Friday, August 19, 2016

Socialists oppose all Nationalism (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalism and socialism are incompatible for a number of reasons. First, the basis of all nationalist theories is that those supposed to make up a “nation” have a common interest. This is not true. All “nations”, however defined, are divided into two antagonistic classes: those who own and control the means of production and distribution and those who don’t and are thus dependent on selling their mental and physical energies in order to live. Between these two classes there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest which can only be resolved by the conversion of the means of production into the common property of the whole community, by the dispossession of the owning class.

In preaching a community of interest between all the members of a supposed “nation”, owners and non-owners, nationalism obscures and diverts attention from this class struggle, thus making that struggle less effective and postponing its final solution through the establishment of socialism.

Nationalism also assumes that the problems facing the non-owning class can be solved on a national scale, within the borders of a particular state. This is quite wrong. Capitalism is the cause of these problems. And since capitalism is a system existing all over the world (in state capitalist Russia and China as well as in the West) it can only be abolished on a world scale. Because capitalism is already a world system so must be the new, higher form of social development which will replace it. The idea of “socialism in one country” is absurd and any attempt at it is bound to fail, leading probably to some kind of state capitalism.

This socialist opposition to nationalism applies equally to nationalist movements such as those in Ireland and Palestine, which are generally regarded in leftist circles as "progressive”. Since about the turn of the century, when capitalism became the dominant world system, only one movement can legitimately be called "progressive”, namely, the movement for world socialism.

Before that time, in the 19th century, a case could be made for certain nationalist movements being historically progressive and hence worthy of the support of socialists. This was the attitude taken up by Marx and Engels towards the movements for German and Italian unity and for Polish and Irish independence. At a time when capitalism was not yet the dominant world system, they felt that it was their duty to help the development of capitalism and to weaken its enemies (in particular Tsarist Russia).

In the changed conditions of the 20th century, with capitalism as the dominant world system, the reasons given by Marx and Engels for supporting certain nationalist movements are no longer valid. Capitalism no longer needs to be helped. This is why we say that Marx and Engels’ views on nationalism are now out-dated and obsolete and that those who repeat them in the changed conditions of today have not understood the first thing about Marx’s method.

The European Social Democratic movement of before the first world war made two fatal mistakes. One was to advocate reforms to be realised inside capitalism. The other was to refuse to be anti-patriotic. On the contrary, to declare themselves to be patriotic Frenchmen or Englishmen or Germans. It was thus inevitable—and logical from their own, mistaken, point of view—that they should have lined up behind their respective governments when the first world war broke out in 1914.

Bloody inroads (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In two dramatic decades, virtually the entire continent of Africa was carved up among the European powers in what has appropriately been called “the scramble for Africa”, leaving only Ethiopia independent. What gave rise to this sudden change? For the answer we must first look at Europe itself.

England, for a long time the “workshop of the world”, was facing increasing competition. Her industrial supremacy was diminishing rapidly. In 1870 she was still smelting half the world’s iron —more than three times that of any other country—but before the close of the century she was overtaken by America and hard-pressed by Germany for second place. The growth of manufacturing created the need to open up new markets, a need well understood by the then French Prime Minister, Jules Ferry, when he remarked: “What [our great industries] lack more and more is markets. Why? Because . . . Germany is covering herself with barriers; because, beyond the ocean, the United States of America have become protectionist .. .”. The so-called Golden Age of Laissez-Faire capitalism was coming to an end, as England’s competitors waxed stronger. Stanley, the famous explorer of the Congo Basin, enthusiastically addressed the Manchester Chamber of Commerce in 1884 with the words: “There are forty millions of people beyond the gateway of the Congo, and the cotton spinners of Manchester are waiting to clothe them. Birmingham foundries are glowing with the red metal that will presently be made into ironwork for them”. But it was Leopold the Second of Belgium who employed Stanley to establish military posts in the Congo and make treaties with the local tribes. These were the foundations of Leopold’s empire, where the most barbaric practices (such as the flogging to death of fugitives or slackers with the sjambok) were commonplace.

Along with new markets, the colonies could provide raw materials such as copper, rubber, palm oil, timber and cotton which the expanding home industries craved. They also provided highly profitable outlets for the export of capital.

The means of communication and distribution were rapidly advanced with the invention of steamships, locomotives and telegraphs, the effects of which were only felt in the world at large in the last few decades of the century. These made possible massive increases in colonial trade and the expansion of empires. All these factors, working in conjunction, created the possibility for many powers to lay claim to vast territories, reacting to each others’ claims by annexing more, in a sort of complex chain reaction. Hitherto lack of competition, amongst other factors, had detracted from the sense of urgency which now accompanied empire-building.

The specific motives—and pretexts—or colonisation differed from area to area. In North, West and East Africa, colonisation was “largely governed by strategic requirements having little to do with Africa herself”, as far as the British were concerned. South of the Zambesi River “British policy was driven by a deliberate and determined desire to establish a British dominion in South Africa” (Scramble for Africa A. Nutting). Thus Britain gained control of the Suez Canal Company (on the strength of a loan from Rothschilds) and eventually Egypt, to protect the route to her valuable possessions in India. To secure her hold in Egypt she looked upon her territories elsewhere as “disposable assets”, to be bartered if necessary.

By no stretch of the imagination could South Africa be a mere “disposable asset”. The second half of the nineteenth century revealed her immense mineral wealth, beginning with the discovery of diamonds in Qriqualand West in 1867. Bitter disputes broke out over the ownership of the diamond fields involving the Boer republics and the various Qriqua and Tswana chiefs. These were effectively resolved by the annexation of Qriqualand West by Britain in 1871. Diamond wealth spawned the De Beers Consolidated Mining Company, whose vast resources were used to promote the activities of the British South Africa Company. It was through this organisation, with the megalomaniac Cecil Rhodes at its helm, that Rhodesia was brought under European domination.

In 1877, after unsuccessful attempts to establish a federation of states in South Africa, which people like Rhodes dearly wanted, Britain annexed the Transvaal only to hand it back in 1881 after suffering a humiliating defeat by the Boers. In 1884, Germany laid claim to South West Africa and Rhodes, fearing a possible link-up of Boers and Germans, succeeded in getting Bechuanaland annexed by Britain, thus driving a wedge between the two and securing the strategically important “missionary Road to the North”, important for it gave access to what he believed was the Eldorado of the North. From the 1860s explorers had come across the ancient gold workings in that area and in the Tati district the German explorer, Karl Mauch discovered gold. Rhodes and his company finally captured this fabled land of King Solomon’s mines with such ruthlessness against the Matabele that the Company’s own ambassador in Bulawayo felt prompted to remark that “the Pioneer at his most highly developed state is a white savage, the most terrible of men”.

However, the real Eldorado lay not to the north but southwards, for in 1886 in the Witwatersrand area of the Transvaal a rich gold bearing reef was discovered. With the rising fortunes of the Transvaal grew the fear that British supremacy in South Africa was threatened and that the British colonies there might throw in their lot with the Boer Republics. For the next thirteen years British policy was directed at denying the Boers access to a seaport by surrounding the Transvaal with newly acquired British territory. With the completion of the railway line between the Rand and Portuguese held Delagoa Bay every effort was made to exploit the grievances of the “Uitlander” population of mainly British extraction living on the Rand. Such was the determination of British imperialism to resolve the issue by force that Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, faced with the relatively generous Boer concessions to Britain’s demands, despairingly commented: “I dread above all the whittling away of differences until we have no causus belli left”.

