Monday, February 13, 2017

Debate - Socialism or Anarchism? (1957)

Debate from the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Report of a Public Debate held at Bethnal Green Library on Friday, 16th May.
Donald Rooum for the London Anarchist Group,
R. Coster for the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Chairman George Plume (P.P.U.) 

The Socialist speaker opened by referring to the title of the debate. It would perhaps sound cryptic to non-Socialists and non-Anarchists; the subject of the debate, fully stated, was whether it was the Socialist case or Anarchist arguments that held the solution to the problems of mankind.

The Socialist case was against Capitalism and for Socialism. Capitalism was the latest stage in man’s social development; from his beginnings man had organized socially for survival and for the satisfaction of his needs. We had no knowledge of man as an individual, only as a social being in a social context.

All societies—primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism—were founded upon the manner in which man set about organizing to produce for the satisfaction of his needs: what Marx had termed the mode of production. On the different bases of different modes of production, he had found necessary different institutions, different mores, different religions, different laws, different attitudes and concepts, and different kinds of government. Always, however, the distinguishing feature between societies was none of these by itself, but the mode of production which gave rise to them all.

Capitalist society was based on the ownership of all of the means of life by a small class. The remainder, the majority, had to be wage-workers, all more or less poorly paid. This basic class-structure had never changed within Capitalism; the techniques of production might have altered, but not the basis.

The consequences of Capitalism in the form of social troubles were innumerable. War and its horrifying weapons, economic crises, poverty and its results, disease, bad housing, crime: all these and countless other problems were direct results of the system which was concerned only with sale and profit. The only standard by which a society could be judged was whether it satisfied the needs of the people living within it, and by this measure Capitalism—for all its spectacular achievements —failed completely.

The speaker referred also to attempts to reform Capitalism. If it were true that social problems were the outcome of the system itself, and not of mismanagement of it then it followed that all policies of reform were useless, since they aimed to abolish effects while retaining the cause.

The capitalist class, however, did not rule by their own strength. Many of them had never seen, had little knowledge of, the factories, land, workshops and enterprises which they owned. Their ownership was maintained and protected by the State, which had no other function. It was in this coercive agency, with its fighting forces and penal systems, that capitalist power resided.

It followed, therefore, that any body of people wishing to change the ownership basis of society must go to the place where ownership was kept: that is, it could only seek to take hold of the powers of government as the means of taking away capitalist ownership. This was the aim of the Socialist Party. Its policy was to make Socialists, for a conscious and politically organized working class to go to the State and make the ownership of the means of life common to everybody.

In the Socialist society, thus based on common ownership, the competition which led to wars, crises and chaos, would have ended. So would poverty; there would be no wages, no money barrier to the satisfaction of needs. The aim of society would be simply for all people to share, according to their needs, in all that the earth produced.

It might be thought that this was the common objective of Socialists and Anarchists, and that they differed only as to the means of achieving it. This was not so. The Anarchists had only the nebulous aim of overthrowing “authority,” and all their proposals were founded on complete misunderstanding of the nature of society. Indeed, by ignoring the role of the State and urging people to “direct action" against it, they sought to harm the interests of working people. The Socialist Party aimed at making Socialists; the Anarchist movement could make only martyrs.

Donald Rooum, opening for the Anarchists, said that in stating their case he would repeat much of what the Socialist speaker had said. The Socialist was completely mistaken about the idea of Anarchy, however. He would say that though Socialists and Anarchists had the same professed aim. Socialists did not mean what they said, whereas the Anarchists wanted people to act on their ideas. All factions but the Anarchists wanted people on their knees before some authority, and in the end would only swindle their followers.
"Anarchy” came from the Greek and meant "without government." Until the eighteen-eighties Anarchists had called themselves Anarchist-Socialists. They abandoned this because of confusion of thought among Socialists, as they had later to abandon the name Anarchist-Communists. The basis of Anarchist ideas was that society existed for the benefit of individuals, and the aim of Anarchist society would be to increase individual opportunities. There were two kinds of social relationships—free and coercive; Anarchy meant a society founded on free co-operation.

Our society was dominated by coercion. We hated work because we were forced by employers, police and money; we were all in danger of being bombed because mentally unhealthy politicians insisted on continuing with bomb tests. We suffered from having such people in power, with the right to do such things; they were insane and irresponsible—only delinquent lunatics could be politicians. Even if perfect beings formed a government, they would soon be imperfect.

Governments kept going by violence and the threat of it from bombs, police and possible poverty and unemployment. Thus, the world was made unpleasant for individuals. The alternative was for society to be based not on government, but on co-operative relationships: “common ownership" if you liked to call it that. In such a society workers would control the factories, land and so on themselves.

Anarchy could be brought about by making people Anarchists. Anarchists did not seek, as the Russian Communists had done, to take power dishonestly. They said that the way to get rid of coercion was to stop letting oneself be coerced. The Russian Communists had said the State would wither away, but they retained the police and the armies, like all other governments; the fact was that power corrupted all those who took it. Thirty centuries of grinding-down by governments proved this.

The solution, then, was for everybody to co-operate with his equals, and refuse to allow anybody to take power over him.

R. Coster, making the second speech for the Socialist Party, said the Anarchist speaker had not met the point that governmental power and coercion were founded on the private ownership of the means of production.

The Socialist case was that the problems of the present-day world originated in the capitalist economic system, and that a co-operative world could only be established on a different ownership basis. While private ownership existed, politicians—delinquent or otherwise —could only when they were in power carry out the requirements of capitalism. He instanced the recent history of the Labour Party, which had once had a strong pacifist strain, but when in office had instituted military conscription and begun the biggest armaments drive in history. Its members were not drunk with power, but were simply having to prepare for war because they had undertaken running the system which led to war.

The proposition that wars were caused by delinquent politicians was, in fact, capitalist nonsense; people had gone to war precisely because they had been told that the wars were begun by irresponsible and wicked rulers who must be opposed. It was equally silly to say that people were coerced to work by police and armies; they went to work because, having no ownership of the means of life, they could only live by selling their labour-power.

To change society there must be a body of people who knew what was needed and how it was to be done. It ill became the Anarchists to speak of "different kinds of Socialists," for they had little or no agreement Mr. Rooum had said he wanted the abolition of the wages system; many Anarchists were unsure about this, however, and some appeared to love the wages system. The means proposed were varied, too, though they were equally futile. Some thought Anarchy would be established by the practice of mutual aid within Capitalism: but it had already been shown that man was prevented from acting co-operatively by Capitalism. Others wanted to force Anarchist reforms until Capitalism turned into Anarchy; but reformism was the antithesis of revolution. And others still proposed a “social general strike"— that is, they wanted workers to do the most foolish thing of all, to throw themselves under the Juggernaut of the State.

Donald Rooum began his second speech by complaining of the nature of the debate; he had not wanted to continue making speeches, but to have the audience participate in questions and discussion.

