Friday, May 20, 2016

From Russia with profit (1989)

From the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the heading “Soviet Millionaire' in free-market fight", the Daily Telegraph (24 March) gave prominence in their foreign news to the Russian capitalist, Viktor Aksyutich. The newspaper did so on the grounds that he promised to sponsor "free-market candidates" in his country, to fight what he described as "conservative members" of the Russian ruling-class who are currently trying to cling to the state-capitalist monopoly of large-scale production and distribution and its resulting benefits.

Another reason for media interest is that Aksyutich is a director of a co-operative in Moscow, one of the consequences of the current reforms there, which has in eleven months of operation created capital of £2.5 million pounds. Indeed, the diversity of this co-operative's business operations is quite interesting since it includes cement, timber, computers, theatre groups, video shops, religious publications and management schools.

After Aksyutich's meeting with Alan Clark, Minister of Trade, to discuss joint capitalist ventures and current de-regulation in Russia which makes his kind of business operation legal, he told assembled journalists that he is under no illusion as to who are the "real enemy” to his company's future, naming it as the Russian Communist Party itself.

And like all fractional disputes within a ruling-class or the power struggle emanating between those on the periphery of political power and those wielding it for their own purposes, Aksyutich, and those like him who want political representation as a means to articulate their propertied interests, are now committed "to use our financial muscle to sponsor candidates for future elections". So in a manner reminiscent of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, Aksyutich and other "closet capitalists", as the Telegraph called them, must search for a political party. Glasnost and Perestroika are seen as instruments in this process.

Workers in Russia should pay close attention to this struggle for political power and the representation demanded by new legal forms of private business, no matter what they are called, and learn from history to have nothing to do with it. Glasnost and Perestroika are structural reforms within Russian capitalism and have nothing to do with the interests of the Russian working-class. Private capitalism, whether co-operative or corporate on the one hand, or state capitalism on the other, all exploit workers within the degradation and servility of the wages system. Instead, workers in Russia, and those elsewhere in the world should, where possible, organise politically in their own socialist parties and rapidly push the class struggle to its final conclusion with the abolition of world capitalism itself and its replacement with Socialism.
Richard Lloyd

A Chinese capitalist (1989)

From the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chinese state capitalism is permitting an ever-growing role to private companies which employ workers and compete for sales with state businesses and each other. There are now over two hundred thousand private entrepreneurs, as they are called, running such companies. A recent issue of Beijing Review (1989. no.9) carried an article by one such employer, Zhang Baoning, containing an account of how he gave up his job in a state-owned factory, became a self-employed printer and then was able to hire employees and set up his own factory and shops. But let Zhang speak for himself:
   Although I have succeeded in business in the past few years, I have never felt relaxed I've always wanted to develop, but have also always worried that the government would change its policy towards private enterprises and label me a "capitalist". However, this fear was finally removed by the Party's decision at its 13th National Congress in 1987 that China needs a multi-ownership economic structure with public ownership predominant at the primary stage of socialism. Therefore, the development of individual businesses and the private economy was to be encouraged . . .
   At present. I have to pay 11 kinds of taxes and duties, such as business tax, income tax, and taxes for education, construction, real estate, land use as well as industrial and commercial consolidated duties.
   To be frank. I am taxed too much . . .
   As everyone knows, relations between a Chinese boss and his employees are delicate in China. For a while they get along quite well, and then suddenly a dispute erupts. Accustomed to the old way of "eating from the same big pot" regardless of how hard they worked, some of my employees lacked a sense of responsibility and tended to take things easy . . .
   However, my employees and I treat each other as equals. I am always ready to discuss problems with any of them Sometimes we shout at each other, but mainly we remain on good terms
    I offer my employees the same fringe benefits as workers enjoy in state-owned enterprises, such as food and housing subsidies, welfare insurance, various leaves and recreational amenities. In addition, they can come and go any time they like.
   However, we don't always see eye to eye, especially over income distribution They think I must have made big money by exploiting them. They never feel satisfied even though they are much better paid than their counterparts in state-owned factories. I am going to try out the joint-stock system with my workforce with dividends distributed according to the stock they hold.
Whatever the Chinese government may or may not call him, Zhang clearly is a capitalist, even if a small-scale one by Western standards. He has the same concerns as capitalists everywhere: taxes, government policies, and of course those fractious workers. Who now will say that China is a different kind of social system?
Paul Bennett

Letters to the Editors: The Real World (1990)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The real world

Dear Editors.