But Chamberlain need not have worried for all along an overriding “causus belli” was there. It was still there when the frictions resulting from the partition of Africa played an important role in dividing the world into two armed camps that led to the outbreak of World War One. And today it continues to menace our very existence, until the workers of the world are prepared to learn from its blood-soaked past that the capitalist system of society cannot and will not be made to behave otherwise, and resolve therefore, to abolish it from all the continents of the earth.
Robin Cox

Liberating Africa? (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a country in Africa which has so much liberty that it is actually called Liberia. It should of course have been christened Tyrannia so similar is it to the other “independent” states of Africa (and so independent that it almost belongs lock stock and barrel to Firestone Tyre of America). Its tyrannical ruling class is not however composed of indigenous blacks but of the descendants of former slaves who returned to Africa after the American Civil War and proceeded to make virtual slaves of the entire black population.

In many ways, Liberia has served as a prototype for the dozens of “liberated” African hell-holes which have emerged since the end of the Hitler war. The sufferings of the mass of the people in the countries that were formerly parts of the European imperialist empire are such that most people do not even have a glimmer of understanding of what goes on there. Oh yes, we all know about the slaughters in Uganda by the minions of the murderous Amin, and perhaps many people became aware that innocent black workers and peasants were butchered at will by another megalomaniac called Emperor Bokassa in a former part of the French empire called the Central African Republic. But there arc numerous other appalling regimes which have busied themselves in murdering thousands of their own populations in countries that arc barely even names in the West.

Who knows where to find Ruanda or Burundi or Upper Volta on the map (assuming you know they exist in the first place)? Who then knows that countless numbers of innocent men, women and children have been drowned in rivers of blood whose sources are their own black ruling classes? In case anyone imagines that the rulers of other African states view these events with horror, just ask the question: Now that Amin and Bokassa (to name but two) have been overthrown, what has happened to them? They are alive and well and living in other African states, enjoying the wealth they accumulated through the sweat of their black subjects. It is significant that these murderous robbers enjoy the protection of their fellow African rulers—and, let it not be forgotten, of their friends—their former European masters like President Giscard who brazens out the scandal of the diamonds he got from Bokassa—with the help of the French Communist Party which says such things don’t matter!

In fact, there is not a square yard of freedom from Cairo to the Cape (ironically there might prove to be a change in that regard in, of all places, Rhodesia, but more of that below). The facts are clear; nationalism, whether it be African, Basque, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, is a trap for the working class. It is a delusion that the workers’ wage-slave status will be different if the slaveowners are changed from white to black or from Castilian to Basque. So that all the sacrifices and all the misery that were endured to get rid of the hateful British imperialism in, say, Uganda, have merely served to change white tyrants for black ones—who in many cases proved even more monstrous. Those British leftists who backed anti-colonial movements thirty or forty years ago show not the slightest understanding of, let alone remorse about the grisly results. Fenner Brockway (now My Lord, if you please), who was formerly young and stupid and is now old and stupid, makes it clear whenever his voice is heard that he remains proud of his efforts to foist the likes of Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Kaunda upon the suffering African people.

To add to the horror of it all, pseudo-socialists like Brockway and similar people in the Labour Party and other so-called leftist organisations, not only besmirched the name of socialism by supporting these appalling nationalist movements, they still lend their names to the preposterous claim that these countries are socialist. Socialism, however, can only be brought about by the conscious understanding and support—freely and democratically given—of the majority of the working class. That understanding is a long way from being evident in countries like Britain, where the workers have a chance to register it freely if they were so minded. The notion that the majority of workers in places like Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Libya, have had an opportunity to discuss and debate the issue of capitalism or socialism and have freely and democratically elected socialists to their parliaments, is clearly absurd.

In all these countries the regimes are tyrannies, where there is no possibility of free socialist parties being allowed to propagate their views. Where, indeed, opponents of any kind are intimidated, gaoled or killed. The white regime in South Africa is undoubtedly obnoxious, but the leftists (including such organs of the capitalist press as the Guardian, the Observer, the New Statesman, Tribune) who spend so much time screaming against that regime, carefully overlook that there are more blacks rotting in the dungeons of Nyerere’s Tanzania or Mengitsu’s Ethiopia—two countries which vie for the honour of first place in Amnesty’s lists of murderous regimes—than South Africa has ever had.

In Rhodesia, at the time of writing, an election campaign is proceeding and—give or take a few murders—it seems that a number of parties, black and white (but of course all capitalists of varying hues) have the opportunity to state their views and canvass votes with all manner of reformist promises, just like good old Britain (they even vie with one another about curing unemployment just like our own con-men). Yet whether any semblance of democracy will exist when the elections are over must be gravely in doubt. The apparent leader in the race for power is Robert Mugabe, who has the impudence to call himself a Marxist (which is echoed by all the ignorant press here). This man has been running a guerrilla army for some years based in Mozambique and his ideas are so full of democratic freedoms that not only does he murder the supporters of opposing parties and even of allied leaders of the so-called Patriotic Front; he even kills and imprisons his own party members who happen to disagree with him. Lord Soames, the temporary British governor, has twisted Mugabe’s arm to release over seventy of such victims from his prisons in neighbouring Mozambique (another Marxist state, of course!). This item was referred to in a leading article in the Guardian (Jan 20). What the leader omitted to mention was that Mugabe only agreed on condition that they arc not allowed to move freely inside Rhodesia during the election campaign (even though some of them are candidates!). In other words, he keeps a private prison and will hand over the victims on condition that they remain chained and gagged. So if he is like this with his own party members before he attains power, the imagination boggles at what kind of hell he will visit on the country if elected in place of the previous incumbent, Bishop Muzorewa. King Stork for King Log!

Finally, we must refer to a recent (January 28) article in the Guardian: President Machel of Mozambique has “advised” (quotes in original) the “Marxist” Mugabe “to send envoys to South Africa to spell out a policy of peaceful co-existence and non-interference. And Mugabe’s vice president of ZANU-PF, Simon Muzenda, is expected to fly to the parliamentary capital of Cape Town soon to add his avuncular charm to such tidings.” All this without a blush in the great “liberal" paper which screams its head off about a team of bone-headed rugby players going out there to play games. One almost feels more at home with the right-wing rugby corespondent of the right-wing Sunday Telegraph, John Reason, who, asked by a BBC twit about the reactions to the rugby tour of the Organisation of African Unity, replied: “Might as well worry about Idi Amin. He was their chairman recently”.
L. E. Weidberg

New Zimbabwe—old story (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

After that great epic series, the Lancaster House Saga (sub-title the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia talks), with its deadlocks and diplomacy, its cliffhanging and imminent walk-outs, Rhodesia now faces the prospect of some kind of limited democracy for all and a build-up of the economy with a largely African government. Since the agreement was signed in December leaders of the Patriotic Front, Nkomo and Mugabe, and many of their guerrillas, plus many Rhodiesians who have been living in the UK, USA, Europe, USSR and other parts of Africa, have returned to ‘their’ country. Many of them are under the illusion that the forthcoming election will bring about changes which will enable them to live freely in a democratic society. The extent of the democracy rather depends, however, on who wins the elections, as some leaders appear to favour “one man one vote” only as long as they are victors. There are numerous reports of intimidation in some areas of the country by Mugabe’s ZANLA forces and Muzorewa’s auxiliaries.

Even though legally sanctioned discrimination by white against black—which for many years was enshrined almost along the lines of apartheid—will no longer exist, tribal conflicts are certain to continue. In any case the freedom to buy large, expensive houses in previously white areas will be of small consequence to the average African worker, except as an abstract notion. The returning heroes will be subject to the dubious privilege of being employed and therefore exploited by a predominantly black capitalist class rather than a white one or unemployed as the case may be. No doubt they will be urged by their leaders to work hard and harder, as are workers the world over. If things go badly they may be put in prison for disobeying capitalism’s laws or even for disagreeing with the ruling party—and it is hard for even the most avid enthusiast for black liberation to convince us that incarceration by a black government is more comfortable than by a white one. The 71 former supporters of Mugabe detained on his instructions in Mozambique until recently could perhaps enlighten us as to whether their imprisonment was more pleasant than that imposed on Nkomo and Mugabe by the white regime.