He denied what the Socialist speaker had said of Anarchists and the wages system. The statement that some Anarchists were unsure about and even thought they would keep the wages system, showed Coster to be, if he was not a liar, daft in the head. As for Capitalism preventing cooperative relationships, people were coerced simply because they allowed other people to coerce them; if they refused to allow the capitalist into the factory, he could not be there. Working-class power existed only in the factories—the vote was useless as a means to change.

Clause Six of the Socialist Party’s Principles said that the working class must organize to conquer the powers of government to convert them “from an instrument of oppression into an agent of emancipation clear proof that the Socialist Party wanted not to change society, but to become the government. The Bolsheviks had done this—they were Socialists, they had been benevolent, but their good intentions faded when they had taken power.

Everyone was taught to revere authority from childhood; the authority might come from Capitalism, but whether or not it did so it was still authority. The Socialists asked people to surrender themselves to a body of people, and were either deceiving the people or deceiving themselves. The methods mentioned for establishing Anarchy were the only ones possible; the alternative to them was putting somebody else in power.

Before making his summing-up speech, Donald Rooum again said he did not like the form of the debate. He thought that Socialists regarded Anarchists as namby-pamby middle-class people, and had understood from the platform this evening that the Socialist Party was going to usher in Socialism in a very short time.

At this point the Anarchist speaker said he had nothing further to say and would let his opponent have any remaining time.

Summing-up for the Socialist Party, R. Coster replied to various points which had been made for Anarchism. He read quotations from Anarchist papers and from Berkman’s ABC of Anarchism to show the varied views of Anarchists on the wages system, from those who advocated a complicated system of credit and currency under Anarchy to those who proposed simply equalization of incomes and a standard working week.

The allegation that the Socialist Party wanted to govern could not be supported by a single word from fifty-three years of party literature. Comparison with Russia was meaningless, but the Anarchists, lacking in scientific analysis, had groped in the dark over the Russian Revolution: a quotation described how prominent Anarchists had supported the Bolshevik Revolution and become “disillusioned.” To be disillusioned one had to have illusions first.

The Anarchist speaker had said it did not matter where authority came from. This was the most extraordinary statement of all. The Anarchists were concerned solely with authority—its abolition was the only aim upon which they agreed—yet they were unconcerned and did not wish to know whence it came. To the Socialist, causes had always to be sought. The whole of history showed that, so far from the nature of government being unimportant, every class which had aspired to change society in its own interests had had to gain control of the powers of government This was the real lesson from countless centuries of political history; this was the aim of Socialists, who sought to replace Capitalism with Socialism and to do so by going to the seat of capitalist power.
C. R.

Marx's conception of socialism - Part 2 (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The second part of a talk transcribed from a recent conference. [Part 1 can be read here.]

There is a useful book — David McLellan's Thought of Karl Marx, (Macmillan 1971) — which has a chapter in which has been brought together a number of Marx's references to socialist society. One of the points mentioned is Marx's view that in socialist society you would not have workers tied to one job all their lives, that it would be possible to change from one job to another. Marx used a very fanciful example. He said it would be possible to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening and criticise after dinner. But I don’t think we should take this literally. (I don’t know if he put in the hunting because Engels was fond of fox hunting, but the basic idea is alright.)

You will have noticed that British capitalism has been moving in this way. In the last ten or fifteen years you have had members of governments saying to workers, "You have got to forget the idea that you started as a steel worker and you end as a steel worker. You are going to have to learn the skills of two or three careers in your lifetime because your job is not going to last that long." Marx carried this idea a stage further. In the German Ideology he developed the same idea, that as the gulf between mental and physical work disappeared and the division of labour disappeared, people would become capable of doing all sorts of things. He extended this to the art field, where he suggested that artists should cease to be confined to separate activities such as painting and sculpture, and would be able to do the lot. This is an interesting idea.

I now come to the question of the. "withering away of the state". Engels in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, wrote about the state in these terms: “State interference in social relations becomes in one domain after another superfluous, and then dies out of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct and processes of production, the state is not abolished, it dies out.” Marx and Engels had dealt with the same idea in the Communist Manifesto where they wrote: “When in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for the oppressing of another.”

You have got to read both these statements in the light of Marx’s belief that you start off with a lower phase of communism where, initially, you suffer from all sorts of disabilities that will not exist later on. I don't recall that the Socialist Party has ever discussed it. We have certainly had articles in the Socialist Standard, by implication repudiating Engels' idea that you have got to have a long period in which the state disappears. If you don’t accept the idea of a fairly prolonged lower phase of communism, then you don’t accept this idea that you have got to have a state which continues for a long time.

Also in the Communist Manifesto, and again in the light of Marx and Engels' recognition that the material conditions did not exist then for the emancipation of the proletariat, you have them laying down the idea that you wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoisie. I would say that this is another idea that we don't have to accept. It does not fit in with our conception of a working class taking power for socialism when they are ready to do it and not before. In The Poverty of Philosophy, answering a question which was being argued. Marx put his idea that society evolves by class struggle. That you have feudalism followed by capitalism and then socialism. The question was put: “Does this mean that future socialist society will be stagnant and will not develop any more?” Marx said: “It will only be in the order of things in which there will no longer be classes and class antagonisms, that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions.’’ In other words he was saying that social evolution will continue but that it will no longer be, as in class society, settled by political revolutions and by class conflict.

Marx, or rather McLellan, has an observation about crime which is rather interesting. McLellan, on page 214 of his book, is explaining Marx’s view of the coercive power of the state, and he says this: “The (coercive) forces it seems, would not be needed by communist governments, certainly not exterior force. For the revolution would be nothing if not international and not even inside the state would there be need for coercive forces, for punishment would be," (and then he puts in quotation marks) “'the judgement of the criminal upon himself.” McLellan does not say where Marx said this, and I cannot find it. But it does seem quite likely to me that Marx may have said it.

Marx and Engels made some references to war and its abolition. In the Communist Manifesto they said that at all times the bourgeoisie was in constant battle with the bourgeoisie of other countries. In The Civil War in France, Marx referred to society: “Whose international rule would be peace because this national rule would be everywhere the same — labour." What he was saying was that when socialists are in control everywhere, they do not go to war. because they have no cause for doing so.

I want to come back to the question of production in socialist society and to the idea of free access and how it would be worked out. Again, as I have said, this is speculation. First of all you will require a very big increase in the productive forces of society to increase the production of useful goods and services. When the SPGB was formed, in some early articles and pamphlets, they made a calculation (I imagine they were assisted by some of the material published by Chiozza Money) that with the abolition of armaments and war and all the activities of capitalism, financial and otherwise, and the bureaucracies necessary to capitalism but not to socialism, socialist society could look to a doubling of its labour force and materials. There would be twice as many people available to carry on production in socialist society because they would no longer be required for all these purely capitalist activities.

