Saturday, April 9, 2016

From Sweden: What is Marxism? (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Historically, Marxism has meant the materialist conception of history, the Labour Theory of Value and the political class struggle.

We accept the materialist conception of history as the only method that makes it possible to investigate and gain knowledge about historical and social events and changes. We regard Capital as a brilliant analysis of the workings and historical tendency of capitalism and an explanation of how the working class is exploited. We accept Marx’s theory that the working class can be liberated from exploitation only by its own class conscious, democratic political action for Socialism.

This is what we mean when we call ourselves Marxists. It does not mean that we accept everything Karl Marx said and did during his lifetime. Marxism was not something that came out all ready-made from Marx’s brain. It was developed gradually, with Marx as the main contributor.

Philosophical fantasy
The young Marx in his first presentation of the case for Socialism (the so-called Paris Manuscripts) based it on a philosophical humanism, using concepts and expressions like “human essence’’, “man’s alienation from his species life’’ and “man’s return . . .  to his human existence’’. Later however Marx came to base the case for Socialism on the interest of the working class under capitalism, not on any philosophical view of human nature. In the Communist Manifesto, written a couple of years after the Paris Manuscripts, he explicitly repudiates, in the section on “True Socialism”, views similar to those he had once expressed himself to the effect that Socialism represented “not the interests of the proletariat, but the interests of Human Nature, of Man in general who belongs to no class, who has no reality, who exists only in the misty realms of philosophical fantasy”.

But, whatever were the views of the young Marx, Marxism does not stand or fall with them. Marx’s early manuscripts were, for the main part, not available until the beginning of the nineteen thirties, but by that time Marxism—as we described it at the beginning of this article — had already existed for over half a century. None of Marx’s main theories stands or falls with his early philosophical ideas.

This does not mean that Marxism lacks a conception of Man. Man is throughout history a social being — not a “lone wolf”—and only in relation to other people is he human. This is the only basic human nature that exists; apart from this “the whole of history is nothing but the continuous transformation of human nature” (Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy).

The idea that Marxism regards mankind’s future as predetermined is wrong. It explicitly rejects this. In a letter he drafted but did not send to a Russian journal in November 1877 Marx himself took up the question and explained that his “outline of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe” was not “a historico-philosophical theory of the general course, fatally imposed on all peoples, regardless of the historical circumstances in which they find themselves placed, in order to arrive finally at that economic formation which insures with the greatest of productive power of social labour the most complete development of man” (i.e., Socialism).

Not inevitable
Marx’s analysis of capitalism points to Socialism as the next, higher stage in social development, but there is nothing of predeterminism in this. With today’s large stocks of nuclear and biological weapons and massive pollution of the environment the old socialist challenge “Socialism or Barbarism?” is more relevant than ever. Socialism will not be inevitable until the working class decides to establish it.

It is true that the young Marx sometimes saw the socialist revolution as a more or less spontaneous process. But the mature Marx — “Marx the Marxist” — stressed that the change-over to Socialism must be a conscious act, “the conscious reorganisation of society” as he put it in volume III of Capital (chapter V, section II). And this was not a question of consciousness among a small minority leading the great majority (as in the Leninist theory). As Engels put it in his 1895 Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France 1848-50:
Where it a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for, body and soul.
And in his 1890 Preface to the 4th German edition of the Communist Manifesto:
For the ultimate triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto Marx relied solely and exclusively upon the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily had to ensue from united action and discussion.
Ake Spross (Sweden)

A little bit on the side (1978)

From the April 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently there has been considerable agitation, both in the press and elsewhere, regarding experiments on animals to assess the usefulness and possible side effects of new drugs. However, whereas probably a good case can be made out against the use of inoffensive animals unable to protest, it is strange that there has been no similar outcry following an article in the Sunday Times on 29th January 1978, headed “Patients put at risk as doctors aid drug firms in sales drive”. In this, two of the paper’s medical correspondents give a frightening insight into the use of human beings who, not only are not consenting, but usually are unaware of the fact that they are being used as guinea pigs.

We have heard before of the amount of ‘bumph’ pushed through doctors’ and dentists’ letterboxes, advertising and sometimes sampling, the latest offerings of the major drug companies. Indeed it could be argued that, being grossly overworked, doctors do not have time to read all the medical trade journals and this is one way in which they become aware of new treatments available. However, this is not where the matter rests.

