Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Enemy on the Left! - Liberation Movements (1973)

The Enemy on the Left! column from the May 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

A regular column dealing with the antics of those who call themselves socialist but in practice do nothing but harm to the cause.

If we are talking of liberation movements, I suppose that the most remarkable success story has been achieved in Africa where in the course of a comparatively few years, something like four-fifths of the coloured population of the continent has been liberated from the rule of the white imperialists. Pretty well without exception, all the countries now ruled by native governments claim to be socialist (which is about as monstrous a misuse of the term as can be imagined). In this the coloured governments differ from the white rulers who still hold sway in the southern part of the continent. But one thing is common to all the dozens of countries in the whole of the vastness that is Africa — from Cairo to the Cape there is not a solitary foot of ground where a single vestige of freedom exists. In every single state, the only place for those who differ from the government is in prison, or the grave.

Black workers and peasants in countries like Kenya and the rest suffered great hardships in the struggle to oust the white rulers. And having achieved what they were conned into thinking was liberation, all they have actually got is an iron dictatorship almost invariably far harsher than the British or French who were supplanted. As as for material conditions, it is worth noting that in the course of a campaign initiated recently by the Guardian to expose the starvation wages being paid by white employers in South Africa about which all good liberal types are so righteously indignant, there appeared one letter in the paper from some courageous type in Kenya (who may or may not have been writing under a pseudonym) which said that the wages in that country were far lower than those which were being so violently (and of course correctly) condemned in South Africa. And this despite the fact that the cost of living was higher in Kenya. Such are the fruits of liberation. And lest any reader of the Guardian should imagine that this letter might be phoney or in some way exceptional, one needs only to recall the atrocious advert by the Nigerian government which appeared in that paper (and which was quoted at length in the Socialist Standard in October 1972) which canvassed potential employers with the promise of rather cheap black labour — sixpence an hour. Needless to say, the hypocrites on the Guardian who accepted the payment for that advert, conducted no crusade against the black government of Nigeria although these wages were but a small fraction of those being paid in South Africa. The reason is simple. Black is beautiful and the trendy lefties cannot get hot under the collar at the vicious regimes which have the advantage of being fashionable — and good for circulation.

When will workers, black or white, learn that the only liberation that counts is from the thrall of capitalism?
L. E. Weidberg

The Decline of Patriotism. (1911)

From the January 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our capitalist masters are apparently anxious about a matter of first importance to their country. For ages they have been able to rely upon the working class to take up arms in defence of their exploiters’ property; now, however, according to Lord Esher, an eminent authority, things are changing. “Under our present system,” he says in a recent article in the National Review, “we purchase annually for the Regular Army, in peace, the bones and muscles and youth of about 30,000 of our countrymen. We keep them a few years, then we throw them away and take in a fresh supply.”

“ We,” of course, means the capitalist class. The working class is represented by the bone and muscle which is purchased. It is evidently as bad a case for the workers on the military field as on the industrial. When they are no longer of any value they are cast aside like a sucked orange.

The writer complains with regard to the Regular Army, that it has been difficult of late years to obtain the necessary number of recruits. If with our ever-increasing army of unemployed, from the ranks of which 95% of the recruits are drawn, they cannot obtain a sufficient number, there must indeed be a serious lack of "patriotism." Our masters have blasted in the past that every true Englishman was prepared to die for his country. Evidently the number of Englishmen with any country to defend is rapidly diminishing. Little as there is in life for the average worker, rather than lay it down for his country he would hand the flower-pot over.

Esher’s chief grievance, however, is against the “ Territorial force.” He says that it cannot be denied that the numerical test is the only real test. So no longer is an Englishman accounted the equal of any dozen foreigners. That, at all events, marks no less a breakdown of our insular ignorance than of our insular pride and arrogance. In addition, the perfection of weapons is much the same the world over, and it is more than ever a question of weapons, while on the physical side, the advance of capitalism in this country is accompanied by such bodily deterioration as leaves us precious little “bone and muscle” worth the capitalists’ money on the battle-held.

