Sunday, March 13, 2016

Gunmen, get lost! (1993)

From the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was the Saturday after St Patrick’s Day and roars went up in homes and pubs as Ireland thrashed England at rugby: the joyful, harmless chorus of the underdog. On that same afternoon there was another roar: the now familiar cry of anguish and confusion as workers doing their weekend shopping—this time in Warrington—became the victims of a carefully planted bomb. One of those shoppers, out with his father to buy a present for Mothers Day, was a little boy of less than four years of age. He was murdered—another "war victory” for the IRA. Another boy, aged twelve, out shopping for Everton football shorts, was so facially disfigured by the blast that his parents had to identify him by his watch. He died days later.

We live in a society that makes quite a habit of murdering children. Over two hundred have been killed as victims of the warfare in Ireland over the last quarter of a century. The youngest was six months old. The unspeakable thuggery of the paramilitaries—of both sides, regardless of religious or ideological labels: all of their gods are wanted for murder—is a shadow of the legally sanctioned bombings of children. in Vietnam, in Libya, in Iraq, in Afghanistan.

Those who bring violence on to our streets in the name of liberating us— liberating anybody—are our most profound enemies. Only the most dogmatically programmed Leninist, still clinging to the belief that those who blow up defenceless children arc heroic fighters for colonial liberation, and the most detached and ignorant Irish American Catholics, with their rosary in one hand and their contributory cheque to the NORAID murder machine in the other, can condone, defend or apologise for what has been done. And then, with the imaginative intelligence of lemmings, competing with their IRA rivals to commit ethical suicide, the UFF joined in within a week of the Warrington atrocity to murder five new victims, one of them a young man of only seventeen.

“Enough is too much”
Sitting in a Dublin cinema on a rainy afternoon watching the Oscar-winning film The Crying Game was an electrifying experience. The film itself (which must have one of the least predictable twists of any film ever; one which probably detracts from the poignancy of the unambiguous attack on terrorist violence) shows vividly the cold and callous and futile world of IRA violence. (In this it contrasts well with the pathetically idealised Sinn Fein innocence depicted in the American film Patriot Games.) But that afternoon the film was not the main event.

I had just come from a meeting at Trinity College Dublin (there were several of them in the week after Warrington) where person after person, representing many organisations and none, had voiced their contempt for the perpetrators—all of them—of the kind of hate-filled murder campaigns which small, undemocratic gangs have dared to initiate in their names. The overwhelming sentiment in Dublin during the days following Warrington was that violent action was pointless and reprehensible. On one page of one day’s edition of the Irish Times (26 March) the letters and editorial blasted responses to the bombs, which were significant not for their uniqueness but for the extent to which they were reflected by everyone I spoke to in Dublin. Wrote John Sullivan:
Last Saturday, while Ireland cheered on 15 heroes in green, a four-year old child was blown apart in the name of Irish freedom. No excuse, no "accident of war", no apportionment of blame for alleged unheeded warnings can hide the IRA’s murderous intent. It is incumbent upon ordinary Irish people everywhere, who reject the realisation of national aspirations through violence, to protest . . . against those in our community who offer even the most tacit support to any terrorist organisation.
"As a mother of a small boy I am writing to express my disgust and contempt at the murder in Warrington of a three-year old boy by the IRA” began the letter from Allison Collier. "Both killing sides are interchangeable—most of all in their politics of devastation and fear", declared the editorial. In every bar there was spontaneous rage. (It says much for a culture that the killing of children incites such feeling). Over 30,000 people signed a peace petition at Trinity College. When Susan McHugh, a Dublin housewife, called in to a TV phone-in programme to say that "enough is enough" and "ordinary people" must stand up and be counted against the violence she was surely voicing the view of the majority.
The four days which intervened between McHugh’s call and Sunday afternoon were filled with an energy it was impossible to miss. A demonstration was called to be held at 3pm in O’Connell Street (the widest central street in any European capital city). Political leaders were banned from taking the platform; they had done nothing to end the killings so far and their speeches would not be welcome at an event which belonged to the people. At one meeting I expressed the view that no nation and no government was worthy of the support of the wealth-producing majority; we had no countries to die for, only a world to live once it is our own. Several people cheered—it was a cheering atmosphere— but it was obvious that more than favoured sentiments would need to enter the minds of the millions before the death of nation and statehood could become a reality.