There is no doubt that the Africans of Rhodesia have suffered immensely at the hands of the European settlers, who have treated them as inferior beings with a vastly lower standard of living than the whites. So many Africans, wishing to rid themselves of their oppression, took to their guns in what they regarded as a legitimate war of liberation. It is tragic that so many have offered and given their lives for a vain cause; despite the belief that true liberation is round the corner (at least if their favoured leader wins the election), they face inevitable disillusionment.

The African population inside Rhodesia has also suffered cruelly from the guerrilla war waged over the past seven years. On the one hand, people have been tortured and killed, their shops and homes have been raided, and they have been forced to feed “the boys” regardless of their own sympathies and needs, with always the threat of a bullet to discourage them from informing the government forces. On the other hand, they have been subject to extreme pressure and violence from a Rhodesian Army determined to discover the whereabouts of the “terrs”. The appalling predicament of ordinary African people caught in this trap is aptly described in an article in the Evening Standard of January 22. A white farmer on police reserve duty describes how he
“. . . came on a village minutes after a party of terrs . . . had left it. Two girls were lying untended beside a hut, bayonetted in the chest . . . I worked on those girls for an hour, to keep them alive until a truck came. Nobody in that village spoke a word or did a thing.
   Then I turned to a man who was watching: ‘Who is this girl? Your daughter?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Where did the terrs come from? Where did they go to?’ ‘Don’t know’. ‘Don’t know?’ That man said nothing until we took him to the police station.
   We did the usual—left him without food until evening then beat the hell out of him. He told us where the terrs had gone but it was too late to track them. His daughter died. Tell me what kind of creature is it that will stand there and do nothing when his daughter is dying?”
All this is complicated by the existence of the Selous Scouts, a particularly brutal crack-force of the Army, who have often been suspected of perpetrating atrocities while posing as guerrillas. The situation has been so confusing and so horrific that thousands of people have been forced by the government into protected villages (like concentration camps) and thousands more have fled to the towns. Their abject poverty and over-crowding has been seen on British television—a particularly moving example, a few weeks ago, was of people picking over the municipal rubbish dumps in Salisbury with large sacks, looking for anything to sell, as a means of livelihood. Others, not lucky enough to be living in appallingly overcrowded houses in the towns, were living on the streets with only plastic bags as shelter against the rains.

After 14 years of UDI, why has the British Capitalist class finally reached agreement round a conference table? Partly because the war has frightened out many white Rhodesians and had dire effects on the economy; partly because of pressure by “front-line” states on the guerrilla leaders to end the war and negotiate—since the economies of those countries had suffered from the effects of the war and of sanctions on Rhodesia. Machel of Mozambique, for example was reported in The Observer of January 20 to be
". . . anxious to see Rhodesia return to normality as soon as possible since a prosperous and stable neighbour would provide a much-needed boost to his country's lagging economy.”
while Zambia had
“. . . enough maize to last only until late February or early March, nearly three months before the first of this [i.e. 1979] year’s harvest will reach the millers.
   The problem might not be so serious had not the Rhodesians cut landlocked Zambia’s two lifelines, the Tazara Railway to Dar-es-Salaam and the southern line which runs through Zimbabwe-Rhodesia to South Africa.”
If the single-track line from Zimbabwe-Rhodesia to Zambia were to break down
“Dr Kaunda would then not only face a food crisis but would also have difficulty exporting the copper on which his country depends for more than 90 per cent of its foreign earnings.”
(Guardian, December 11 1979)
Also, it is possible that nationalist leaders like Nkomo of ZAPU and Mugabe of ZANU, who were detained for many years, may have felt that their chance of power might slip from their grasp if they didn’t act soon.

Who will benefit?
So who is really going to benefit from the newly established “democracy”, from the holding of elections, from the lifting of sanctions and the expected stability and boost to the ailing economy? There are rich pickings to be had: Rhodesia is the fifth producer in the world of gold; one of the few producers outside Russia of chromium; the top grower of Virginia tobacco after the United States; Rhodesia is also a main producer of asbestos, copper and industrial diamonds. It is clear, therefore, that Britain’s interest in Rhodesia’s independence is not merely a technical matter of “loyalty to the crown”. Different capitalist groups have lent their support to different leaders in Rhodesia according to which one they judge will best serve their own interests, and the business community in general is taking a keen interest in developments there. Tiny Rowland, for example, chief executive of Lonrho, has consistently backed Joshua Nkomo although, according to the Observer of November 11 1979, he would
". . ally himself with whichever nationalist politician eventually becomes leader of Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Lonrho’s enormous assets there include a million acres of ranchland, besides commercial and industrial operations. These are operated by independent companies, but will revert to Lonrho when sanctions end and the new State is internationally recognised.”
What of the politics of the politicians in Zimbabwe? Do they really plan to bring socialism to that country? Hardly. There are nine black parties fighting the election but effectively only three main contenders, none of whom offers a genuine alternative of any kind: the message from all of them seems to be a general list of platitudes about peace, prosperity and racial harmony. Bishop Muzorewa is openly committed to free enterprise capitalism; Nkomo has adopted a conciliatory, pragmatic approach without reference to either capitalism or socialism and talks of increased wages and redistribution of land. And Mugabe? His image has been that of a hard-line “Marxist”. Perhaps this is demonstrated by the rally of his supporters where he “gave triumphant clenched fist salutes to the crowd and led them in the chanting of nationalist slogans” (Times, January 28). According to the Sunday Times, January 27, Mugabe’s election platform, although cautiously phrased,
“. . . is still the nationalisation of industry, the radical redistribution of land, the introduction of sweeping state controls, and above all, what he terms ‘the collective ideal’, the public ownership of the country’s natural resources, land, minerals, water and forests.”
Whether or not he wishes to establish a “communist” regime such as that in China, it would seem that he is trying to be all things to all men, to be moderate and capable of compromise as well as a “genuine socialist”, for at the same time his party policy-makers
“. . . now encourage the continuity of private enterprise in Rhodesia and accept the need for a close commercial and logistic relationship with South Africa.”
(Guardian, 28 January) 
It has long been fashionable among some Rhodesian Africans to label their political opponents ‘sell-out” for cooperating with the Smith regime, for supporting Muzorewa’s opportunistic government, for making too many concessions to the British government at Lancaster House. But they fail to recognise that the whole thing is a sell-out and a sham. On one prognosis, a limited type of democracy, typical of the development of capitalism, will prevail; on another, civil war will rage. But whoever gains power, we may be sure he will be hell-bent on building up the capitalist economy and on training his citizens to become hard-working, obedient wages slaves, regardless of whether his advice, investment and technical assistance comes from the Soviet Union, Great Britain, South Africa or wherever. The hollow phrase “Victory to the Patriotic Front”, beloved by the left-wing, means for African workers the victory of a different style of exploitation.
Jack Bradley

Television work and play (1980)

From the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

A quite remarkable letter from a viewer was published in the Radio Times recently. A Mr. Howell wrote a crushing exposure of a series of three BBC television programmes on “The Right to Work”:
   The first programme gave a glossy ‘To-morrow’s World’ treatment to the potential of the micro processors, with interviewers and presenters blissfully unaware of the contradictions. We heard how service industries would expand, and then saw computers taking the place of room service . . . We heard how leisure would become a big money- spinner, and next day found that those who have the leisure will be on the dole-or social security.
  Let us turn from the fact that the planners of those programmes did not know any answers to the questions of the effects of the introduction of the new technology: and look at the final programme which showed that they did not even know the questions to be asked.
Radio Times, 29.9.79.
And what was the response of the BBC Horizon programme producer, Michael Blakstad, and editor of the “Right to Work” programme? A pathetic confession that they understand nothing about it:
I cannot but agree that we need to re-examine the real meaning of “work”. We took an enormous subject and we drew no conclusions.
In other words, Mr. Howell was right and they admit they don’t know what they are talking about. Perhaps the Socialist Standard can help.

