Monday, May 9, 2016

Is Parliament a Sham? (1973)

From the February 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Writing in the Socialist Worker for 11 November, Duncan Hallas contends that Parliament is (1) “a sham”, (2) “a show to deceive the public”, (3) “a charade”. Otherwise it is not too bad, presumably. He says: “Parliament still matters, but its importance is largely ideological,” and: “It serves as a front behind which the ruling class conduct the struggle to preserve their wealth.”

Hallas’s evidence for the impotence of Parliament is that the government of the day does not consult Parliament but goes in for “direct negotiations with the TUC and big business as in the case of the Industrial Relations Act”; and a quotation from Professor J. Mackintosh who wrote in his book The Government and Politics of Britain that:
the old nineteenth-century role of Parliament as a body which chose the Government, maintained it, and could reject it, has gone 
the life of a back-bench M.P. becomes unsatisfactory, and offers little scope for achievement.
Effective Representatives
Hallas also tells us “There was a time, roughly from the seventeenth to the beginning of this century, when Parliament was in fact, as well as in law, the supreme policy-making body.” Says our scribe, quoting from Professor Plumb: “No member of the ruling class was kept out of Parliament if he wanted to get in.” But today, says Hallas, “Parliament does not contain most of the big-business bosses, bankers and financiers . . . and therefore all the important decisions are taken outside Parliament”. 

How, may we politely ask Duncan Hallas, does he prove the ineffectiveness of parliament by stating that the government negotiates directly with the TUC and CBI? Was the Industrial Relations Act read three times to the whole House of Commons and did a majority of MPs vote for it? Obviously, they did: it became law. What is this nonsense that MPs “were not consulted”? They approved the policy on which the Cabinet conducted the detailed negotiations, apart from the fact that the Cabinet (the government) is supported by a majority of the majority party in the House of Commons.

As for the statement that Parliament is no longer Parliament because it “does not contain most of the big business bosses, bankers and financiers, or the important Trade Union leaders” — there are only about 600 seats anyway, so Parliament could never "contain” all these people. But whether it does or whether it doesn’t: so what? The important point is that it contains representatives of the big-business bosses who get elected to Parliament because the electors vote for them. Incidentally, we would question the statement that Parliament no longer contains bosses or bankers.

Old-hat Appeals
But what is the inference behind all this mullarky about Parliament being “a sham”, “a show” and “a charade” (they used to call it the Gas Works too)? It is the old, old, antiquated, exploded, bankrupt notion that the workers can achieve their aims outside of, and therefore in opposition to, Parliament and the government. It is a popular idea with impatient frustrated workers who are not clear on the nature of Socialism and think (if it can be called thinking: "feeling” is more like it) that fighting "the day-to-day struggle” and "partial struggles for limited ends” in some way promote Socialism. They do not. No amount of marching, demonstration, strikes, rent-strikes, boycotts, etc., etc., makes the slightest contribution to the Socialist objective.

The workers can march the shoes off their feet, and in some cases literally have, for any reform they fancy from "ban the Bomb” to “lower rents” and "abolish the non-cohabitation clause”. It all does precisely nothing for Socialism. The very fact that they are doing this shows that they want the reform of capitalism.

If the International Socialists regard Parliament as a sham, what is their "revolutionary party” going to do? Are they going to refuse to nominate candidates and contest elections? If not, will their candidates fight on a straight Socialist programme? And will they then stop supporting the Labour Party at elections? If they fight the elections on the reform slogans in their present programme they may get more votes than the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Though "Nationalization of the Land, Banks and major industries” is a bit moth-eaten and many of the major industries — steel, gas, electricity — are nationalized already.

In a further article in the same paper for 18 November, Hallas expresses the view that the State machine will not obey the orders of a Socialist Parliament. The judges and police will not enforce laws repressing private ownership, the generals will not suppress pro-slavery rebellions. This is backed by the usual Marxist quotation employed by Lenin:
One thing especially was proved by the Commune, namely that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes.
From this Lenin concluded that the working class must smash the State machine. What Marx and Engels had in mind, obviously, were the bureaucratic excrescences of the French Empire. In other words, a parliamentary Socialist majority will dispense with those parts of the State machine that Socialism does not require.