Peace rally
The O’Connell demonstration, held with noted irony outside the GPO which was the scene of the Easter Rising of 1916, was one of the most moving events that this writer can recall. Tears flowed openly and with no shame. The presence of thousands of people straining to unleash pent-up passions for human brother- and sister-hood might be dismissed by the cynics as empty moral gesturing, but to this socialist it was comforting proof that humans are happier striving for peace than conspiring for violence.

One recalls the ghastly and tasteless Falklands victory parade through London: certainly there was feeling there, but it was the contrived, regimented unmelodious patriotic phoney-feeling which is as fragile as the wooden sticks on which schoolboys were told to wave Union Jack idiot-symbols. The Dublin Peace Rally was workers showing that guns are not part of our nature.

Of course, little really changed. Still the paramilitary chiefs pursue the total-blindness policy of an eye for an eye; still those leaders are now mainly racketeers, living in personal luxury thanks to protection rackets and robberies carried out for the pointless “cause” by impoverished ghetto- dwellers; still there will be those who will try to argue tortuously that the murder of someone on "the other side” is somehow less of an atrocity than violence against their own. It is easy for those with good memories to think back to the Peace People in the 1970s who, after a short-lived peaceful campaign against sectarianism, withdrew into obscurity for reasons that are still a matter for historical interpretation. It is at least possible that this time the momentum will be kept up—the widespread desire for peacefulness and hatred of the murdering few might just be uncrushable.

Speakers from various religious denominations addressed the rally. For a socialist this was hard to take—the only consolation being that it is better to hear them imploring listeners to love their neighbours as themselves than their more typical business of blessing bombs which have state approval. It was good to see The Dubliners, whose repertoire of occasionally nationalist songs has left a sour taste in the mouth of many a socialist music-lover, stand up and denounce the murderers. It was pleasing to see that Sinead O'Connor made it to the rally and preceded her song by saying, in marked contrast to the God Squad, that we should not wait until we die to reach "The Kingdom of Heaven”, for it was within all of us to bring it about down here on Earth now. From someone who had advocated the abolition of the money system the meaning, if not the words, made much sense.

I was not the only one who left the mass rally after three hours of almost non-stop heavy rain with a sense of elation. That afternoon several thousands of us had played the crying game and realised that we could do more than weep; we could make peace our practical objective. But there will be no peace while the economic and political motives for killing are implanted within the very social order which dominates our lives. Peaceful capitalism is like non-combative mugging. Capitalism or peace—it must be one or the other.
Steve Coleman

A seller's life (1993)

From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

One aspect of the market system is the selling of their mental and physical energies by members of the working class to "earn a living". We use the term “working class" in its widest sense: all those men. women and children who depend for their livelihood on selling their ability to work to an employer, dependants of those earners, the self-employed, those seeking an employer or who have had one (or more) and are now living on a pension. In other words, about 98 percent of the population. The other 2 percent own sufficient of the means of wealth production and distribution to enable them to live on profits, rents or interest on capital.

The labour, or more accurately the labour power, of workers—whether skilled or unskilled, experienced or inexperienced, poorly paid or relatively highly paid—is bought and sold in a market. But it is not like a supermarket or a car market or a housing market, where things change hands for money. In the labour market people are bought and sold. Not, of course, quite like slaves. The capitalist system is more subtle than that. It is the working capacities of people that are bought and sold, usually by periods of time, less often by piece-work or the amount of goods produced or finished.

Unequal deal
How fair are the terms of the transaction? Is it a case (as most economists would have us believe) of a willing buyer meeting a willing seller at a mutually acceptable price? Hardly. Capitalists, in their role as as employers, dictate the price at which they will buy labour power and even whether they will buy it at all. They have to make a profit from the use of that labour if they are to stay in business. So they compete with each other, not to bid up the price of labour power—though this does sometimes happen when particular types of labour are scarce—but to make the greatest profit from using it.

Trade unions help to prevent the price of labour power falling. Non-unionists may be exploited more easily by employers happy to pay the lowest wages acceptable to workers often desperate for employment. Such employers have recently been helped by the governments decision to abolish the Wages Councils, which set minimum wages for 2.5 million low-paid workers, 80 percent of whom are women.

