Monday, April 18, 2016

The forgotten tradition of British anti-monarchism (2002)

From the June 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The old Plantagenets brought us chains; 
the Tudors frowns and Scars, 
The Stuarts brought us lives of shame; 
the Hanoverians wars; 
But his brave man, with his strong arm, 
brought freedom to our Lives 
-The best of Princes England had, 
was the Farmer of St. Ives” 
(Lines on Oliver Cromwell in Ramsay Churchyard, Huntingdonshire,1848)

Such sentiment praising Cromwell and the Civil War dismissal of royal tyranny was commonplace amongst the political radicals of the early 19th century. In fact, the popular memory of the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which toppled James II remained strong from the late-17th century. In large part this was due to the continued threat of royal power exercised within the lauded British “constitution”.

Unacceptable to the more progressive elements of the ruling class (still largely landed however), such remembrance of the “Interregnum” (the euphemism by which the Civil War period has become known) served as an ideological weapon in the struggle between royal and parliamentary authority. From the 1770s such anti-royal (though not literally republican) sentiment became intertwined with a political radicalism associated with John Wilkes and others who sought an extension of the suffrage to secure parliamentary dominance over royal authority. Inevitably the working class began to develop a political platform more independent of such “gentleman leaders”, especially during the period following the French Revolution. Thereafter, a popular working class platform combined the “natural rights” republicanism of Thomas Paine with “popular constitutionalism”, a crafty linguistic trick whereby radicals sought to place their demands for democratisation of the British political structure within a legal claim to their “right” to representation within the ancient constitution. Demands for such a constitution and rights, of course, were merely rhetorical flourish, using the prevalent language of the ruling class's defence of its challenge to royal authority from the 17th century.

Within this challenge to the British state by the working class in the early 19th century was a crude threat to privilege and expenditure on the throne and the vast sums spent on aristocratic pensions, palace building and the civil list. The crown, however, as an institution remained outside of this criticism.

What has been noted by many observers has been the absence of republicanism in British history. This is of course not strictly true. The regicide of the Civil War may be regarded as republicanism of sorts, despite being pursued within contemporary religious concerns. The historian Christopher Hill has established the Civil War as the British “bourgeois revolution”, a struggle from which the interests of the rising British commercial and financial interests emerged dominant, i.e. capitalist interests, although the clash of interests between land and capital is not always clear cut and mutually exclusive – a good book on this into the nineteenth century is John Saville, The Consolidation of the Capitalist State (1994).

It is true though that a republican movement did not grow up in Britain as it did in other European states in the nineteenth century but then, as seems fairly obvious, it didn't need to after the defeat of royal authority in the 17th century. Indeed, the early nature of Britain's bourgeois revolution meant that capitalist growth and secular control of its perceived interests went hand in hand with a “constitutional monarchy”, i.e. a monarchy that was increasingly impotent as political force but emerging as a convenient “impartial” figurehead.

Concocted pageantry
With this month's royal jubilee we are being subjected to no end of absurd and expensive pageantry with the usual round of royal documentaries, all giving the line that our glorious monarch is the centre of our “identity” and political stability. Such criticism as emerges will be directed at whether the Queen should step aside for Charles (a debate on the radio as I write) or some such trivia. The crucial impression that is supposed to emerge is that this pageantry has been around for centuries and is bound up with our “national identity”. However, as we have just seen, from the 17th to the mid-19th century, a critique of royalty operated in the political mainstream that attacked the morality of some members of the royal house and the expense of royalty. Although not approaching anything like an ideological commitment to republicanism, let alone a socialist analysis, its existence nonetheless challenges the myth of British politics as shrouded in a deferential and stable past. Such pageantry as we see today is no more than the creation of late 19th century efforts to establish an imperial and domestic symbolic loyalty around a “regal” figurehead external to “politics”.

David Cannadine and Eric Hobsbawm, amongst others, have described this “invention of tradition”. More recent research has gone further and suggested that a strand of “anti-monarchism” has persisted from the late-18th century through to the present day. Anthony Taylor in Down with the Crown (1999) has pointed to the presence of a minority republican radical grouping that surfaced into something like a popular movement, around the liberal Sir Charles Dilke, at the time of Victoria's retreat from public duties in the early 1870s (here it reveals its weakness, ironically being dependent on royal retreat rather than presence). He also points to a radical opposition in the jubilees of 1887 and 1897, which have been seen overwhelmingly as examples of popular frenzy for the crown and empire (seeing it as either a sign of strength or weakness of the late 19th century British empire). A 'Jubilee Version of “God Save the Queen”' from the 1880s, for example, runs:
Lord help our precious Queen, / Noble, but rather mean, / Lord help the Queen. / Keep Queen VicToryous, / From work laborious / Let snobs uproarious, / Slaver the Queen.
A critique of privilege passed from mid-19th century radicalism into the Liberal-Labour politics of the early 20th century. It is from this period that the image of the modern monarch as the impartial figurehead we know today emerged. The attack on privilege increasingly centred on the House of Lords as the practicalities of reformism and the need for patronage impacted on the nascent republican sentiment in the Labour Party. Opposition to the crown was thereafter the territory of the extreme left of capitalism, largely restricted to the “Communist” Party (see, for example, T.A. Jackson's The Jubilee –  and How from 1837 and continuing the old radical attack on expense).

