according to the old Russian calendar) 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power and the myth of Russian socialism was born — a myth because at no time during the last seventy years has Russia been socialist nor has it made any advances towards that goal. On the contrary, since the revolution Russia has only developed capitalism. The mythology of Russian socialism can be traced back to the writings of Lenin. But it is important to realise that this is not a quibble over words: Lenin's theory of "socialism" as a transitional society between capitalism and communism has proved to have disastrous consequences for the workers of the world.

One of the best academic books on Lenin is Neil Harding s two-volume Lenin's Political Thought. Harding's general conclusion in this work is that, far from being an opportunist. Lenin "was the most doctrinaire of the successful politicians of the twentieth century" (Vol.2. p.3). In at least one crucial respect, however, the facts do not support this conclusion. Harding claims that in 1917 Lenin made "no clear delineation" between socialism and communism (Vol.2. p. 172). But Lenin did write in The State and Revolution (August-September, 1917) of a "scientific distinction" between socialism and communism:
What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the "first", or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production become common property, the word "communism" is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism. (Lenin, Collected Works,Vol.25. p.471.)
The first sentence of this quote is simply untrue and Lenin probably knew it was. There is no evidence that Marx or Engels made such a distinction; in fact they used the words socialism and communism interchangeably to refer to the post-revolutionary society of common ownership of the means of production. It is true that in his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Marx wrote of a transition between a lower phase of communism and a higher phase of communism. Marx thought that, because of the low level of economic development (in 1875) individual consumption would have to be rationed in the first phase of communism, possibly by the use of labour-time vouchers (similar to those advocated by Robert Owen). But in the higher phase of communism, when the forces of production had developed sufficiently, the dictum would apply: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. It is important to realise, however, that in both phases of communism (or socialism) there would be no state or money economy. Lenin, on the other hand, said that socialism (or the first phase of communism) is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which there is both a state and money economy. According to Lenin: “It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!" (Ibid.) But Lenin failed to see what this would involve. In effect, it was to become an apology for state capitalism.

Lenin's The State and Revolution was derived from the theoretical analysis contained in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1915-16). Lenin's theory of imperialism demonstrated to his satisfaction that the whole administrative structure of "socialism" had been developed during the epoch of finance or monopoly capitalism which, under the impact of the First World War. had become state-monopoly capitalism. He further claimed that state-monopoly capitalism "democratised" was socialism. As Lenin pointed out in his article The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It (1917):
For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly. (Lenin. Collected Works. Vol.25. p.358.)
Lenin's model for "socialist" development was the German postal service. In The State and Revolution, he declared:
A witty German Social Democrat of the last century called the postal service an example of the socialist economic system. This is very true. (Ibid., p.426.)
And in Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, written one month before the Bolshevik seizure of power. Lenin said:
The big banks are the "state apparatus" which we need to bring about socialism, and which we take ready made from capitalism; our task here is merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive. Quantity will be transformed into quality. A single state bank, the biggest of the big, with branches in every rural district, in every factory, will constitute as much as nine-tenths of the socialist apparatus. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26. p. 106.)
Lenin's position was contradictory. Although he often stressed that socialism in a single country was impossible, the possibility of achieving socialism within a single state is clearly laid out. And it is from Lenin, particularly his The State and Revolution, that the idea of socialism as a transitional society between capitalism and communism originates. But as well as being a distortion of Marx's position there are also insoluble problems in theory and in practice.

In theory, the idea of a transitional society involves a misunderstanding of the state and a money economy. Money is a social relation. reflecting the private property basis of production and the fact that, however an economy is "planned ", there is still private or sectional appropriation. The state (whatever its form) is essentially a coercive machinery for maintaining the social relations of a powerful and privileged class against the interests of the dispossessed class. In other words, the state and its money economy perpetuate class-divided society.

In practice, the idea of a transitional society has led to confusion and disappointment. Since capital accumulation has continued (whether acknowledged as such or not), those governments which have followed the Leninist model have faced problems. How will they deal with the normal crises of capital accumulation? What happens if workers strike for more money? Will the unions be suppressed? But these questions are no longer academic. The history of those regimes which have adopted the Leninist model of state capital accumulation have shown themselves to be, if anything, more ruthless in their exploitation of the working class than their openly capitalist rivals. As a result, the name of socialism has been dragged through the mud. This is the legacy of Lenin. It is important to realise therefore that Lenin's conception of "socialism" means state capitalism. This is, after all, what Lenin said it meant. The idea of "socialism" as a transitional society between capitalism and communism is nonsense in theory and an unmitigated disaster in practice. It has diverted working class attention away from the vital issue facing them: to understand why they must reject capitalism in all its guises, including the idea of a transitional society and opt for socialism — a moneyless, stateless system of society in which the world belongs to the workers.
Lew Higgins

Note: All emphases in quotations are in the originals.

Leninspeak (1983)

From the May 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It really is ironic that those members of the Militant group who face expulsion from the Labour Party should complain about the lack of democracy and tolerance which they allege is being shown to them. After all, as worshippers of Lenin they must know that their hero was no democrat and showed little tolerance of his opponents outside or inside Bolshevik ranks. We have yet to hear them condemn this.

One of the most amazing legacies of the Russian revolution and its aftermath is Lenin’s image as a humane, even saintly figure, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary. To this day thousands of people all over the world will revile Stalin but revere Lenin, yet the truth is that it was the latter who commenced the reign of terror after November 1917 and who deserves his own place in history as a brutal, lying, ruthless dictator.