The recession verging on slump means that unemployment is rising. Currently the official unemployment rate is just over 10 percent, with the true rate—counting all people who would like paid work— much higher. In Britain as a whole there are now 25 people chasing every job vacancy and in London the figure has risen to 56 (Evening Standard. 4 November).

Job training has a rapidly growing partner: job-seeking training. There are books, talks and classes on how best to present yourself at a job interview, how to write a CV, how to become one of the lucky one-in-25—or 56.

Special problems face those who seek to earn a living selling goods or services. Money is tight and sales resistance high. Only supcrsalespcrsons make decent money. One supersalesman hired the Wembley Conference Centre to bring his message of super- salesmanship to a keenly competitive, if not desperate audience. Part of his act was to carry a skull under his arm, raising its hinged head to display a chocolate-bar-sized product inside. "It gets peoples attention", he claimed enthusiastically. Interviewed briefly on television news, a couple of the punters said why they paid to see such nonsense: they wanted to get one jump ahead of their competitors, they were prepared to learn new and degrading tricks to earn what must mostly be a precarious living.

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
Gavin Kennedy, in his book Superdeal, writes about how sellers are forced to be leaner and meaner if they are to survive. “The hungrier (the sellers) are, the faster they spend their money, preferably while in abject debt, the better they are at reaching their sales targets”. Psychological studies are mined for the help they can give to this process of exploitation. “All good sellers know that one of the most powerful selling closes is to play on the ego, or conscience, of the buyer. They shame you into a ‘buy’ decision".

Leaner and meaner
Fictional literature, which so often reflects real life, dramatizes selling. Willie Loman, in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, epitomizes an ageing pawn in the capitalist game. Desperate to be liked by his potential customers, he is enjoined to "never fight fair with a stranger in the jungle". In the play Glengarry Glen Ross (now also a film) salesmen in a Chicago real estate office vie with each other to sell overpriced land in faraway Arizona, knowing that all but the two most successful of them will lose their jobs at the end of the week.

Buying and selling is the essence of the free-market capitalist system. That system has proved to be more efficient at producing wealth than the state bureaucratic or centrally-planned capitalist system. But at what human cost? It is sometimes claimed that workers’ co-operatives are the answer. But unfortunately these, too, have to work within the capitalist system. In the absence of socialist understanding, they are eventually overwhelmed by that system. The only way to end the exploitation and human degradation inherent in capitalism is to develop socialist ideas of production solely for use, so that corresponding practices may follow. Then buying and selling will be relegated to the status of a game of monopoly, amusing but nothing to do with maintaining a decent life.
Stan Parker

Politics: Syndicalism & the General Strike (1975)

From the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just as a seed contains the varied hues in a flower, so capitalism at its birth contained all that has flowered into various expressions of revolt. The misery it brought has fostered ideas of short cuts to salvation that continually reappear with different signposts.

Thus, the main arguments of Syndicalism were repeated by the Bolsheviks and their servile followers in Britain in the ’twenties and ’thirties. The Claims that Syndicalism was based on the principles of Marx; that the mass of workers were ignorant and inert, and required leading (and forcing) into the promised land; that the days of theory had passed and the days of action come — these and a host of other ideas demonstrated not only a similarity in outlook between Syndicalism and Bolshevism, but the common source of both movements.

The backbone of Syndicalism was the General Strike. As a proposed means to achieve the workers’ emancipation it has an old history, and received considerable support before the capture of power by parliamentary action had come within the workers’ reach. Like Anarchism, it attracted artists and professional people by its insistence upon leadership, its violent attacks on established institutions, its spurning of theoretical knowledge, and its promise of rapid victory.

After they were expelled from the International the anarchist movement fell to pieces, unable to make progress because of their own opposition to all organization; and the acts of violence to which groups of anarchists resorted led to vigorous police action against them. In their extremity they sought a new lease of life by infiltrating the developing trade union movement. The propaganda of the General Strike fitted in with their anti-State and general-destruction policies, as well as the idea of the capture of power by a militant minority. Sorel describes the position as follows:
Many anarchists, tired at last of continually reading the same grandiloquent maledictions hurled at the capitalist system, set themselves to find a way which would lead them to acts which were really revolutionary. They became members of syndicates which, thanks to violent strikes, realised to a certain extent, the social war they had often heard spoken of. Historians will one day see in this entry of the anarchists into the syndicates one of the greatest events that has been produced in our times, and then the name of my poor friend Fernand Pelloutier will be as well known as it deserves to be.
(Reflections on Violence)
In England and America the influence was brief (though for a short time it captured the imaginations of some who should have known better). The main support was in countries where small industries flourished as France, Italy, Spain and Russia.

