Sunday, March 6, 2016

Stalin the Bolshevik (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent ITV series Stalin provided further evidence to show that the Bolshevik revolution was an utter sham. Contrary to all the heroic myths and propaganda. 1917 was not a glorious workers' revolution but a coup d'etat carried out by the Bolsheviks who as a minority were able to seize and retain power because of the chaotic conditions prevailing at the time.

Having seized power, the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly when they were overwhelmingly rejected by a large majority of the people. From that time, under Lenin and Trotsky's leadership, they established the CHEKA Secret Police and embarked on a systematic programme of hi-jacking the Soviets (Workers Councils) and crushing all opposition. The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky was nothing more than the dirty political infighting between the two to decide who would be the next dictator after Lenin.

It is nonsense therefore to talk, as Trotskyists do, of "the gains of the October 1917 Revolution” and to portray the Bolsheviks as decent chaps whose revolution to the promised land, supposedly backed by the people, was inexplicably turned on its head by one man—Stalin.

The Bolsheviks set in motion in 1917, a dictatorship that inevitably led to an escalating number of atrocities. To attempt therefore to whitewash Trotsky's responsibility in all this is as absurd as absolving Yezhov and Beria of genocide because they also fell victim to the very tyranny they helped create.

In historical terms, Russia's 1917 was its equivalent of France's 1789. Both these so-called "peoples revolutions” led to nothing more than the replacement of feudalism by capitalism. In France this developed along "free-market" lines but in Russia the story was different.

The Bolsheviks fell under the illusion that an industrially backward country could by-pass capitalism altogether and thus move into socialism/communism. This was based on the peculiar notion that a dictatorial minority could impose on the majority of people socialism (a democratic cooperative form of society relying on a politically mature majority having at its disposal, highly developed productive forces)—and this in a country where the vast majority of people were politically ignorant peasants having no experience of capitalism and no knowledge of socialism, let alone any desire to reject the former in favour of the latter.

Such an obsessional illusion could only result in failure and the seeking out of scapegoats and enemies to blame and liquidate. Due to the above-mentioned circumstances the Bolsheviks had no option but to establish capitalism. They did this by instituting a "Command Economy"— state-capitalism but owing to the ideological millstone they'd created for themselves, were forced to pretend that it was socialism.

But even the Bolsheviks had to concede that 1917 was not the spearhead of a world-wide workers' revolution and were therefore compelled to adopt the inane slogan "Socialism in one country" to maintain the myth. Due to the same ideological millstone, the Russian rulers were forced to adhere to state-capitalism until, with the Soviet economy in dire straits, they have been obliged to officially move towards free market capitalism.

Trotskyists could of course dismiss all of this as "Stalinism" but as they claim 1917 was a workers revolution they presumably believe it was "Marxist”. It is therefore enlightening to see what Marx and Engels said on the subject.

Marx and Engels argued that it was a historical impossibility for a society in an inferior stage of development to by-pass the successive phases of its normal development. Both were of the view that only when socialism had been established in the West could this development period be shortened in a backward country and that, as Engels put it, "this goes for all countries in the pre-capitalistic stage of development not only for Russia” (Postface to Social Problems in Russia, 1894).

Further scorn was poured on those who advocated the "small conspiracy" road to socialist revolution in that such "people who boasted that they had made a revolution, have always seen next day, that they had no idea what they were doing, that the revolution made bore no resemblance whatsoever to that they intended to make" (Engels to Vera Zasulich, 23 April 1885)—a statement that aptly sums up the Bolsheviks and 1917. Perhaps Engels also had in mind people like the Bolsheviks when he said that anyone stating that the socialist revolution could be carried out more easily in a backward country "proves by his statement that he has understood nothing of Socialism" (Social Problems in Russia, 1875).
Richard Layton

Marx and vulgar economics (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

For Marx the social reality that lay behind capitalist production consisted of more than just prices and quantities. The publication of Capital in 1867 was Marx's own unique contribution to this more detailed study of commodity production. The result was the systematic discovery and critique of the laws of capitalism: the economic relationship between capital and labour; the basis on which the product of labour takes the form of a commodity and the underlying contradictions which cause the system repeatedly to pass through periods of boom, crisis and slump. In other words Marx stripped away the surface appearances of capitalist production to show that the central feature of the system was the economic exploitation of the working class during the process of production itself. In so doing he highlighted the parasitical nature of the capitalist class and their ever-increasing historical irrelevance to a point where today the very system of commodity production acts as an obstacle to a more rational organisation and development of society.