As a reader of the Socialist Standard for several years now and interested in your analysis of the capitalist system and its replacement by Common Ownership, I am left wondering at times if it is not some wonderful dream that captivates us all from one time to another when we become so depressed at our horrible grey surroundings that we need some escapist illusion to take our minds away from it all. However, be that as it may, I would now like to comment on aspects of the SPGB’s case:

You heavily criticise the Left Wing' stating that it's just another part of capitalism, but surely these elements which exist, no matter how negative, unruly and disorganised they are most of the time, are also a necessary part of material reality. They are also surely every radical youth's first introduction to political rebellion—where they see themselves as dangerous 'revolutionaries'—and, no matter how crazy you think they are, they exist as part of the opposition to a terrible exploitative system.

Come on, let's be realistic. When I was 18 back in the mid-sixties and ‘raring to go' I didn't run to the good old SPGB. I investigated the 'Socialist Labour League', the International Socialists, the IMG. All right, no way did they hold the same credentials as yourselves in consistency in their adherence to the ideas of Marx and Engels—but they have adopted some of the radical notions of these two major revolutionaries who also believed in a quick demise of the system. You can rail against the Left's romanticism and their political confusion but I repeat they are a necessary part of reality.

You say that the 'Socialist Workers Party' should fight to establish socialism instead of campaigning for the 'Right to Work'—or against the Poll Tax or whatever other issue is thrown up by capitalism—but wouldn’t it be completely extraordinary if workers didn't campaign and vent their anger against varying detrimental aspects of the system?

You say that real socialists do not get involved in such futile ‘goings on', yet these are real people in a real capitalist world acting out of despair and frustration—can you really imagine a strong-minded worker getting so angry about what is happening that he rushes to join the Socialist Party of Great Britain to sort things out once and for all!

You are talking about workers with no patience who want quick solutions which are being offered by various sects on the 'Left' and I agree if they follow these ratbags up the blind alley they will become even more disillusioned and apathetic, but what do the Socialist Party offer in its place? Do you seriously expect workers to abandon their ‘Right to Work' signs and 'Maggie Out' demands for the placards of the Socialist Party who would have us marching through the city streets with 'Abolish the Wages System' written on them!

Come on SPGB. come into the real world—capitalism will end one day; other systems will evolve in line with conflicts, confusions and contradictions, and whether future systems are based on common ownership, exploitation, state dictatorship, or something as yet unconceived will be determined by humankind's expediency at crucial stages—not by a small clique who forever professes to be more Socialist Than Thou' without advancing the cause of positive human progress one whit!

Paul Cash

The "left wing" are not a "part of the opposition" to capitalism. On the contrary they advocate merely a variation to its form (that is the state capitalist one) in which the wages system, buying and selling, police, armies and so on will continue to exist. They peddle the illusion that it is in our class interest. Do not be fooled by their use of the words “socialism” and “communism" or by their use of Marxist terminology. The test to use is a simple one—will the successful outcome of their policies result in the abolition of class exploitation and its replacement by a world-wide system of common ownership of the means of life with production for use and free access by all to the wealth produced?

Clearly the political organisations you mention do not work for this end as an immediate practical possibility. Indeed at election times they urge the working class to vote for the Labour Party. Nothing could be more dangerous and futile because, as they themselves admit, the Labour Party is a reformist and capitalist organisation committed to running the system of production for profit.

Agreed that many sincere and well meaning people "vent their anger" with the system by actively taking part in "left wing" activity. We are unclear why you consider this exercise in futility "necessary". It will not remove the cause of working class misery, rather it will confuse the issue which workers everywhere should have always before them—capitalism or socialism?

Confusion gives rise to frustration and often to apathy which is a barrier to the democratic class conscious political action which must be undertaken if we are to liberate ourselves. Changes in society don't just happen, they are the result of human activity in pursuit of class interest. This is how the change from capitalism to socialism will come about, and it will take a lot of patient hard work to build a socialist majority because there are no short cuts. We do expect workers to give up their support for organisations which simply tinker with the problems of class society. Sticking plaster solutions must be abandoned if we are to free ourselves by taking control of the state and its armed forces, using them to take into common ownership under democratic control the whole of the means of wealth production and distribution. Until that time comes (and it cannot come quickly enough) capitalism and its horrendous problems will continue to afflict the useful majority in society.