Some two or three years ago I had another look at the material on which this was based. This means looking at the production census and also the occupational census. If you find in the production census that there are two million peopole in distribution you can then look at the occupation census to see what those two million people are doing. You can then form your own idea about the number who are engaged in purely capitalist operations and also the number who are not. It seems to me that the position is very much what it was when the early members looked at it. Socialist society can reckon that, having got rid of all the armaments and war, of the finance workers of capitalism and the needless bureaucracy, they will have double the labour available for production. This will be the main way in which production will be rapidly increased, as it will need to be.

But there are other factors entering into this. I have mentioned the rate at which the output per worker has increased in this country by 1¼ per cent a year. This has no doubt been stepped up considerably in this depression, because a lot of what the capitalist class regard as passengers have been squeezed out of industry — in other words work is being intensified. The figure for productivity increase has been higher than 1¼ per cent a year in some countries and for short periods it has been very much higher. But for socialist society I suggest that you could reckon on the increase being greater than 1¼ per cent for one reason which is that you will get rid of the restrictive practices by a trade union and periodical curtailments of production by capitalists.

On the other hand there is a fact that society has to reckon with already, and socialist society also would have to reckon with it. In the extractive industries — that is coal, oil, metals and agriculture — there has been and there is likely to be a tendency for production to fall. It was put very graphically by the Chief Planning Officer of the National Coal Hoard a few years ago when he said: "In the coal industry you have to keep running faster and faster just to stay where you are”. You have to go deeper and deeper in the mines and it takes more labour. I reckon that it takes as much labour to mine a ton of coal now as it did one hundred years ago. There is a new pit being opened at Selby where they have been working on it for five years and they have spent over £1,000 million developing the pit and they have not yet got a single ton of coal out of it. All the labour represented by the £1,000 million is part of the labour required to produce coal in the future.

The agricultural correspondent of The Times has said that recent reports by the FAO dismiss the idea that world hunger at the present time merely exists because of bad distribution. The FAO also draw attention to the fact that an additional 200 million hectares of cultivable land, that is about 8 times the area of the UK, will be needed by the end of the century just to stay where they are because soil is being eroded at this rate over the world. In other words they have got this same problem in agriculture, and it is a problem which exists in many ways.

On the other hand, as a plus to this, there will not be the destruction of resources that goes on under capitalism. Marx pointed out that in every depression enormous amounts of equipment and machinery are scrapped. A firm might go bust and they sell their equipment as scrap, and it is not used for its original purpose. In socialist society this would not happen. Socialist society will use out its plant for the length of its useful life. The capitalists do not do this. Quite apart from depressions, if somebody comes along with a new modernised form a capitalist concern, which has got plenty of capital, will buy it and scrap what they have got because they can make more profit by doing this than if they use out the life of their existing plant.

Free access
I want to say something more about free access. What exactly do we mean by “free access”? It is all very well to say that society co-operates to produce things and that we go along to what Marx called the consumer stores and take out what we want. But what is society going to decide about what it is going to put into these stores? Marx used the phrase about meeting the wants of the masses ‘‘decently and humanely”, but this does not really get you very far. In modern terms I would say it means this: everywhere you would have water services, sewer services, education and health services, transport, housing, food and all of the things that people want. But human needs are not all the same all over the world. In a tropical climate some things are materially different to what they are in a temperate climate or in a cold climate.

If "free access” is interpreted by saying that in a socialist society whatever you think you would like to have you can have, I would say that it does not make sense. In a socialist society you will only be able to have free access to the things which society decides it will make available for free access. I read recently that there is a company in America advising people to register now for trips to the moon, and they have had hundreds of thousands of applications. Well, if we had socialism tomorrow I assure these people that they can want to go to the moon as much as they like — they won’t go. The amount of labour and materials required to do it is simply fantastic and no sensible society, in present circumstances, would dream of doing something like this while so many prior needs have to be met.

In socialism you will provide means of entertainment, you will have a lot of theatres, theatre companies and ballet companies and so on, but if on some particular night there is a theatre holding 2,000 people and Nureyev is dancing there, and 10,000 people decided that they want to go. they won't be able to go whether it is under capitalism or socialism.

Bringing this down to the way I think socialism ought to look at it. I would say that the idea that you have production all over the world administered from a central office like the United Nations building in New York is out. I see no sense in it at all. I would say that the emphasis ought to be in the opposite direction. As far as is possible, naturally and sensibly, you leave it to local people to take the initiative in everything, that is in producing what they want and deciding what they are going to make available for free access where they are in the locality.

In this case, where does the central administration come in? I would say firstly that it functions as a centre of information, statistical and otherwise. Secondly, any locality which says they can’t reasonably produce certain things which are wanted conveys the information to the central administration and they pass it on to the people who could do it. They say, there is a shortage of something in Abyssinia which can reasonably be produced in England, we will tell the British administrative people and they would do what is necessary. In other words, you rely on local initiatives and you don't have to have a great central administrative organisation which is going to organise all these things. I don't see any reason why it should. It would seem to me that relying on the local initiatives is the sensible and practical and economic point of view.
Edgar Hardcastle


Marx's conception of socialism - Part 1 (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

(The following is a transcript of a talk given earlier this year.)

As Marx envisaged society moving forward from capitalism to socialism, anything he had to say about the society of the future is of interest, but it is important to notice two things about what he said. Firstly, he never set out a comprehensive outline of socialist society. Secondly, he made scattered incidental references to the society of the future at different times in his life and in dealing with different subjects, so a lot of these ideas are in the air, as it were, and we have to do our own thinking about them.

About never having set out a comprehensive view of socialism, one of his French critics of Capital asked Marx why he didn't write “recipes for the cook shops of the future”. Marx accepted that he was not doing so. Marx was not outlining future society and he explained what he meant about this. In The German Ideology he said this: communism (by which we mean socialism) “is not for us a state of affairs, an ideal to which reality will have to adapt itself. We call Communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things, and the conditions for this movement result from the premises now in existence". What Marx meant by “movements” we find in what he set out in his introduction to Capital. This “movement" was the economic laws of motion of modern society and he explained that his purpose in writing Capital was to discover these economic laws. So the only worthwhile ideas you can have about socialist society have got to be related to what Marx insisted was the existing state of society. You cannot just pluck these ideas out of the air.

This introduces an immediate complication. You have Marx or Engels writing in 1848 or even earlier, producing ideas about the socialist future, but the existing state of affairs is very different now to what it was in 1848 and also different to what it was in 1875. In his 1867 preface to Capital, where he referred to the progress of the Trade Unions. Marx talked about “a radical change in the existing relations between Capital and Labour". They show that the present society (that is capitalism) is no solid crystal but an organisation capable of change, and is constantly changing. So whatever was in Marx’s mind in 1848, he would have thought differently in 1875, and we of course would have to think differently now.

One thing to notice about this in the Communist Manifesto is that Marx and Engels talked about the “spectre of communism haunting Europe”, but in fact they did not think that there was the slightest possibility of communism being established at that time. This is clear from a reference they made in the Communist Manifesto to the “utopians". They criticised the “utopians" on the ground that "the economic situation does not as yet offer to them the material conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat”. What was true of the “utopians" was also true of Marx and Engels. They were looking in the future in the light of the unready conditions of the time. So, in fact, socialism was not a practical proposition at that time.