Consequently Marx had little time for those economists of his own day who deliberately set out either to defend capitalism or to rectify its inherent contradictions by means of various palliatives or reforms. The footnotes to Capital are strewn with vitriolic comments and side remarks against the leading economists of the 19th century, whether they were "mere sophists and sycophants of the ruling-classes" or the "shallow syncretism" of men like John Stuart Mill.

But it was the "herd of vulgar economic apologists", like Bentham and Malthus, whom Marx particularly singled out to attack. As he wrote in an earlier work:
Their object is rather to represent production in contradiction to distribution ... as subject to eternal laws independent of history, and then to substitute bourgeois relations, in an underhand way. as immutable laws of society in abstracto. (Grundrisse, pp.26-32).
Since his death, what has passed for twentieth century economics has generally followed the vulgar economist trend of the preceding century. There seems to be a Bentham or Malthus born every generation. The so-called leading economists of this century — Keynes, Hayek, Galbraith, Friedman and now Buchanan — have all written works either justifying the principles of the free market or offered "solutions" to capitalism’s periodic upheavals. Divorced from the real world of working-class experience, these economists have only ever concerned themselves with fiscal studies, profits, competition. markets and consumers. They have drifted aimlessly from one crisis to another, unable to understand the very system they purport to defend. Even though they use sophisticated mathematical analysis, statistical data and computer modelling of the economy, it does not make their theories or pronouncements credible, correct or scientific. On the contrary they are in a similar position to the eccentric mysticism of the alchemists during the Middle Ages, forever reformulating the same impotent propositions in an ever more incomprehensible language.

However, the utter failure of twentieth century economics to address the real problems of people’s day-to-day needs throughout the world has not seemed to deter the publication of one new economic theory after another. Each new theory — and there seems to be a pet economic theory for every professor living or dead — is offered up as some universal panacea for the continuing waste, poverty and occasional deliberate under-production that characterises capitalism. Some theories remain unread, just left to gather dust on some academic library shelf, while others have been dissected or watered down to suit the immediate pragmatic or ideological needs of successive governments as they have struggled to administer the economy. In the same way that clothes or pop stars come in and out of fashion so too do the ideas and personalities that abound within the Alice in Wonderland world of vulgar economy. Keynes’ theories, no longer fashionable as a useful political dogma, have been largely abandoned by economists and politicians alike in favour of the more entrenched anti-working-class doctrines of Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek.

If it was not for the economic crisis during the 1970s Friedman would most probably have spent the remainder of his life offering advice to capitalists living in and around Chicago; but with the almost universal rejection of Keynes, Friedman and his monetarist doctrines were adopted to fill the void in government economic policy. But monetarism did not help solve the problems facing governments and it certainly had no bearing on the unemployed. But then Friedman has no interest in the working class; they do not pay his salaries or buy his books. The revival of 19th century economic liberalism spearheaded by Hayek is the latest economic fashion. Hardly a day passes without one of the master's disciples claiming on the television or radio, that the whole business of buying and selling will create some form of capitalist Utopia. Indeed Hayek's rise to stardom has been as rapid as Keynes' was during the late 1930s. From power centres such as the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Directors and from economics departments such as the LSE and Liverpool University, these market anarchists preach the Hayekian virtues of an “entrepreneur-led and market-driven society".