It was in France that the General Strike was first exhaustively discussed and propagated. The growth of the trade-union movement led to a struggle between its advocates and those of political action At the Trade Union Congress in 1879 the Guesdist movement, which stood for the conquest of political power, scored a temporary victory, but political action subsequently lost its hold. To the impatient, industrial action appeared as a royal and easy road without having to wait. In 1888 the Congress of the French National Federation of Trade Unions voted in favour of the General Strike and the idea then spread rapidly, even receiving some support from political parties. Among its champions was Aristide Briand who, later as a capitalist cabinet minister, was its vigorous opponent and oppressor.

The arguments for the General Strike at that time may be summed up as follows. To strike was legal, so no matter how widespread it might be the government was unable to prosecute the strikers. A general stoppage of work would reduce the ruling class to famine; it would need to be operated only a short time to compel the government to capitulate and bring the workers into control of power. Its spontaneity meant that it could begin at any time and, hastened by propaganda and organization, bring about the revolution rapidly. The workers must have an organization to take over production afterwards, and the trade unions were admirably suited for this purpose.

Although a minority in the trade-union movement, the anarchists soon occupied key positions and by the middle of the ’nineties were the dominating section. Apart from their fanatical activity, they were assisted by the method of selecting delegates by group and not by number. Being divided in many small groups while their opponents were in fewer larger ones, the anarchists were able to capture the controlling influence; the few highly industrialized parts of France were not able to send as many delegates to conferences as the scattered backward parts where the anarchists predominated. Consequently each congress was “packed” by anarchists — a form of “tactics” with which we are still familiar.

Under their influence, General Strike propaganda went beyond just sitting down and folding arms. Sabotage was adopted, involving the destruction of means of production and the forcing of the support of the unwilling. The practical policy that grew out of the French Revolution and was adopted by Blanqui, Bakunin, De Leon and Lenin was based on the idea that an active minority can carry with it an inert and ignorant mass. It is a policy that depends upon leadership and always places power in the hands of one or two outstanding persons, finally degenerating into personal quarrels between these leaders. Behind it, though rarely recognized, is the conflict between idealism and materialism: the power of the idea alone against the power of material circumstances, which include ideas.

In 1895 a new federation of workers was formed, the General Confederation of Labour (known as the CGT — Confederation General de Travail). It included the General Strike as part of its programme. A conglomeration of unions and federations, it comprised all political shades but was ruled by the anarchist minority until 1909, when the crushing of a large-scale postal strike made clear the weakness of industrial action against the power of the state. The opposition to the General Strike policy, particularly by the Guesdists, also showed its failings. For example, the syndicalists were compelled to include anti-militarist propaganda, as an admission that governmental power would not collapse in a general cessation of work.

Probably the most complete expression of the syndicalist outlook is  contained in Arnold Roller’s The Social General Strike (published by the Debating Club No. I, Chicago, 1905). Sliding over difficulties and inconsistencies, the writer distinguishes between strikes for higher wages or political privileges and the strike. According to him the General Strike begins in a small way, spreads in sympathetic strikes, and develops into the overthrowing of the system; it is the culmination of hundreds of earlier strikes in which the workers have gained experience and an ever-stronger sense of solidarity.

Following that argument, one would imagine that the majority of workers had gradually acquired sufficient class-consciousness to understand their social position and desire a change in the basis of society. But this is not the syndicalist view. According to them, the mass of workers are backward and inert until the General Strike commences. Then, in the course of the movement, they become more active and enthusiastic until they convert the strike from the attainment of some minor object into the social revolution. And this change is supposed to occur in a few days or weeks, as production and distribution are brought to a standstill: knowledge grows like a mushroom out of the quagmires of disaster!