Right up till the Bolshevik seizure of power Lenin had been agitating for the abolition of the state apparatus including the army, police and bureaucracy. Every official, he said, should be elected and subject to recall at any time. He was all for freedom of the press and the right to demonstrate for “any party, any group". Immediately on gaining power he even promised to uphold the verdict of the coming elections for the Constituent Assembly
As a democratic government, we cannot ignore the decision of the rank and file of the people, even though we may disagree with it . . . and even if the peasants continue to follow the Social-Revolutionaries, even if they give this party a majority in the Constituent Assembly, we shall still say, be it so. (Report on the Land Question, 8 November 1917.)
All of this was, of course, mere window dressing, for Lenin knew that the Russian people would never have supported what he really had in mind for them. Far from abolishing the state apparatus he set about strengthening it, especially the secret police (Cheka), in order to impose the Bolshevik dictatorship. And instead of officials being elected and recallable the Bolsheviks simply appointed their own men who were answerable to them alone.

Gradually all opposition press was outlawed and their demonstrations forbidden. When the long-called-for elections for the Constituent Assembly resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Bolsheviks Lenin dissolved the Assembly by force. Later on he explained away those earlier promises on the grounds that
This was an essential period in the beginning of the revolution; without it we would not have risen on the crest of the revolutionary wave, we should have dragged in its wake. (Report of the Central Committee to the 11th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, 27 March 1922.)
In the run-up to the November coup Lenin and the Bolsheviks had won widespread support with their slogan “peace, bread and land". Of course the promises of politicians are always easier to make than to fulfil, as the Russian workers and peasants very soon discovered. The peasants, having got rid of the landlord, now had their grain and cattle forcibly taken from them in return for worthless paper money. Those who resisted were shot and many villages were burnt. Lenin claimed that his policy of robbing the peasants was necessary to avoid famine but, inevitably, the peasants retaliated by burning their crops and killing their cattle and so Lenin’s policy produced famine anyway.

In the cities and towns unemployment was rife and the workers, in or out of a job, were starving. Lenin’s response to the plight of the Petrograd workers was to tell them to
. . . set out in their tens of thousands for the Urals, the Volga and the south, where there is an abundance of grain, where they can feed themselves and their families . . . (To The Workers of Petrograd, 12 July 1918.)
How the workers and their families were go get to these areas in view of the fact that the civil war had broken out in each of them, Lenin didn’t say.

Early in 1919 many strikes and protest demonstrations were crushed with great loss of life. Starvation continued to be the workers’ lot for several more years but anyone who argued that the chronic food scarcity could be eased by allowing the peasants to trade their produce instead of having it stolen by the state should, said Lenin, be shot. This argument was “counter-revolutionary” — until Lenin himself made it official policy early in 1921.

Another myth surrounding the period of Lenin’s dictatorship is that at least there was democracy within the Communist Party. This is the so-called “democratic centralism", but Lenin no more welcomed opposition from his own comrades than he did from anyone else. Communists who criticised him or his policies were denounced as “unsound elements", “deviationists” or worse, and their arguments “mere chatter”, “phrase mongering” and “dangerous rubbish".

Lenin’s anger boiled over at those communists who wanted free trade unions independent of party control. He raged at the “loudmouths" and demanded complete loyalty or else they would throw away the revolution because
Undoubtedly, the capitalists of the Entente will take advantage of our party’s sickness to organise a new invasion; and the Social-Revolutionaries will take advantage of it for the purpose of organising conspiracies and rebellions. (The Party Crisis, 19 January 1921.)
He also complained that the debate on the trade unions had been
. . .  an excessive luxury. Speaking for myself I cannot but add that in my opinion this luxury was really absolutely impermissible. (Report on the political activities of the Central Committee to the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, 8 March 1921.)
In short, shut-up and don’t rock the boat. Faced with this attitude the dissidents had no chance. Their various groups, such as “Workers’ Opposition", were expelled (even when they agreed to abide by majority decisions against them) and many of their leaders and members were jailed or exiled.

All Lenin’s actions were the result of his single-minded determination to seize power and hold on to it. even if it meant that millions of Russian workers and peasants died in famine and repression. The seizure of power was, given the chaotic condition of Russia at the time, comparatively simple: to hold on to power he had to create a state apparatus which, under his personal direction, was used to terrorise all opposition into submission.

The Leninists of today will argue that all of this was a case of the end justifying the means, that it was done in order to bring about socialism. But undemocratic means can never bring about democratic ends; any minority which seizes power can only retain it by violent, undemocratic methods. In any case, even before 1917 the Mensheviks and many European social democrats had used Karl Marx’s theory of social development to demolish the idea that socialism could be established in a backward country like Russia. The absence of larger-scale industry and the consequent smallness of the working class, both of which are essential ingredients for socialism, plus the presence of a vast, reactionary peasantry made socialism impossible. This earned them Lenin’s undying hatred, a hatred which only increased as he saw their view justified by events. All that was left to Lenin in the circumstances was to commence building up state-capitalism. The Russia of today is a grim reminder of how well he succeeded.
Vic Vanni

Einstein discusses Socialism (1931)

From the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Professor Einstein has submitted to be interviewed by the "New Leader." In their usual extravagance of style, they speak of him as "the maker of an universe"; quoting Bernard Shaw they say “he is one of the eight greatest men in the world, the men who were makers of universes.” Is this the modern method of creating new gods? Are we to blame Einstein and the other seven for all the rottenness in the universe of to-day? After all language should express truth, and there is a wide difference between making a universe and explaining aspects of it.

On the other hand, Einstein cannot be held responsible for the pompous exaggeration of the "New Leader.” Possibly he sees the fraudulent nature of their propaganda, but is unwilling to commit himself to a scientifically reasoned socialism which would shock a ruling class that is daily according him high honours. Charles Darwin found himself similarly placed when his biological theory of evolution made the Adam and Eve story look silly. His concern was the acquirement of knowledge for the human race, and when freethinkers and Christians engaged in an embittered controversy, he covered himself by remarking that the Christian could accept the new explanation of the world and still keep his god, who breathed into a dead world the spirit of evolution that works without further interference on his part.