When you think it all out, the end determines the means. If you think that the only way to get Socialism is to persuade a majority that capitalism cannot be reformed in their interest you must be in favour of electoral methods. What the workers will do with their political power when they take it, nobody can know in detail. Whether it will need the help of force remains to be seen. If on the other hand you stand for:
"A Minimum Wage of £25 a week."
"Five days’ pay for five days’ work.”
“Equality for Women.”
“Against secret diplomacy."
“Against Nuclear Weapons.”
“National Liberation.”
“Nationalization of the Banks."
—and many other things, you are not International Socialists but National Reformists. (Anyway, probably the best way to alter those things is Parliament.)

Final Arbiter
The people who count in the end are the voters. If they won’t vote for Socialism, they won’t fight for it outside Parliament. Anti-Parliamentarianism, at bottom, is the old Anarchist-Syndicalist Direct Action nonsense, which leads directly to the prison cell and the firing squad. And the policemen and soldiers who will quell the riots, like the judges and warders who commit rioters to prison, are recruited, paid and instructed by a government department — headed by a Cabinet Minister, instructed and appointed by Parliament.

Fair Shares or Free Access (1973)

From the January 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most common clich├ęs to emanate from the ranks of the tin-pot reformers and muddled leftists is the idea of creating a society based on “fairness" and “justice”. A typical example of this comes from Richard Crossman who believes that, for a Labour government,
It is the duty of the state to plan the use of our national resources so as to maintain work for all and ensure fair shares of the national income between different sections of the community. (Towards a Philosophy of Socialism; New Fabian Essays, 1952.)
Socialists are not taken in by this kind of sentiment. We know full well that “our resources" cannot possible be used rationally for the benefit of all within the context of capitalism. People such as Crossman believe it is possible, by means of welfare and taxation reforms, for a Labour government to run capitalism in the interests of the working class. In fact, any redistribution of wealth which does take place does so within the capitalist class. What the Social Democrats are incapable of grasping is that, given a capitalist mode of production, a capitalist distribution must follow. They would do well to read Marx who, when criticising the German Social Democratic Party for demanding a "fair distribution of wealth”, asked:
What is a “fair distribution”? Do not the bourgeoise assert that the present day distribution is “fair”? And is it not in fact the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise from economic ones? (Critique of the Gotha Programme.)
Socialism will not be a system of society based on “fair shares" or shares of any kind. The word “share" is a concept only applicable within the context of a society in which scarcity is an ever-present feature, in which there is a constant struggle between competing groups for scarce resources. Because of the immense technological strides made by capitalism, it will be possible, in a society organised on a socialist basis, to produce such an abundance of goods, that far from having any proceeds of sharing out, the principle will be “to each according to his needs.”

Just as objectionable, from the socialist point of view, is the use of the word “fair”. Those who use this word imply that there is some abstract and universal principle of fairness or justice and that the task for Socialists is to construct the world according to these eternal principles. Such an idea is a denial of scientific historical materialism. Ideas and principles do not exist in a vacuum, apart from the rest of society, but on the contrary are brought into being by the society in which they exist. It may be true to say that ideas have a life of their own, and may perpetuate themselves after the need for them has disappeared; but, in general, ideas grow out of the material basis of society and, once the material basis of an idea has died, the idea will die with it. All ideas must be seen as part of the historical development of man. This is the basis on which Engels poured scorn on the Utopian Socialists, summing up their ideas as follows:
If pure reason and justice have not hitherto ruled the world, this has been the case only because men have not rightly understood them. What was wanted was the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and who now understands the truth. That he has now arisen, and that the truth has now been understood, is not an inevitable event, following of necessity in the chain of historical development, but a mere happy accident. He might just as well have been born 500 years earlier, and might then have saved humanity 500 years of error, strife and suffering. (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.)
Socialists emphatically repudiate the utopian and moralistic notions of “fairness” and “justice” as irrelevant and meaningless. When the working class establish Socialism they will be motivated not by any abstract principles but by their class interest in ending the system which deprives them of the wealth which they alone produce.
Brendan Mee

Forgotten Objections to Socialism (1934)

From the October 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Time brings many changes, and among them a reversal in the attitude of the firmest opponents of Socialism towards their strongest objections.