Obviously the first job is to define “work”. What is here in question is not work as understood in physics, which is a straight, simple mathematical relation. “Work” in sociology is rather more complex. Here we are dealing not with inanimate objects but the effort of human beings. This is our first fundamental distinction, for it is obvious that many animals work and as Fourier, the French Utopian, pointed out, obviously derive the greatest happiness and joy in doing so. Bees, ants, spiders and birds build hives, nests and webs, while beavers build dams and termites actually raise reinforced structures.

Here we are indebted, once again, to Karl Marx for pointing out the basic difference between the work of chimpanzees who have been induced to join sticks or build ladders to reach food, or rats to push coloured buttons, or even angle worms to thread a maze, and that of human beings. Harry Braverman, the American author, quotes from Marx (the very first page of Capital, volume I) in Labour and Monopoly Capital:
We pre-suppose Labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of the bees is this: that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour process we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at the commencement . . . he realises a purpose of his own . . .  to which he subordinates his will.
This above all, is the distinguishing feature of human work; the result of conceptual thought, and a pronounced enlargement of that part of the brain (the parietal) possessed by no other animal, making humans independent of the animal’s captor—Instinct. It produces articulate speech which can communicate and transmit knowledge, making a general social culture inevitable. It is this ability to imagine—to create the subjective image—which characterises the greatest scientists and artists.

“In recent times” writes Braverman, “the artistic mind has often grasped this special feature of human activity, better than the technical mind.” Quoting Paul Valery:
  Man does not merge into the materials of his undertaking, but proceeds from the material to his mental picture, from his mind to his model.
  Art, indeed, consists in the conception of the result to be produced, before its realisation in the material writes Aristotle.
  Men, who made tools of a standard type, must have formed in their minds images of the ends to which they laboured. Human culture is the outcome of this capacity for human thought Professor Oakley, Skill As a Human Possession.
This gives us the key to the understanding of the basis of the organisation of the capitalist production system; the division of labour or the breaking down of a process into its simplest possible parts, thus depriving the work of its natural essence-its imagination, its creativity.

Thus John Ruskin wrote:
We have much studied, and perfected, of late, the great civilised invention of the division of labour, only we give it a false name. It is not the labour that is divided, but MEN, divided into mere segments, broken into small fragments and crumbs of life, so that all the little intelligence that is left of a man is not enough to make a pin, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin. The Stones of Venice.
The division of labour has always existed (for instance, in child-bearing) but its application to the capitalist system
is the breakdown of the processes involved in the making of the product into manifold operations performed by different workers.
Braverman, p. 73.
Labour power has become a commodity. Its uses are no longer according to the needs of that who sells it—but of employers seeking to expand their capital. The most common mode of cheapening labour-power . . .  is to break it up into its simplest elements.
This explains the technology of capitalist society. In the words of Frederick Taylor the inventor of American “Scientific Management”
All possible brainwork should be removed from the shop and centred in the planning—or lay-out department.
Scientific Management.
Now we are on the track of the explanation of the system at the Lordstown plant of General Motors in Ohio, USA ‘the most advanced in the world’, where each worker on the assembly line gets 36 seconds “to complete work on one car and get ready for the next”. See this, from the Guide to Office Clerical Standards of the Systems Association of America:
Open file drawer                             .04
Folder: open/dose flaps                   .04
Open center drawer                         .026
Close side                                        .015

Work “as an activity that alters natural materials to improve their usefulness” is transformed by capitalism into hated toil, converting the toilers into robot automatons repeating the simplest mechanical operations thousands of times. It is this which has induced some writers to predict a future where 15 per cent will be the all-powerful technicians with the ‘know-how’, 15 per cent managers who understand the general process, and 35 per cent general unskilled labourers, button-pushers and key-punchers, leaving 35 per cent of the workforce permanently unemployed, because redundant.

Each form of society produces the technology it requires. In capitalist society every machine, each process, which reduces the necessity for initiative or creativity, is welcomed, every elimination of personality introduced. The reason that the “experts” invited by the BBC proved utterly incapable of defining the nature of the problem is because they do not understand capitalism.

There is no solution but the abolition of capitalist technology itself. Knowing the main incentive for the fragmentation of the labour process under capitalism, enables us to extrapolate the nature of work in socialist society. The general guiding principles will obviously be the integration and synthesis of the mental (imaginative or planning) side with the actual operation, by the same people. Once again we turn to the creative artist for a description of labour in a socialist society:
In Socialist society all unintellectual labour, all monotonous dull labour, all labour that deals with unpleasant things and involves dreadful conditions will be done by machinery; and just as trees grow while the countryman is asleep, so while humanity is enjoying itself in cultured leisure, machinery will be doing the necessary and unpleasant work.
Every man must be free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others; and by work I simply mean activity of any kind.
The Soul of Man under Socialism, Oscar Wilde.
In socialism work will become the ultimate form of art.
Art, Labour and Socialism, William Morris.
For the worker, the craft satisfaction that arises from conscious and purposeful mastery of the labour process, will be combined with the marvels of science and the ingenuity of engineering. An age in which every one will be able to benefit from this combination.”
H. Braverman, ibid.
The forecasts of some fanciful writers that in Socialist society everybody will be a lotus-eating sybarite, cossetted by robots, have minimal validity. In the words of Marx, work will be “darned serious” in Socialist society.
   The exchange of living labour for objectivised labour is the ultimate development of the value relation and of production resting on Value. But to the degree that large industry develops; the creation of the real wealth comes to depend less on labour-time—whose effectiveness is out of all proportion to the direct labour-time spent in their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and the progress of technology . . .  Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process, rather the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself.
   No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing as middle link between the object and himself . . .  he steps to the side of the productive process, instead of being its chief actor.
   In this transformation it is the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation stone of production and of wealth.
   As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour-time ceases to be its measure, and exchange-value ceases to be the measure of use- value.
    Production based on exchange value breaks down. The free development of individualities, not the reduction of necessary labour time to create surplus labour, but the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic scientific development of individuals in the time set free.
    The measure of wealth is then NOT labour time, but disposable time.
Die Grundrisse, Karl Marx, p. 709.
Divison of labour under capitalism will be transformed into multiplication (repeated additions) in socialism. Humans will become scientific, technical creative artists of production and will make their historic leap “from Necessity into Freedom”.

Swiss bankroll (1980)

Book Review from the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Switzerland Exposed by Jean Ziegler (Allison and Busby, £3.50)

Here's an easy one. Which European country does nearly everyone think of as the home of neutrality, winter sports and the cuckoo clock? Obviously, it is Switzerland but what is significant is its importance in the world’s banking system. Swiss banking operates as the leading fence for capitalism’s more dubious transactions and this is why hundreds of banks, finance companies and the like are located there.

Swiss banking’s code of secrecy and protection for customers is the big attraction. Vast sums of money are constantly being sent to Switzerland to avoid paying tax in the countries of origin. The money is changed into Swiss francs, placed in numbered accounts, and then reinvested by the banks. The owners of the funds, besides paying no tax, benefit by having their money in inflation-free currency while the banks, who pay little or no interest because of the service they provide, reap the profits from the investments they make.

Strictly speaking, all this is against Swiss law but the law is never enforced and even if it were numerous ways exist to get around it. Even the wealth stolen by “Third World” heads of state and politicians is safe. Ex-Presidents Thieu of South Vietnam and Lon Nol of Cambodia and ex-Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia all sent immense fortunes in gold and money to Switzerland and none of the new governments can recover a penny of it. More recently the Swiss government refused a request from the Iranian authorities to freeze the ex-Shah’s assets in Swiss banks (The Guardian 11.12.79). The Mafia, too, sends some of its loot to Switzerland to be “laundered” and then returned for reinvestment in legitimate enterprises.