The parallel between Einstein and Darwin is not quite perfect. In Darwin’s day practically the whole ruling-class was ranged on the side of the clergy and against the freethinkers. If Darwin had expressed sympathy with their outlook he would have been socially ostracised. To-day a party that sometimes calls itself socialist is actually governing the country and the "New Leader" is a weekly organ of the party whose members are carrying on the business of government in the interest of the ruling-class. Consequently Professor Einstein has nothing to fear as a result of association with the Labour Party.

No one, to-day, is afraid to call himself a socialist, because in the minds of most people the name is associated with a government that is, in the capitalist sense, just as respectable, orthodox and even conservative as any of its predecessors.

Consequently there is nothing remarkable in the fact that Einstein finds himself politically in agreement with the Labour Party and the "New Leader," for the Labour Party is not antagonistic to the capitalist system of society.

Professor Einstein agreed to answer certain questions put by a representative of the "New Leader.” The first question was:
"What in your view is likely to be the influence of scientific discovery on social progress?"
His answer was (“New Leader" 7th Nov.): 
"The effect of the progress of science is to liberate human beings from sheer muscular effort and thus to render possible the participation of everyone in the social and intellectual life of the human race." (Our italics.)
Note the cautious phrasing of the portion in italics. Participation is rendered possible, but no suggestion of its becoming a certainty. He did not even tell the "New Leader" that it rests with the working-class to make it a certainty.

The next question, "as to whether or not the influence of scientific discovery would give capitalism a new era of greater stability and power,” failed to draw the Professor, who dexterously intimated “that it was not sufficiently clear what conception of capitalism was in the mind of the questioner."

Evidently the Professor is aware of the confusion that is characteristic of the "New Leader" when it attempts to explain social systems, either present or future. His refusal to be drawn compelled the ”New Leader" to put an alternative question, which reads:
"Whether or not the enormous extension of human power over natural resources is likely to compel the abandonment of concentrated private ownership and control of industrial processes and their substitution by forms of communal ownership and control?"
Einstein’s reply was :
"Science has furnished us with little information on this subject. The experience of history is, however, to the effect that an ever-increasing number of economic organisations have become public property or have been placed under public control. The concentration of large-scale industry which is an economic necessity brings about the imposition of public control."
The “New Leader" heralds this reply as "support for the socialist case for public control of industry,” a glaring example of their confusion over the term socialism. Public control means nationalisation, or collective control by the capitalist class, as we see it in the Post Office. The case for socialism is the case for a system of society where all the means of wealth-production and distribution are owned by the people and controlled democratically by them for their mutual benefit.

The two things socialism and nationalisation are totally different, in complete opposition to each other. To write, therefore, of the socialist case for public control, is like talking of the socialist case for capitalism, which would be just as nonsensical as the administration of capitalist affairs by a socialist government.

It will be seen that Einstein in his reply to the last question confined himself to the economic side of it; concentration is an economic necessity which brings about public control, i.e., a further economic necessity. Capitalism may develop one economic necessity after another indefinitely, but it can never develop socialism which implies a political revolution.

Socialism is unthinkable to the capitalist class, something utterly impracticable and unjustifiable. To a class that has been in possession for generations, the idea of common ownership is abhorrent. To-day they will not even admit the possibility of it. When they are forced to recognise it as an alternative to their own system, they will use all the forces at their disposal to hinder its advance.

Politicians and business men at present prefer, or pretend, to believe with the Labour Party, that socialism means the same thing as nationalisation. But nationalisation is a purely capitalist reform. Its chief object is to equalise the conditions of exploitation for capitalist competitors. Moreover, nationalisation has always been the work of capitalist statesmen and groups. It was not through the demands of the working-class that railways were nationalised in Germany, or the telegraphs and telephones in England, or, in fact, any of the services or industries that are common all over the capitalist world.

The workers gain nothing by nationalisation. Their status is unchanged. The capitalists still control the means of wealth production and guarantee the profits to themselves. They still compel the workers to sell their energy for wages that barely cover the cost of living.

Professor Einstein, in his replies to the "New Leader,” indicated that the tendency was for an ever-increasing number of economic organisations, or industries, to become state controlled. What of it? It does not need to be one of the world’s greatest eight to see actual events or tendencies. Einstein's reputation is very largely built up on the discovery of a theory which neither he nor anyone else has been able to make intelligible to the average man. "The progress of science,” he says, "liberates human beings from sheer muscular effort.” True, but it is liberation from the frying-pan of bewildering competition and endless toil into the flames of a burning desire for a normal life. With the progress of such liberation, instead of "the participation of everyone in the social and intellectual life of the human race,” the numbers tend to become restricted to the parasite class and a group of professional scientists, politicians and other time-servers.

The economic platitudes that Einstein voiced can be left to work themselves out, with or without help from the capitalist class, whom alone they concern. Concentration of industry, huge industrial corporations and nationalisation, while they affect the worker, often adversely, are not his concern. He cannot under capitalism retard or hasten movements that are purely economic. They result from the normal development of the capitalist system.