Not so very long ago “leaders” of industry looked with bitter antagonism at any suggested interference in industry by the State. Socialism was opposed partly on the ground, so they said, that it represented such State interference. Nowadays, however, national governments (Fascist and otherwise) are glorified just on account of this State interference, and in industry after industry, leading representatives appeal to the State power to take action in one or another direction.

The old ideas of free competition have become obsolete, and the arguments built upon them have been forgotten by the anti-Socialist. Endeavours are common now to obtain agreements between sections (with government assistance) for the restriction of output or the destruction of surpluses, and for other varieties of a process which aims at balancing production against consumption.

It used to be urged that Socialists proposed providing people with uniform clothes and uniform houses. Governmental housing schemes have been a common feature of the last decade, and the objections made by supporters of capitalism have been that the schemes are not large enough or thorough enough.

The Nazis and the Fascists, the most thoroughgoing opponents of Socialism, have so far forgotten the “uniform” objection of the past that they want to dress us in shirts that only differ in colour from country to country.

How often have we heard, in days gone by, Socialism likened to the alleged paternalism of the Incas of Peru. But our paternal governments appoint officials to make sure that the unemployed have no savings hidden away, that we cross the roads at right places, that we truly inform them of what money we earn, that we properly cover our nakedness, and in many other ways display an inquisitorial interest in our private affairs.

From childhood onwards we are taught to appreciate how much we depend upon “great men" in all spheres of life, and we are urged to place our trust in them as leaders of thought and industry. But as soon as a “great man" loses his place, the public Press is full of vilifications of him. Whether he he a politician, a general, an admiral, an industrial magnate or an artist, it does not matter, he is torn to pieces in print. Those who escape this fate when alive are usually subjected to the process when dead, as witness the voluminous literature in the form of memoirs, letters, and so forth published every year.

And so the hens come home to roost, but the fact is usually forgotten, and the objections to Socialism to-day will become the bulwarks of capitalism to-morrow.

A Eurogamble for the casino economy (1997)

Editorial from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

It seemed that Chancellor Brown had come up with the perfect fudge: Britain will not join the Euro Single Currency for at least the duration of this parliament and then only if it is “viable”. Whilst the government attained the luxury of “waiting and seeing” the Tories could continue to tear themselves apart.

The logical corollary of such a policy has meant the government telling the capitalists to prepare for eventual EMU entry, which apparently will occur “when the time is right”. The party battle lines are now clearly drawn. The question is: will the Euro be New Labour's undoing?

The Euro is the EU's answer to a world becoming increasingly divided into regional trade blocs and spheres of influence. The idea is that a strong EU will give European capital its best chance of competing against the USA and Japan.That this bloc is likely to be dominated by Germany is a gamble some supporters of British capitalism are prepared to take.

Of course, many commentators talk of globalization and the efforts of the World Trade Organisation to reduce trade barriers but this only masks the fact that global capitalism is having a hard time of it. Yes, the world economy is globalized by virtue of the unprecedented capital flows flying around the world. But herein lies the problem. The vast bulk of these capital flows concern mainly unproductive “investment” in equities, government bonds and in currency speculation. Hence the recent situation of stock markets starting to crash around the world in order to “correct” what has been a massive overvaluation in comparison to real growth in the productive economy. The Euro is no solution to this.

With the capitalist class in Britain seemingly divided on the Single Currency and broader public opinion, sceptical to say the least, it currently seems that it would be a brave move for the government to advocate membership of something which is more of a political gamble than an economic panacea.

For the productive majority—the working class— whatever we are paid in we will still be exploited. With or without the Euro, capitalism will still mean economic crises, austerity and financial insecurity for the majority.

