Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cameron's EU Deal (2016)

From the SPGB's Discussion Form

Came across an old pamphlet from the time of the last Common Market referendum in 1975. At that time the TUC and half the Labour Party were for coming out though the Wilson Labour government was in favour of staying in (as was the Tory party).

Here's Roy Hattersley, a junior minister,  for the REMAIN side dealing with the "loss of sovereignty" issue:
Mr. Hattersley accepted that sovereignty would become a major issue once the new terms were known.  He questioned, however, whether the British Parliament really did have the power any longer to influence world events that vitally affected the British economy.  'No matter how many resolutions we pass or laws we enact, Britain's domestic interest rate (which affects every aspect of our life from the control of inflation to the cost of school building) will be more affected by decisions taken in Zurich, Bonn and New York - and now in Teheran, Jeddah and Caracas as well - than by anything done by the House of Commons' . . . 'In or out of the EEC, our economy will be influenced, judgments made beyond these shores'.  The best protection was the economic power to withstand foreign pressures.  Close alignments, like membership of the EEC, clearly involved some pooling of sovereignty, Mr. Hattersley went on.  But if the Community gave each member State increased economic strength in return 'we become more free not less so'".  (Financial Times, 7-1-1975)
And Peter Shore, a Cabinet Minister allowed to put the case for LEAVE, dreaming of having his cake and eating it:
Peter Shore recognises the need for Britain to continue trading on a large scale with the EEC, but argues that this could be done by concluding a trade agreement with the EEC such as Sweden is trying for. The trade agreement would offer access to the EEC and nothing more.
I don't whether the current debate is plus ├ža change or history repeating itself a second time as farce.

Access, free and not free (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

In moments of exhilaration, we socialists have been known to indulge in some highly optimistic assessments of our importance in the order of things. In our more commonplace moods of despair, we are prone to underestimate the impact we have on public opinion and social affairs. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have given only limited attention to the extent to which some of the brighter sparks amongst the advertising fraternity have found it opportune to take over some of our dreams and to filch our terminology for concepts they can harness to their merchandising schemes.

Of course, we are all too familiar with advertising which trades upon the everyday fears of working people to sell us insurance or a multitude of products we are led to believe will obviate the shortcomings of their market rivals. A recent feature article in the weekend supplement of the Guardian dwelt upon how a go-getting PR woman clawed her way to success by utilizing the phraseology of the ecological movement to sanitise her sales efforts on behalf of clients. This prompted me to ponder the even more cynical plundering of socialist ideas which had been going on over the past few decades with similar purposes in view.

For all the efforts of our opponents to find us guilty of association (by their reckoning) with Russia’s “communist” tyranny—although they and not us were Stalins war-time allies—it remains generally true that when someone gives an objective hearing to our aims and democratic, non-violent methods it is more likely than not they will be received very favourably, albeit with the reservation that we are excessively "idealistic" and expect far too much of so-called “human-nature”. It is quite rare for us to be criticised for advocating some kind of totalitarian nightmare. In my opinion, the professional publicists have quite shamelessly purloined the most attractive single feature of the sane society we propose, namely "free access" to what we require from the socialist community’s pool of resources.

Since the high-street banks have been concerned to sign up most of us for their credit-card method of money-lending (my own comes with the blessing of my trade-union) their advertisements referring to a "cashless society" have borne an ironic resemblance to socialist aspirations. Surely it is possible that the adoption of the name "Access" for the name of the best-known UK credit-card was a direct consequence of some bright spark in the advertising industry listening to one of our open-air meetings and carrying off the phrase as class-war booty? And. for that matter, where did John Major latch on to the notion of a “classless society” if not around Clapham High Street in his days as a Tory councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth?
E. S. Grant

Who can read Marx? (1972)

Book Reviews from the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Concept of Nature in Marx, by Alfred Schmidt. Published by NLB. £3.25.

Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, by Bertell Oilman. Cambridge University Press. £4.

These two books by professional philosophers are very different in approach, yet both seem to have been chiefly inspired by two manuscripts of Marx: the Grundrisse and the Paris Manuscripts. In these, Marx’s debts to other writers, particularly philosophers, are much more evident than in Das Kapital, and it is much easier for scholars to get to grips with the feelings which motivated him and the principles which governed his thinking. Neither writer believes that Marx altered his attitudes in anything more than detail or emphasis later in life, and they trace the development of certain ideas from the earlier to the later works.