All this information, and more, is given in the book Switzerland Exposed by Jean Ziegler (Allison and Busby, £3.50). Ziegler is a Social Democrat member of the Swiss Parliament and although he uses the terminology of Marxism he understands that subject less well than he does Swiss banking. His thinking is thoroughly idealist. For example, he imagines that if Swiss banking stopped handling this “dirty money” from the “Third World” then this would somehow benefit the poor people who live there. Of course, all that would happen is that the money would simply be sent elsewhere, with Monaco and the Bahamas as possible alternatives.

This blinkered view is due to the fact that Ziegler is another of those who are obsessed by the exploitation of the Third World by the “imperialists”. By these he means the industrialised West only and thinks that China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Cuba have freed themselves from foreign domination. He apparently hasn’t noticed that China is itself now an imperialist power ever seeking to extend its frontiers and influence, while Vietnam and Cuba, although rid of American domination, are now colonised by Russia instead. At present China and Russia are involved in a bloody struggle over Cambodia.

So Ziegler thinks that the West’s domination of the Third World is the big problem and wants to reverse this by giving the Third World a bigger share of the world markets in agricultural produce and raw materials through “international agreements”. This is merely tinkering with capitalism and can only help perpetuate it by diverting working class attention away from the real task, which is to abolish the capitalist system altogether.

An important part of Marxist theory is an understanding of the role of the state. Historically, the state is the public power created by a ruling class to defend its interests. Engels described it as
the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. Thus, the state of antiquity was above all the state of the slave owner for the purpose of holding down the slaves, as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage labour by capital. (Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.)
Ziegler claims that the Swiss state has only “become” like this, which implies that it had once been impartial. He actually says that the state should operate in the interest of all Swiss citizens! And although he describes the existence of the Swiss army as “social violence institutionalised” he is not opposed to it and merely wants to see workers “reaching the higher ranks”. Could idealism go further?

The author’s suggestions on how to fight capitalism are absolutely disastrous. He wants workers to have “temporary alliances with the class enemy . . .  to further the anti-imperialist struggle”. For example, Ziegler advocates unconditional support to OPEC in its oil price-war with the developed world customers, and Swiss trade unionists are advised to ally themselves with the “national bourgeoisie in their struggle against the growing control exercised by the multinational companies over the nation’s production system. . .”. Such taking of sides in the quarrels of our masters does not weaken capitalism: it gives it strength by causing further division and confusion within the working class and holding back the advance of socialist knowledge.
Vic Vanni

Political Notebook: Normality (1980)

The Political Notebook Column from the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


It is a cold winter’s night. The gloomy street is illuminated by municipal lamps which reveal the familiarity of a slum terrace. A man of 40, father of four small children, hurries along the deserted pavements. There is a series of sounds, not unlike a car backfiring. Immediately afterwards a car’s engine is thrust into gear and screams away. Nothing happens. Slowly one or two curtains are cautiously pulled back and nervous faces momentarily appear at the lighted windows. The wail of police and ambulance sirens is at last heard in the distance. The man is lying face down on the pavement, the street lamp shedding sufficient light to pick out an expanding pool of red. Still nothing happens. The man dies. After some considerable time the ambulance, police and army race into the street and take away the body. The televisions remain on in the now watching houses. A policeman calls at a house nearby to give some information to a mother of four small children. All part of a normal night in Belfast.

A few days later, the Northern Ireland Secretary issued an end of year statement to the House of Commons. It talked of great efforts to bring peace, of increased security, of lessening tensions, of the human concern of the Conservative Party for the people of Ulster. The scene will be repeated many times on other British streets before the year ends.

Better killers

Are the Conservatives the peace loving party they make out? Of course, they say they are opposed to workers being murdered in the Belfast streets. But one may be forgiven for wondering whether this is a general principle. Conservative (and Labour) Governments maintain, and when necessary use, far more efficient means of killing than the terrorists of either side in Ulster can possibly obtain. Almost the first thing Thatcher did when she came to power last year was to dramatically increase spending on the armed forces, the means of mass destruction. In the first eight months of government, the Thatcher administration did little but cut vital services for the working class. But when it comes to the repressive forces of the state, the means and instruments of wealth (and human) destruction, that’s another story.


The Tories also claim to be democratic. That is, they say they are in favour of a form of capitalism where the workers are able, every so often, to choose their political masters. This involves a limited (though important) amount of free speech, freedom of assembly, ability to move from one part of the country to another and few political restrictions on workers’ ability to go abroad. (That most workers do not have the economic resources to go abroad other than their two weeks in the Costa Racket is another matter.) But in fact the Tories do not believe in even those principles.

In October last year, Chairman Hua visited London and other European capitals. The Guardian (27.10.79) reported that the British side wanted to raise the matter of the flow of Chinese emigrants (illegal of course—in China the workers are not allowed out even for holidays) into overcrowded Hong Kong. I was not at the meeting between Thatcher and Hua but I am reliably informed the conversation went something like this:
THATCHER: You’ve got to stop your people leaving China and flooding our colony of Hong Kong.
HUA: But I thought you were in favour of people being allowed to leave countries they did not like.
THATCHER: Don’t come the little innocent with us Hua. We want you to put on more guards, with more dogs. Build a Great Wall around the whole country if necessary. Keep your billion prisoners in prison. This is for real.
HUA: Ah, so you British are pretty similar to us after all.

Chinese capitalism

It is in fact the other way round. Chinese capitalism is becoming more similar to the older western capitalism every day. Following the overthrow of the remnants of the old faction of the Chinese Communist Party, the government is desperately trying to cultivate individual personal wealth in an effort to bring China up (that should read perhaps ‘down’) to the standards of late twentieth century western capitalism. In 1979 “the Chinese leadership, whilst emphasising that it intended to eliminate capitalism, decided that the bank balances of the national bourgeoisie should be restored. Rumours suggest that some have regained between one million and three million Yuan (£300,000 to £900,000)” (The Financial Times 31.5.79). A Shanghai official explained in best Orwellian terms as follows: “Our aim is to eliminate capitalists as a class. Giving them back their money is a step towards achieving this aim”. Latest reports from China indicate that the trend to encourage private wealth holding is continuing. The end of the conversation referred to above between Thatcher and Hua was:
THATCHER: Business as usual Chairman Hua?
HUA: Business as usual Mrs. T.

China, America and Russia

With the Russian invasion of Afghanistan last December it seems clear that China is concerned to prove that she is even more capitalist than the capitalists when it comes to international terrorism and war. China is making belligerent noises about Russia (though it has been doing that on and off for years) and proposes to join the “capitalist roadster” Uncle Sam in threatening economic and military retaliation against the Russian imperialists. The US Defense (sic) Secretary Harold Brown was in China in January of this year. Mr Brown while there said that the “Soviet Union was trying to subjugate the people of Afghanistan”. He went on to say that China and the USA would act together, which “should remind others that if they threatened the shared interests of the United States and China we can respond with complementary action in the field of defense as well as diplomacy. It should remind them that both the US and China intend to remain strong and secure and to defend our vital interests” (The Guardian 7.1.80).

That China and the US have “vital interests” in common should cause no surprise. The dividing and re-dividing of world markets and spheres of influence among the super-powers is part of “business as usual” of the capitalist world. This particular Russian foray has called forth a sickening display of indignation from the US, who have so recently fled from their own Afghanistan in Vietnam. Margaret Thatcher, no beginner when it comes to meaningless moralities, also weighed in with strong “moral” condemnation of the Russian intervention. It is too early to say whether the crisis over Afghanistan will blow up into a world war of unimaginable horrors. The dangers to the working class are obvious—as is the need to reject capitalism world wide.
Ronnie Warrington

Briefing lessons for the lecturers (1980)

From the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back from the Christmas break many University lecturers found disturbing news to greet them. ‘Freeze on staff vacancies’, ‘compulsory early retirement’ and ‘redundancies’ were among the economy measures announced by their institutions to meet the shortfall in funds caused by the recent wave of government spending cuts.