In 1848 there was inadequate development of the productive forces, which is one of the things Marx meant when he said that the material conditions were not present for the establishment of communism. In addition to this, in Europe as a whole in 1848, the peasants vastly outnumbered the workers, so the working class was not in a position to do anything democratically anyway. They were outnumbered, and as well as this the working class were not socialists: they had not reached the level of maturity to make it possible to contemplate introducing socialism. This is what Marx and Engels meant when they criticised the “utopians".

I want here to throw in a suggestion of my own and in excusing doing it I would say that this whole field is speculative and therefore one person's speculation is as good as anybody else’s. You have the idea put forward by Marx of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. They anticipated this in the Communist Manifesto and they also put it forward in 1875. I would say that the obvious explanation was that they were looking at a world in which the material conditions did not exist for the emancipation of the proletariat. As late as 1891 you will find Engels in a letter to Bebel, writing about the possibility that the working class might get power prematurely. He did not rule this out. He said that in the event that we might take power prematurely we shall have to use “terror". It was directed in this case against what he called the technicians, as he described the people with technical training. My own comment on this is that we should throw the whole thing overboard and have nothing to do with it in any circumstances. It does not matter how Marx or Engels may have later on tried to interpret or explain away "the dictatorship of the proletariat”, we do not contemplate that the working class shall take power prematurely to get socialism, so I think we should write the whole thing off and have nothing whatever to do with it.

I have mentioned the fact that, as Marx said, capitalism changes and conditions develop, but in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote about some things which they said existed but which in fact did not exist. They talked about for example the world market being established and it had not. It has been a slow development for the world market to really become a world market. They also talked about society being divided into two great classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It was developing that way, and you could have said it about some countries, but they were anticipating something that would happen later.

In the Communist Manifesto you will find Marx and Engels putting the view, for which they have been often criticised, that average wages were nothing more than bare subsistence. This was a legitimate comment on capitalism at that time but it has long ceased to be true. Marx and Engels recognised this fact. You will find Engels in 1895 in the preface to the Condition of the Working Class in 1844 looking back and saying that there had been a remarkable improvement in the standard of living of the workers in the big trade unions.

Marx, of course, allowed for this to happen. In Value, Price and Profit he says that the division between wages and profit depends upon the "respective powers of the combatants". The fact that there has been a change in the distribution of the national income since 1865 when Marx wrote about it has a bearing on how you get from capitalism to socialism and I will explain later why I think this is important.

In coming to the question of production under socialism, in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels said that the first task of socialist society would be "to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible". Marx returned to this again in the Critique of the Gotha Programme in 1875, where he attacked what he called "vulgar socialism” for thinking that the question of socialism turns mainly on the question of distribution. Marx developed his view on this in volume 3 of Capital and he also touched on it elsewhere. Marx described depressions in which a certain number of industries overproduce in relation to their particular market. Marx went out of his way to demonstrate that the fact that capitalists produce more than they can sell at a profit has nothing whatever to do with the quite different question: "Do they produce enough for the needs of the population?”

Marx said that capitalism never had produced enough to meet what he called the wants of the whole population "decently and humanely". It is still true that capitalism does not produce enough for the mass of the population. This is as true now as it was when Marx wrote about it. The point is that the first task of socialism would be as Marx and Engels said, to increase as rapidly as possible the production of socially useful consumption goods and services. Undoubtedly, powers of production have increased since 1848 and they have increased since 1867, but if we look at the fact that since 1867 the working class share of national income has

increased, the problem has not become less important, it has become more important, because there is less available for the working class to take out of the existing level of production.

There is another question here. Marx in his early life, and Engels in his later life, greatly exaggerated what the existing powers of production are. Marx corrected himself, more or less, but he still had an exaggerated idea. The relevance of this is that if you have an idea of the existing powers of production and the rate at which they are increasing which is greatly exaggerated, you are on very dangerous ground when you try to look at what has to be done in socialism. You are assuming that you have got productive powers which don't exist.

Getting the needle
In his early days Marx was quite wrong, but this was before he had worked out his labour theory of value. In The Poverty of Philosophy in 1847, he accepted a statement by Proudhon, that in the 70 years between 1770 and 1840, the average output of each worker had been multiplied 27 times. In fact it might have perhaps doubled. It is understandable that Marx should think like this because a whole lot of economists were in the same error. If any of you take the trouble to look up Adam Smith's fairy story about the pin factory in the first chapter of the Wealth of Nations you will find Adam Smith talking through his hat about productivity.

He was talking about the supposed increase of production that comes through division of labour. He goes through his pin factory and imagines pin workers, taking the wire and dividing the cutting and sharpening into 18 separate operations. Adam Smith ends up by saying that it will be seen that the output of the worker has been multiplied by 240 or possibly 4,800 times. If you were to ask somebody for a quotation for a job and he were to say. “Well, £240 — or perhaps £4.800," you would say that he does not know anything about it. and Adam Smith didn't know anything about it!

Where Marx went wrong in his early life, and Engels went wrong afterwards, was that they worked out productivity as Adam Smith did — that is, they worked on the assumption that pins are made in pin factories. But they are not. Pin factory workers started with wire and at a guess about nine-tenths of all the labour involved in making pins has already been embodied in the wire before it gets to the pin factory. Imagine that there are 100 workers producing millions of pins, and that ten of them work in pin factories. If you can cut the number of workers in the pin factories from 10 to 5, Adam Smith would say that this is a 100 per cent increase in productivity. But the real reduction in the number of workers is from 100 to 95, in other words it is an increase of about 5 per cent.

This is a vital question because if you are going into what socialism has got to do you have got to know what the productive powers are. Concerning the real rate of increase in production, taking 1970 to 1980, the official overall figure is that productivity per worker in those ten years increased at the rate of about 1¼ per cent per year. This is something that you can work with. The important thing to notice is that Marx, in Value, Price & Profit, explained the real basis for calculating productivity. He emphasised that in any production you must not only look at what he called the final process like the making of pins from wire. You have to look at the whole process from the beginning, the mining of the ore. the smelting, the transport, the engineering, buildings and therefore the whole lot. That was the way to look at productivity and its increase.

Arising out of this idea of how you are going to increase productivity, and what the powers of production are. Marx also looked at the question of work and leisure.

In Capital, Vol. 1, page 581 (Kerr edition), Marx emphasised that the capitalist had unlimited leisure, achieved by “converting the whole life time of the masses into labour time". He contrasted this with socialist society in which the time that society is bound to devote to material production is shorter. As a consequence, the time at its disposal for “the full development intellectual and moral of the individual" is greater. Under capitalism the workers work and the capitalists are idle, their time is leisure. With socialism everybody works so that the amount that each needs to work is less. But Marx did not look at this as a simple proposition, as some people would have it, that in socialism we will simply aim to work less and less and have more time for leisure. He did not take this view at all.