Roller is not disturbed by the fact that all workers will not come out on strike. He says: “This ideal of propaganda will, however, in spite of its beauty always be a dream.” He claims that it is only necessary to interrupt production in the whole country for long enough to totally disorganize capitalist society; this, he claims, can be done by sabotage in the principal industries. (But at another time he insists that a great advantage of the General Strike, that will gain for it many adherents who lack courage, is that it will be perfectly legal.) He makes the following very significant statement:
Modern industry, with its extremely specialised labour division and complications, is but poorly adapted to oppose a general strike caused by a minority, for the strike will completely wreck the whole system necessary for the management of production, and vital to the life of modem society.
The sabotage to assist in this wrecking was to include cutting telephone and telegraph wires; tearing up railway lines; causing accidents; loosening screws in machinery; destroying supports and applying fire and dynamite in mines; sinking ships; and many other methods of destruction — a choice assortment is also described by Pataud and Pouget in their phantasy Syndicalism and the Co-operative Commonwealth, 1913. Thus, as in the policy of Bakunin, society is to be completely wrecked.

In such circumstances, what would be the position of the workers? The inert mass that has suddenly developed “revolutionary fervour” is supposed to trust local leaders, who will pacify them by reporting the progress of the revolution (how, with the means of communication smashed, is not explained). The feeding of the population in the midst of this wreckage is also glossed over with childlike simplicity, with the answer that hungry people will attack stores of food. Leaving out of consideration the action of the government, what city has stores of food to support its inhabitants for any length of time? And what about water and sanitation? It does not require a great deal of imagination to foresee disease and devastation sweeping through cities like London, Paris, Berlin and New York. If the syndicalists were as successful as they hoped, it would not be a question of bringing the ruling class to their knees but of submerging everyone in a common holocaust of disaster.

But before matters had reached such a pitch the government would have stepped in with the forces at its disposal. Roller has an inkling of this. He claims first that the destruction would be so widespread that there would be insufficient military forces to cope with it, and then that it is essential to get the military on the side of the workers: “For the revolutionising of the present order of society, anti-militarism and its propaganda is an absolute necessary supplement to the General Strike.”

Time after time the power of governments to smash big strikes has been demonstrated. Sometimes naked power has been used, sometimes concessions made, and sometimes the workers have been starved into subjection. The condition the syndicalists take for granted, lack of knowledge on the part of the majority, is a condition that is bound to defeat them by playing into the government’s hands. The experience of large strikes has been the very opposite of that anticipated by the syndicalists. The government smashed the French postal workers in 1909 by simply calling the postal workers to the colours and then sending them back to their old jobs as soldiers. Soldiers are average members of the working class made more amenable by the discipline to which they are subjected and, like the mass of workers up to the present, accept the suppression of "disorder" as a proper course of action.

Part 2 of this article will deal with the Syndicalist movement in the United States of America.

War and Socialism (1951)

From the July 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sunday Express on May 20th, 1951, reported that a “United Nations curtain of guns, armour and planes today battered massed Chinese assaults and thwarted attempts to make major breaches in the Allied line.”

Did you read that? If you did, we expect you have forgotten it already. But we do not forget. Later the report says that, “the United Nations forces were still killing scores of Chinese for every Allied casualty.” How glibly do our newspaper’s speak of the loss of working-class life. They are glad that large numbers of Chinese should be slaughtered. We are not. We are sorrowful. These Chinese arc our class brothers. True, they speak a different language, wear different clothes, eat different food, but underneath it all they are members of our class, the working-class. The struggle being fought out in Korea is not their struggle. Whoever wins, their conditions will remain the same— poverty and struggle.

In Korea the scene is being set for the next major world conflict. Who controls Korea will control a large part of Asia. Korea belongs neither to us nor to the Chinese who are dying there. Brothers of the working-class, isn’t it time we stopped this insane slaughter? Korea is but a picture in miniature of what is to come. Then millions and millions will die. The last war cost probably 40,000,000 lives. The next one may cost more.

There is only one way to stop wars and that is to establish socialism. Don’t tell us that that will take a long time. How long it takes depends on you. You can hasten it or delay it There can be no doubt that it will come. We need it, the working-class of the world needs it. Join with us and help bring it about.
Clifford Groves

The latest criticism of Karl Marx (1925)

Book Review from the July 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been asked to deal with a publication called "The Socialist’s Bible." It is sold by the "Industrial League and Council," which is one of the many bodies aiming at a reconciliation between the employed and employing classes.