This is a remarkable turn around since the early ’60s when the economy was booming and much money was being poured into the recruitment of university staff. ‘Redundancies’ was an idea which would have been laughed off by lecturers as being exclusive to less ‘dignified’ occupations further down the social and economic scale. They had comparatively well-paid jobs which were secure for life-or so they thought. Very few think that today, especially now that their salaries have been seriously eroded by inflation and, without the bargaining power to press their wage claims, they have fallen among the lowest paid of ‘professional’ workers. True their job still retains a certain degree of ‘social status’ but that is little compensation for the threatening shadow of unemployment.

What has happened is that the continuing recession in world trade is forcing governments (in Britain as elsewhere) to limit their investments (in this case investment in manpower) and the direct consequence of this is, as it always has been, unemployment among the working class. For, although they may not have known it in the past. University lecturers are just as much members of the working class as all other people who sell their mental or physical energies for a wage or a salary. Their imagined membership of some fictitious middle or professional class does not make their job situation any more secure than that of workers in “less distinguished” occupations. They are finding, as too for example are medical workers hit by the cuts in the health service, that their skills and status are no proof against a system which, by its very boom-slump nature, ‘decrees’ periodic bouts of unemployment among its workers.

No one knows how long the present recession will last but at the end of it, even if the job situation in Universities starts to ease, lecturers will—we hope—have learnt the lesson that socialists have been teaching for over 75 years—that in a world ruled by commercial considerations no profession is sacrosanct, no job is safe. Perhaps, too, they will see the validity of the socialist case which advocates replacing such a world by one which will not only get rid of job insecurity but will abolish the wages system completely and put human needs first in all departments of life.
Howard Moss

Running Commentary: No Tragedy, Cambodia (1980)

The Running Commentary Column from the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


For years, Cambodia has been mauled over by the competing powers in South East Asia. Devastated by war, since 1975 four million people have died out of a population which was then eight million. Now tens of thousands make their desperate way along the refugee trail into Thailand.

Like ghosts they travel, limbs as thin as bamboo, ravaged by diseases of malnutrition - dysentery, tuberculosis, cholera. Skeleton-like mothers cradle children with swollen bellies, heads like skulls.

This is a situation beyond despair; it is estimated that, unless they get vast amounts of help, 2¼ million more Cambodians could die of starvation during the next few months.

There are many bitter ironies in this human hell. Cambodia was once a peaceful, fertile place. Infiltrated by the Victcong, it became the target of pitiless raids by the American bombers.

Then came the Khmer Rouge, with their policy of genocide. Now it agonises under invasion from Vietnam and an unrelenting guerilla war with what remains of the Khmer Rouge.

And this, for Cambodia is the grisly climax to the International Year of the Child, when capitalism vowed to pay special care to the wellbeing of children. And it came some time after Henry Kissinger had smugly accepted the Nobel Prize for supposedly bringing peace to the area.

Cambodia has been ravaged because it is in the middle of a typical power struggle of capitalism, involving some of the world’s great armed blocs. Capitalism habitually defiles, destroys, terrorises. Human beings are never of urgent account to capitalism and when the stakes in terms of material advantage are high enough they become worth little more than the mud they die in, among the refugee camps.

So Cambodia is not, as the media are so fond of calling it, a tragedy. A more correct description for it would be a symptom. In this case the disease is curable; only abolish capitalism and places like Cambodia will again be green and tranquil lands.


Blood pressure in the best gentlemen’s clubs and the most refined drawing rooms must have been forced several notches upward by the recent debates on issues of poverty in, of all places, the letter columns of the Daily Telegraph.

There was a discussion about whether there actually was any suffering from hunger and other deprivation during the slumps of the Twenties and the Thirties. This is not, one might think, a matter over which anyone could dispute for long, unless history is rewritten to wipe out all those records of unemployment, ill fed and ragged children, mouldering slums.

Then there was a rather more refined debate, over the rights and wrongs—or rather the existence or non-existence—of hypothermia among the elderly. This was started by a letter from an orthopaedic surgeon in Glamorgan, calling workers who want to live in a warm home in the winter “softies” and advocating “ . . . more physical activity in the elderly . . .  a good breakfast of porridge . . . several layers of lightweight loose clothing . . ."

There are, of course, plenty of countries with a climate which normally provides living temperatures as comfortable as a properly heated English house. No surgeon suggests that people in those countries have gone soft or have lost the use of vital, heat generating organs.

In truth, the debate was about the living conditions, and the alleged extravagance, of only one social set. It is the working class, whose life depends upon their earning a wage, who suffer conditions like hypothermia. When a worker is too old to work there is only reliance on a pension, or on charity, which often means cutting back on essentials like heating.

It is old workers who die, in silent misery, from the cold of an English winter. After a lifetime of exploitation the indignity of that death is all that capitalism has to offer them. For an expensively trained surgeon to debate whether they need a warm home where they can stay alive is to add cold insult to sick injury.


As the proprietor of any Health Food Store will tell you, ginseng is the greatest thing since natural, hundred per cent stone ground, wholemeal, unsliced bread.

This product from the root of the ginseng plant is reputed to be both a tranquiliser and a stimulant (an aphrodisiac no less) which sounds rather like having your cake (or whatever) and eating (or whatever) it.

It is perhaps a measure of the desperation of what is left of the British car industry, that one of its firms is turning to the ancient Chinese medicament as a way of casing its problems.

This firm is about to launch a controlled medical experiment on the effects of ginseng upon production, feeding genuine doses of the stuff to one lot of workers and dummy tablets to another. Success or failure will be measured, need we add, not just by whether the subjects of the experiment are happier, healthier, have a more satisfactory sex life—but on whether production goes up or down.

This trial is not without precedent. Two Japanese car firms supply free ginseng to their workers, as does the great new Lada plant in Russia. This meeting of the minds, of the avowedly capitalist and the allegedly socialist, on the issue of the more profitable exploitation of workers, is instructive as to the common, capitalist, nature of society in both those countries.

But what happens, if all the car manufacturers throughout the world are feeding ginseng to their workers? Who then will be the unprofitable ones? Will British Leyland magically revive? Will capitalism suddenly stop being a society where wealth is turned out for sale and profit?

In fact, profitability does not in the last analysis depend on the state of mind of a workforce. Capitalism’s goods have to be sold in order to realise a profit, which means that its prosperity relies upon the market. Nobody has yet discovered a way to eliminate the anarchic nature of the market, which is why capitalism's booms and slumps are not susceptible to control or to forecast.

Workers in the productive process can have no effect on the market; under capitalism production takes place blind, in the hope that the goods can be sold profitably. If they can’t, then production shuts down. And for an unemployed worker, there is not likely to be even the consolation of tranquilising, stimulating ginseng; like most stuff sold in the Health Food stores, it is pretty expensive.

Letter From Europe: The French movement for abundance (1980)

The Letter From Europe column from the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In France, before and just after the last world war, a group known as the Mouvement Fran├žais pour I’Abondance (MFA) enjoyed some success, to such an extent that its theories are now referred to in most French dictionaries under the word abondance. The key figure in this movement, which still exists today though divided into a number of rival groups, was Jacques Duboin. Born in 1878 he had briefly been a junior Minister and a Radical Deputy in the 1920s. The slump which followed the 1929 Crash, however, set him thinking about economic and social matters and led him to elaborate a “theory of abundance”, first sketched in La Grande Releve des Hommes par la Machine in 1932, and to found a movement which after the war became the MFA.