Closer to 2002, the popularity of the monarchy has seriously flagged from its post-war heights in 1952 (although the response to the queen mother's death might signal something of a recovery in time for this year's potential squib of a jubilee). Press voyeurism has undermined its previously cultivated image of a wholesome family example. But such criticism rarely gets beyond the banal chat on the relevance of the crown to devolution and the European Union (Tom Nairn's project), although Tony Benn, the Christian radical capitalist of the Labour left, continues to plug a Paineite project to make us “citizens” and not “subjects”.

Socialists, of course, are unconcern as to whether we live in a republic or a constitutional monarchy – capitalism is capitalism whatever its political label. We must, however, point out the worst lies told about the history of our class. Constitutional monarchy has not always been a comfortable political framework for British capitalism and has always had its critics, including a minority of republicans. Socialists desire a good deal more than a mere capitalist republic. Unlike the left of capitalism, we openly advocate common ownership and democratic control which, for the privileged royal parasites, would mean the end of their vast ownership of resources and their place as sources of political deference and patronage. Like the lines daubed during the 1977 farce: “Stuff the Jubilee”.
Colin Skelly

Busy doing nothing (1979)

From the November 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx made an original contribution to economic theory that has been little noticed and less appreciated. He provided a measure of productivity based on his labour theory of value. As most economists rejected this theory, it was to be expected that they would not see its relevance to productivity.

The concept is a simple one. If at first it requires the labour of 100 workers to produce 1,000 articles, and later it becomes possible for them to raise output to 1,100 articles, their productivity will have increased by 10 per cent. Who could possibly deny so obvious a proposition? Yet most of the people who discuss productivity either reject it or fail to understand what it means. This is partly because of confusion about what constitutes ‘production'. In everyday language a motor car is said to be ‘produced’ by the workers who assemble it, and bread to be ‘produced’ by workers in the bakehouse; but the labour of these workers is only a part of all that required to produce cars and bread. As Marx put it: “We must add to the quantity of labour last employed the quantity of labour previously worked up in the raw material of the commodity, and the labour bestowed on the implements, tools, machinery and buildings with which such labour is assisted.” (Value, Price and Profit, chapter VI).

Let us assume that the ‘previous’ hours of labour needed to produce a commodity are 80, and the ‘last’ hours are 20 - a total of 100 hours. Let us further assume that without additional investment, but merely by simplifying the last operation, it becomes possible to reduce the necessary hours from 20 to 10. It then takes only 90 hours in all, in place of 100. Productivity will have risen by about 11 per cent. But if ‘productivity’ is calculated — wrongly — on the last operation only, it will appear to have increased by 100 per cent. Would anyone be so foolish as to look at it in that way? Well, yes — it is happening every day. A news item about the introduction of a new machine operated by two men instead of the former ten will be presented as ‘two men do the work of ten’, as if the making and maintenance of the machine did not absorb additional labour. So productivity in that example will be said, wrongly, to have been multiplied by five. When a very costly automated plant was introduced in America, it was reported as ‘one worker operating the new equipment produces as much goods as 100 or more workers produced before’.

As Marx explained, the amount of labour that is saved is not the whole saving on the last operating process, but the difference between that amount and the additional labour required for the new equipment (Capital, Vol.I. Kerr Edition, pp.426-7). This is the true measure of increased productivity.

Mistaken Theories
The mistaken theories have been responsible for a continuous enormous exaggeration of the increase of workers’ output, and corresponding false assumptions about the growth of unemployment.

Ironically Marx, before he had worked out his labour theory of value, fell into the trap. He accepted as if it was true a statement by Proudhon that each worker in 1840 produced 27 times as much as in 1770 (Poverty of Philosophy, p.108). In fact, the increase of output was not, as Marx said, 2,700 per cent, but perhaps 100 per cent.