Obituary: Phil Mellor (1997)

Obituary from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Phil Mellor was 31 when he joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1943. He remained an active member for the remaining 54 years of his life. Outgoing, ebullient, energetic, he never tired of questioning and challenging but always with the terrific sense of humour which, whether you agreed with him or not, endeared you to him and, if you were his friend, made him an important part of your life.

It was the SPGB's opposition to war during the second world slaughter which brought the Party to Phil's attention and made him apply for membership. He would tell you, however, how he already had the Socialist idea of a moneyless, wageless, frontierless world before he met the Socialist Party. His own experience of life and work had led him to the "one world” idea and nationalism in particular he saw as an evil monster that set people against one another when what they needed was to be brought together.

When the public meeting was more popular than it is now. he would make a point of attending opponents’ gatherings and putting to their speakers questions which were awkward to answer to say the least. He had specific questions for specific parties and one in particular that sticks in the memory is his asking a Welsh Nationalist candidate whether, in the event of Wales gaining its independence. Wales would have its own army, navy and air force.

But his interests were by no means all political. He had a great love and admiration for animals, which translated itself, especially after the death of his wife, into his keeping (or at least feeding) several cats. He also loved sport of all description, but as for everything else he never accepted the status quo passively and was always advocating thought-provoking ways in which various sports, football for example, could be improved to increase what he call the “skill factor”.

He never wearied of putting the Socialist ease, often with great vehemence, to all those he met. But he used to say that, though he’d like to see Socialism established in his lifetime, even if it wasn’t he’d still have benefited enormously from being a socialist. The understanding of how things worked had taught him, he said, to make sense of what happened in the world and therefore gave him an inner serenity. He knew that life was not just a random set of happenings over which no-one could ever have any control. He firmly believed, in other words, that the understanding socialism gave you enabled you to live a better and more balanced life within the confines of capitalism. Despite his age, his death in early July after a short illness was a shock to all of us. He had always been fit and seemed immortal. And Phil himself always said that he was “completely anti-death”. His passing has left a hole in our lives and in the lives of so many other people, both inside and outside the Socialist Party.
Swansea Branch.

"Democracy" comes to Liberia (1997)

From the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Towards the end of July this year, Africa’s oldest republic— Liberia—held its first free and fair elections since its birth in 1847.

As had been widely anticipated, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party won a landslide victory—the same Charles Taylor who attempted to take power by force back in August 1990 and whose efforts were largely responsible for the ensuing seven-year-long civil war that brought Liberia close to socio-economic destruction, a conflict as bloody as any West African state had witnessed since Biafra’s attempt to secede from Nigeria back in the 1960s.

For the superstitious, it is paradoxical that the number seven meant nothing but bad luck for Liberia, for this is how long their civil war lasted, and that the number 13 now holds out hope. This is the 13th attempt that Liberia has made at resolving the conflict since 1990—all past attempt, under the auspices of Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States), having gone up in flames.

Whether Liberia is entering a new and real period of "relative” democracy is anyone's guess. For one thing, ethnic and factional tensions are still simmering and only half of the 60,000 combatants of the recent conflict have handed over their weapons to Ecomog—the joint West African peace force that has supervised the country during the elections. For another, both the US and Nigeria want to lay before the world a "peace’’ they helped to orchestrate— Nigeria's General Sani Abacha because of next year’s elections in Nigeria and the US because of their failure in Somalia and elsewhere to finally shed what may be seen as US responsibility to its former colony.

There is another reason for viewing Liberia's newly-won ‘‘democracy’’ as illusory. Namely that for many voters. Taylor was a pragmatic choice. Most of Liberia’s largely illiterate population still view Taylor as a powerful demagogue, holding him in fear and awe and seeing him as possessing the keys that can both open the doors to further destruction or reconstruction. In this light it is easy to see why Taylor's vote could well have been premised on the assumption that had he lost he could have used those same keys to Liberia’s detriment.

Critics have suggested that Ecomog—charged with monitoring Liberia’s first six months of democracy—are more interested in the lucrative spin-offs their stay will bring (access to resources such as timber, rubber and diamonds) than the peace they are supposed to watch over.