Socialists will approach both books with a measure of caution, because they are tacitly welcoming Marx back into the philosophers’ fold from which he was at pains to escape. Alfred Schmidt, in the doctoral dissertation which forms the main part of his book, sets out to show that, in spite of Marx’s avoidance of philosophical terms in Das Kapital, the work contains a considerable amount of implicit and explicit philosophy which is a natural development of his earlier ideas about the interaction of man and nature and whose origins lie in Hegel and Feuerbach. Schmidt’s scope is more limited than Ollman’s: he is principally concerned to set the record straight as regards Marx’s philosophical respectability and consistency. This involves the painstaking dissection of a number of Marx’s followers as well as his critics. Although Lenin emerges unscathed, the generality of

Soviet philosophising is repeatedly criticised. Kautsky, Plekhanov, and even Engels are shown to be less consistent and rigorously honest than Marx; and the chimera which leads most of them astray is the dialectic. Schmidt examines dialectics in some detail and shows that Marx was judicious in his use of it, whereas Engels, in Dialectics of Nature was led into silliness by his enthusiasm for it, and the Soviet thinkers who have followed him almost up to the present day have made a new metaphysics of it.

The most refreshing thing about Schmidt’s rather turgid book is its scholarly manner, which never gives way to the point-scoring partisan writing on Marx with which socialists are so tiredly familiar. Its most valuable attribute is the documentation of Marx’s scrupulous caution in employing ideas in the effort to understand and describe what exists. Oversimplifications, such as the one some of us slip into when we talk of the development of stages of society, are laid against the considerably more sophisticated explanations used by Marx, and we are reminded that the critics, even to the present day, are in the main [much] less intelligent than the writer they are criticising, and only half aware of what he said.

Bertell Ollman is very much aware of critics, and lays about him with considerable vigour. His is a much more lively book than Schmidt’s, and sets out immediately to challenge the reader with a new approach to Marx’s writing which is to make everything clear. Perhaps it is because he really has an established reputation that he speaks with such scholarly authority and does not think it necessary to substantiate his contentions with many or with very substantial quotations; but it may be simply due to the fact that he is American. When he takes it for granted that the workers in "imperialist” nations have benefitted at the expense of the colonial workers, or suggests that, because the workers of the world have not attempted to bring about a communist revolution, they must therefore have a character defect preventing them from acting in their own best interests—such glib assumptions make one wonder whether the main thesis of his book is any more reliable than these.

Ollman’s contention is that Marx is largely misunderstood because he used language in a special way. He had adopted, says Ollman, the philosophy of internal relations, so that a thing was never regarded as itself pure and simple, but a plexus of relationships viewable from many different angles. Marx could only tackle the enormous job of describing the interrelated and changing elements of capitalist society, without distorting the picture, by using such an approach. The result is that his words have different meanings at different times. This is a degree of subtlety which has led critics like Karl Popper to make fools of themselves, according to Ollman, because they have tried to pin Marx down to a more naive terminology in which things are stationary and mutually exclusive.

Ordinary socialists have never found it difficult to think of capital as money at one moment and a factory full of machines, materials and workers the next, or to regard the process of production as also one of consumption. This may be at the root of their steady contempt over the years for the ‘what-Marx-really-meant’ brigade of writers. Nevertheless, if this erudite explanation of how to read Marx is what is necessary for the avowed experts, then Oilman’s book could have a salutary effect on the level of Marxian criticism.

Ollman’s second thesis is that Marx’s experience of philosophy convinced him that it was impossible to state a fact without incorporating a value judgement in the statement . Accordingly, any such study as Das Kapital was bound to set out from a point of view and to incorporate the relevant value judgements. And the point of view that Marx adopted, says Ollman, was that of alienated man—particularly the alienated worker —whose life and whose self were so much inferior to what they might be in a communist society. This is why Ollman entitles his book ‘Alienation’. He regards it as the most meaningful way to study modern society.