In our own day the Labour Party was responsible for the fantastic statement that ‘‘the application of scientific knowledge and the revolution in the methods of production ... has raised productivity a thousandfold.” (Towards World Plenty, 1952). In 1952 the real increase through and since the industrial revolution was perhaps tenfold.

The consequence has been that every advance in technology - the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, computers and automation - and now the silicon chip - has given rise to prophecies that enormous numbers of workers would soon be out of work permanently.

In 1963 an American conference on automation and full employment declared: “We can ... in the next decade learn to produce all the goods we need in the US with 2 per cent of the working population.” This would have meant that by 1973 98 per cent would be unemployed - in the event it was actually about 6 per cent.

Alongside this, in every one of the score or so depressions of the last two hundred years there have been forecasters who held that the decline of sales would be permanent - the market would never expand again.

This, however, was not Marx’s view. He held that through new markets and the more intensive exploitation of old ones, expansion would in due course be resumed. And in fact, after each depression total production and sales have risen to higher levels than before.

In 1886, after Marx’s death, Engels said that Marx’s view no longer applied. On the basis of quite fallacious assumptions about the increase of productivity, he announced his theory of ‘permanent and chronic depression'. The market, he said, would not grow fast enough, and unemployment (then 10 percent) would go on growing year by year. A few years later it was down to 2 per cent, and Engels returned to Marx’s view.

Kautsky went further and said that the European market would not grow at all but would shrink. Actually, British capitalism's market (the quantities produced and sold) is about five times as large as in 1886, and the number of jobs has doubled.

The idea of the ‘limited market' has persisted. It was argued in 1922 by J.A. Hobson in his Economics of Unemployment and turns up again in a new CIS Report on the New Technology: “There is no expanding economy to cushion the blow and reabsorb \wrkers in new growth areas.”

It is also the theme in The Collapse of Work by Clive Jenkins and Barrie Sherman (Eyre Methuen, £3.50). Jenkins and Sherman say that capitalism is not going to operate in future in the way it has always operated in the past. But to prove this it is necessary to show that some neu factor has emerged, something which alters the economic laws of capitalism.

The authors attempt to show that this new factor is already here. They point to the ‘alarming’ facts that unemployment in this country is 1½ million - and this an understatement; that unemployment in the EEC countries is 6 million, and in Germany 1 million; that the USA has heavier unemployment than Britain; and that many workers are out of work for long periods.

They say that a worker from the 1930s would be ‘surprised’ if they looked at the current scene. But in fact, if they were surprised about anything it would be unemployment. They would say, ‘What, only 6 per cent?’, as also would a worker from any of the past depressions that happened to be severe. In 1858 unemployment was 11.9 per cent, in 1879 11.4 per cent, and in 1886 10.2 per cent. (All of these figures understated the real amount of unemployment.) In 1921 unemployment was 16.6 per cent and the number officially unemployed was 1,803,000. In 1932 the figures were 22.1 per cent and 2,828,000. But as in both years five or six million workers were not insured and therefore the unemployed among them were not counted, the real numbers out of work were much greater. And in the thirties, large numbers of workers were continuously out of work for years. At that time unemployment in the USA was officially 11 million, but the unions said the real figure was 14 million.

Unemployment in the EEC countries in 1931 was 9 million, and in Germany 3 million. In 1932 in Britain, unemployment among coal miners was 28 per cent, blast furnace workers 44 per cent, engineering workers 28 per cent and shipbuilding workers 60 per cent.

So the authors' facts about present heavy unemployment are quite misleading. It isn’t new at all. Their other ‘new' factors are their opinion that productivity will be ‘dramatically’ increased through the new silicon chip technology (as against the average increase of productivity in recent decades of about 2 per cent a year), and that the market will not grow as it has in the past. One indication that capitalism is in fact operating as it always did is the United Nations volume index of world trade. This rose continuously from 1960 to 1974, then dropped back in 1975 (as is normal in all depressions) and has since risen again, by 4 per cent in 1978.

Forecast proved wrong
The authors admit that the forecasts made a few years ago about the effects of automation and computers proved mostly wrong. They accept the continuation of capitalism and competition between the national groups, and much of their advice is concerned with enabling British capitalism to survive by getting into the new technology.

They make some rather non-committal references to Keynes; but what has happened to the dotty belief of their party, the Labour Party, that by adopting Keynesian techniques they could abolish unemployment completely?