You will find that in the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx used the phrase "when labour is no longer the means to live, but is in itself the first of vital needs". Marx is saying that labour is a vital need along with food, clothing and shelter and education. It will be remembered that with this phrase “from each according to his ability — to each according to his needs”, the original version had put the need first. Marx reversed it, and he did so because he attached great importance to "from each according to his ability" which is in line with this statement that “labour is in itself the first of vital needs”.

Marx also made some reference to the problem of the extent to which socialist society will have to choose between what in the capitalist world would be producing consumption goods and producing capital goods. In socialist society there will not be capital goods but the problem will still remain. Under capitalism, if you want to expand some industries you have to withdraw labour and material from producing consumption goods. It's true that later on you can increase productivity and get more consumption goods, but in the first place you have capital investment by withdrawing labour and materials from the production of consumption goods. Marx pointed out that the same problem will exist in socialism.

Socialist society will have the problem of deciding how much of its productive resources will be devoted to consumption goods and how much will be withdrawn from producing consumption goods to be devoted to long term projects designed to increase the production of consumption goods in the future. Marx used as an example the railways, which he said “do not produce any useful effect for a long time — a year or more.” Marx didn't know about modern capitalism, they would take far longer than a year if they were at it now. A similar idea was put in the Critique of the Gotha Programme where Marx points out the amount of annual production that has to be provided for the maintenance and extension of the means of production, and also the provision of reserves of goods to meet destruction arising out of natural catastrophes. He pointed out that capitalism always has to produce more of everything than actually reaches the market. Some of it gets destroyed by deterioration, there are earthquakes and floods and so on, and Marx is saying that with socialism you will have the same problem. You won't be able to abolish earthquakes by resolution. So society will have to set aside labour and resources for developing its productive forces and also to maintain a reserve against natural catastrophe.

Another remark made in the Communist Manifesto which has got a very modern ring, is that socialist society will have to devote some of its energy to bringing into cultivation waste lands and the improvement of the soil generally. Marx and Engels had already put on record in 1848. in the Communist Manifesto, that socialism involves the abolition of buying and selling, it involves the abolition of the wages system, and that in other words, socialism means what we would describe as having “free access". But in the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx also put forward the idea that you could not go straight into what he called the higher phase of communism. Society, as it emerged from capitalism had to go into a lower phase, when as he said, it was suffering from what he called a narrow bourgeois outlook. He wasn't talking about the narrow bourgeois outlook of the capitalist, he was talking about the narrow' bourgeois outlook of everybody, including the workers. Marx said from this that you would have to have a labour voucher system.

Labour vouchers?
He said that in this "lower phase", because production wasn't enough for “free access" that is unrestricted free access, and also because people would suffer from a “narrow bourgeois outlook” and would not know how to run socialist society, you would have to have a labour voucher system. Every individual would work and would be issued with a labour voucher according to either the duration or intensity of the work. On the strength of whatever was marked on the paper the individual would withdraw consumer goods from the communal store.

My reaction is this, I know a lot of people treat it seriously, but I think we should throw the whole thing overboard for various reasons. We do not contemplate that the working class will take power for socialism while they are all suffering from a “narrow bourgeois outlook". In 1875, Marx and Engels knew that the material conditions for socialism did not exist, not in our sense of the word, nor in their long term sense of the word. Therefore they were saying that we would have a “dictatorship of the proletariat" which however way you interpret it means that you are basing it on the fact that there is a “narrow bourgeois outlook”.

Marx dodged all the real questions here. He says that you give people labour vouchers based either on duration or intensity of work. In spite of all the experts who deal with job evaluation and so on. I do not know for most industries any way at all by which you can measure the intensity of every individual’s work. There are some industries where you can look at the quantity produced in a day or a week or something like this, but Marx himself then goes on to say that this will result in some people having a higher standard of living than others because, to use his words, some individuals are mentally or physically superior to others and can therefore produce more in a given time or work longer hours.

I think we should reject the idea. Who is going to have the authority for issuing these tickets, how is it going to be done, and how is it going to satisfy these workers with a “narrow bourgeois outlook"? Imagine saying to half the workers, "of course you are going to have a higher standard of living than the other half".

Marx also mentioned that, apart from some people being mentally and physically superior to others, some would have larger families than others, so that as for 40 hours work, they both get the same, the ones with the larger families would all be on a lower standard of living. How did Marx contemplate making the dissatisfied workers accept this; how is he going to prevent them from raiding the food store or forging tickets or something like this? I would say that as we are not contemplating socialism coming when there is a "narrow bourgeois outlook”, we should have nothing whatever to do with it.

However, we do not get rid of one problem. This is the problem that in the early stage of socialism there will be not enough produced to have “free access" in our sense of the term. We have got to accept that there won’t be enough for free access all over the world.

We have also got to accept that sometimes there are big differences between the standard of living of some workers and the standard of living of others.

I read from The Times correspondent that he reckons that the highest paid craftsmen in this country are what he calls compositors working with obsolescent lino type machines who are getting £548 a week and they are working alongside people who are getting £70 or £80 a week. Well, imagine Marx with his labour voucher system going to these compositors and saying: “Well, of course, you will have to come down to some more realistic level for the time being".

I would suggest that as we don’t accept that there will be a “narrow bourgeois outlook” we are saying that the workers in the mass understand socialism, know what they are doing and know what their responsibilities are. That faced with the problem that there are 1,000 million people in the world in absolute poverty and that there are workers ranging from quite high standards of living down to a very low one, that with the advent of socialism, the obvious thing to do with the production problem is this. That it would be put to the workers that we are going to have free access, but the administrative organisation, whatever it is. appeals to the workers on a high standard of living: "Don’t take advantage of it”. In fact, ask them, in the early days of socialism, not only “don’t take advantage of it” but accept a lower standard of living and devote your energies, if necessary work longer, to try to help the people in the rest of the world who are on a standard of living far below you. This is the only socialist answer to this problem.
Edgar Hardcastle

(To be concluded next month.)

Where Was Britain Going? (1967)

From the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

History is a weapon in the hands of a Socialist party. But for capitalist parties it is just an embarrassment, especially when the record of their own blunders and compromises is recalled. Apart from minor errors, our party's analysis of political events and social developments has been correct throughout the sixty odd years we have been working for Socialism. The pamphlets and the articles in the Socialist Standard which our early members were writing before the first world war still make impressive reading today. Take just one example, this appraisal of state-capitalism which some French social-democrats were advocating as a step towards Socialism years before Lenin seized power in Russia :
"They are for State capitalism or collective exploitation. We are not concerned with State capitalism. Consequently State capitalism cannot be the ideal of any Socialist. Ergo those who preach State capitalism or collective exploitation are not Socialists." (Socialist Standard, December 1906)
Reformist organisations, on the other hand, prefer to forget many of their earlier publications—simply because their theories and strategies now look ridiculous in retrospect. Thus the 'Socialist' Labour Party, which is currently denouncing the Soviet Union as a "bureaucratic despotism", published Lenin's State and Revolution back in 1919 under its subtitle of "Marxist teaching on the State and the task of the Proletariat in the Revolution." Another example is Trotsky's Where is Britain Going? which the 'Communist' party brought out in 1926, shortly before its author fell from grace. Palme Dutt's review of this book, written a few months before he became a rabid Stalinist, now makes amusing reading. He said: "A challenge may safely be issued to the critics to name a single book by a single English author or politician, 'bourgeois or Labour leader, which is as close to the essentials of the English situation as Trotsky's book. It can-not be done."-(Labour Monthly, 1926-quoted in B. Pearce's Early History of the Communist Party of G.B.)