On the whole, Ollman’s approach is very convincing. It illuminates the labour theory of value and the role of religion with equal relevance, but his Critical Evaluation which sums up is very disappointing. It is not his pessimism which disappoints, or even his introduction at this late stage of the notion of “character structure’’ to account for working-class apathy, but the strong impression he gives of making reservations about Marx’s work simply in order to seem impartial. In this it echoes the Introduction to the book, but is quite out of keeping with the enthusiastic eulogism of the main text. Perhaps the fact that the Ford Foundation helped to finance the writing of the book has something to do with it, but it does add further doubts about Ollman’s integrity. It also points up the fact that readers who are not considerable Marxian scholars have very little chance of detecting the flaws in clever cases built up on selected quotations. Only a steady scepticism on our part, and the repeated testing of the ideas against our own experience offer any protection. Occasionally we shall have the added advantage of watching the professionals fall out amongst themselves, as these two do to some extent. In his Preface to the English Edition, Schmidt says
It will help the English reader to understand this book if from the outset he bears in mind its polemical aspect. It was one of the first attempts to draw on the politico-economic writings of middle-period and mature Marx . . .  for a ‘philosophical’ interpretation of Marx’s life-work. In doing this, the book opposed the widespread Western European, often neo-Existentialist, tendency of the 1950s to reduce Marx's thought to an unhistorical ‘anthropology’ centred on the alienation problematic of the early writings . . .
Which is largely what Ollman is doing.
Ron Cook

About Ourselves (1932)

Editorial from the July 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present world depression is like all the depressions that have gone before in the effect it is having on the workers and their organisations. During a depression events move fast, and opinions are quickly changed when adversity stimulates interest in political and economic theories. Capitalism during its crises presents its more deadly aspects, and the most optimistic exponents of the “getting better and better” type of self-deception become apologetic and admit that there is something amiss. It is then that the Labour parties have their testing time. And how they have fallen! The world is strewn with the debris of reform programmes and reform parties.

In this universal destruction of jerry-built political parties, the truths of Socialism come into their own. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has in consequence enjoyed a period of relatively splendid expansion. We had a record influx of members in 1931. The sales of the Socialist Standard have increased steadily and encouragingly during the past two years. More interest is shown in our case, as is evidence by the attendance at meetings and the inquiries we receive. Interest has not only grown in amount but has extended to new foreign fields where in the past we have been unknown or ignored. We have found a bigger demand for pamphlets. In short, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves on the increasing effect of our propaganda.

We are, however, well aware, that our expanded activities are only the expansion of a very small effort. What we can do is so far tragically small in relation to the vast problem of converting the workings class to Socialism. Events tend in our direction, but the difficulty of getting our attitude to the workers is only a little less than it was: it is still very great. The disturbance caused by the crisis and by the discovery that the old theories were worthless has a double effect. It sets men's minds in a ferment, but it calls forth increased activity from the hosts of political quacks who formerly shouted their wares in obscurity. A glance over the shelves of bookshops which cater for working-class students of politics will show that the present period is like the crisis of ten years ago in respect of the multiplicity of groups and propaganda papers seeking to attract interest in untenable theories—land-taxers, bimetallists, inflationists of all degrees and kinds, anarchists, direct actionists, and peculiar religions and philosophies without number. The depression helps us, but it also plagues us with this swarm of freaks, frauds and cranks.

We are doing what we can to seize whatever advantage the opportunity offers. In September, when the new year begins for the Socialist Standard, we are producing it with a somewhat larger page and are making improvements in its appearance. We are publishing this month a pamphlet which will help to fill a big gap in our propaganda. We have developed our advertising in order to get at workers to whom formerly we were unknown. That is our contribution. Now what of yours?

The larger Socialist Standard will involve a considerable increase in expenditure. In a comparatively short period we have gained 1,500 new readers. If you will help us to gain as many more, that will pay for the extra outlay. We also need to reprint other pamphlets. A 20,000 edition of “ Socialism ” is nearly exhausted, and will need re-printing. Other pamphlets are either out of print or nearly so. If we are to make the most of the present favourable situation we need money urgently. We ask all our readers to do their utmost during the coming summer propaganda months to extend the sales of the Socialist Standard and our pamphlets and those who can to help us with donations.