A useful part of the book is the attempt to foresee what will be the impact in destroying or changing particular jobs (as distinct from its effect on the total number of jobs). About their expected big increase of unemployment, the authors quote various ‘studies’ which support their views. (They could have quoted others that do not.) On the basis of their analysis, they estimate in chapter 8 what will be the effects of the new technology in different industries, and say that by the year 2000 unemployment will be 5.5 million if the new methods are not adopted in Britain, and 5 million if they are; unless something else is done.
Educated guesses
They admit that they “can only make educated guesses’’. They also say that ‘huge’ investments of capital will be required, but have not seen its implications. Huge investments of capital mean corresponding large employment of workers. And the capitalists will only make huge investments if they are confident that the increased quantities of products will be sold at a profit; that is to say. if there is a big, visible expansion of the market.

The fact is that under capitalism nobody can safely predict the future course of events; how long a depression will last, and how deep it may go; how much the market will expand; and how large future unemployment will be in the world as a whole and in different countries. Until the new technology has been in operation for several years nobody can say what its effect will be on productivity. Indeed, Jenkins and Sherman admit: “No one can say with absolute certainty that the silicon chip-based information revolution will ever reach its full potential, or indeed what the potential might be.’’

They refer to the possibility that limited world resources will, as a consequence of the new technology, be used up “more quickly than anticipated", but they seem not to have taken this into account. As resources arc used up - as, for example, in coal and other extractive industries - more labour is needed to produce given quantities. Because of having to mine at deeper levels and on less accessible scams it is reasonably certain that nearly as much labour is necessary to produce each ton of deep-mined coal as was required 100 years ago without the machines that are now used.

Their guess about coal has already gone wrong. They say that by 1983 the number of miners and quarrymen will have fallen from 341,000 in 1978 to 310,000, but the Coal Board, in order to increase output, has announced that it is recruiting an additional 30,000 miners. (Opening up the new Selby pit is costing £600 million.)

The authors say that the main purpose of the book is to persuade people to adopt a new attitude to work and leisure and give up the idea that work is something to be desired. “The concept of job security should be changed to whole life security. Whether in or out of work, people should be wanted and secure, their families not discouraged, and the unemployed themselves not made to feel inadequate.”

Among the remedies they favour are shorter hours, longer holidays, and paying the unemployed “at round about the national average wage’’. All very desirable, but is it a workable way of running capitalism? And is not a better idea the abolition of capitalism, and instead having production directly and solely for use, without the market, buying and selling, and the wages system?
Edgar Hardcastle

Gentlemen and players (1984)

Editorial from the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Assiduous image-building has succeeded in presenting Margaret Thatcher as a remarkable, even unique, political leader but there is one way in which she is tediously conventional and outworn and that is in the delusions she has nurtured among the people of this country. Delusions like patriotism — the idea that British people (assuming there can be a satisfactory definition of them) are worth at least ten of any foreigner, particularly of French and Argentinian people; or that something manufactured in Britain (even if it is made from parts and material originating abroad) must be much better than a similar article from overseas. Delusions like the insistence that the nuclear, monogamous family offers some inherent benefits and that we should therefore discipline ourselves to live within its repressions, as the people who suffered Victorian England are (mistakenly) supposed to have joyfully lived. Delusions like the propaganda that irresponsible wage claims of greedy workers inevitably result in an inflated currency, which acts like some cancer on society and which must be cured if we are to experience the prosperity which the politicians have been promising us for so long — whether there has been an inflated currency or not. And finally, the delusion that Thatcher's strong leadership has brought a new, stiffer purpose to our lives when before we were spinelessly preoccupied with selfish indulgence of our reckless whims.

It can be said about these delusions that they are at least obvious and defiantly stated; Thatcher seems to take much pleasure in her reputation as an Iron Lady whose stare can dissolve opponents in all the capitals across the world. But one effect of this has been the promotion of an opposite image and of the equally false idea that this offers a useful alternative to Thatcher. Partly because of her ruthless dismissal of her opponents from the Cabinet and partly because of an opportunistic anxiety that Thatcher’s attitudes and image will in the end erode the Tories' support, there has grown up on the back benches a kind of shadow Conservative government made up of sacked or disgruntled politicians. There are people like Francis Pym, whose credo The Politics of Consent was recently published and who was himself once the beneficiary of another's sacking — that of Lord Carrington, who is also among the shadows along with his henchman Ian Gilmour. Then there are the foppish St. John Stevas and the emphatically non-foppish William Whitelaw. Of course we should not call Whitelaw by that name; he was not formally sacked — nothing so terrible could ever happen to so comfortable a figure — but subjected to being brusquely kicked upstairs to the House of Lords.

By any standards these sacked ministers make an impressive bunch of what the political correspondents might call administrative talent (which means that they get into the same mess as the others, but have a talent for it). It all shows that Thatcher does not look at all kindly on any hints of doubt or disloyalty from her henchmen. no matter how popular they may be in the party. Harold Wilson (another one we should no longer call by his common name) who was noted for a squeamish reluctance to throw anyone out of his governments. must be looking on in wonder.