In order to persuade doctors to prescribe their drugs, major manufacturers offer inducements—‘a little bit on the side’. This may take the form of presents— stethoscopes, digital clocks, bottles of whisky—flat cash payments of £5 or £10 per patient, or payment by results. In one case a company pays doctors £2 for recruiting a patient, £3 if the patient stays on the drug for a week and £4 if he continues for a month. Bearing in mind that if the patient stays on the drug at a prescription cost of £50 to £100 a year, it means that for an investment of, say, £100.000, a drug company has created a market of £1 million a year.

Of 39 doctors interviewed by the Sunday Times, 4 admitted they had not told patients that drugs had been changed, 27 said that taking part in the ‘trial’ had influenced their choice of drugs; some of the remainder stated they would not have prescribed the drug if they had not been asked to ‘test’ it. When questioned the medical director of one drug company said it never occurred to him that the increasing scale of payment offered might induce some doctors to keep patients on drugs for longer periods, in order to qualify for the increased payments! As far as these prescriptions are described as ‘tests’ or ‘trials’, senior medical opinion is agreed that, as minimum information (if any) is requested from doctors and they are discouraged from enquiring about efficacy or side effects, these ‘trials’ are clinically worthless.

The enormous profits made regularly by the major drug companies are consistently defended on grounds of necessity to plough back funds into development of new lines. When tragedy like the Thalidomide babies occurs the ‘ethics’ of their operation are discussed under banner headlines, but the consistent abuse of National Health patients—members of the working class—to make these profits ‘on the cheap’ goes unnoticed.
Eva Goodman

The War in Ethiopia (1978)

From the March 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The fighting now taking place in Ethiopia is a tragic testimony to the cynicism and ambition of the major capitalist powers, including Russia. The strategic plotting of the Russian ruling class has led to a situation where destitute African peasants, exhorted to sacrifice themselves for nationalist ends, use Russian-supplied weapons to murder each other. It is the policies of the governments of Somalia and Ethiopia, plus those of the superpowers, which explain how this has come to happen.

In 1969 a military coup took place in Somalia, and Major-General Mohammed Barre became head of state. The new rulers claimed to be revolutionaries, and spoke loftily of establishing “Scientific Socialism”. The only legal political party is the so-called Somali Socialist Revolutionary Party, of which Barre is the Secretary-General. In fact, Barre’s government pursued a policy of as rapid as possible a development of capitalism in what was and remains a very backward country, with subsistence wages and almost no health service. The method was that of state capitalism, with the land and many companies being nationalized. Their revolutionary rhetoric did not however prevent them from accepting American financial aid, which was used to build a port at Kismayu in the south of the country. But the greatest support came from Russia, which supplied Somalia with weapons and helped to make the city of Berbera a well-equipped port and naval base which could be used by the Russian navy. Missile storage facilities were also built, again for Russian use —an ironic priority in a country without a single mile of railway track. It was clear that Russia was hoping to make Somalia into a Russian military base on the Indian Ocean, and a counter in Eastern Africa to Ethiopia, then ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie’s savage Christian dictatorship.

Murderous Struggle
Then in 1974 the Ethiopian army deposed Selassie. A murderous struggle for power among various political and military factions ensued, but again the new rulers, the Dergue, claimed to be revolutionary Marxists. In December of the same year, Ethiopia was officially declared to be a “Socialist” state. As in Somalia, the government actually pursued a policy of state capitalism, nationalizing the land and various branches of industry, as the quickest way to develop the forces of production. The Russians saw their chance again, and supplied arms to Ethiopia. As the Somali- supported separatist guerrilla war in the northern province of Eritrea (which was only fully incorporated into Ethiopia in 1962) spread and the separatists occupied large parts of Eritrea, Russian and Cuban advisors were sent to help the Ethiopian government. Meanwhile a Somali-backed revolt was taking place in Ogaden, in the western part of Ethiopia.

For a while the Russians were able to back both sides in this way. But in November last year, the Somali government expelled their Russian “advisers”, and asked the Americans to supply more arms. The Russians thus lost access to the port facilities at Berbera, and are now defending the Ethiopian government against alleged Somali aggression. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, as it is called, is just the kind of “national liberation movement” that the Russians have supported in some parts of the world — and fought in others — when it suited them to do so. In Eritrea, now, Russian planes and rockets are used against the guerrillas. Eritrea contains Ethiopia’s main Red Sea port, Massawa, a prize that would help compensate the Russians for the loss of Berbera. The Russians may have decided that Eritrea is not viable—or sufficiently useful to them—as an independent state, and so are concentrating their efforts on keeping Ethiopia intact and friendly to Moscow.