We say the worker who sells his labour-power continuously is fortunate. He is fortunate compared with the unemployed man. But does the fact of his holding a job make it possible for him to "participate in the social and intellectual life of the human race ”? Not much! He may occasionally wonder what it is like to be free from continuous toil, to have all his wants satisfied and to have the time and means to indulge in the every-day pastimes of the well-to-do. But the sordid nature of his contact with society lies always subconsciously at the back of his mind. Condemned to sell his energy in competition with his fellow workers, seeing himself always as something cheap, one out of millions who are thankful for half a loaf. Society can do without him, there are plenty to take his place. A whim of the overseer, a slump in the market, or a change in the habits of his fellow-workers may turn him into a waster. Capitalist production is carried on for profit, and in the process capitalists care less for the millions of human wasters thrown aside than for the obsolete machinery they are forced to scrap.

Einstein may be the greatest of living scientists. The problem before the working-class may be child's play to him, but he dare not reason out the solution for them. What is more, the "New Leader" did not ask him to do so.
F. Foan

How green can you get? (1989)

From the April 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Throw away the red paint, lads; green is the latest fashion. Red banners and class struggles are out of date. These days, if you want to look radical you have to be green. From Number Ten the Green Goddess has sounded the clarion call: "Let’s pretend we care about the environment — there are votes in this one". Where Thatcher leads the hapless promise-makers in the Neil, David and Paddy camps follow. On this year's Labour agenda, vote-losing, truncheon-battered miners are out, vote-winning baby seals are in. The Green Party is printing application forms on recycled paper for those who like the sound of its late Eighties, health-conscious. conservation-minded message. Pity that those filling them in have not checked the parliamentary record of the German Greens who, in order to make a few legislative deals with other parties, voted in favour of a huge military budget. The Left is going green too. In the Communist Party the fetishism of commodities is distinctly passé; Gramsci on the burning question of deodorant sprays and the ozone layer is big talk. The Two Royals, Phil and Charlie, are making speeches to whoever will listen about the importance of conserving this green and pleasant land. They own enough of it for the subject to be of direct interest. Meanwhile, they eagerly await the hunting and shooting season when they can pursue the noble sport of killing innocent animals. Elkington and Hailes Green Consumer Guide became a non-fiction best-seller last September, and now publishers are falling over one another to publish vegetarian recipes and shocking accounts about rain forests. It is fashionable to be green these days.

Socialists have been saying for a very long time that workers must wake up to the enormous threat of environmental damage which the profit system poses to the world around us. Nuclear weapons are just the most obvious and powerful symbol of self-destruction which capitalism has created. For decades it has been cheaper for capitalists to pollute the air workers breathe than to adopt clean techniques and practices. Methods of production which are unsafe, disease-spreading and potentially explosive have long existed. Workers' food has been adulterated for as long as there have been wage slaves; see Engels' comment about this in his book, Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. In order to make a fast buck it has long been capitalist practice to destroy the earth’s irreplaceable resources. Animals are made to suffer and die needlessly; endangered species which have no exchange value in the market are free to become extinct. There is nothing new about any of this. It is not peculiar to the late Twentieth Century, and we did not require a new fashion to hit the tabloid headlines to recognise that we inhabit an endangered planet — endangered by the dictates of profit.

The Socialist Party is hostile to the Green Party. It is a party which stands for the continuation of the capitalist system, but in a different form. We stand for the abolition of capitalism in all forms. The two positions are irreconcilable. Those who vote for the Greens are doubtlessly sincere and caring people who want something different. In their own lifestyles, perhaps some of them have made genuine adjustments which are in line with a socially more co-operative way of living. So have many socialists, but we are well aware that individual lifestyle changes, whether they involve not eating meat or using what are called “environment-friendly" products, are not going to change the fundamental nature of the social system which oppresses us. A few million workers might give up using products which destroy the environment, but what power do we have in comparison with the minority who own and control the means of wealth production? The ruling class, be they multinational companies, state-capitalist bureaucrats or small manufacturers, have an interest in keeping their costs down. If their profits come before the long-term interests of workers, who can blame them for sacrificing workers’ needs? After all, workers voted for the profit system. Only by abolishing the system which is the cause of these problems can the effects be eliminated. The Greens, both in their own party and in the major parties, put out an on appealingly radical message, but when examined it becomes clear that it is a case for the market with a green tinge.

Green reformism
Let us imagine that a Green government is elected at the next General Election. What would it do? To begin with, it would govern. The job of governments is to run the coercive state on behalf of the capitalists who monopolise the means of life. So, like all previous governments, a Green one would be compelled to ensure that the workers are producing profits. In another sense, a Green government would not really govern at all: it would be governed by the profit system. Its Ministers would be constantly coming before us, like Labour reformists in the past, saying "Look, we honestly did want to reform this and that but. you see, with the capitalist economy being what it is..." And so the old story of reformist promises coming to nothing, followed by working-class disgust and disillusion, would go on. In Green Line (November 1988) Tim Andrews reported on a list of reforms which the Green Party Conference had just voted for: “the scrapping of the Common Agricultural Policy, the replacement of price support with income support . . . the party's intention to withdraw from the EEC unless reconstituted on ecological principles . . . opposition to free trade . . . commitment to economic as well as political decentralisation." In short, a package of policies to reform capitalism, many of which have been tried and failed in the past, and others which are just pious platitudes. A Green government of British capitalism would be no freer than any government before it to carry out changes which would conserve what is worth keeping in the world around us. Let us say that a Green government abolishes nuclear weapons, as they say it would. What weapons would it introduce instead? If none, then capitalism in Britain would be undefended and ripe for take-over by profit-hungry vultures from other states. If the Greens seek to introduce new, more humane, greenish weapons of murder, then let them spell out such a defence policy here and now. Likewise, let us assume that the Green government fails to persuade the EEC to reconstitute itself on ecological principles. Who will the British capitalists trade with? And why should non-EEC trading agreements be any less concerned with profit before need than the current ones are? Or would a Green government only agree to trade with nations which are ecologically principled? The question alone demonstrates the catastrophic implications of the expected green answer.