The shadow Conservatives share some notable characteristics. Some of them are aristocrats; their families have for a long time been called by peculiar names and titles and they are allowed occasionally to dress up in an especially strange way. They are all very rich, often with huge land holdings. And they are all gentlemen, with courtesy oozing out of every stripe of the old school tie. They are sure, one feels, to look after their servants and their tenants and they probably think of all that wealth they own. and the luxurious life style that goes with it. as a trust which they hold on behalf of the less fortunate in society. Of course if any of the less fortunate should try to improve their luck with a bit of direct, acquisitive action, or suggest that their masters and mistresses might lay down the onerous burden of their trust, there will be trouble in which courtesy will not be too much in evidence. But for the moment that does not happen and the alternative Conservatives can present themselves in this avuncular light, as the standard bearers for the true, historic Toryism which is supposed to be based on everyone being secure and taken care of in their allotted station in life (even if it is not clear who did the allotting). This is not at all the style of the brash, self-made representatives of Thatcher Britain like Lawson and Tebbit with their rather cruder ideas on the unequal ownership of wealth in capitalist society.

The alternative Conservatives make their appeal — which again is conventional and outworn and is actually very popular in the Labour Party — that the present state of British capitalism results from a deliberate act of policy by Thatcher and her crew. The government, runs the argument, does not have to be as it is; neither does the Conservative Party; neither does capitalism.

If this were true things could be very differently arranged. If Thatcher and Tebbit could by an act of will create a slump it must follow that they could by another such act end it and instead create a boom. We would have the sort of capitalism which has not yet been experienced, totally under the control of the experts and the politicians. totally predictable. In fact none of them have ever been able to do this; it is largely a matter of luck, which reputation a politician gets stuck with in history, dependent on which phase capitalism is going through when they are in power. Politicians must operate within the economic laws and motivations of capitalism; their role is largely to respond, in varying degrees of confusion, to events rather than to fashion them. This is as true for the gentlemen wets like Pym and Carrington as it is for the bone-dry Tebbit and Lawson.

So is there, to adapt a well-known phrase, no alternative? For so long as the working class support capitalism’s existence, the answer to that question must be that no, there is no alternative. There is no benefit in the working class changing their support from one set of politicians to another. Capitalism is not like some benign country estate and it cannot be organised as if it were. It cannot put human welfare in the forefront of its concerns. It cannot be controlled by any leader or expert. It must produce problems like poverty, sickness and war. Workers who are seduced into thinking that things would be different under a government of less abrasive personalities are deluding themselves.

Those few who are not so deluded have the alternative. The problems of capitalism — and among them we can count the system's politicians both roughly obnoxious and smoothly devious — will be abolished by a social revolution which will make the means of life the property of the human race. That revolution must come as an act of will of a politically conscious working class, who understand the choice before them: will it be the anarchy and chaos of capitalism or the order and abundance of socialism? To opt for socialism w ill be a decision for plenty and human harmony. It makes a healthy contrast to what is on offer from all the politicians, whether in power or out — a world of misery and suffering, where our very survival is in doubt.

Funny Peculiar (2016)

Book Review from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Socialism . . . Seriously'. By Danny Katch. Chicago. Haymarket Books. 2015.

Katch has produced what is in many ways an engaging attempt to introduce socialist and anti-capitalist ideas to people who are curious or just vaguely interested. It is a humorous, well-written and produced pocket-sized book that may well serve at least part of its purpose. But there are some flaws – and big ones.

Katch is a member of the British SWP’s sister party in the US and the book is hampered by the type of ideological baggage implied by this. In particular, it fetishes the past from a Leninist point of view and romanticises ‘workers’ struggles’ in the way followers of Lenin and Trotsky are wont to do. This is the case with more recent rebellions like the ‘Arab Spring’ but is more seriously so with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 – an iconic event for the Trotskyist left which defines their very existence but which hobbles their ability to both engage with other workers and develop a revolutionary strategy which doesn’t appear archaic.

Katch does his best to attempt this, but fails miserably. He fetishises workers’ councils (soviets) as the ultimate form of democratic expression for the working class without ever explaining why these arose in Russia and other countries in the first place (backward political development and lack of maturity of bourgeois political democracy). He also – as is the case with most Trotskyists – conveniently forgets to mention that it was the Bolsheviks who smashed the workers’ councils in Russia when they were no longer convenient and did not submit to the iron will of Lenin and his followers. Furthermore, any idea that countries like the US or the UK will in the 21st century spontaneously create soviets as a means of bringing about a socialist revolution sounds fantastical and other-worldly, as indeed it is.