Our ruling class can see that their Continental rivals are determined to obtain as large a share of the markets of the world as possible, and that sooner or later this must culminate in worldwide disruption. Hence their anxiety on the score of "patriotism.” Lord Esher gives expression to his anxious thought in the suggestion that "patriotism” is an attribute of the empty-headed. “ How can you expect,” he writes "recruits for your Territorial force, when you dress them unbecomingly?” One paper, commenting upon his noble lordship’s article, suggests “a scarlet coat and a towering headdress” as the most effective appeal to the " patriotism ” of the working class, though whether on the old, tried and trusty ground that those who have least in their heads must make the greatest show on them, or on the later calculation that now the workers are discovering how little country they have to fight for they may be induced to fight for their togs if only they are sufficiently removed from the hum-drum drab of the corduroy to enable them to forget that they are countryless workers, does not transpire.

But signs are not wanting that the master class are misjudging the workers there. What the army and navy stand for is being too clearly demonstrated by such events as Featherstone, Hull and Grimsby, Belfast and Tonypandy at home, and the French postal and railway strikes abroad. However empty-pated the ingrained cynicism of our exploiters may deem us, such lessons could not be lost upon us. Even the head of an ostrich, hidden in a gorgeous and “towering headdress,” would begin to experience some mental quickening upon finding itself rudely unbonneted by a policeman’s baton, and invited to take a glimpse at the armed and serried ranks of Patriotism in the adjacent vicinity. Nor is it altogether wisdom to flaunt "the famous deeds done by His Majesty’s regiments” (to use Lord Esher’s words) when the last reeking inscriptions on the tyrants’ banners were writ in the blood of unarmed British workers on British soil.

Lord Esher does well indeed to suspect that "there may be deeper causes at work” than he speaks of. There may be deeper causes even than he knows of—which is not the same thing by any means. To the “sirocco of democracy withering in our people the spirit of public sacrifice” which he darkly hints at he might add that the development of capitalism is showing "our people” who is really meant by the "public" which demands such continual and considerable sacrifice.

Lord Esher sees "conscription” looming in the background. Of course it is not hailed with delight, for it seems to be recognised that if anything is necessary to complete the workers' education on the matter of “patriotism” it is conscription. The compulsory bearing of arms to defend that which they themselves (as at Tonypandy) are batoned and murdered for looking darkly at would be too incongruous, too significant, for even the most gullible of our class. Once the blinkers are stripped from the workers eyes, the issue is one of sheer undisguised force—hence the capitalist class lament and tremble at the decay of “patriotism” among the workers, for they read doom in the force of a class-conscious proletariat.
J. R. R.

Planning - a cautionary tale (1994)

A Short Story from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

His mind mulled the words tangibly, "Frank is wrong! He is wrong and I can prove it from my own experience!" He said: "I’m not wrong, Nigel: I said capitalism is a system of economic anarchy and that it could not be planned. Obviously, I did not mean that all the plans made within capitalism were doomed to failure".

He felt silly carrying on a conversation with himself and, yet, as his mind flicked over the arguments that had passed between himself and his brother he was surprised at how fluent he had become in Frank’s arguments. As he tossed the papers into his briefcase he said audibly to an absent judge: "He's shifting the goal posts, now that I have proven him wrong!"

"Goodnight, Mr Wynn", said Grogan, rattling his keys pointedly. It was nearly eight; he wasn’t particularly late tonight but he knew Grogan secretly cursed him for always being the last out. Sometimes, if Nigel arrived before eight in the morning, he had to wait in his car for the man to arrive, despite the fact that he had four hours off in the middle of each day. Only last week, Nigel had mentioned to Personnel that he thought Grogan wasn’t worth the seventy pounds a week he was paid.

The BMW purred its way gently through the traffic. He drove more slowly than usual, enjoying his thoughts - his supreme triumph! The letter of confirmation had arrived from Sir James that morning. His mind had rioted and it was all he could do to suppress his excitement in front of his secretary. Later, Mr Deasy had phoned him to see if there was any news and, as he thought now about it, he marvelled at the adroit, matter of fact tone he had managed to maintain as he told his managing director that Harrington’s had accepted their tender for building the plant.

Deasy could not restrain his excitement: "Which tender? Did we get more than one?" He seemed close on the phone. Nigel could hear his breathing. "Oh, all three tenders, the entire plant and the auxiliary service area!" He was enjoying this; it was his prize. “Jesus! Bloody great! You did a cracking job, Nigel. Look . . .  I have to say this . . ."  "Sorry, Mr Deasy, what was that?" Let the bastard repeat it; he had resisted Nigel’s plans every step of the way!