Where is Britain Going? has been republished by the 'Socialist' Labour League because of its "remarkable" qualities. It is therefore interesting to see how the ideas expressed in it have, stood the test of time.

Certain of Trotsky's predictions are now only worth mentioning because of their period flavour. For example, he was anticipating an outbreak of hostilities between America and Britain on the grounds that "the fundamental antagonism of the world" was that between these two countries. In fact, there was nothing unorthodox about Trotsky's position on this point. At the time this was the official Comintern assessment and, when Karl Radek reported along these lines to the executive committee of the Communist International in 1923, his speech was reprinted by Communist parties under the title 'The International Outlook'.

What really interests us, however, are Trotsky's ideas on Socialism and the form which a Socialist revolution will take in Britain. Like the rest of Lenin's followers he was committed to the unscientific notion that "socialism is nothing 'but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people". He made it quite clear that, if the Communist party gained control in Britain, the military arm of the State would persist for "many years ahead" and that production would continue to be geared to the market, with "the exchange of goods, products, and services between . . . complementary countries . . . (our emphasis). For some reason, which he never got round to explaining, all this "would raise to an unheard- of height the material and mental well-being of the working classes …”

Trotsky wrote this book in April, 1925 when there had been only one Labour government in Britain. The sorry mess that MacDonald had made of things during 1924 convinced Trotsky that the rank and file members of the Labour party would push for more radical policies and that "a great deal less time will be necessary to turn the Labour Party into a revolutionary party than was needed for its creation." The first Labour government had been in the minority in the House of Commons and, since this prevented it from pushing through any major reforms, it mainly restricted its activity to threatening striking workers and 'building warships. Apparently Trotsky felt there was revolutionary potential in such a programme because he summed up the 1924 government in the following terms: "The first experience of the Labour Government with all its paltry lack of talent was none the less an important historic warning for the ruling classes." How much nearer the mark was Clynes, one of the right- wing Labour leaders whom Trotsky attacked, when he reminisced about the same administration: "There was nothing in: the Labour Government's record of 1924 to which any Liberal could turn with real disfavour ."

Trotsky mocked the Labour leaders also because they refused to use violent methods. This nonsense he was sure would be knocked out of the Labour Party when it found itself with a majority in Parliament and eager to push through the nationalisation of basic industries. It is obvious from what he wrote that he completely failed to understand the nature of nationalisation and even went so far as to imagine that it represented an attack on private property. He emphasised that there could be no peaceful takeover by the State because "only an utter fool may not comprehend that the bourgeoisie will bring into action heaven, earth and the infernal regions in the event of the' actual coming to power of a Labour Government." History, of course, has made Trotsky look the "utter fool."

The 1945 Labour government, with its massive majority, did enforce a number of state capitalist reforms of the type which Lenin himself had been demanding immediately prior to the October revolution (nationalisation of banks, coal etc.) The capitalist class, with a good deal more sense than Trotsky, recognised these for what they were — a reorganisation of property society which left its basis unaffected. In fact, Lenin had pointed this out years before in his The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Avoid It—written between September 23-27, 1917. There he talked about nationalisation in general and of the banks in particular: "If nationalisation of the banks is so often confused with confiscation of private property, the dissemination of this confusion of terms is to be blamed on the bourgeois press, to whose interest it is to deceive the public." Clearly it was not just the general public, the 'masses' of whom Lenin has such a low opinion, who were deceived but one of the top leaders of the supposedly omniscient, revolutionary vanguard itself.

Apart from wild predictions about the revolutionary prospects of the Labour party, the main task which Trotsky set himself was to wean the working class of its respect for bourgeois democracy. The limited democracy which workers have won for themselves under capitalism (the vote, freedom to organise trade unions and workers' parties) is dismissed by him as a mirage—"Between its own property and the revolutionary proletariat the bourgeoisie raises the screen of democracy." In his anxiety to emphasise this point Trotsky repeatedly contradicts himself; thus on page 89 universal suffrage is contemptuously dismissed as "the asses' gate erected . . . by the bourgeoisie", while on the previous page he admits that “in the period of Chartism and right down to 1868 the workers in Britain were completely deprived of electoral rights…" Significantly, he fails to explain why the capitalist class should wish to deprive workers of "the asses' gate" supposedly erected by itself.

The Communist party of 1926 was ready to publish Trotsky's work because at this time his name still carried the prestige of one who had led a successful revolution. But the question is--what sort of revolution? The Bolshevik uprising of October 1917 marked the final destruction of the remnants of feudal power in Russia and the ground was then cleared for the country to industrialise on a state capitalist basis. Trotsky's political experience was of a capitalist revolution and he looked at England through the eyes of the bourgeois revolutionary. His conception of political organisation was exactly that which Engels had dismissed as being already outdated in 1895—"conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses".

His advice to the working class in Britain was that they should take on the capitalist state in an armed insurrection. The Socialist Party of Great Britain claimed that such a course would be suicidal. We argued that the first stage in a Socialist revolution is for workers to use their vote as a class weapon in order to capture political power. This done, and with the State in its hands, the working class can set about stripping the capitalist class of its wealth. The workers in Britain in 1926 were not Socialists, but the fact that they rejected the Bolshevik strategy of attempting a putsch proved that they had more political insight than Trotsky and adventurers like him.

Leadership grows out of ignorance. But, as Trotsky clearly showed, ignorant followers produce even more ignorant leaders.
John Crump

The Importance of Marxism—(continued) (1940)

From the May 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

In last month's Socialist Standard we dealt in some detail with Marx's important discovery—the materialist conception of history. We showed that this conception was a scientific guide to the interpretation of historical events. In the light of this discovery, capitalism is depicted as a passing phase of social development and Socialists as pioneers of a new and more progressive order of society. This primary aspect of Marxism does not, however, exhaust the range of "Scientific Socialism." The extremely complicated internal structure of capitalism stands also in need of analysis, for unless we understand the working of this mechanism our demand for a Socialist society can rest only on historical foundations. It is Marx’s complementary discoveries in the realm of political economy that have ranked Socialist theory as an economic as well as an historical science.