And neither will the US be turning down the opportunity to make a few quick dollars.They have indeed several geo-political interests in Liberia such as the world’s largest rubber plantation set up by the Firestone Rubber Company in 1926 and an Africa-wide communications network that from a US viewpoint can only be of use to serve the capitalists back home.

As always, bourgeois democracy comes at a high price to African countries and Liberia is no exception. Over 150,000 lost their lives in the recent conflict and the country’s economic and physical infrastructure has been decimated. Further upset is undoubtedly on the horizon as Taylor, sitting in his Executive Mansion faces the pressure from a population’s high expectations.

As can be expected, a fraction of what is required will only ever be delivered to those Liberians in greatest need. The real winners, in time-honoured tradition, will be those Liberians and foreign investors who own and control the means for producing and distributing wealth.

The greatest and saddest irony is that 150 years after Liberia was declared a republic (26 July 1847), a colony founded for freed slaves, the country is still inhabited by slaves, albeit wage slaves, and the only real freedom they can enjoy is that involving the sale of their physical and mental abilities to the highest bidder in order to survive.

In a country ranked 158 on the United Nations Human Development Index of 174 countries, with an unstable ruling class and an unpredictable leader at the helm of a society ravaged by poverty and war, democracy has a somewhat hollow sound.
John Bissett

Tolpuddle Rally 1997 (1997)

Party News from the September 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The annual rally to commemorate the Tolpuddle Martyrs has become a feature of socialist activity in the south.This year on a hot summer's day in July members and supporters from London, Wiltshire and Dorset were involved in setting up a socialist literature stall.

In recent years the event has become somewhat sedated as a lot of the people who have in the past attended regularly, such as Labour Party activists, have become disillusioned first with a succession of Conservative governments and in recent years with the Labour Party turning itself into an alternative Conservative Party and then in May a new Conservative government.

Despite a quieter atmosphere the event is still a good one for selling socialist literature and discussing with people who are looking for a way forward in the political environment of the late 1990s.

It is also a most enjoyable way of putting forward the socialist case—the middle of the Dorset countryside on a lovely summer’s day talking and exchanging views with other socialists, debating with various other political organisations and hopefully converting a few more members of the working class to socialism.With the sandwiches, drinks and a few young children running around it is very much like a socialist picnic.

When most people had walked back past our stall in the late afternoon, we slowly packed away the literature and counted up the sales, which this year amounted to around £37, then if you like, a quick or not-so-quick pint or few pints at the Martyrs Inn, a few goodbyes and back to our various destinations.

Yes, a very enjoyable way to spend a Sunday. We will be back there next year, hope to see a few of you as well
Ray Carr

Human Nature? (1934)

From the September 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The critics of the Socialist case are legion, but the diversity of their arguments is very limited. At street corner or in public hall, from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, in Great Britain and abroad, one hears the same arguments, couched in similar words, from those who would refute the case for Socialism. It would almost appear as if they vied with one another in their efforts to be unoriginal.

One of these stock arguments is the one which the Socialist designates as "The Human Nature argument.” It is frequently the first question which rises to the lips of the but recently interested worker, and it is often the last line of defence of the opponent who has been driven from every other point of vantage by the logic of the Socialist case.

It is usually worded thus: “Ah! But you cannot change human nature”; or “Socialism is desirable, but human nature would not allow it.” However the query is worded, the answer is the same—the Socialist calls upon the members of the working class to organise consciously and politically for the capture of the machinery of government in order that this machinery may be used to establish a Socialist system of society. A revolutionary proposition this, which human nature and the laws which govern social development demand. Let us explain.

First of all, what is this human nature? What is there in the nature of human beings which can prevent the establishment of Socialism? It is the nature of the human being to be social. Man is essentially a social being, not merely because he enjoys the companionship of his fellows, but out of sheer necessity. It has been a part of the process by which man has evolved from a lowly primitive state to his present "exalted” civilised condition. Had he not developed a social sentiment early in this process of evolution, even before he assumed the form of man, the species would have become extinct. And to-day no one ever dreams of man living the life of a Robinson Crusoe, with, of course, the possible exception of some imaginary beings who people the textbooks of the orthodox economists and capitalist apologists. So let us repeat, it is the nature of humans to be social.