"Nigel", there was real contrition in the voice and Nigel waited expectantly, ”I know I gave you a hard time. You worked so hard on this bloody thing. It was your baby, your scheme; it was all your planning. And you've won through! I can tell you, Nigel, I was terrified . . .  all the new plant, the premises - Jesus, the work on the drawings, even, cost a fortune! We were in away over our head - you know, of course that, had it gone the other way. we were down the tube. I can tell you that I have not been sleeping too well lately! But congratulations. You’ve pulled it off. Fantastic!”

He smiled quietly to himself in the comfort of the BMW. He knew they were all terrified but he was supremely confident because he had planned cautiously and carefully. He had compiled information on every aspect of the scheme and, though he was excited with the outcome, it had not really come as a surprise. He thought absently about Sir James. It was pretty obvious that he had made a personal hit with the chairman of Harrington’s. Maybe ...?

As he turned into Oulton Road he turned on the radio. He might get Alice to go with him over to Frank’s tonight. He thought of all the lost arguments with his brother -  sometimes he thought bloody schoolmasters had nothing to do all day but read books that contributed nothing to real knowledge. It was easy for Frank, he had a retentive memory and could rime off facts and figures that supported his arguments in favour of Socialism. But this time I have him, thought Nigel. What the hell did Frank know about real capitalist planning?

"City new's . . .", his hand reached out in the dark to increase the volume of the radio. "In the City this afternoon, dealings in Harrington’s shares were suspended when, following the collapse of its European subsidiary, twenty two million pounds were knocked off the value of the company. Our financial correspondent says that the European subsidiary, Girard and Brock, had run into cash flow problems arising from the failure of the Mexican government to meet payments on the giant Arana project. A spokesperson for the Company said . . . "
Richard Montague

The Overthrow of Non-Democracy (1973)

Book Review from the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy at Gunpoint: The Greek Front, by Andreas Papandreou. Deutsch.

Andreas Papandreou, the son of the veteran Greek republican politician George Papandreou and now a leader of the opposition in exile to the Greek colonels, here gives his personal account of the events leading to the Greek military coup on 21 April 1967.

The book starts off alright, but towards the end degenerates into a series of quotes. What makes it interesting for Socialists is that Papandreou clearly shows that even before April 1967 Greece was not a proper political democracy, i.e. a country where the State machine, including the armed forces, was under the control of a popularly-elected government. There was indeed a popularly-elected government, but this never controlled the Army. Not that most postwar Greek governments, being composed of conservative politicians favourable to the King and the Army, wanted to.

Papandreou describes the political structure that emerged in Greece after the war in these terms:
. . .  a secret para-governmental machinery composed of army cliques had developed a solid hold on the reins of State power.
. . .  a constitutional dualism gradually emerged, with the institutions of a democratic régime existing within the overall structure of an authoritarian State.
So in pre-1967 Greek political democracy was a façade. And when the threat of a parliamentary government that would try to establish a genuine political democracy in Greece appeared, the façade was dropped and naked Army rule established by military coup.

The 1964 elections gave the opposition Centre Union, led by George Papandreou, a parliamentary majority. Andreas, who was himself for a short while a Minister in his father’s Centre Union government, describes this party’s programme thus:
The Centre Union represented the party that was committed to making Greece a modern European state. Politically, we were committed to changing Greece from a garrison state to a modem democratic State.
Clearly a threat to the Army/Palace Establishment (and CIA, since America equipped the Greek Army and relied on it to play a key role in NATO). By various political intrigues, including the bribing of some Centre Union deputies, the Establishment was able to bring about George Papandreou’s resignation as Prime Minister and to replace him by a series of their puppets. But, in the end, fresh elections had to be agreed to. The date was fixed for 27 May 1967. The Centre Union, this time made even more determined by its experiences to break the power of the Establishment and to set up a political democracy in Greece, was expected to win again.

On 21 April some Colonels staged a military coup. Actually two coups were being planned; one by the King and one by these Colonels. The Colonels were first off the mark. An unsuccessful royal counter-coup in December led to King Constantine going into exile. But both groups of plotters had the same basic aim: to prevent the Greek armed forces coming under the control of a popularly- elected parliament and government.