According to Duboin, the 1930s slump represented the coming of abundance which capitalism, being based on the exchange of goods for profit, could not cope with since only goods which werc scarce had an exchange value and so were exchangeable. Abundance. Duboin taught, kills profits; which explained why capitalism had to try to suppress abundance in order to survive.

To give the flavour of the MFA analysis we translate below some passages from their pamphlets:
   In this regime [capitalism] which rests on exchange, the means of production are private property. Their owners draw a profit from them by selling what is produced at the highest price competition permits. People who possess nothing sell their labour as dearly as competition permits, and get wages, salaries or fees which allow them to buy what they need to live.
   It is clear that such a regime cannot exist with abundance since this suppresses profit. In fact, only products and services which have some value can be sold. But only scarce products keep their value and sell at a profit. Abundant products have no value: they are given and taken; they are not sold . . . It is thus a truism to say that abundance does not exist: it will never exist in the capitalist regime since production is not motivated by the desire to satisfy consumption but by that of realising a profit. When this profit becomes impossible, production stops. It is then said that there is a crisis, even if many consumers lack the bare necessities (Duboin, Economic Distributive de l'Abondance, 1946).          The magnificent scientific achievements of the 20th century have made abundance appear in all the industrialised countries, upsetting their economies from top to bottom, since these can only function with a “scarcity" of products and services. This obviously requires explanation: At the present time money is almost as indispensable to existence as air to the lungs. But money doesn’t fall from heaven; it is production as a whole which distributes it in the form of wages and profits. The pursuit of money being thus at the centre of our concerns, we do not grow corn to have corn, but to have money; for if we don’t gain any money then we don’t sow any more corn. Similarly all other agricultural, commercial and industrial enterprises are only viable to the extent that they succeed in bringing into their tills more money than they pay out. When abundance appears, workers are sacked since there is no more work to give them. But they then don’t buy the products and these, remaining at the charge of the producers. make their profits disappear: he who can't buy ruins him who wants to sell! People then complain about “overproduction", for this is what everything that cannot be sold is called. But chronic overproduction, is that not abundance? So goods are not produced in abundance quite simply because they would not be able to be sold (Bombe “H” ou economie distributive, 1958).
The first paragraph of these extracts contains some serious mistakes; on some points the analysis as a whole comes very near to currency crank theories like Social Credit, and in many ways Duboin can be seen as a French equivalent of Major Douglas. His solution to the problem of distribution, however, was different and more interesting. The exchange economy, said Duboin, must be replaced by an economy in which wealth is no longer produced to be exchanged but is produced instead simply in order to be distributed to human beings to satisfy their needs. This new economic system he variously called l'economie distributive (the distribution economy), le socialisme de I'abondance and le socialisme distributif.

Under this system the means for producing wealth were to cease to be the private property of individuals and to become the common heritage of all the members of society; the wages system was to be replaced by a “social service” in which every able-bodied person would work for a certain period in order to help produce an abundance of wealth; finally, every member of society would be credited, from the cradle to the grave, with a “social income” in the form of a monnaie de consommation (consumption money) which would be equal for those in equal circumstances and which would enable them to draw what they needed from the common store of goods set aside for individual consumption.

We will once again quote from “abundancist" writers to show the extent of their opposition to exchange:
   It should not be necessary to think very deeply to understand that from the moment when production has become the property of society as a whole, the economic process can no longer be carried out by a series of exchanges (which imply individual or group property of the products exchanged) but only by allocation (or distribution) (Pour batir le socialisme. Perspectives Syndicalistes. 1969).
   Socialism . . .  still calls for “the socialisation of the means of production and exchange". For the means of production they are right. But as far as the means of exchange are concerned, they are behind the times and unconsciously play the game of the capitalism they are fighting against by accepting to present the problem in the same terms as it. The real objective to pursue is “the socialisation of the means of production and the replacing of the means of exchange by means of distribution".
(Gustave Rodrigues, Le Droit a la vie, 1936 edition, p.108.)
This “distribution economy” described by Duboin in fact had more in common with the utopia described in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) than with Douglas’ Social Credit. But his proposal for “consumption money” attracted support from the same sort of people as in other countries supported Social Credit. There is however a difference. Major Douglas envisaged giving everybody a “social dividend” within capitalism; Duboin, on the other hand, assumes the abolition of exchange so that “consumption money" is a misnomer, especially as Duboin made it clear that this so-called “money” could only be used once and so would not circulate. Strictly speaking then, it would not be “money”at all but something similar to the “labour-time vouchers” which Marx once envisaged as possibly necessary in a very early stage of socialism. In fact “consumption voucher" would be a better term for what Duboin had in mind.

Any system of vouchers — and this applies to the labour-time vouchers mentioned by Marx as well implies as a counterpart that the goods for distribution have pseudo-prices. Under the labour-time voucher system these pseudo-prices were to be related to the time spent in producing particular goods. Under Duboin’s system they were to depend on how scarce a particular good was, holding out the prospect that, as abundance came more and more to be realised, goods would become “cheaper" and “cheaper", (able to be acquired by smaller and smaller numbers of vouchers) and eventually free. Indeed Duboin proposed that some services such as heating, lighting, transport, telephones and health treatment should be free from the start. Thus, as with Marx, so for Duboin the end to be achieved was the full application of the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”—free access to goods and services according to what the individual person judges he or she needs.

If Marx, writing in 1875, may have had a case for saying that unrestricted free access to goods and services could not have been introduced immediately had socialism been then established, the same cannot be said of Duboin and his followers in the 1930s and certainly not today (Duboin died in 1973, at the age of 95). In fact there is something odd about a group calling itself “the movement for abundance" yet not proposing full free access as something that could be realised very rapidly. As we have pointed out in our comments on labour-time vouchers (see, for instance, Socialist Standard, April 1971), the fantastic development of the means of production in the twentieth century has made any system of rationing, however generous the rations, quite obsolete. This applies to labour-time vouchers as well as Duboin’s “consumption money’’. A consistent “abundancist” today can only be in favour of free access, of goods being freely available for people to take according to need from the abundance which is technologically possible now but which will only becoming socially possible once capitalism has been replaced by socialism.

The MFA is open to criticism on other grounds too. Duboin was an underconsumptionist who greatly exaggerated the impact of mechanisation and automation on employment under capitalism. He just looked at the labour displaced in the final stage of the production process while neglecting the extra labour required at earlier stages to invent and build the new machines. Certainly, the former is greater than the latter — otherwise the new machinery would not be introduced — but as a matter of observed fact productivity in manufacturing industry increases on average at the comparatively slow rate of 2 or 3 per cent a year, and certainly not at the fantastic rates sometimes implied by Duboin. But Duboin was not original in making this mistake, nor in making another in accepting the myth that banks can “create credit" whereas in fact they can do no more than lend what has been deposited with them.

The MFA also argues, sometimes quite vehemently, that its “distribution economy” could be established in just one country, preferably France. The arguments it uses to defend this view show that it has not fully understood what socialism is even if it has understood the need to abolish what it calls “the prices-wages-profits system". As the productive apparatus capable of producing an abundance of wealth is world-wide, it is clear that abundance can only be realised on a world scale and that socialism, the society that will permit its realisation, can only be world-wide too. Indeed at times the picture the MFA paints of what it calls socialism more resembles state capitalism. At one time in fact (when Russia was more popular than it is now) the MFA used to describe Russia as "scarcity socialism", though most French “abundancists" would not. Most French “abundancists" would now agree that the Russian system is a form of state capitalism.