It is simply impossible to purify or humanise this capitalist system. And some of the more aware Green politicians, such as Jonathan Porritt, probably know this. They would argue that politics is about pragmatism, that is cynical compromise. It is about “lesser evils". But why vote for Porritt and his fellow would-be governors to administer the lesser evil when capitalism, which creates the evils, can be abolished altogether? The usual reformist answer is that the lesser evil will take less time to achieve than the grand socialist aim. The Socialist Party was told this by CND nearly thirty years ago when they were going to reform the threat of nuclear annihilation out of existence; we were told it by the reformists of the Labour Party over eighty years ago — they were going to eradicate poverty. It is a foolish myth that partial objectives are more worthy of support than realisable big ones. There is unlikely ever to be a Green government, and if there is, then its greatest critics will be present Greens who will complain that it has sold them out. It is inevitable with reformism; it must sell out in order to fit in with the needs of the system.

Green anti-materialism
Socialists are materialists, but not in the sense that the term is often used: it does not mean that we want people to have more and more “material” things, such as cars or video machines. To be a materialist is to recognise that human beings are rooted in our social environments. Our consciousness is social, and through conscious action we can alter the material environment of which we are a part. The environment is not something Out There which must be protected; it is part of us and we part of it. To be a materialist is to reject antiquated, idealist nonsense about the soul or the spirit. The present writer attended a debate two years ago in which the Green speaker pointed out that being green was all a question of the spirit. Asked to identify this spirit, the Greens laughed a little and ended up proclaiming that if you don’t know what it is then you ain’t got one. Are we to conclude from this that the new Green World is to be established by those who have discovered their spirits, leaving behind us poor wretches who have only our material selves to live with? There is a good deal of arrogant self-righteousness in the Green claim to have seen a better world. What they fail to understand is that seeing visions does not transform the world. Even Tories see glorious visions.

The task facing us is not to romanticise, but to revolutionise. Of such thinkers Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto that they were “half lamentation, half lampoon; half echo of the past, half menace of the future: at times, by its witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart's core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history." Such will always be the condition of visionaries whose pictures of social completion are really images of a re-created past. The Green dream of a semi-rural arcadian utopia, undisturbed by the thundering force of Big Business and its needs, is really a looking backwards, a conservative ideal All this spiritual nonsense serves as a valuable diversion as far as the ruling class is concerned: while the proles are searching for the invisible spirits they will not be disturbing capitalism as a material reality.

The Times (26 December 1988) reported that "After a decade of old-fashioned pursuit of money and status. Americans and the citizens of the other rich countries will, as the planet runs low on space and resources, turn in the closing years of the century to spiritual fulfilment." The newspaper was responding to an article published in The Futurist, which is published by the World Future Society based in Washington DC. In the same city is the US Department which collects figures on official poverty. It reports that one in four citizens of the United States is living below the government poverty line. So, while bored Californians turn to the non-existent spirit for comfort in a worrying world, others cry for lack of material necessities to keep themselves warm, fed and clothed. There is no solution to be found in the so-called New Age ritualism whereby abstract idealism overcomes the need to attend to harsh material requirements. And it is precisely because there is no solution in such inaction that capitalism will quite willingly accommodate the growth of Green ideology.

Green profits
Big business is making plenty of money out of the new green consciousness. An article in The Guardian entitled “Conning of the Greens" (17 December 1988) pointed out that the supermarket chains are losing no time in cashing in on the willingness of workers to buy healthier food. This suits the capitalists who employ workers: the healthier we are the more exploitable we are. And it is increasingly suiting the retail capitalists who have created a whole new range of commodities which can be sold at extra cost — conscience money. Sainsbury's was selling organic potatoes at 64 per cent above the price of normal potatoes; organic leeks were 67 per cent dearer and organic lemons 114 per cent more. Tesco's is selling its “own-brand UK mineral water . . . that is calorie free ". John Elkington points out that “People . . .  like to feel that they are paying something extra to protect the planet." Very nice too, if you are one of the capitalists who own the planet.

Capitalism will pass a few minor reforms to win a few green votes, and also because the capitalists themselves realise that their investments are being damaged by the filth created by a lack of environmental concern. Just as they passed The Clean Air Act of 1956, so in the months to come they will attempt a few more self-regulating laws. Needless to say, these laws will be evaded by those rich and powerful enough to do so. Even when the capitalists are agreed on their common interest, there will always be one or two who will try to sneak behind the others’ backs and make an even faster buck.

The planet belongs to them. We, the workers who produce everything and run the planet from top to bottom, have given it to them. Our task is to take it away from them; to reclaim the planet. The Green Party, which does not stand for the socialist transformation of global society, cannot take the planet away from the capitalists. In the end, all they are is a rather futile reform group, pleading with the profit-taking class to do us all a favour and take less profits. Given such a pointless crusade, we need not to be surprised by the following section of the report of their 1988 conference:
Perhaps the most contentious issue at conference was the attempt by National Party Council to replace the sunflower as the party's logo with one of three designer-symbols commissioned by professionals . . . The arguments against keeping the sunflower were confused: it had become associated with healthy eating, some said, while others claimed it looked like a fried egg (hardly healthy food!). Commissioning new logos on such spurious pretexts seemed unnecessary. After all, sunflower logos only look like fried eggs when the petals have not been drawn properly . . . (Green Line, November 1988)
For further news of these exciting political dramas within the party of the future, watch this space.
Steve Coleman

The myth of "Great Men" (1979)

From the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” The message behind these eloquent words of the 17th Century poet, John Donne — that men are interdependent social animals is now widely accepted — paradoxically, at a time characterised by massive social dislocation, the rapid dissolution of traditional forms of closely knit community life and the stark stereotype of the alienated worker cocooned in a private mobile world of his car, family and job.