This Greek coup has become part of the Leftist argument against our policy of trying to establish Socialism peaceably through the use of existing democratic political institutions. But, as we have just seen, the political situation in pre-1967 Greece was not at all like it is in, say, Britain or France or America or other places where there is a workable, though limited, political democracy. Parliament in Greece did not control the coercive side of the State machine. It was a façade. A coup in such a situation to stop the State machine coming under parliamentary control has no relevance whatsoever to the chances of a majority Socialist working class using a State machine already under parliamentary control as an instrument to establish Socialism.
Adam Buick

What can a capitalist do? (1973)

From the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Well, who is a capitalist?” A question we Socialists are often asked. Recently the Sunday Times (11 February) has provided us with an outspoken analysis of his social and economic role by "that big bastard Bentley, a millionaire at 32” (his words).

How did he do it? Simple, really. With Jim Slater’s financial backing, he bought up “soft” companies, i.e. those with more potential than the City realised, and then sold off the bits he didn’t want, thereby covering his outlay, "which means that he ends up with what he does want, all for nothing”.

Rather on the defensive, Bentley emphasised the useful role of the capitalist in ensuring the efficient use of capital: "I make the very best use of a firm’s reserves when I take over.  . . .  When I arrive, the ray of sinecures, of directors promoting their nephews, is over. It’s good news when I arrive. Shareholders are thrilled . . . What I’m trying to do is to get a return for every piece of plant, every pound spent, every person employed”.

He was rather aggrieved at his unpopularity in the City, where "asset-stripper” is one of the criticisms levelled at him: the hyper-efficient capitalist represents dangerous competition. He went on to say significantly: "I’m a realist and I realise that the mood of the country is against people like me . . . It’s not just that being a capitalist is a dirty word today. Profit is a dirty word. Even money is a dirty word!”

So now the fun has gone out of the game, a game which he compares to the competition of archery or spear-throwing: "It’s just another form of animal behaviour. You’ve got to be fighting fit to survive.” And having reached his goal, he looks around for something “socially useful” to do. (I’ll bet he gets not a few begging letters from charitable concerns!) For Bourgeois Bentley, as for the rest of us, the recognition that "profit is a dirty word” must be followed by action designed to remove the dirty reality of the profit motive from man’s social relationships. This is socially useful activity, useful not just to one section of the community, but to all the human race, the whole family of man.

He has also realised that money brings power: power which can be used to preserve the capitalist class and its profits, or to aid its unfortunate victims — the homeless, the destitute, the disabled who can’t keep up with the aggressive competition of capitalism’s rat-race, or politically to try to soften its harsh and bitter realities by reforms. But none of these is going to make much difference in the end, since they do not deal with the root cause of man’s pressing social and economic problems, namely the organisation of society for production for profit.

A Socialist society — call it communist if you like: names are not that important — producing to satisfy human needs, i.e. for socially useful purposes instead of for profit, will not have to waste and dissipate its resources on war and waste, nor will it have to worry over poverty problems. So if Honest John Bentley is seriously interested in an efficient society, he should examine whether capitalism, where the worker owns and controls neither the tools of production nor the raw materials nor any part of the end-product, is not more than ready for the scrap-heap. It could hardly be called efficient!

He says he "stands back and sees the whole picture, working out the overall strategy”. He’s "all for Communism in theory” (like many others today he uses the term Socialism for state capitalism) — well, let’s see him relate theory to practice. Let’s see him work to bring about a society where work will not be a four-letter word, due to the exploiting relationships of capitalism. Let’s see him help the exploited workers by joining their movement for one world, a classless society where the dirty reality of profiteering from others’ sweat will have vanished and where humans will no longer be divided by man-made barriers of class, religion or racism. No longer wolves dismembering a rabbit, no longer the competitive rat-race, but social cooperation of civilised homo sapiens: surely a worthy goal for any poor devil of a millionaire looking for "socially useful” activity?
Charmian Skelton

Debate on the Labour Party (1949)

From the April 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The debate between Frederic Mullally, supporter of the Labour Party, and our Comrade Turner at the Fulham Town Hall on February 28th attracted a large audience. The large hall was completely filled.

F. Mullally, in opening the debate, said that the Working Class had already made up its mind which party it would support and it supported the mass organisation—the Labour Party. He admitted that there were some individuals in the Labour Party who were as reactionary as some of the Tories. But the Labour Party believes that it can use the Capitalist Class to achieve Socialism. The Working Class did not expect the Labour Party to be able to introduce Socialism for years, maybe, decades. Socialism would not be established overnight, but by well directed, well planned endeavour. Economic chaos would follow the sudden expropriation of Capitalist property, which includes many small shops and factories. What was needed was a planned programme, which avoided any Capitalism. It would be necessary to make compromises. That would be a first instalment and would result in an advance in the material condition of the Working Class and in its standard of living, with the result that support would be gained for a second instalment. The S.P.G.B. propounds pure Socialism day in and day out, hut the Working Class is tired of the worn out catch phrases of this sectarian party. The S.P.G.B. should not waste its great wisdom outside the great mass organisation. One talk, one pamphlet, one speech, one debate inside the Labour Party would do more for Socialism than all the thousands of street comer meetings, pamphlets issued and other activities of the S.P.G.B.