The conception advanced of what socialism is also tends to be confused. There is no clear and consistent sense that it involves the creation of relationships that have rendered the defining categories of capitalism obsolete – ie working for wages, the accumulation of capital out of profits, the production of goods for sale on a market and distribution of goods via prices and money. It usually sounds instead like some sort of hi-tech state-run capitalism planned and administered by workers’ councils and where racism, sexism, etc have disappeared. There is a chapter called ‘Imagine’ where Katch comes nearer to describing a socialist society than most Trotskyists do but he still hedges his bets here, no doubt lest he sound too ‘utopian’.

There is also a slightly odd chapter towards the end on religion where you get the distinct impression he wants to say what socialists think – that religion is a diversion from solving society’s problems and involves beliefs that are not tenable or capable of standing up to scientific enquiry. Yet he clearly doesn’t want to upset the followers of Islam the SWP have been trying to cosy up to for years (on the usual Trotskyist grounds that they think an enemy of an enemy must be a friend). So again he pulls his punches.

All in all, another missed opportunity from a Trotskyist writer probably capable of better.
Dave Perrin

Contradicting Mao (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 10 October 1911, a revolt broke out in the central China city of Wuhan which led to the overthrow of the last imperial dynasty, the Manchus. The Republic of China was established on 1 January 1912, with Sun Yat-sen as provisional president. When Sun was forced to step down China fragmented into a number of regional units governed by rival warlords, but the party he created, the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang. remained the dominant political force.

Sun Yat-sen himself was basically a nationalist and republican with few concrete ideas as to the sort of society he envisaged in place of Manchu rule. He did have some vague notions, derived from Henry George, of taxing land values so as to promote economic progress. But quite apart from the fact that Sun was never in a position to implement his ideas, there was no possibility of such a policy winning support among the Kuomintang’s landlord backers. Sun's successors in the party leadership, especially Chiang Kai-shek, surrounded themselves with at least the trappings of dictatorship. and evolved no true economic or social policy at all beyond general support for the status quo. This didn’t stop individual members of the party becoming fantastically wealthy capitalists but it did mean that industrial development was confined to coastal cities like Shanghai. In the countryside, where ninety per cent of the population lived, conditions tended to worsen under the Republic, with a growth of absentee landlordism and the partial ruin of home industries. The capitalist nature of the Kuomintang was seen in its vicious attacks on the workers, especially in Shanghai. Nevertheless. it was a landlord party too, and was thus unable to disturb class relationships in the countryside.

The Chinese 'Communist' Party was established in 1921. Its leaders claimed to be socialists and used much of the phraseology of Marxism, but when they spoke of socialism they had no conception at all of the working class emancipating itself by the establishment of a classless society. Instead, their ideas were stridently nationalist, with 'the Chinese people' (everyone bar the largest landowners and those industrialists linked to overseas capital) seen as oppressed by imperialism and alien domination. Their political tactics were subservient to the aim of ending this oppression so that 'the people’ could rule themselves and develop their own economy. Such development could not be anything other than capitalist, no matter how much pseudosocialist rhetoric was employed.

At first, following the instructions of advisors sent from Russia, the CCP concentrated on organising the small (in relative terms) urban working class, but with a distinct lack of success. One leader after another was forced humbly to admit his errors (though never the main one, which was that of following Stalin too slavishly). Meanwhile, at least one CCP member had come to realise that the way to power lay not via the cities but in the countryside. Mao Tse-tung had been present at the party's founding meeting. By 1927 he was proclaiming the 'revolutionary'’ potentiality of the peasantry, having seen that the way to disturb the rural status quo was not by ineffectual laws reducing rents but by getting the peasants themselves, under the party's watchful eye, to dispossess the landlords. Mao's policies received official sanction at the Sixth CCP Congress held in Moscow in the summer of 1928. The experience of the Chinese Soviet Republic in parts of Kiangsi Province from 1931 to 1934 showed that large areas could be brought under the party's control provided that these were in the countryside and some land redistribution was practised. The Kiangsi era was ended by a Kuomintang blockade; the Red Army broke through the encircling troops and embarked on the six thousand mile Long March. They reached the north-west of China in late 1935, eventually making their capital at Yanan. It was on the Long March, at a conference at Tsunyi. that Mao Tse-tung at last prevailed over his various rivals and opponents. He was elected Chairman of the CCP, a post he held for over thirty- years until his death.