Although Hayek has been around for a long time the idea that capitalism works in terms of efficient production and distribution of wealth is even older. However, we have just to consider capitalism from an historical perspective in conjunction with our day-to- day struggle to realise that the claim made by Hayek and his disciples is wrong. Capitalism has never worked in our interests, with or without government interference. It is incapable of satisfying human needs while at the same time producing for profit. Throughout their writings the market anarchists seldom mention the millions who die of hunger, nor the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few privileged social parasites. They are also quiet, to the point of dumbness, on the deliberate under-production of foodstuffs to maintain profits as they are about the burning of wheat or fruit because there is no market for it. As the pamphlet A World of Abundance, produced by socialists in Canada, stated:
Socialists are hardened by now to meeting the opinion that the system of production for profit is essentially sane and efficient. The opposite is true; . . . capitalism wastes its wealth and its abilities. The profit motive cannot work efficiently. Capitalism cannot cater for the needs of its people. It produces waste and it produces want and both are profitable only to the minority who hold positions of privilege.
Marx did not write for academics but for the working class. He wanted us to understand the system that to this day enslaves us and to use his works in our continuing class struggle. Hayek will become unfashionable as quickly as he became fashionable; not so Marx, whose relevance will remain until that day when the working class finally capture political power and democratically establish socialism.
Richard Lloyd 

Jesus v Islam: Let’s Call it a Draw (2016)

The Halo Halo! column from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
There’s no clear winner amongst the various religions to have their absurdities recorded in the Standard this month. Despite the usual stiff competition from Islam, the followers of Jesus have again fought back to prove that Allah does not have the monopoly on stupidity. And as it’s been such a close thing, this month we’re including some of the most moronic examples from both over the last few weeks.
We start with a couple of examples of devotion to Allah by his young followers. One aged 20 in the city of Raqqa in Syria, and one by a 15 year-old in Pakistan.
In January one of Allah’s 20 year-old, bumfluff-bearded Isis fighters in Syria, who, after being warned by his mother that Isis would probably be wiped out and being encouraged to leave, came to the conclusion that this amounted to the crime against Allah of apostasy, and publicly executed her with a rifle.
And in Pakistan, during an event praising Muhammed with songs and poetry, the mullah challenged anyone who did not love the prophet to raise their hand. One fifteen year-old boy, mishearing the question raised his hand and was denounced by the cleric as a ‘blasphemer who was liable to be killed’. The boy rushed home in tears, hacked off his hand and returned to the mosque and presented it to the mullah to show his remorse. The mullah was arrested, but released after pressure from other clerics. The boy’s father said he was proud of his son’s actions. Devotion to Allah, it seems, knows no bounds.
Back here in the UK the ‘worship leader’ of the New Chapel Unitarian meeting place in Denton, Manchester was preparing to carry out their first transgender baptism. (Yes, we’ve come across this before in the Halo-Halo column, see July 2015 issue). But this time it concerns a 10 year-old child. Yes, baptisms are regularly carried out on small children, we know, but a transgender baptism being inflicted on a 10 year old?
If consenting adults choose to do this in the privacy of their own home, then that’s no-one's business but their own. But exposing a ten year old to the sexual hang-ups of an imaginary old man with a beard who lives in the sky surely amounts to child abuse.
And in Peckham, home turf of Del boy and Rodney, a ‘Fake Archbishop’ has been flogging budget supermarket olive oil as miracle cure for cancer, said an article in the Sun (25 Jan 2016). Gilbert Deya, or ‘The Bishop of Peckham’, as his flock know him, apparently charges £5 for the Aldi £1.99 olive oil.
This wonder oil not only cures cancer, it seems, but also the HIV virus, broken arms and legs, and makes debts disappear. Oh, and The Archbishop of Peckham is apparently also wanted in Kenya on baby stealing charges.
The Sun seems to have missed the bigger story here though. If a ‘fake’ Archbishop can dress up in robes and a silly hat and convince his punters that his cheapo olive oil has miraculous powers, consider the superior magical skills of the ‘genuine’ bishops, vicars and priests who, up and down the country, week after week splash ‘holy water’ about, turn wine and wafers into the blood and body of Christ, and feed it to their flocks. Now that, as Paul Daniels would say, is magic. This ‘fake’ Archbishop is clearly a bumbling amateur.