A. Turner commenced by stating that the Working Class should support the party that aimed at abolishing the problems that beset society as a whole and the Working Class in particular. Socialism would do this, so Socialism must be defined. It must be a world wide system in which there will be a community of interests. The privileges of ownership will disappear. There will be no production for profit, all goods will be produced for need. There will be no banks or insurance companies, no money, no profits, no rent, no interest. Poverty and other problems will continue as long as there are Capitalist owners and most of the people are wage and salary earners. The competition between Capitalists grows more intense and leads to greater wars. Whilst wages continue, so will Capitalism. Socialism is not merely the taking away of industry from the Capitalist owners, it is the handing over of industry to the whole of mankind. Taking from one set of owners to give to another does not benefit the workers. When the Labour Party came into existence it was to get Socialism in a quicker way than the way advocated by the S.P.G.B. It was going to do things in a hurry. Now it has slowed down the pace and accuses the S.P.G.B. of being in a hurry. In parts of the world where Labour Governments have held power they have left the Capitalists in greater power than they ever were and have prepared the ground for people like Hitler. Turner concluded his first address by asking his opponent three questions : (1) Is the Labour Party a Socialist Party? (2) Is Nationalisation Socialism? and (3) Can Nationalisation strip the Capitalist class of its ownership?

Mr. Mullally came up for the second round with the statement that the Labour Party is not practicing Socialism and that he had never said that it was. In reply to question one he said that there were good Socialists in the Labour Party and their hopes rested in an ultimate Socialism. To question number two the answer was “NO". But it was a step to that end. Nationalisation was the only practical policy as an alternative to Capitalism. Answer to number three. Rather than confiscate, the Labour Party bad decided to compensate. They had considered the hardship that would be caused to many Capitalists, especially the small ones. They were not concerned with dogma but with humanitarianism. They were going to anaesthetise the rentier class. By a process of taxation on incomes and death duties, the Capitalist Class, will, during our lifetime (voice from audience) "commit suicide." The S.P.G.B. was not in contact with the real issue. The British Working Class was concerned with the day to day issues such as unemployment, health service and that their children were well shod. The S.P.G.B. had a record in the struggle against Fascism that was not so good as that of some Tories. If the Working Class had followed the S.P.G.B. Hitler would now be over all Western Europe.

Turner replied. In answer to the Labour Party claim to be humanitarian he quoted the cases of dismissals from employment in Nationalised industries and the threats of dismissal to strikers. If Nationalisation was a step towards Socialism, why did the Labour Party oppose Fascism? Fascists like Franco, Pilsudski, men like Bismarck and our own Tory Party had introduced Nationalisation. When the workers made some move to get more wages or do a little less work, it was the Government that put the machinery in operation to oppose them. The Labour Government was no exception. The S.P.G.B. was small and its funds were but a tiny fraction compared to those of the mass Labour Party. If all those millions of pounds of funds and all that effort had been directed to the achievement of Socialism we should have been much nearer the day of its establishment. But the money had been spent on supporting two world wars and in getting power to use the Emergency Powers Act Mr. Belcher, during the recent tribunal, had said that it was a part of his job to talk to business men about their problems. The Labour Government never thought of talking to the workers about their problems.

In his final speech Mr. Mullally said that the S.P.G.B. way to Socialism would make for a major economic crisis in the country. The Labour Party would remove private ownership tidily, orderly, and with its eyes on the objective. The S.P.G.B. should be renamed “The Party of Permanent Opposition.”

Turner concluded by claiming that the S.P.G.B. was proud of its war record, it took its stand on the basis of internationalism. But the Labour Party has found new menaces, new fascisms, new concentration camps and forced labour camps in another part of the world and is preparing for another war. He, Turner, was pleased that at least one member of the Labour Party, his opponent, had repudiated the claim that the Labour Party was Socialist.