But if, pursuing Donne’s metaphor, no man is an island it might be said that some form the soaring peaks of the “continent” of humanity. A.J.P. Taylor once wrote that “the history of modern Europe can be written in terms of three titans: Napoleon. Bismarck and Lenin”. (From Napoleon to Stalin 1950): Others might portray an altogether different historical landscape. Social values such as patriotism influence the way facts are selected and the interpretation placed upon historical events. Thus E.H. Carr shrewdly observed that, “Germans today welcome the denunciation of Hitler’s individual wickedness as a satisfactory alternative to the moral judgement of the historian on the society which produced him”. Modern “euro-communists” treat Stalin as a scapegoat and for similar reasons the present Chinese regime denounce the “Gang of Four”, all of them setting much store by the theory which interprets history as the “biography of great men" (Carlyle).

However, to revert to our metaphor, an understanding of geomorphology or the study of landforms, is not acquired by merely describing a landscape’s configuration: we must delve into the process of landscape formation, into the geological past. The huge mountain ranges of today are the products of forces operating deep within the earth, deforming its crust over millions of years, giving rise to an immense variety of landscapes differing according to the conditions under which they were formed. Likewise, though with the obvious qualification that men unlike rocks are conscious creatures, influencing and influenced by society, social development can be understood as a complex process during the course of which a few individuals are thrust up into social prominence. The materialist or scientific conception of social development delves beneath the surface of historical events, relating men’s ideologies, superstitions, values and so on to the material conditions from which they issue and which sustain them.

A possible reason for the popularity of the "Great Man" theory is that it is the expression of an authoritarian ideology which a coercive society tends to generate. Work, for example, in this coercive capitalist world is organised on hierarchic principles with numerous levels of decision-making involved. Wage slaves are allotted production roles which confine them to a set of rigid expectations concerning their positions within the hierarchic structure of the firm. It is felt only “natural” that someone should run the show, take decisions and initiate action which others are prevented from doing by the limitations of their occupational roles. This conviction, derived from people’s everyday experiences, is carried over into or reinforces their general socio-political outlook. Hence, such an outlook stems from the class nature of capitalism since the existence of complex authority structures rests on the simple but fundamental fact that a small class of people own and control the means of living. The way capitalism organises people in its social affairs is conducive to them embracing the illusion that nothing of significance can be achieved except through the agency of "great men” — a view admirably suited to the interests of the capitalist class.

History books teach us that Cromwell defeated Charles 1, Wren built St Pauls and so on. Although, this is not intended as the literal truth, the sheer repetition of this manner of speech may well obscure important historical factors and lead one to suppose that the individual, is solely responsible for making history. Plekhanov aptly called this an “optical illusion” and gave the example of Napoleon to prove his point
In coming out in the role of the ‘good sword’ to save public order, Napoleon prevented all the other generals from playing this role and some of them might have performed it in the same way as he did. Once the public need for an energetic military ruler was satisfied, the social organisation barred the road to the position of military ruler for all other talented soldiers. Its power became a power that was unfavourable to the appearance of other talents of a similar kind. (The Role of the Individual in History)
Even Napoleon had to remark:
Mohammed’s case was like mine. I found all the elements ready at hand to found an empire. Europe was weary of anarchy, they wanted to make an end of it. If I had not come probably someone else would have done like me . . . I repeat, a man is only a man. His power 'is nothing if circumstances and public sentiment do not favour him.
Plekhanov however did not go to the other extreme of a fatalistic standpoint which ignores the role of individuals in society, as Tolstoy did in dismissing great men as merely “labels giving names to events”. Society shapes people: however people in a variety of ways with different degrees of significance, shape society, although with the materials society provides.
... by virtue of particular traits of their character, individuals can influence the fate of society. Sometimes this influence is very considerable; but the possibility of exercising this influence, and its extent, are determined by the form of organisation of society, by the relation of forces within it. The character of an individual is a “factor” in social development only where, when, and to the extent that social relations permit it to be such . . .
Thus the significance of Hitler, for example, did not lie in his megalomaniacal “genius” but rather the social position he occupied determined by the "form of organisation of society”, which enabled him to exercise his tyranny, and only because "circumstances and public sentiment” favoured him. Many factors were involved in the growth of the Nazi movement: Germany’s authoritarian political tradition, the discrediting of political democracy by communists, monarchists and nationalists, the Weimar government’s decision to reinstate the reactionary Junker generals (to quell the Spartacist Rising), the failure of Social Democracy to allay workers’ grievances. Interestingly, between 1924 and 1929. a period of relative prosperity, the Nazi movement made little progress receiving 800,000 votes in 1928. However, following the world slump in 1929 which hit Germany particularly badly since its economy was heavily financed by foreign loans, the Nazis received 6,400,000 votes in the 1930 elections which increased to nearly 14 million in 1932 at the height of the slump.

The Nazi movement, and, its leaders, was a product of years of depression. Hitler became its leader because of his connections with military officers like Roehm and Von Epp and his control over Party funds. As for his undoubted gift as an orator (another contributing factor) his book Mein Kampf provides a useful insight into the orators relationship with his audience — “he will always follow the lead of the great mass in such a way that from the living emotion of his hearers, the apt word which needs will be suggested to him and in its turn will go straight to the heart of his hearers”. What could be clearer? Hitler was the creation of those living emotions of a people scarred by economic misfortune, ready to fall for the sheer opportunist policies and jingoism the Nazis offered.