“Ah!” we can hear the critics saying, “that’s agreed, but man, having become a social being, then proceeds to behave towards his fellow men in a most unsociable manner.” Therein our critics reveal their error, for in using the word “behave” they expose their illogical argument. Human nature and human behaviour are not quite identical, although one is the product of the other. We have said that man has become a social being out of sheer necessity, likewise his behaviour is determined by necessity, the necessity to live. Man needs to live and in order to live he must have food, and some shelter from the elements. It is in order that he may procure these that he enters into relations with his fellows, or, in other words, forms society, and it is the manner by which he procures his subsistence that determines the relations entered into, or, the form which society takes. When, as was once the case, the method of obtaining the necessities of life was by the use of such primitive tools as the bow and arrow, then men's relationships were framed accordingly, and most certainly did not include such relations as those of employer and employee, nor did this early society include such institutions as trade unions. The means of production being primitive, and, in consequence, each member of society being able to produce only just sufficient for his own maintenance, it was not possible for one man to enslave another. A man who needs to devote all his time to obtaining the things necessary for his own existence is useless as a slave and so, in primitive society, the institution of slavery did not arise. Men lived in tribes, and within the tribe the things necessary to the tribe's existence were communally owned. This determined the behaviour of tribesmen to one another. Many explorers and travellers have testified to the behaviour of men living under such conditions, as, for example, the following.

Lewis Morgan, who lived for a considerable period among North American Indians, in his book, “Ancient Society,” wrote: “If a man entered an Iroquois house, whether a villager, a tribesman or a stranger, and at whatever hour of the day, it was the duty of the woman of the house to set food before him. If hungry, he eats, if not hungry, courtesy required that he should taste the food and thank the giver.”

Likewise, Paul Lafargue, in his “Evolution of Property,” quotes from James Adair's "History of the American Indians": “To be narrow-hearted, especially to those in want, or to any of their own family, is accounted a great crime, and to reflect scandal on the rest of the tribe."

The same author quotes Catlin, who also lived among the wildest of Indian tribes in North America, as saying: "Morality and virtue, I venture to say, the civilised world need not undertake to teach them.” And men behaved like this when, and because, the means of life were commonly owned; and the means of life were commonly owned because it was the necessary form of ownership at that stage of social development.

Just one other of Lafargue's references from the book already mentioned, a quotation from the Jesuit Charlevoix: "The brotherly sentiments of the Redskins are doubtless in part ascribable to the fact that the words MINE and THINE, . . . are all unknown as yet to the savages. The protection they extend to the orphans, the widows and the infirm, the hospitality which they exercise in so admirable a manner, are, in their eyes, but a consequence of the conviction which they hold that all things should be common to all men.”

Since those times, in Europe at least, the means of production have evolved from the bow- and-arrow stage to the present highly complicated machine stage. The spear has given place to the plough, the hand-operated machine to the modem mechanical wonder, the horse-drawn cart to the motor-car, or steam-driven or electrically-driven train or tramway system. Hand-in-hand with this development has gone on a change in the relationships between the individuals who make up society and a corresponding change in the social form, until to-day we live in capitalist society wherein the relationships are based on the private ownership of the means of living, with the consequent division into classes of those who own these means and those who own nothing but their ability to work, their labour-power.

Within capitalist society production is for sale, even the energy of the workers. Before the worker can draw his wage he must sell his energy, for which the wage is the price. Before the capitalist can draw his dividend the products of the workers' toil must be sold. Buying and selling —always buying and selling. It is the very essence of the system we live under. Worker must compete with worker in an effort to sell his labour-power; shopkeeper must compete with shopkeeper; combine with combine; nation with nation.