At this point the chairman, referring to Turner’s statement that the Labour Party claimed to be a Socialist Party, said that Turner should not make such statements without documentary evidence. The necessary evidence was immediately supplied from the Labour Party Election Address, “Let us Face the Future,” Dealing with the taxing out of existence of the Capitalist class Turner mentioned that when Sir John Ellerman died, £21,000,000 was taken in Death Duties from his £40,000,000 estate, but in a few years the Ellerman fortune was up again to £50,000,000. The S.P.G.B. was sometimes referred to as a monument to Socialism. That was preferable to being a movement to destruction like the Labour Party.
W. Waters

Editorial: Another “ Lost Leader.” (1911)

Editorial from the January 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. D. J. Shackleton, late “Labour” M.P., upholder of the black legging labour exchanges, apologist in general for the Liberal party, has at length received due reward for services rendered. The devil looks after his own. The capitalist Liberal Government, in elevating Mr. Shackleton to the position of Labour adviser to the Home Office, has again emphasised the fact, so often retailed by us, of its willingness to buy any material (however soiled) that it has found in the past, and expects to find in the future, useful in its struggle against the rising force of Socialism.

Mr. Shackleton, while ostensibly representing the interests of the workers in the House of Commons, has, in fact, with almost unprecedented effrontery and cynicism, taken every opportunity of leading support toward maintaining and furthering the interests of the employing class. The Liberal capitalists, with their usual astuteness, have seized an opportune moment for the appointment of Mr. Shackleton to his new post. Seeing all around signs of a more or less articulate Labour protest, they have executed an excellent stroke of business by taking under their direct control a man with a first-hand knowledge of the trade union movement, and Shackleton will no doubt earn his salary.

While members of the working class remain in their present condition of political ignorance, leaving their affairs in the hands of “leaders,” there will continue to be desertion and betrayal. On the other hand, if they were conscious of their position as a class, if they had no leaders and refused to be followers, little or nothing would be gained by capitalism or lost to Labour by the “ratting” of one of their number. Such a man, having no followers, would go alone. The probability is, however, that many more of their “leaders” will be lost before the absurdity of following any man or men dawns upon the workers. Burns, Mitchell, Bell and Shackleton, have all been offered and accepted their price. It is hardly conceivable that the inestimable services to capitalism and Liberalism of such men as Ramsay MacDonald (supporter of child-labour) and Philip Snowden (apologist for the Featherstone and Belfast murders) should be overlooked.

Lenin: a socialist analysis (2004)

From the January 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was sixteen his brother was hanged for complicity in a plot to assassinate the Tsar. Later, he himself got involved in anti-Tsarist revolutionary activity, was arrested and spent three years in prison in Siberia. In 1900 he was exiled, eventually settling in Switzerland and adopting the pseudonym “Lenin”. He founded and was the leader of the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903. After the revolution of February 1917 Lenin returned to Russia and in October he led the Bolsheviks to power in a coup. When he died in January 1924, most of the main feudal obstacles to capitalist development had been removed, together with all effective political opposition.

The socialist analysis of Lenin and his legacy is different from the Cold War propaganda which can still be found in books such as Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, published in 1996, which depicts Lenin and the Bolsheviks as forerunners of Hitler and the Nazis. The socialist argument against Lenin is based on the evidence that he distorted what Marx claimed and thereby damaged socialist theory, pursued political action that was against the interests of the working class and dragged the name of socialism through the mud.

Starting with What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin said: “the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.” Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries rather than a parliamentary party, drawn mainly from the petty-bourgeoisie, and organised as a vanguard party. But in 1879 Marx and Engels issued a circular in which they declared the opposite:
“When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois” (Link).

It must be noted however that Lenin's elitism was consistent with the outlook of the Second International. As Hal Draper has written: “The fact is that Lenin had just read this theory in the most prestigious theoretical organ of Marxism of the whole international socialist movement, the Neue Zeit. It had been put forward in an important article by the leading Marxist authority of the International, Karl Kautsky.” (The Myth of Lenin's Concept of The Party, Link). The difference between Kautsky and Lenin here was over who was to lead the workers beyond “trade-union consciousness”, though historically Lenin's interpretation that this should be a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries has been more influential. By contrast, when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in 1904 it repudiated leadership as a political principle and insisted that the emancipation of the working class really had to be the work of the working class itself.