If the reader were to take a bird's eye view of our present economic system he would see it as an intricate network of establishments embracing industry, commerce, finance, law and social administration. Having thus surveyed capitalism, the first question that would most probably occur to his mind would be, " How does such an involved structure keep intact?" or, to express the same point in the language of economics, “What are the economic laws of this mechanism?" This very question may be said to be the subject matter of inquiry of Political Economy, the science that deals with the nature of wealth and the laws that govern its production and distribution. As Marx's concept of value and surplus value can really only be clearly understood when viewed in relation to Political Economy, it is desirable for us to consider the aim, scope and historical background of that science. By presenting the subject in this manner we shall enable the reader to more readily grasp the full import of Marx's economic discoveries.

Theory of Value
The central theme of Political Economy is the theory of value—a theory intended to solve the riddle of what it is that determines price. Why, for instance, should a diamond generally cost more than a hat, or a jeweller receive a higher price for his services than does an agricultural labourer? Problems like these have occupied the attention of economists for centuries.

There is one proposition, however, upon which practically all economists, prior to and contemporary with Marx, have been in agreement, viz., That the average price of an article is regulated by a certain standard, which may be called the article's real value. As a matter of fact, all of us in our daily experience recognise such a standard, for we frequently use the expression "value" in an economic sense during current conversation. We often say, for example, "I've paid more for this article than it's really worth," or conversely, “I've received splendid value for money."

Current Theories of Value
If the reader were to ask the Economic League what determines the value of a commodity he would meet with a reply we have so often received, viz., The value of an article is what it will fetch.

The Economic League are not the only ones to advance this proposition.

The columns of the Catholic Herald have contained a similar thesis in an article devoted to refuting Marxism.

Samuel Butler put it forward in verse in his work " Hudibras," more than two centuries ago, when he wrote: —
“The value of a thing
Is just as much as it will bring."
There may be some justifiable excuse for Samuel Butler and the Catholic Heralds but not so for our modern economists, whose reply surely begs the very question that was raised.

For what a thing will fetch is neither more nor less than its price! Value and price must therefore be considered identical.

But, then, the question still arises, “What determines this value or price?" Does the Economic League think there is any determinant? If not let them explain why a house costs more than a loaf of bread.

Let us leave this fallacy and turn our attention to a much more widespread but equally mistaken notion—the view that supply and demand determine the value or price of an article. In this connection one thing is quite true. If the supply of goods exceeds the demand for them market prices will fall; conversely, where demand exceeds supply (instance torches to-day) market prices will rise.

But let us assume a case where supply and demand are equal.

For example: There are six customers in a shop, each of whom, shall we say, demands a tin of biscuits, and the shopkeeper has precisely six tins of biscuits to sell. What happens in these circumstances ?

Will the shopkeeper charge no price for his wares, just because supply and demand happen to be equal—or will he possibly ask one of his customers to walk out of the shop so as to enable him to fix a price?

Actually, of course, the average price of an article is fixed prior to supply and demand. The latter are factors which send the market price sometimes above the average and at other times below, but they no more determine the height of the average price of a commodity (i.e., the price considered, in normal circumstances, over a given period) than the oscillations of the waves of the sea determine the height of the sea level.

Besides—to those who contend that prices are determined by supply and demand, we would pose the following question: What determines supply and demand?

Finally, let us not omit a reference to the theory of marginal utility.

It would take us too far afield to enter into all the manifold aspects of this modern bourgeois theory, so it must suffice to point out the following:—
Utility, whether marginal or otherwise, cannot possibly serve as an indication of the magnitude of value, for utility itself cannot be measured.
How are we to ascertain, for example, how much more utility there is contained in a diamond than there is in a roll and butter ?
Moreover, quite apart from being an objective measure of value, utility cannot even serve as a subjective measure of value for the capitalist. For it is precisely because the goods his workers have produced are absolutely useless to the capitalist personally that he exchanges them for money. In fact, the ironical part about it all is that their only use value is to him their exchangeable value. And this conclusion alone would lead us to reverse the notion that attributes the exchange-value of an article to its use-value, which is the essence of the theory of marginal utility. Moreover, bootlaces are certainly much more useful than battleships (at any rate, in peace time!), but to the best of my knowledge they have never commanded a higher price. An objection may be here raised that I have merely emphasised one aspect of the theory of marginal utility. I am aware of the fact that there are various schools of thought on the question—that there are some who interpret marginal utility to mean “final demand" and others who include in their idea of utility the concept of “cost of production." These points, however, have already been met in other sections of the article.

Man on Value
According to Marx . . .
That which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production. . . . As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour-time. — (“Capital,” Vol. I, page 46, Modern Library Edition.)
On the same page he says: —
The labour-time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time.”
He then gives the following example of the theory: —
Diamonds are of very rare occurrence on the earth’s surface, and hence their discovery costs, on an average, a great deal of labour time. Consequently much labour is represented in a small compass . . . If we could succeed, at a small expenditure of labour, in converting carbon into diamonds, their value might fall below that of bricks.” (Page 47.)
We shall elaborate on this labour theory of value in a later article. Here we wish to draw attention to the formulation of this concept by economists before Marx—to the evolution of the theory, so to speak.

The Labour Theory of Value Before Marx
One of the first to grapple with the problem of value was Sir William Petty (1623-1687), Governor- General of Ireland. Petty has been called “the father of Economic Science." In his “A Treatise on Taxes and Contributions," written in 1662, he says: —
  If a man can bring to London an ounce of silver out of the earth in Peru in the same time that he can produce a bushel of corn, then one is the natural price of the other. Now if by reason of new and more easy mines a man can get two ounces of silver as easily as he formerly did one, then corn will be as cheap at ten shillings the bushel, as it was before at five shillings. (P. 43, Cambridge Edition.)
  Labour is the father and active principle of wealth as lands are the mother. (P. 68.)
Petty also held a very clear view on wages:
The value of the average daily wage is determined by what the worker needs—so as to live, labour and generate. (P. 60, “Political Anatomy of Ireland,” British Museum Copy.)
Petty was not, however, always consistent in his views. He laboured to a considerable extent under the Mercantilist illusions of his day—the view that only money had any real value. Expositors of the labour theory of value were also Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and Richard Cantillon (died 1734), but their views, like Petty’s, were vitiated by Mercantilist notions, which were more or less an expression of the interests of the rising merchant capitalists.

The Mercantilist economists were succeeded in the order of time by the “Physiocrats," the French school of Political Economy. In their works, Francois Quesnay (1694-1774) and S. R. J. Turgot (1727-1781), the leading representatives of this school, divide society into three classes—agricultural, land-owning, sterile (manufacturing, trading, artisan). Physiocratic theory coincides with the interests of the rising French farming class, at that time occupying an ever-growing influence.