The endless stream of books to prove that Marx was wrong is not only a tribute to Marx in showing how great is the respect his writings still inspire, but it reminds us also how limited and unscientific is the outlook of sections of the propertied class. Not knowing the way in which real social forces work, and quite lacking a sense of proportion, they are told and believe in their simplicity that revolutions are made by the wrongheaded brilliance of the Cromwells, the Rousseaus and the Marxs of history. What, then, could be more natural than the everlasting effort to stop the coming revolution by hurling tomes and pamphlets at the reputation of Marx? How perverse they must think the workers are who go on organising and striking despite, and, in fact, indifferent to the repeated "destruction" of Marxian theories. And how aggravating that the theories keep coming up as fresh and sound as ever although Labourites and Tories, intellectuals and economists have all agreed together that they are as dead as the Dodo.

The anonymous author of this pamphlet :discusses Karl Marx’s Theories" in 20 pages, and while going out of his way to appear generous in recognition of the genius of the man, rejects his philosophy in detail and in the lump.

He says nothing that is new, but in case there are novices who may be imposed upon we can perhaps usefully point out some weaknesses in these old restated objections to Marxism. A short sketch of the life of Marx is followed by some silly and ill-informed remarks about his influence on Socialism in England. We are told that few Socialists have ever read Marx, but rely upon “some small explanatory handbook." This is a queer complaint from the author of a 20-page " small explanatory handbook" which is to serve Marx critics in place of reading Marx himself; and worse follows.

Our critic of Marx goes not to Marx for his references and for a statement of the Marxian case, but to a "small explanatory handbook” by Mr. A. E. Cook. What we get is not a discussion of Marx but a cheap triumph over the grossly inaccurate work of one whose ignorance of Marx has been exposed in the pages of the Socialist Standard.

On page 1 Marx is condemned for not being “ scientific and impartial.’’ On page 2 it is admitted that he was scientific enough to “avoid any moral condemnation of the Capitalist," which is a tribute not earned by many active political workers and writers in their attacks on their opponents’ theories.

We are told that "Events having falsified his doctrine of social change the followers of Marx do not lay stress upon it.” The critic cautiously gives no evidence for the second assertion, but it saved him from the trouble of having to show where the doctrine has been proved false. The Socialist Party of Great Britain regards the doctrine as still unassailable, and is prepared to defend it.

The first volume of “Capital” was published in 1867 and it is argued that “many of the evils which Marx regarded as permanent features of industry have since been removed.”  Our author does not offer to tell us that the poverty of the poor and the riches of the wealthy are some of the evils which “have since been removed,” and they happen to be very important. He forgets, too, that the first Factory Act was passed as early as 1802; and that at the end of the last war it was still necessary to set up numerous Trade Boards to remove “sweating.” At the present time we have a Conservative Government compelled to give legal protection against intolerably low wages to the workers in what is almost our chief industry—agriculture. Has poverty passed away—if so why health insurance and pensions for the aged and for widows? Has insecurity been abolished from the lives of the wealth producers in face of 1¼ million unemployed dependent on the dole?

The most important of the foundations of the Marxian argument is the increasing disparity between the economic positions of the working and propertied classes. This tendency has not passed away. Relative to the powers of wealth production, the workers, as Marx forecast, have been and are getting worse off. Power and wealth are concentrated more and more at one end of the social scale, poverty and individual helplessness at the other. Events have justified Marx, not falsified him.

The author of the pamphlet is aware that Marx did not claim that labour is the source of all wealth; that, in fact, he pointed out the absurdity of ignoring the existence of wealth provided by Nature. But he attributes to Marx the assertion that an object “is worth something because it is useful.” (Page 4.)

On the contrary, what Marx said was that an article, “therefore, has value only because human labour . . . has been embodied in it.” (Capital, Vol. I., page 5, 1912 Edition. W. Glaisher.)

This is what comes of going for information to small handbooks.