South Africa
Now that the Communist Party of South Africa has been unbanned, it is possible to discuss its mistaken policies openly in South Africa. We reprint below a letter published in the Johannesburg "Star" on 26 February.

In the article "Alone is my joy—after 40 years" [The Star, February 8), Joe Openshaw states: "After 1948 I ceased being an active communist but continued to have faith in the economic arguments propagated in ‘Das Kapital’ and in Marxism".

And he concludes: "The upheavals in the Soviet Union and in the communist bloc have shaken me, but joining the Communist Party seemed a good idea at the time. My conviction still is that socialism could work if not perverted".

The last point, "the perversion' of socialism”, has been the central deception of the Bolsheviks from before 1917: and their followers, as well as their mainstream opponents and detractors, have "gone along with" the distortions of Marxism, to support the introduction and development of state capitalism in Russia and elsewhere. The Leninists "adapted” Marxism to suit their programmes after the overthrow of Tsarist feudalism.

Joe, your "faith” in Das Kapital and Marxism is very sad, in view of the obvious fact that you have never understood either of these. Das Kapital defines capitalism as a system of commodity production based upon wage-labour and capital, whose purpose is the realisation of the surplus- value wrung from the working class and contained in all commodities. This system prevails in Russia and in all modern countries in this world.

Finally, Marxism does not propose or support minority and/or insurrectionary action for/by/on behalf of the world's working class, but insists on the need for the democratic self-conscious, political act of the said class—when sufficiently enlightened—to replace commodity production by production solely for use, freely and willingly, based on the new relationship of common ownership and control of social production by the whole of society; not by the state, which will no longer function.
Alec Hart 

Letters to the Editors: East Europe (1990)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

East Europe

Dear Editors,

I suppose it is true to say that most people who write to journals and newspapers do so to disagree with something in those publications.

I write, however, to praise your February 1990 issue (“Welcome to the West—East Europe Special"). Clearly. you demonstrate that it is not socialism that has failed in the Soviet Union and eastern and central Europe but various forms of dictatorial state and semi-state capitalism. Nevertheless, as you correctly point out, the so-called revolutionary upheavals in these countries are only the beginning.

In the immediate future, despite a partial democratisation of social structures, the socio-economic condition of the workers may well deteriorate. It should also be stressed that the “alternative" (so-called "free market" capitalism) is no alternative at all. at least for the majority of workers and peasants. They will remain slaves— with, perhaps, slightly looser chains; that is all.

Furthermore, increasing "freedom" of expression in the Soviet Union also has its ugly aspects. Racism and nationalism are rampant. And even groups claiming to be socialist and anti-Leninist are. inevitably I suppose, very muddled. For example, in Ukraine, a social-democratic organisation has been formed which claims to be based upon the ideas of Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Martov and Dan, yet it adds a list of reforms to its socialist objective!

The workers of the disintegrating Russian Empire, like workers elsewhere, still have a long way to go before they achieve a largely harmonious and free society.
Peter E. Newell
Colchester, Essex.

Dear Comrades.

Events in Eastern Europe have now reached the stage when it ought to be obvious to the most myopic that the SPGB has been correct all along in its analysis of the so-called “Communist" countries.

I would like to pay a tribute to the outstanding theoretical clarity which enabled our members in those early days to make the correct diagnosis, and to cling on under tremendous pressure for so many years until at last the truth came out. as it had to.

Being able to latch on to this ready-made "case" against Russia, etc at any early stage of my political awakening has, I am sure, saved me from a lot of unpleasant confusion and disillusionment.
E. C. Edge

Manila, 7 December 1989

Dear Editors.

On December 1, 1989, thousands of soldiers belonging to an underground military organization called RAM (Reform the Armed Forced Movement) captured several military bases in the Philippines, including Villamor Air Base, the Headquarters of the Air Force. Their aim was to overthrow President Aquino's government and replace it with a civilian/military coalition government. When the RAM forces threatened to destroy Malacanang Palace, where President Aquino was trapped, the USA sent jet fighters to Manila from one of their military bases in this country. Although no shots were fired by the American planes, the rebel aircraft were scared off. Having lost air superiority, the rebels were quickly defeated. Some rebels managed to hold on to their positions in the financial district of Makati until today. December 7, 1989, when they finally surrendered.