Competition implies struggle, struggle means strife. Woe to him who gives up the struggle, the penalties are heavy. Nations fight it out in wars, combines seek to establish and maintain monopolies, shopkeepers cut prices and the losers pass, by way of the bankruptcy court, into the ranks of the dispossessed, there to compete with millions of others for an opportunity to sell their labour- power to the highest bidder. Each must scramble with his fellows to get the necessities of life and can only rise by climbing on the backs of others.

It is this that determines human behaviour—the necessity to get a living. It is this that our critics call human nature. It is this that makes men Socialists. It is this that determines that Socialism must follow capitalism. Human nature has not changed since man first appeared, nor will it while he exists; but human behaviour—that undergoes a process of continuous change. The workers to-day, realising more and more that their cut-throat behaviour results in a weakening of their power to resist the encroachments made on their conditions by their masters, are changing that behaviour, as witness the manner in which some, who, although disagreeing with the actions of fellow workers in trade disputes, frequently “fall into line” in order to assist in an attempt to achieve some improvement of their lot. The development of society has produced a working class, and that class has evolved its own class conduct, its own behaviour of members towards one another. Class-solidarity it is usually termed, but no matter what it is called, it is part of human behaviour, and when the working class shall overthrow capitalism and establish a system of society in keeping with its own and society's interests, then that new form will, in its turn, determine human behaviour.

The Socialist does not propose a “change of heart,” but a change in the basis of society, a change from private to common ownership of the means of living. No Utopian idea this, but a dire necessity determined by social development. Not the struggle of a sect, but an historical revolutionary movement, guided by principles based on a scientific investigation of society and the laws which govern its development.

When man has access to the wealth he produces, and has no further need to struggle and compete with his fellow men for a portion of that wealth, then, and not till then, will his behaviour correspond with his nature and become social. There can be no “peace on earth” while there remains a class society; there can be but little" “brotherly love” whilst there is capitalism. The solution lies not in exhorting men to be charitable to their enemies, but in establishing a Socialist society wherein men will not be angels, but just men; wherein competition will give place to co-operation, and all humans, without distinction of race or sex, will live secure, full, and pleasurable lives.
W. Waters

Letter: Fascists and Communists (1934)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received the following letter criticising a statement contained in our July editorial: — 

Clapham, S.W.4. 
July 3rd, 1934.

Editorial Committee.

Dear Comrades,

            Re Editorial, July issue, 1934, referring to Blackshirt meeting at Olympia, I am astonished when you say that they, i.e., members of the audience, "only got what they asked for,” surely this should not be the considered expression of a Socialist organisation when referring to members of an audience who make slight interruptions. It is apparent from eye witnesses’ accounts (see Daily Herald, June 9th, 1034) that interruptors were brutally treated; you put it rather mildly when you say they were "roughly handled," for people to be knocked unconscious, then kicked.

Even, as you say, that "those who went to the Fascist meeting with the intention of creating disorder and making the meeting impossible," that is no justification for the excessive violence that was used in removing interruptors, and for you to say (I cannot help repeating) that they "got what they asked for" is beyond my comprehension. What an amazing expression. I am sorry to see such expressions appearing in Socialist Standard

The remainder of article I am in perfect agreement. 
Yours faithfully, T. W. C.

In the first place we think that our correspondent has misunderstood somewhat the meaning of the passage he criticises.

Among the audience at Mosley’s meeting at Olympia on June 7th there were a large number of people who went there simply to hear what Mosley had to say. Among this section of the audience there were some who did what is customary at public meetings, they made interruptions of the kind not usually objected to by public speakers. There were others at the meeting who quite obviously went there for the deliberate purpose of creating disorder and making the meeting impossible. It was of these latter and not the former that we said they "only got what they asked for, and have no reason to complain if they were roughly handled."

That does not mean, as our correspondent thinks, that we approve of the violence of the Fascisms who organised the meeting, or that we consider that the amount of violence they used was not excessive for the purpose of putting out the interrupters.