False distinction

Lenin was not the first to describe socialism as a transitional society, but through his followers, he turned out to be the most influential. In Lenin's Political Thought (1981), Neil Harding claims that in 1917 Lenin made “no clear delineation” between socialism and communism. But in fact Lenin did write in State and Revolution (1917) of a “scientific distinction” between socialism and communism:
“What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the 'first', or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production become common property, the word 'communism' is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism”(Link).
The first sentence of this quote is simply untrue and Lenin must have known this. Marx and Engels used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably to refer to the post-revolutionary society of common ownership of the means of production. It is true that in his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Marx wrote of a transition between a lower phase of communism and a higher phase of communism. Marx held that, because of the low level of economic development (in 1875), individual consumption would have to be rationed, possibly by the use of labour-time vouchers (similar to those advocated by Robert Owen). But in the higher phase of communism, when the forces of production had developed sufficiently, consumption would be according to need. It is important to realise, however, that in both phases of socialism/communism there would be no state or money economy. Lenin, on the other hand, said that socialism (or the first phase of communism) is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which there is both a state and money economy. According to Lenin:
“It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!… For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary.”

But Lenin failed to see what this would involve. In effect, the theory of “socialism” as a transitional society was to become an apology for state capitalism.

In terms of its impact on world politics, Lenin's State and Revolution was probably his most important work. This was derived from the theoretical analysis contained in his earlier work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). Lenin's theory of imperialism demonstrated to his satisfaction that the whole administrative structure of “socialism” had been developed during the epoch of finance or monopoly capitalism. Under the impact of the First World War, so the argument ran, capitalism had been transformed into state-monopoly capitalism. On that basis, Lenin claimed, the democratisation of state-monopoly capitalism was socialism. As Lenin pointed out in The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It (1917):

“For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly” (original emphasis, Link).

In State and Revolution Lenin claimed that according to Marx work and wages would be guided by the “socialist principle” (though in fact it comes from the christian saint, Paul): “He who does not work shall not eat.” This was eventually adopted in the USSR Constitution of 1936 and amended to read: “to each according to his work.” as a “principle of socialism.” Marx and Engels used no such “principle” and they made no such distinction concerning socialism. Lenin in fact did not “re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state”, as he claimed, but substantially distorted it to suit the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. When Stalin announced the doctrine of “socialism in one country” in 1936 (i.e. the establishment of state capitalism in Russia) he was drawing on an idea implicit in Lenin's writings.


In State and Revolution, Lenin gave special emphasis to the concept of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This phrase was sometimes used by Marx and Engels and meant working class conquest of power, which (unlike Lenin) they did not confuse with a socialist society. Engels had cited the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Commune impressed Marx and Engels for its ultra-democratic features, which involved a non-hierarchical structure and the use of revocable delegates. Lenin, on the other hand, tended to identify the term with a state ruled by a vanguard party. When the Bolsheviks actually gained power they centralised political power more and more in the hands of the Communist Party. Modern-day Leninists claim that the rise of Stalin was due to the ravages of civil war and Russian isolation, but the fact remains that “democratic centralism” can allow dictators to rise to power and all openly pro-capitalist political parties have a similar structure which can allow the leadership to act undemocratically.

Lenin's short article The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913) is a concise explanation of the basics of Marxism (Link). But by 1918 the dictatorship of the proletariat had become for Lenin “the very essence of Marx's teaching” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918, Link). It is noticeable however that Lenin's Three Sources article contained no mention of the phrase or Lenin's particular conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Harding alleges that Lenin was the most “doctrinaire” of all Marxists at this time, but here again we see that Lenin was only too willing to distort Marx's arguments in order to fit into the reality of Russia's capitalist revolution. That is, the further development of wage labour, capital, commodity production and the state, which resulted in the exploitation of the working class by the party bureaucracy as the exploiting class.

Lenin's greatest positive achievement was getting Russia out of the bloody futility of World War One, something that the Socialist Party acknowledged at the time. The Socialist Party was the only British organisation to publish the Bolsheviks' anti-war declaration during the war. The trouble really started when claims about the “socialist” nature of Russia began to be aired, first within Russia then in the Communist parties being formed around the world. (See Link) The false claims about Russian “socialism” are largely derived from Lenin's opportunism as he distorted Marxism – working class socialist theory. In this country, the Socialist Party always denied that socialism existed in Russia (or anywhere else) or that Russia was on a transition towards socialism.

For its anti-democratic elitism and its advocacy of an irrelevant transitional society misnamed “socialism”, in theory and in practice, Leninism today deserves the hostility of workers everywhere. Lenin seriously distorted Marxism and thereby severely damaged the development of the socialist movement. Indeed, Leninism still continues to pose a real obstacle to the achievement of socialism.