As of today. 79 people have died, and 43 of them were civilians who were hit by stray bullets, rockets, and bombs from both sides. Although some civilians were killed at home, many were killed while being entertained by the violence. These were mostly young men on the fringes of the urban battlefield, who cheered the soldiers on. The RAM forces were called "Anejo" (after Anejo Rhum, a popular basketball team). The government forces were called "San Miguel" (after San Miguel Beer. Anejo's rival). In my neighbourhood, people stared at the sky, some even stood on rooftops, and watched the "air show". A helicopter turned slowly above, then rushed forward firing rockets at rebel tanks a few miles away. I heard on the radio afterward that the helicopter missed and hit a row of houses instead. Most of us fled our homes at 5AM when soldiers started firing at each other near our street, but later in the day we all went back and watched the “air show" again. Violence can be fascinating when you are separated from it by miles, a TV screen, or an arcade game, but up close it is terrifying.

The soldiers had nasty experiences. One soldier destroyed an Armoured Personnel Carrier only to discover later that his elder brother was inside. Once, government jets bombed government troops approaching Manila to reinforce a military base under attack by RAM forces. Many of the soldiers shooting at each other would have enjoyed each other's company under different circumstances.

Hardly anyone cared who won or lost. The radio was full of people pleading for an end to the fighting, not for the victory of one side or the other. Many people knew that their lives would not be different regardless of who took power. The coup of February 1986 that brought Aquino to power disillusioned many people.

The coup is nearly over. At the time of writing, rebel soldiers still control an air base near Cebu City, a few hundred miles south of Manila, but are surrounded by government troops. People are beginning to ask what caused the coup, and how to prevent another one from happening. This was the sixth and most violent coup so far in the 3 years of the Aquino government. Many newspapers blame graft and corruption in government, the politicization of the military that occurred during the Marcos dictatorship, the increasing poverty of the people, and many other symptoms of an arrangement that most people accept because they do not know any better. This arrangement, called capitalism, is one where a minority controls the world. When minority leadership is replaced by shared leadership, where all actively participate in the making of decisions, wars will end. Most people do not want to kill or be killed, but want power to control what goes on around them. Poverty will end, because our lack of control of the means of producing the things we need causes it. Maybe people will begin to enjoy their lives, instead of distracting themselves in order to forget their problems. In a socialist world, violence will no longer be entertainment, but an ugly perversion.

Dear Editors.
As a new reader of the Standard I was most surprised by Steve Coleman's reference to Nazism in the December issue, namely, “Why the hell couldn't the Nazis have caught Julie Andrews and those monstrously sugary kids and contributed one humane deed to history?".

I am sure Steve Coleman needs no reminder of the fate of Jewish children too young to work in the Nazi Concentration Camps—an immediate gassing or dispatch to the experimental blocks.

The precepts of Nazism were founded on national and racial hatred and its manifestations are not a subject for frivolity. I would find such remarks offensive in any publication—to read them in the Standard is particularly disappointing.
Sharon Bendelman 
Edgware, Middlesex.

We agree that the remark was distasteful and should never have appeared. 

The Carmarthen Election (1957)

From the April 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

This election, coming after previous Government defeats in other parts of the country was considered to be of extreme importance to the Labour Party. They, accordingly, went into action with everything they had. Their campaign, carefully planned, began with a softening up process—a constant hail of propaganda by local leaders. This was followed by the sending down of the heavy artillery, Attlee, Bevan and the ex-Labour Minister of Agriculture (Carmarthenshire being predominantly agricultural it was absolutely necessary to get the farmers vote).

Attlee came, bleated in the usual Attlee manner, and went; Bevan (the chief “star”) arrived and, as is usual with “ star turns ” prices of admission were raised. For the privilege of listening to a man, who among other things created such a mighty fuss about “the bob on the bottle,” many were induced to pay a bob to listen to a lot of wind. There is in this instance something to be said for paying a shilling for getting rid of it!