We strongly disapprove of all violence used in political discussion, because we know that, no matter from what quarter it comes, it is harmful to the working class and to Socialism. The capitalists use their control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, to suppress working class resistance. That that is contrary to working class interests needs no arguing. Fascists, under the usual pretence of promoting the welfare of "the public" or even the interests of the workers themselves, are prepared to use violence at their meetings, probably because they believe it has some value to them as an advertisement. That violence, wielded by an organisation which stands for capitalism, is every bit as harmful to working class interests as is the violence used by other defenders of capitalism.

Lastly, we have the Communists and others preaching civil war, advocating armed revolt and street fighting, and boasting of their activities in the direction of organised interference with public meetings of all kinds. Every one of these forms of violence is directly and unqualifiedly anti-working-class in its effects, even although those who are responsible for it believe that they are helping the workers thereby. Violence of this kind is harmful because it distracts the attention of the workers from the real problems of winning over the majority to Socialism and of capturing the machinery of government; because it gives the capitalists an excuse to suppress Socialist propaganda and to drive organisation underground; and because it prevents the workers from hearing and considering either the merits of the Socialist case or the hollowness of the Fascist case.

Those who organise or encourage such activity are to be condemned absolutely from the standpoint of working class interests and Socialism.
Editorial Committee

Family Circle (2016)

Book Review from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists'. By David Aaronovitch. (Jonathan Cape. 2016)

Aaronovitch is not, it is fair to say, universally popular as a political columnist but this book shows another side to a quite complex individual, centered on his upbringing and early life in the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is for the most part engaging and well written and there is much here that anyone familiar with radical and revolutionary politics will be able to identify with.

His father was Sam Aaronovitch, a working class full-time Communist Party official who later became an academic, while his mother Lavender was a radical activist and equally fervent in her leftist and pro-Soviet views. They were contemporaries of well-known CPGB activists like John Gollan, Jock Nicholson and Peter Fryer, and Aaronovitch deftly analyses their North London social and political milieu. This book is an attempt to explain why they thought as they did and to explore the cultural environment and reference points of those who set themselves in this way outside the mainstream of society. In this respect, it is a personal exploration of what it means to be ‘the other’ and how political ideology was reflected in music, holidays, food eaten and a range of other ostensibly non-political activities that were nevertheless impacted by the sense of being different and apart from the mainstream.

While the CPGB had its own distinctive internal culture and identity it would be churlish to deny there is a wider resonance here of sorts, including with organisations like the SPGB that have had a similar ancestry in the self-educated working class ‘autodidactic’ tradition. This has been a tradition often at variance to the prevailing attitudes and codes of behaviour in society (from say, negative feelings towards religion, to refusing to sing the national anthem at school).

In some respects there are interesting parallels with the approach taken in Alexei Sayle’s 'Stalin Ate My Homework', though compared to Sayle what this loses in humour it perhaps gains in terms of psychological insight. Aaronovitch is impressive in his analysis of psychological attitudes and responses in the CPGB towards the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 (including why some members left at this time while others reconciled themselves to stay), the Czechoslovakian events of 1968 and then the long decline of the CPGB from the 1970s. He takes in the split with the hardline so-called ‘tankies’ in 1977 and the final dissolution of the organization in 1991 with the founding of the Democratic Left. But by then the Party had been over for him for some time and this book is the culmination of many years – decades even – of soul-searching about his upbringing and involvement in it.

Some of what emerges about Aaronvitch’s family background is clearly uncomfortable (his father was an adulterer and it appears that the family were the thinly-disguised subject of a chapter in a well-known book by the psychologist Robyn Skinner, consequent on a series of family therapy sessions they had with him). There is a sense of some score-settling too as the book progresses, though this doesn’t detract too much from what is an otherwise insightful work. It is mainly an autobiographical and sociological account rather than an expressly political one perhaps, and it would have been interesting to have explored more closely at times the political assumptions that lay behind the belief in so-called ‘actually existing socialism’ in the Soviet Union and its satellites. For this was not a ‘socialism’ that degenerated over time, but a complete mirage from the outset, and one the CPGB were at pains to promote and uphold despite all the evidence to the contrary from 1917 onwards.
Dave Perrin