The Dergue, the present military government of Ethiopia, operates with the usual brutality of a dictatorship. Since 1974 thousands of people have been imprisoned, and hundreds executed, for political activity hostile to the government. The Ethiopian air force’s tactics in Eritrea include the bombing of civilians in towns captured by the guerrillas. Peasants who refuse to be conscripted into the Ethiopian army are said to be killed in front of their families. Flour given by the Red Cross to relieve a famine in Ogaden has been commandeered by the army. The Dergue is no more than an old-fashioned military dictatorship.

Reports that the Russians have been actually involved in the fighting on behalf of Ethiopia have not been independently confirmed. No doubt the Russians would prefer not to risk their own troops in pursuit of their ambitions, but to let the Ethiopians and Somalis shoot it out between themselves. Their economic policies show that the Somali and Ethiopian governments have a great deal in common, though both may have something to gain by invading the other. The ones with nothing to gain in any of this are the workers and peasants, the ones who do the actual fighting and dying. In order to defend their own military bases and gain control of strategic routes, the Russian ruling class are quite prepared to foster and support wars between other nations, where the real losers are the ordinary people concerned, who face death, hunger and homelessness in a cause not their own.
Paul Bennett

Euroformism (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Eurocommunism, as a word, first came into use in 1975 to describe the policies of certain European Communist Parties, in particular their refusal any longer to take orders from Moscow as they had done for the previous fifty years. The Communist Parties concerned—such as the Italian, Spanish and French— themselves prefer to emphasize another aspect: their claim that they are now committed to using peaceful and democratic methods to achieve their objectives. But this claim is not new. Ever since the 7th World Congress of the old Communist International at the end of 1935 Communist Parties had been proclaiming a commitment to democracy—while at the same time pointing to Russia under Stalin as the most democratic country in the world.

The new factor is the criticism of Russia. This was first made public in 1967 (though, apparently, the Italian Party through its leader, Togliatti, had been making similar criticisms in private for some years previously) when a number of European Communist Parties openly criticized the trial and jailing of the writers Daniel and Sinyavsky and, even more noticeably, when they denounced the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia the following year. In the days of the pre-war Comintern (dissolved in 1943 by Stalin to please his new allies, America and Britain) this stance of the Eurocommunist parties would have been denounced as “rightwing opportunism” and illustrates an ever-present problem for the Russian ruling class in relation to its puppet parties in other countries.

Vague Aim
In order to be an effective agent of Russian foreign policy a Communist Party needs to have a mass following, but such a following can not be built up on the basis of unconditional support for Russia but rather on vaguely stated issues like Democracy, Anti- fascism and Peace. A party built up on this basis will contain a large element, perhaps, even a majority of ordinary members and voters, who are more interested in the vague aim than in supporting Russia. Hence the danger that the leadership of these parties will, in order to retain their mass support, pander to the views of their followers at the expense of furthering Russian foreign policy.

This is more or less what has happened with the two European Communist Parties—the Italian and the French—which did succeed in becoming mass parties, thanks largely to their leading role in the struggle against the Nazis in the last years of the war. The Italian and French Communist Parties have since the war both consistently had the support of between 20 land 25 per cent, of the votes (the Italian party now has an even larger percentage). For ten or so years after the war Moscow managed to retain control of these mass parties. In 1947 with the outbreak of the cold War the Italian and French parties, through the trade unions they controlled, obediently launched a series of political strikes aimed at bringing pressure on their governments to reject the Marshall Plan; then they waged a bogus “peace campaign” designed to give Russia a respite in which to develop its own atomic bomb; and they loyally supported the Russian suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. But then, in the wake of Khrushchev's revelations in 1956 and in 1961 of Stalin’s atrocities, the leaders of what in the circumstances could only be described as Russia’s fifth columns in France and Italy, became less obedient, leading in 1967, as we have seen, to open criticisms of acts of the Russian government.

Dictatorial Class Rule
The extent of the Eurocommunist criticism of Russia should not be exaggerated. They still regard Russia as basically socialist and look upon the acts they criticize as isolated incidents, as “breaches of socialist legality”, rather than expressions of a dictatorial class rule. Even Santiago Carillo, the leader of the Spanish party, who has gone the furthest in his criticisms of the Russian regime, still sees Russia as “progressive” and even socialist though not as “socialist” as the Russian leaders claim. In his book, first published in April last year “Eurocommunism” and the State (an English translation has recently been brought out by Lawrence and Wishart), he rejects the official Soviet doctrine that Russia is socialist society developing towards “full communism”, saying that because of its undemocratic features — “serious bureaucratic deformations” and “degenerations” as he puts it — it has not yet reached “full socialism”.