Megan (pardon us, Lady Megan!) captured the seat by virtue of the poor quality of the opposition and (such is the glamour of a title) by being the daughter of Lloyd George and a Lady. Poor little “Jenny,” the Welsh Nationalist, despite a decidedly more attractive appearance, could only manage to increase her vote by a few thousand. Her policy proving more attractive to students, “intellectuals” and younger people generally. .

The Liberal, fighting what was formerly a Liberal seat, lost undoubtedly because, bad as is the Liberal case, his manner of putting it over was profoundly worse. The general comment regarding him was “ dim personoliaeth ” (no personality).

Nevertheless the campaign was not without its humour. Some students created quite an innovation by walking into one of Megan’s meetings, completely silent. They sat throughout the meeting—completely silent and walked out in file at the end—completely silent—all the while with their jackets on inside out

The Nationalist candidate, speaking in one of the many rural villages, wound up (so we are told) by stating that Wales required three immediate changes, whereupon a wag shouted “ Yes, my gel—two wings and a centre!”

The election was indeed lively, and humorous. The candidates were called upon to speak mostly in Welsh, Lady Megan not quite being able to disguise a certain “ Mayfair ” accent despite speaking in her native tongue. The Liberal and Labour candidates were both in opposition to their respective party’s policy in regard to the demand for a Welsh Parliament. Whilst the Welsh Nationalist probably lost much support from the chapels, and Pacifist Nonconformity generally by declaring support for Welsh Armed Forces!

On the whole one can say. as in other elections, it would have made no difference if each had said each others “piece” and the lot had got in.

Review: "Wake Up, England!" (1910)

Book Review from the September 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Wake Up, England! Being the Story of John Bull—Socialist.” by Edward Prince (St. Stephen's Press)

This is a stupid book - a clumsy book. It is addressed more particularly to anti-Socialists, and, in the guise of a badly written tale, endeavours to convey some idea of the state of things thirty years after the Revolution. The author would certainly have succeeded better had Nature, endowed him with a brain, but there, as the volume is directed to those equally lacking in intelligence, no great harm will be done.

But to get on with the ganglionic perturbation under notice. The chief character is a doctor, a man whose mental calibre may be estimated quite as highly as the author’s, when it is known that although he worked and voted for Socialism and lived for thirty years after its advent, at the end of that period he knows nothing about it. The “hero” of the book, John Bull, is a weak, phthisical boy, a manifest importation from capitalism, with bad eyes, a morose, taciturn disposition, a longing to be alone, and a hatred of his kind. He attempts to murder a man who runs off with his wife, and finishes up by drowning himself. Another “great” character, with a longing for the “good old times,” is William Sykes, who did a “night’s work" in the days of capitalism and came out of prison after the establishment of the new order. With this single exception, and that attended with disaster, Bill Sykes had never done a stroke of work in his life, and his misguided father, just before quitting this vale of tears, reproached him with being a tramp, and left him 10s. a week and a cottage so that toil and Bill Sykes should for ever remain estranged. Bill, by waging a kind of guerrilla warfare with the “ fishals” succeeds in living as a parasite upon his fellows, a fact which seems to afford our author immense satisfaction.

The officials, by the way, are most carious creatures—weird composites of all that is most petty and tyrannical in the vilest of capitalist shop-foremen, the most parsimonious of poor-law guardians, and the most stupid of police inspectors. By everyone hated and despised, the author is compelled to invent an impossibility to account for their retention of office. He calls it “being responsible for a majority.” Exactly how it works is not apparent to those devoid of the eye of faith. It may be clear to the author, but his secret is safe, anyway.

In brief, this bile-producing ‘‘work” is a very bad rehash of the “break-up of-family-life,” “Socialism - means - Atheism, therefore - bad,” “Socialism-means-death to-incentive” tags: silly statements, as we all know, with which Methuselah whiled away his childhood. After perusing this colossal tome the inhabitants of Frying Pan Ally and Paradise Place will number themselves with the happiest of mortals. The free and independent citizen who is fifteen weeks in arrear with the rent, and finds himself and his family kicked out in the rain, will still be able to gaze into the smiling, sunny faces of his emaciated family and congratulate himself on the preservation of his family life, his immortal soul, and his incentive —especially his incentive. He can still say as the sole drops off his only boot and he gets run in for being without visible means, “thank Gawd it aint Sosherlism, anyhow ! ”

The present writer is glad he hasn't got it on his conscience that he paid for the copy he has read.