The great man is not an island entire of itself but the product of general social trends which he cannot alter although he can influence events within these trends. Society, as it were, selects its great men. according to prevailing social needs and conditions and furnishes the material out of which they are formed. As Carlyle said: “We can judge people by their heroes”.

Socialism, because of its nature as the “most radical rupture with traditional property forms” (Communist Manifesto) requires for its establishment and operation the conscious and democratic action of a vast majority. As Engels declared in the Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggle in France:
The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of complete transformation of social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act.
Socialism cannot be imposed by a vanguard elite upon an uncomprehending or unwilling majority who will have to participate in its running. At the end of the day, the deciding factor in the establishment of socialism is not some mythical “’Revolutionary Situation” but whether the vast majority understand and want it.
Robin Cox

Now here isn't the news . . . (1996)

From the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the above title, John Madeley writes in the Observer (26 November):
"If 100 jumbo jets crashed tomorrow, killing all on board, the world would be united in mourning, but every day, around 35,000 people die of hunger-related diseases, almost without mention. This year, global production of grain is expected to reach 1.9 billion tons. Evenly distributed, that would give every man, woman and child about a kilo a day. But food is not fairly shared; it goes to those who can afford it or have the means to grow it 'While the poor go hungry, £1.5 million is spent every minute of every day on armaments,’ says Margaret Lynch, director of War on Want 'Most countries listed here [Somalia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Rwanda, Malawi], generate more profit for the arms industry than they ever receive in aid.' Nearly 40 percent of the hungry are Africans, 20 percent are Asians, and seven out of 10 are female."
The fact is that food, like everything else in our present system of society, is not produced because people need it, or are starving, but to make a profit. Moreover, farmers throughout the world are, and have been for most of this century, paid or subsidised either not to produce food, or even to destroy that which has already been produced, if governments or groups of governments such as the European Union, consider it more profitable in the short or long run to do so.

Unlike John Madeley, socialists do not advocate the even distribution of, say, grain or any other foodstuff. Such a proposal is quite utopian and impracticable. Our objective is a society wherein the land and all the productive forces are commonly owned and democratically administered by and in the interests of humanity as a whole; and where food, and all other things necessary for life, are produced solely for the satisfaction of people’s self-determined needs. Agrarian reform, handouts by charities and the like, such as War on Want, are sadly futile and doomed to failure. Only a clean sweep, a completely revolutionary change of society, will solve the problem of world hunger—and the sooner the better. 
Peter E. Newell

Action Replay: Michelle Payne Wins the Melbourne Cup (2016)

The Action Replay Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Michelle Payne is the latest female jockey to prove that women can compete on equal terms with men in the saddle. However the form book evidence suggests that her Melbourne Cup success on 100-1 outsider Prince of Penzance will be a false dawn rather than a harbinger of gender equality in horseracing.

Men can continue to expect a near monopoly of the best opportunities in all the main racing nations, and it’s telling that Michelle got her moment of glory aboard a 100-1 shot. If a female jockey is ever booked to ride a hot favourite in a £2 million race, than we could consider whether equality really has been achieved.

Meanwhile, it is sobering to reflect that in the 235-year history of the Epsom Derby; just two runners have been ridden by women, both outsiders. 

There continues to be something exotic about a woman taking part in a big race, a depressing state of affairs given that female jockeys have been making headlines at intervals for decades.

In 1993, Julie Krone rode the winner of the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the US Triple Crown, while over jumps; Gee Armytage rode two winners at the 1987 Cheltenham Festival. Three years earlier Ann Ferris had won the Irish Grand National. Kate Walsh became the third woman to win this race in April this year and has also finished third in the Grand National run at Aintree.

Hayley Turner, Britain's most successful female flat-racing jockey has retired at the age of 32, opting for a career change, in broadcasting. She has always taken the view that female jockeys will be used if they can prove they are good enough. Her 42 winners in Britain this year put her 48th in the jockey's league table and is the only woman in the top 50.

Richard Perham senior jockey's tutor at the British Racing School recently said that some trainers and owners 'were still living in the dark ages' in their refusal to employ female jockeys. So it seems.

Between the Lines: The priorities of the profit system (1987)

The Between the Lines Column from the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The priorities of the profit system

A crazy system requires crazy people to run its affairs. The Stock Exchange is populated by people who are clearly crazed, exhibiting the behaviour of human beings who, if observed acting in the same way anywhere else would probably be certified as insane. Most of us do not usually see inside the capitalists' casino but recent events have placed it in the news and so it was that pictures of the stockbroking timewasters were flashed across our screens. Sometimes a picture is worth more than many words and the images of these fat-salaried gamblers rushing around screaming, waving their arms frantically and looking like they are about to collectively indulge in a drug over-dose, summed up the lunacy of the profit system with a forcefulness that few articles could achieve. How odd it is to think that many of these crazed persons — often only just out of their teens, usually educated in little but the perverse rules of the money game — are paid huge wages for such completely useless toil. Contrast that with the junior doctors shown on World In Action (8.30pm. Monday 26 October, ITV) who are made to work for over 80 hours a week for salaries a fraction of those paid to the Stock Exchange kids. These doctors are employed in hospitals doing some of the dirtiest and most necessary work in society. But they are paid for their labour power and the state is determined to squeeze every drop of energy out of them, even though this means — as a psychologist appointed by the programme was able to show clearly — that the amount of hours worked diminishes their efficiency and leads to needless errors of judgement and sometimes death. In other words it is cheaper for capitalism to let workers die than to reduce the hours that doctors are exploited for.