What is interesting in all this is that, virtually unknown to us in the English- speaking world, a group of people in France came to the conclusion that the solution to todays social problems necessarily involves abolishing the exchange economy and the wages-prices-profits system, even if this insight was mixed up with all sorts of confused and incorrect ideas. It once again confirms that the spread of socialist ideas does not depend entirely on our own meagre propaganda effort.
Adam Buick (Luxemburg)

The lesson of Milovan Djilas (1980)

From the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Milovan Djilas was for many years—before, during and after the war—Tito’s closest associate and after the war, when Tito had seized power, he became one of the leading members of the government in Yugoslavia. Nothing special, you might think—a typical East European communist leader. However, this man did something remarkable. He broke with the party, the government and Tito—voluntarily, as distinct from all those “communist” leaders who never broke but were broken by Stalin and by little Stalins like Rakosi in Hungary or Dimitrov in Bulgaria, who made quite a habit of hanging their erstwhile comrades in arms in order to remove any possible competition for the job which they held.

Djilas was one of those rare specimens who, when he reached a position of power after many years of bloody struggle, saw that he was part of a new ruling clique, even harsher towards the working class than the villains they had replaced. He did not like what he saw and denounced the regime of which he was a shining light. By that stage (the early fifties) the Yugoslav regime had apparently had its fill of blood and Djilas was not hanged for his heresy but sentenced to prison (to which he was to return more than once). But Djilas did more than just resign. He was able to write a number of books and get them published in the West. In particular, he wrote a book called The New Class. This book provides the definitive answer to the common question: “But if Russia is a capitalist state, where are the capitalists?”, for it describes—from the inside, for a change—the power, wealth and privilege of those who rule over the proletariat in Russia and the other state-capitalist regimes. Only from the inside could one get an account of sheer gluttony and drunkenness under Stalin and the rest of the gangsters, often at times when the workers were literally dying of hunger.

To this extent, therefore, we owe a debt to Djilas—and we recognise the courage needed to make the break that he did. But the lesson which this article is minded to draw is something different based on a long interview with him which appeared in the December 1979 issue of Encounter. What Djilas says in this interview is of considerable interest and importance, but in particular what stands out all the way through is that although Djilas is a man of undoubted ability and courage, who seems to have read a good deal of Marx and has realised that the parties to which he devoted his great ability, are a snare and a delusion, he remains supremely ignorant. That may appear to be a harsh verdict. But it is clearly the lesson that runs like a thread through all the twenty pages which the interview takes up in Encounter.

And before we have a look at some of the interesting things he says (it would take a whole issue of the Socialist Standard to do justice to them all), it is necessary to make one thing clear. During all his remarkable career Djilas has never shown the slightest sign of knowing what socialism is. He will learnedly discuss Trotsky’s view that Stalin distorted the “pure socialism” of Lenin while still leaving Russia a “socialist country”, which apparently it remains to this day, despite all the horrors which Djilas knows about (none better). He has, apparently, been too busy all his life waging a struggle for “socialism” to have time to wonder what it is he’s been fighting for. And he is no nearer understanding now, at the end of his career, than he was in his romantic youth. Neither does he begin to imagine that there must be something odd in fighting for a cause when you don’t really know what it is—and when you’ve apparently won it, you don’t even know if you’ve got it or not. Such are the traps into which our “intellectuals” blithely fall. So now Djilas finds himself, sickened by the abomination that is Russia today, yearning for a new system which is “beyond capitalism and socialism, escaping traditional leftist dogma.” Well, we will agree on the need for the working class to shun leftist claptrap; but this society which is beyond capitalism and socialism—what on earth is it? It is no more than a figment of Djilas’s imagination. He knows that he has been utterly and desperately wrong—but he has not the remotest idea why.

Yet some things Djilas can see clearly enough. He knows it is impossible to derive from Marx anything like a Stalinist cult of personality and contrasts that with Lenin: “There is absolutely no contradiction between Soviet (socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals”—a famous piece of Leninist twisting to prove that black is white, that dictatorship equals democracy. Djilas also quotes Lenin: “a personalised dictatorship of the proletariat is a hundred times more democratic than the rule of the bourgeoisie”. “In that backhanded way”, says Djilas, “Lenin was, if you like, a democrat.” (“If you like” is rather good.) “And indeed Lenin tolerated, until the 10th Congress, a certain amount of democracy within the Communist Party.” No doubt a cat is behaving with a certain amount of democratic justice when it allows the mouse to run around for a second or two. However, Djilas comes nearer to the real world when he goes on to say that “Lenin’s political practice consisted of a ruthless will to coerce and subjugate. Stalin’s terror and Stalin’s tyranny are unmistakably foreshadowed by Leninism.” Djilas is also fully alive to reality when he says that Russia is immune to “constructive criticism” from leftist professors and “well- meaning” fellow-travellers. “Communists with power and privilege to lose regard them as fools.” Which they undoubtedly are. And again: “I want to demolish the notion that the evils of Stalinism were due to Stalin’s character as put about by Soviet propagandists. In all political aspects, Lenin regarded Stalin as his rightful heir.”

Djilas then goes on to take issue with Marx by saying that the Communist Parties (and in particular the Yugoslav party) came to realise the importance of nationalism as compared with class, “whatever Marx may have said”. Workers of each land unite with yourselves! But then he also thinks that “any Communist social order necessitates the exclusive right to say what the individual may think and feel”. He sees hope in the fact that so-called Eurocommunists like Carillo of Spain and Berlinguer of Italy are imbued with patriotism. After all, he points out, at the beginning of the century socialists used to talk of a classless society but then they “all supported the war in their various countries and were distrusted no longer”. In fact, genuine socialists-in the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties abroad—opposed the war in 1914 and equally in 1939. Perhaps desperately, Djilas suggests that the communist parties of the West will probably change their names in due course. He offers: Socialist Workers Party! One wonders whether he appreciates the irony of this when he was, as he says, interviewed for the BBC by “a wordy representative of the extreme left (Paul Foot) who lectured me on the need to destroy parliamentary institutions”.

Djilas welcomed the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939 (which gave the green light for the outbreak of war) because, he says, he could see no difference between the Nazis and the western democracies. So much for all the propaganda of the various “communists” in favour of a United Front against fascism which fooled the entire Left (including, we now read, the Cambridge spies like Burgess and Maclean and Blunt). But then this is the same misguided “intellectual” who could once write: “Can there be any greater honour and happiness than to feel that one’s friend is Stalin? He is the bitter enemy of all that is inhumane, he is the wisest person, he nurtures human kindness”! (Borba, the Yugoslav Communist Party paper, 1942). But even today he says he has no sense of shame in recalling his own part in wartime atrocities. Such little matters as personally cutting the throat of an unarmed German prisoner—a worker—and then clubbing him to death. He refers to the actions of Eden, the “not- guilty Man of Munich” in leftist mythology, in connection with the return of civilian prisoners at the end of the war (after all fighting had ceased in Europe). Eden justified sending hundreds of thousands of these poor wretches to be slaughtered in cold blood by Stalin by saying that otherwise Stalin would not release British prisoners.

A spurious reason this, but one that, as Djilas says, does not apply to Yugoslavia. They held no British prisoners to use for blackmail; nevertheless Eden still sent 30,000 men, women and children from camps in Austria to the mercies of Tito who murdered every single one of them at once. Eden well knew the grisly fate in store for them. As Djilas says, Tito made it quite clear to a British mission what would happen to these utterly defenceless human beings. (And of course it would be absurd to imagine that Eden’s Prime Minister Churchill, and his deputy Prime Minister Attlee, soon to become Labour Premier, were not aware of what their own forces were doing. Should they not all have been tried at Nuremberg along with Goering and the other Nazis? And Stalin who, as Djilas makes clear—in case anyone doubted—slaughtered thousands of unarmed Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest? And Djilas?)

That was all many years ago. And as one now sees what happens in Cambodia, Iran, Timor or Ethiopia, it is clear that all this inhumanity is integral to the present system which will change only when the working class decide they have had enough of horrors of all kinds in peace and war. But that will require, to begin with, a little clear thinking—too much to expect from Djilas.
L. E. Weidberg