In Yanan the party declared war on Japan. Since the end of the nineteenth century. Japan had gradually been occupying parts of China. After taking over the important industrial base of Manchuria in 1931, the Japanese invaded the rest of China in 1937. successfully conquering the main cities and communication lines in the north of the country. Their aim was quite simple: to make China and its inhabitants serve the needs of expansionist Japanese capitalism by providing grain and raw materials. Requisition of food from the already poverty-stricken peasants was carried out with a quite ruthless efficiency and did much to drive the peasants into support for the CCP (Mao Tse-tung said as much himself). The CCP were able to control vast rural areas of northern China where the Japanese could rarely penetrate: by 1945 they had charge of an area of a quarter of a million square miles.

Civil war
After the Japanese surrender there was a short-lived United States attempt at mediation, followed by a full-scale civil war between CCP and Kuomintang forces. The Red Army found little difficulty in defeating the demoralised Nationalist troops. Chung Kai-shek and his cohorts retreated to the island of Taiwan, having first removed there three million US dollars' worth of gold and foreign currencies. Thirty years ago this month, on 1 October 1949. the founding of the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in Peking by Mao Tse-tung.

The CCP had been brought to power by peasant armies, with a policy in the many areas already under its control of confiscating land from the rich peasants and landlords and distributing it to poorer peasants. Its attitude to private rural industry was one of protection and encouragement. Its support among the urban working class was small, while plenty of capitalists were prepared to stay behind rather than join in the flight to Taiwan; as it turned out, their interests were to be pretty well looked after.

The first three years or so of CCP rule were partly devoted to reconstructing the war-ravaged economy. The power of the landlords and of the lineages (kinship-based organisations especially strong in the south) was broken. The Agrarian Reform Law of 1950 paved the way for redistribution of land in favour of the poorer peasants throughout the country. The aim, however, was not simply to reduce inequality in the countryside: Lin Shao-chi said at the time:
The basic aim of agrarian reform is not merely one of relieving the poor peasants. It is designed to free the rural productive forces from the shackles of the feudal land ownership system of the landlord class, in order to develop agricultural production and thus pave the way for New China's industrialisation.
The immediate follow-up to land reform was collectivisation, which was implemented in stages from 1952. First, resources were pooled in mutual aid teams, then forty or so households were grouped in a co-operative, and then from 1958 the communes were established as the rural economic and political units. Agriculture was now subservient to national economic policy. Under the Manchu and earlier dynasties, the landlords had used the surplus extracted from the peasants for conspicuous consumption or for the purchase of education for their sons, with very little being devoted to agricultural improvements such as irrigation works, and even less to commercial enterprise of any kind. Under the communes, the agricultural producers are proletarians rather than peasants, and the surplus is still there (forty per cent of production, according to some accounts) but it is now appropriated by the state by way of capital accumulation.

In industry, in contrast, there were no major changes in the early years. Most enterprises were left in the hands of private capitalists (though Kuomintang-owned concerns were nationalised). From the mid-fifties private companies were brought into joint state-private ownership, and then became wholly state-owned. The capitalists received fixed interest payments and often continued to work in their old factories as managers. The subject position of the factory’s workers was not affected; under the new state capitalism they were still wage slaves.

And what of the results, after Great Leaps Forward, Cultural Revolutions and Gangs of Four? Foreign capitalist firms are now allowed to invest in projects in China and take out the profits. The former private capitalists still constitute a wealthy elite. Unemployment is now admitted to be a huge problem. A bellicose foreign policy has led to the invasion of Vietnam. Truly, the aims of the CCP’s founders have been realised; China is no longer the plaything of other nations and has become an established member of the club of capitalist states. Much has altered in China in the last thirty years, but it remains a class society, with rulers and ruled, oppressors and oppressed.
Paul Bennett

Free the airwaves! (1984)

From the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rapid development of the technology of communications makes present social relations more and more outdated with every day. The obstacle to a more free use of these exciting new channels is the same as that which has held back the spreading of knowledge for hundreds of years: the fact that a minority class possess and control the means of communication just as they do the means of production in general.

In 1637, under a decree of the Star Chamber, whipping, the pillory and imprisonment were to be the penalties for publishing without the consent of the licensers, who were headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In later years, an invidious “tax on knowledge" known as the Stamp Duty was the slightly more subtle method used to prevent the majority of the population making "subversive" use of their growing literacy. In 1831, however, and in defiance of the Stamp Duty laws. Henry Hetherington brought out the Poor Man's Guardian, a "weekly newspaper for the people, established contrary to law, to try the power of ‘Might’ against ‘Right', price Id”. On the front page, in place of the official government red stamp was a black one inscribed “Knowledge is Power", with a drawing of a printing press and the words "Liberty of the Press”. The first paragraph of this journal is worth quoting from, if only to demonstrate the difference between this early working-class paper, and its latter-day name-sake, the Liberal Man’s Guardian:
No more evasion; we will rot trespass, but deny the authority of our "lords" to enclose the common against us; we will demand our right, nor treat but with contempt the despotic "law" which would deprive us of it.
The Stamp Duty was finally abolished in 1855, but not before Hetherington had served a prison sentence for his pains.