Objection to the labour theory is made on the ground that “virgin soil or an undeveloped mine have a value for exchange although no labour has been put into them ” (p. 6). He omits, as is usual in this type of argument, to give instances of virgin soil, and undeveloped mines which have value for exchange. There are at the present day vast areas of land and mineral resources to be had for nothing. When, and not until, the necessary labour has been expended to make the soil usable and both the soil and the minerals accessible to civilisation, will they have exchange value.

There are other points that could be mentioned, but enough has been written to show that even where the criticisms are levelled against Marx and not against Cook, the author makes no real attempt to justify them, and that the basic theories of Marxism have not been seriously attacked, far less demolished.
Edgar Hardcastle

As You Like It (1978)

Theatre Review from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

As You Like It, Aldwych Theatre, London.

“Was Shakespeare a revolutionary?” is about as facile as “Was Shakespeare a petty-bourgeois reactionary?” The answer to both is that Shakespeare was far too complex a writer to be slotted into any such categories. What can be said is that there are elements in his plays which can be seen to have revolutionary implications, just as there are elements which have reactionary implications. One of the beauties of Shakespeare is that the richness of the texts enables them to be seen as a constantly shifting kaleidoscope, now showing one aspect now the other. Productions of the plays can emphasise many different points; much depends on what the individual director sees.

But at first glance a play like AS YOU hardly strikes director or reader as having revolutionary implications. In so far as there is a plot, it tells of rather soppy true love in a romantic forest where shepherds and shepherdesses form a backdrop to what in essence, is a voyage of self discovery of the principal lovers, and the several secondary ones. Not much revolution going on there.

But as with all Shakespeare, as Celia put it in the play, “There’s more in it”. The play actually draws a sharp and bitter contrast between two societies, the Court and the Forest. The former is painted in colours of unremitting evil. Tyrant Duke and tyrant brother, as Orlando calls them, rule a Society where the worst evils of greed are callously exposed. The usurping Duke seizes lands and lives, and the Court reaches the stage where Touchstone exposing the folly of it all (as well as the avarice) can say: “The more pity that fools may not speak wisely, what wise men do foolishly”. Not only is the Court evil, Shakespeare is saying, the tyranny results in stupidity.

But is it arguable that Shakespeare is saying more than this. The Court can be seen as representative of emerging capitalist society and Shakespeare is inveighing against it for all he is worth. Rosalind’s hilarious advice to Phoebe to “sell when you can, you are not for all markets”, could be taken as the philosophy of the rising merchant class of the time.

In contrast is the society in the forest of Arden. Home of the banished Duke, here a society is presented without the absurd values of the Court. Here people seek the food they eat, and are content with what they get; here the enemy is not other people but winter and rough weather. No one deludes themselves that the life in the forest is easy; “Ay, now am I in Arden", says Touchstone, adding realistically, “the more fool I”, but at least the difficulties are knowable and can be overcome by social cooperation. In this society the evils of the wealth grabbing usurping Duke have no place; the forest almost magically wipes them out. And when the usurping Duke finally comes to the forest full of barbarous intentions, the very air of the forest (he meets an old hermit and is “converted”!) almost sufficient to change his wicked ways.

The forest society is aware of the advantages and disadvantages of Court life. No easy answers are posited, but even though they have all either left or lost “wealth and ease, a stubborn will to please”, the attendants in the forest can say to the banished Duke that they would not change this life. Jaques even goes so far as to say that if he were given leave to speak his mind he would "through and through cleanse the foul body of th’ infected world". (What else are socialists trying to do?).

The Lovers too when they arrive in the forest, can escape the corrupting influence of the Court. Their escape is essentially personal, whereas the Duke’s escape has a far more universal quality. Nevertheless, the point is still there; here in the forest they can all be “themselves”.

There are a lot of backward (and therefore, potentially reactionary) references in the play — in particular the vision of the golden world of the past. However, what this production does, is to transform the forest, where all the escaping characters arrive, into a sort of idealised Winstanley-type diggers’ community in accordance with Winstanley’s vision of a free cooperative, moneyless society. (Though without the productive foundations of Winstanley’s scheme. See the Socialist Standard June 1978 for more on Winstanley). It is not primitive communism; there are still the (textually inevitable) differences between Dukes and Servants, sheep-owners and labourers. Nonetheless, the picture of human satisfaction in contrast to the evident dissatisfaction of city (here equal to property) life is beautifully drawn.
Ronnie Warrington