Starvation in America

It is commonly said that nobody starves in the USA. This, like the statements that the rich work hard for their money and women are never as intelligent as men, is an example of a daft prejudice. The American Documentary entitled Hunger in the Promised Land (11.30pm, 1 November, ITV) left viewers under no illusion: there are workers in the USA who are suffering from malnutrition — not handfuls, but many thousands, probably millions. The programme showed how easy it is for workers to find themselves too poor to buy enough food to live without the permanent pain of hunger. The unemployed, single parent families, pensioners (one in three of whom are officially living in poverty) are those most likely to go hungry in The Land of the Free. We were shown a picture of a Vietnamese family who had gone to the USA for the security of freedom: they had to choose between spending money to pay the medical bills for the father who is dying, or buying food. They endure hunger. What right have these countries which deny free access to food to those who are malnourished to call themselves free? And remember, the USA produces enough food to feed its population several times over. Incidentally, in Toronto, Canada, 50,000 workers are reported to go without enough food to live properly each day. Of these, 61 out of 100 of the workers who appeal for food from charities have had nothing to eat for a full day; a fifth are children under five: "two-thirds of those questioned say. . . they simply don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs". (Toronto Star, 6 October 1987.)

The people’s flag

The above-named series on Channel 4 (Mondays, 11pm) was not a bad attempt at presenting the early history of the Labour Party, although it is pretty obvious that the programme-makers were more than a little influenced by the CP version of working-class history. In the first programme, which traced the rotten story of Labour's opportunist and unprincipled rise from 1906 until 1931, there were some worthwhile historical points made. Unusually, the programme pointed to Keir Hardie s support for the imperialist slaughter in 1914. (This contrasts well with the usual myth that Hardie opposed the world war.) The so-called betrayal by MacDonald was shown to be little more than an extension of the policy of compromise adopted by Labour long before 1931. The programme-makers were historically in error when they referred to the SDF as an anti-imperialist party (in contrast to the ILP). In fact, Hyndman's SDF was fanatically patriotic, supported the British Empire and the expansion of the British navy and in 1914 supported the war. The main omission of this series was the failure to mention even once the existence of the real Socialist Party, formed two years before the Labour Party, and the real bearers of “the people's flag".

A Christmas treat

Christmas Day in your home might be a great event but you can rely on the state to invade the festivities and make you feel miserable and bored. Yes, we are referring to that annual celebration of unrestrained dullness. The Queen's Speech (Christmas day, all channels, TV and radio, just when you're not expecting it). I was reminded of that sickening annual sermon, not only by the recently blasting headlines about the Queen's son getting fed up with living with his wife but by an excellent programme called The Trumpet of Prophecy (9.15pm, 1 November. C4). Paul Foot, the left-wing comedian and trainee Trotsky to Tony Cliff s Lenin, made some interesting points about the great revolutionary poet, Shelley. But Foot's contribution (which sought to depict the poet as an embryonic recruit for a left-wing sect) was the least important part of the programme. The bits which left one feeling really on fire were the extracts from Shelley's poetry which were read by some very impressive actors. So why did seeing Shelley on the box remind me of The Queen's Christmas Dirge? Remember this part from Shelley's Queen Mab?
Whence, think'st thou, kings and parasites arose?
Whence that unnatural fine of drones, who heap
Toil and unvanquishable penury
On those who build their palaces, and bring
Their daily bread? - From vice, black loathsome vice;
From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
From all that genders misery, and makes
Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust.
Revenge and murder . . .
Something to think about while the Royal Drone addresses you.
Steve Coleman

Editorial: The Socialist View on the E.U. Referendum (2016)

Editorial from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imagine two social systems, which we can call system A and system B. System A involves a tiny minority owning the means of production, a wages system, exploitation, varying degrees of poverty, resistance by workers, wars, environmental problems. System B involves a tiny minority owning the means of production, a wages system, exploitation, varying degrees of poverty, resistance by workers, wars, environmental problems.

System A was a description of British capitalism with the UK as part of the European Union; system B a description of British capitalism with the UK outside the EU. Clearly they are both exactly the same, and there are no important differences to workers’ lives between the two systems. Any differences will be marginal, temporary, and could go either way. So the socialist response to the question of how to vote in the referendum is not to vote Yes or No but to write ‘World Socialism’ across the ballot paper.

The EU is a capitalist club, designed to simplify and harmonise markets and to make it easier for member countries to compete against the US and Japan and the rising power of China, Russia, India and so on. On this issue, however, there is a split in the capitalist class and their political and media representatives. In broad terms, the bigger capitalists and those who are export-oriented or are based in the City of London are in favour of EU membership, while the smaller capitalists and those whose business is domestically-based are against.

Those for staying in say leaving would mean less control over ‘our economic affairs.’ Those for leaving say ‘we’ would ‘regain the power to control of own affairs.’

As is usually the case with statements by the ruling class and their spokespersons, you need to ask who the ‘we’ being mentioned really refers to. And what kind of ‘control’ do they have in mind here? As workers, we don’t control our own lives and certainly not ‘our economic affairs’, nor can we solve ‘our own problems’. It is the interests and powers of the capitalist class that are focussed on in such statements, though it must be said that even capitalists and their governments cannot control capitalism.

In the 1975 referendum on the Common Market, as it then was, the Socialist Party made comparable points, adding that ‘The British people are only being asked to endorse the continuation of capitalism, in or out’ (Socialist Standard, May 1975).

Supporters of nationalisation and taxing the rich may well conclude that whether the UK is in or out of the EU may make some difference as far as their reformist policies are concerned. But to a revolutionary movement that aims at abolishing the wages system and establishing a classless society it does not matter in the least.

Socialists will be writing ‘World Socialism’ on voting papers in the referendum (this is emphatically not an abstention), and we urge all workers to do the same. But of course we urge workers not just to do that but also to consider the case for a society without capitalist clubs like the EU, without countries and without classes.