In his discussion of why this should have happened he begins a line of argument that has dangerous implications for all supporters of Lenin and Russia: that “a bureaucratic layer” was able to come to power because, after 1917, Russia was a backward and isolated country faced with the same task as had the developed capitalist countries in the previous century, that of the creation of a modern industry and with it a modern industrial working class recruited from the peasantry, a task which could not be accomplished democratically but only by a minority acting dictatorially.

The implication of this line of argument is that Russia was not ripe for Socialism in 1917 and that the October Revolution could not have been a socialist revolution but was the seizure of power by a modernizing elite which was later to evolve into a new ruling class exploiting the workers. Carillo himself, however, does not see this. He does not regard Russia as a class-ruled, exploitative society. In fact in 1964 a group which did was expelled, for this and other reasons, from the Spanish CP, including Fernando Claudin, the author of an excellent book showing the close relationship between the policies of Communist Parties and the foreign policy of Russia entitled The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform (published by Penguins). Similarly, in 1969, the Italian party expelled a group, some of whose prominent members had come to the (correct) conclusion that Russia was state capitalist. Clearly there are certain limits beyond which criticism of Russia must not go .

The Eurocommunist position on Russia is in fact very similar to that the Trotskyites have been peddling for years: that it is basically a “workers” or “socialist” country but that it suffers from “bureaucratic deformations”. This is nonsense; how can the oppressed and exploited workers of Russia, who are unable even to organize genuine trade unions, be in any way regarded as the rulers there? It is nevertheless a convenient argument that allows those who hold it to have their cake and eat it; they can support and criticize Russia at the same time!

This ambiguous attitude of the Eurocommunists to Russia inevitably calls into question their sincerity when they proclaim a commitment to democracy as an inseparable part of socialism. For how can they hold this opinion, yet at the same time regard the obviously undemocratic system in Russia as somehow socialist? Only by practising “newspeak”, defining democracy in a different way from normal, just as they did in their bad old Stalinist past.

Reformism and Gradualism
Not, we hasten to add, that a thorough break with Russia and a recognition of the class and state capitalist nature of society there would make them any more socialist. It would merely make them more like the Social Democratic parties of Europe or the Labour Party in Britain. The extent to which the Communist Parties of Europe are committed to the sort of reformism and gradualism normally associated With Social Democratic and Labour parties is not often realized, though the evidence is there.

Consider the following statement made by Enrico Berlinguer, leader of the Italian party, in 1973:
The democratic road to socialism is a progressive transformation—which can take place in Italy within the framework of the anti-fascist Constitution—of the entire economic and social structure, of the values and ideas which guide the nation, of the system of power and of the bloc of social forces in which it is expressed (Les PC espagnol, frahcais et italien face au pouvoir, p. 151, our emphasis).
Much the same view is expressed by another leader of the Italian party, Napolitano, in conversations with Eric Hobsbawn recently published in English by Journeyman Press under the title The Italian Road to Socialism.

The strategy of the Italian CP is based on this perspective of a gradual transformation of capitalism into “socialism” through a series of social reform measures passed by parliament. They even believe that this can begin before their party actually participates in the government, through pressure being put on openly capitalist governments to take measures described by Berlinguer as being “of a socialist type”. So what in practice the Italian CP seeks are reforms, reforms of capitalism which are supposed to lead to socialism but which in fact would only strengthen the state capitalist aspects of the Italian economy.

Co-operating with Capitalism
Carillo’s party in Spain (as indeed the Italian and French parties too) envisages co-operating with sections of the capitalist class to begin the supposed transformation of society from capitalism into Socialism! The programme of the Spanish CP adopted in 1975 states that “on the way leading to the socialist revolution there exists objectively an intermediate step” and that
This step is that of political and social democracy, or of anti-monopolist and anti-latifundist democracy. It is not a question of abolishing bourgeois private property or of implanting socialism but of establishing a democratic power of all the anti-monopolist forces, including the small and middle bourgeoisies . . . . (Les PC, etc, pp. 45-6, our emphasis).
Now, what is this perspective of a gradual transformation of society through parliamentary action in collaboration with sections of the capitalist class but the milk-and-water reformism expounded in 1899 by the German Social Democratic Revisionist Edward Bernstein in his book Evolutionary Socialism?

Eurocommunism is a variety of reformism and as such has nothing whatsoever to offer the working class in Europe or elsewhere. And, as long as their attitude toward Russia remains ambiguous, their commitment to democratic aims and methods must remain open to question
Adam Buick