Lew Higgins

Legal Highs And Lows (2016)

The Proper Gander column from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

BBC3 is easy to overlook in its new online-only home, even though this is probably how we’ll watch more channels in the future, as the boundaries between television and the internet blur. Online, the channel can group together similar broadcasts, and their stash of shows and articles about drugs looks at the issue from some interesting and imaginative angles. Their titles follow the BBC3 tradition of a tabloidish, eyeball-grabbing headline which suggests the programme is going to be tackier than it turns out to be: Meth And Madness In Mexico, Why Are Women Putting Cannabis In Their Vaginas? and Whoopi Goldberg Wants To Cure Your Period Pain With Weed. More blandly titled is their Drugs Map Of Britain series, which in its first episode visits the people in Wolverhampton aiming at Getting Off Mamba.

Mamba is a ‘legal high’, now more formally called ‘new psychoactive substances’ (NPSs). These are synthetic versions of other drugs, produced by the kind of entrepreneurial spirit we’re supposed to admire. The manufacturers of these substances found the gap in the mainstream market left by the trade in drugs like heroin, cannabis and cocaine being illegal and therefore underground. As new psychoactive substances differ chemically from other drugs, they weren’t covered by existing legislation, until the introduction of the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. Before the change in the law, NPSs were openly sold online and in ‘head shops’, meaning they could reach a wider audience than other drugs, and therefore rake in the profits. Mamba, an artificial approximation of cannabis, is probably the most well known type; a few years ago it was mephedrone, aka ‘m-cat’ or ‘meow meow’. Others have names such as ‘happy joker’ and ‘holy smoke’, their packets marked ‘not for human consumption’, which used to be enough to protect the manufacturers from legal comebacks about the drugs’ downsides. One downside not shown in the documentary is a ‘mamba attack’, an extreme reaction to the drug which tends to involve being disorientated and losing bodily control, which in practice can mean collapsing and being unresponsive or acting aggressively or erratically.

Perhaps because of BBC3’s reduced budget, Getting Off Mamba isn’t complicated by a narrator or commentary from professionals. The camera follows Liam, who smokes mamba every few hours, and says it ‘makes you feel nice. It makes me forget about things that I don’t want to think about, like being homeless, having no family, no friends, no help, no nothing’. He and many others use it as a coping strategy for the pressures of effectively being on capitalism’s scrapheap. The rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people featured in the show all recognise that using mamba doesn’t really help them deal with their situations, and instead makes matters worse. Another mamba smoker, Bruce, says it has sapped his motivation and self-esteem as well as draining his money. In other circumstances, drug use can be more enriching, but not when it’s wrapped up in an otherwise unfulfilling, restricted lifestyle.

Liam decides to get support to come off mamba, and visits ‘SUIT’, one of Wolverhampton’s substance misuse services. He meets with Sunny, who has recovered from addiction and now helps others do the same. He and Liam talk about how staying off drugs means making changes to different aspects of his life, such as how he spends his time and who he associates with. An update at the end of the show tells how he’s avoided using mamba and is on a work placement. Getting Off Mamba is less exploitative of its subjects than many of the similar documentaries which followed in the wake of Benefits Street. But it still approaches them in a distant, slightly patronising way, which veteran drama producer Tony Garnett has likened to anthropologists studying ‘natives’.

New psychoactive substances (NPSs) aren’t really all that new, but have become more widespread over the last decade, encroaching on the popularity of heroin, cannabis and cocaine. Some people have switched to NPSs from using traditional drugs because of their increased availability, and the decline in purity of traditional drugs is probably another factor. Producers dilute drugs with cheaper (and often harmful) substances in order to bulk out the deal and make more money. For them, this becomes a false economy when users turn to something else they hope will be more effective, such as mamba. The drugs market will change again with the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which makes it illegal to produce or supply NPSs. This won’t magically make demand for them disappear, so their manufacture and use will be driven underground, like other drugs. Nor will the change in law remove the pressures of poverty and homelessness which lead some people into problematic drug use. For Liam and the others in Getting Off Mamba, drugs have been a coping mechanism which hasn’t solved their underlying difficulties. Similarly, reforms like the Psychoactive Substances Act are just coping mechanisms which also don’t address the deeper causes of the drugs problem.
Mike Foster