The capitalist state is a coercive machine and overcomes the sporadic resistance of individuals and groups by resorting to force or the threat of it. But it could not survive for long if it had constantly to use such brutal (and costly) methods. In the course of the nineteenth century in Europe there gradually evolved an ideology of reformism, the intention of which was to replace repression with placatory gestures to accommodate the working class into the administration of their own exploitation. This presented the ruling class with a dilemma on the question of working-class literacy. As a Justice of the Peace was quoted as saying in 1807:
It is doubtless desirable that the poor should be instructed in reading, if it were only for the best of purposes — that they may read the scriptures. As to writing and arithmetic, it may be apprehended that such a degree of knowledge would produce in them a derelish for the laborious occupations of life.
 In 1870, this dilemma was solved through the enactment of the Education Act. which provided for a standard system of state-controlled schooling, capable of manufacturing the raw material for modern industry: literate, numerate and disciplined wage-slaves. The tradition of independent working-class self-education continued to flourish, however, in Mechanics Institutes, in bodies such as the Workers Educational Association, and through the carefully preserved bookshelves of knowledge passed down from one generation of workers to another, cherished for the relevance of their contents to the problems which confront workers: the works of Marx and Engels, of William Morris and Robert Tressell.

The early twentieth century witnessed an explosion of large-scale communication technologies, once again under the strict and stifling control of the state or of private business interests. In 1984, more than one hundred and fifty years after the publication of the Poor Man's Guardian, it is still illegal for anyone to broadcast publicly over the airwaves to others, without the (unlikely) approval of the BBC or IBA. The 1949 Wireless Telegraphy Act allows the Home Office almost total power to control and regulate the use of the frequency spectrum. The capitalist class monopolise the land and factories across the world (including the state capitalist Russian empire); the air itself, however, is no more immune from this tragic abdication of responsibility for our world and lives which we make by allowing a minority to possess that world.

The 1930s saw the evolution of the new culture industry, with an increasingly uniform state-regulated leisure entering the sway of the world market. In marketing communications as a commodity in itself, huge profits were accumulated. The big telecommunications multinationals such as IBM. ITT, Western Electric and AT & T are usually to be found on the list of top ten US companies today.

Of course, there have continually been attempts at various levels to evade this monopoly. In 1962 a young Irish businessman. Ronan O’Rahilly, tried to promote a recording of Georgie Fame and came up against the power of EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips, who between them cornered 99 per cent of the market. All the radio stations, including Radio Luxembourg, were working hand in glove with these companies, so O’Rahilly founded Radio Caroline. In 1967, however, the Labour government’s Marine Broadcasting Offences Bill outlawed all the pirate stations and later that year the BBC’s new 4-channel radio service came into operation with Radio One as a pop channel, all safely under the control of the (Labour administered) capitalist state.

Communications technology in the twentieth century has been developed according to the needs of profit and, as a corollary to this, according to military needs. By the mid-seventies there were, according to NASA, about 3,700 satellites in space. Of these, only a handful were communications satellites; the vast majority served the military establishments of the superpowers, in command and message systems, logistics, interception and surveillance.

Under capitalism, the latest advances in communication technology will be used to improve the efficiency of profit accumulation while dividing people more and more from one another and from their own self- determined needs. For example an advertisement for one of the home microcomputers on the market speaks of the delights of "balancing the family budget" (working out what you can no longer afford after splashing out on the computer) and of "the fascination of controlling your own private little world" as being "addictive".

With the advent of socialist democracy, there could be a great proliferation of multilateral communications systems. We must forget the false division between the passive entertainment of the media and the active process of education. In the words of Brecht, “Radio must be changed from a means of distribution to a means of communication". But for the devices at the disposal of humanity to be used to enhance, rather than obstruct, the democratic control of society, we must replace the social relationship of employers and employed which permeates the world today with social relationships of equality and co-operation:
A microphone is not an car, a camera is not an eye and a computer is not a brain . . . as we design technological systems, we are in fact designing sets of social relationships. (Mike Cooley, Architect or Bee?)
The forms which communication takes will be directly related, in other words, to the form which society takes. If we are to start communicating with one another globally on the sophisticated level which modern technology has made possible it is a social revolution, rather than a technological revolution, which is urgently needed.
Clifford Slapper