Labour was the source of value and surplus value, thought the Physiocrats, but only so far as agriculture was concerned.
Solomon Goldstein

(To be continued)

The Importance of Marxism (1940)

From the April 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even the most cursory of observers will have noticed of late a growing interest on the part of the workers in political and economic problems. This increase of interest has reflected itself in an enthusiastic response to our propaganda. Our speakers meet with attentive and appreciative audiences, and the influence of our Party is now greater than ever. There is an obvious reason for all this. The average worker can no longer find his bearings in the modern world, which he sees ravaged by wars and strife, persecution, bestiality, poverty and unemployment. As a consequence his outlook has become gloomy, for his hopes and aspirations have been destroyed by the march of events. A restatement of the essentials of Marxism is therefore timely, for Marxism demonstrates the transitory character of our present system. Not only doe sit explain the world in which we live, but it also points the way to a better and brighter future.

What we owe to Marx
The Socialist movement is indebted to Marx for two important discoveries—the materialist conception of history, and the source of surplus value. Both discoveries have established a scientific basis for our cause, and have thus marked us off completely from Utopians, moralists and reformers. Yet, when appraising Marx, one must not overlook the fact that he built upon the work of his predecessors. Marx had already obtained a storehouse of information from English economists, Utopian Socialists and German philosophers, when his own keen analytical mind formulated the doctrines which have been mentioned above.

What is a Materialist?
Quite a number of people have a curious conception of a materialist. The latter appears to them as a vulgar person, devoid of aesthetic appreciation and oblivious of the finer things of life. Nothing could be more absurd. On the other hand, many believe that a materialist is one who dissolves the world into a heap of dead atoms and denies the existence of the mind (Ernst Haeckel, for example). This confusion has prompted Mr. G. D. H. Cole to suggest, in his work, "What Marx Really Meant," that one ought to designate Marx's theory by another name—"Realistic Interpretation of History." Marx had, however, a very good reason for choosing his own particular appellation. In the days when his conception was being formulated a fierce controversy had been going on between two rival philosophical schools of thought. The men who held that Nature had preceded mind or the idea called themselves materialists, and their philosophy materialism. Conversely, the others who believed in the priority of the idea named themselves idealists, and their philosophy idealism. The idealist position leads to God. To the materialist Nature is all that is, and God is a figment of the human imagination. In short, a materialist is a person who contends that ideas are inseparable from human beings, who are products of nature at a certain stage of development. The entire teachings of natural science have demonstrated  the correctness of this philosophical outlook.

Materialist Conception of History
Throughout the centuries historians have recorded the private lives of kings, the adventures of sea captains and the feuds between various religious groups. Consequently history has appeared as a crazy quilt, an endless jumble of perpetually recurring struggles for liberty and justice, which, somehow or other, are never permanently realised. In contra-distinction to this confused romanticism, Marx maintain that the essential factor in all history is the way in which mankind has obtained its livelihood. For, as he quite rightly says, before men can devote themselves either to politics, religion or science, they have got to eat, drink and sleep. And how do men obtain their means of subsistence? With the aid of tools, for man is a tool-making animal. The millions of inventions that have taken place since primitive man's discovery of fire have led to the giant machines that we know to-day. In the 1888 Preface to the Communist Manifesto, Frederick Engels has summarised historical materialism in the following words:
" . . . That in every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organisation necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained. the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles form a series of a evolutions in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class—the proletariat—cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class—the bourgeoisie—without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles."
What a panorama this conception opens up to us! "Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open, fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
    "In the earlier epochs of history we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guildmasters, journeymen, apprentices, serf; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.  "The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones. "Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.” (Communist Manifesto, p. 8, Reeves Edition.)
And why has society been divided into classes? In “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific,” Engels has supplied the answer: —
   “ . . : The separation of society into an exploiting and an exploited class, a ruling and an oppressed class, was a necessary consequence of the deficient and restricted development of production in former times. So long as the total social labour only yields a produce which but slightly exceeds that barely necessary for the existence of all; so long, therefore, as labour engages all or almost all the time of the great majority of the members of society . . .  so long, of necessity, this society is divided into classes. Side by side with the great majority, exclusively bond slaves to labour, arises a class freed from directly productive labour, which looks after the general affairs of society; the direction of labour, State business, law, science, art, etc. It is, therefore, the law of division of labour that lies at the basis of the division into classes.” ("Socialism, Utopian and Scientific,” p. 77, Swan & Sonnenschein Ed.)
Would that space permitted me to quote more from these masterly pamphlets! They are unquestionably classics of Socialist literature!

Some Illustrations off the Theory
One can illustrate historical materialism by a multitude of examples. Let us take three outstanding ones:—

(1) The rise of Christianity. In the days when this doctrine arose society was more or less based on slave labour. This form of labour leads to an exhaustion of the productive forces, for the slave recognises his inferior position and vents his spleen on the tools he works with. So long as supplies of slaves were plentiful (through conquest, etc.) the ruling class of Rome cared very little indeed for their chattels. Ruthlessly exploited, ill-treated, his mentality circumscribed by his miserable mode of life, is it to be wondered at that the slave longed for death, or at least for a Messiah who would relieve him of his burdens? For chattel slave labour does not provide the basis for a higher order of society. A Socialist solution of man’s economic problem on this planet was not only impossible but also inconceivable in Rome at that period. For the free men, however, who were disgusted with the striking contrasts between the classes, the only practical escape was a sharing of goods in common. The early Christian Congregation was an organisation of this character. This has led many to believe that Jesus was a Socialist. Apart from the fact that the historicity of Christ has been questioned, the communism of the primitive church was a communism of consumption, not of production. Christianity, confined at first to small congregations, very soon took root in a society which was heading towards the abyss. With the infiltration of wealthy elements the communism of consumption degenerated into philanthropy.

(2) The French Revolution. We are all familiar with the slogans of the Revolution—liberty, fraternity, equality. These were the catch-words of the rising bourgeoisie of France intent on the overthrow of absolute monarchy, the last bulwark of the feudal order. For centuries prior to 1789 the growing capitalist class of France had found themselves hindered by feudal restrictions on their commerce and industry. The extravagances of the monarchs had also dragged the peasants deep into the mire. The bourgeois intellectuals were the most advanced group in this complex society, and it was their initiative, combined with the backing of the lower orders, which finally destroyed feudalism in the great revolution.

(3) The Present War. The present conflict in Europe has been described by the British as a war for democracy and freedom, by the Nazis as a struggle for Socialism against Jewish plutocracy. Millions of people on either side earnestly believe that this is the case. In reality the war is a violent expression of an economic conflict between rival groups of capitalists for a re-division of the plunder filched from the workers. The British and French capitalists own between them territory of nearly eighteen million square miles, with a population of more than six hundred and eight millions. The German bourgeoisie, deprived of their colonial possessions after their defeat in the last great war, find themselves confronted with tremendous economic difficulties. Possessing a vast industrial plant and an enormous proletariat ready for exploitation, their main problem is cheap raw materials and a market for their goods. As the British and French capitalists have already cornered what the German bourgeoisie so eagerly desire, the latter are attempting to take by force what their enemies are not prepared to yield. It is this German threat to the possessions of the British and French capitalists which is the root cause of the present war.

Limitations of the Theory
Many carping critics have complained that Marx's theory is much too general. They have expected from it either a detailed account of every man's doings in the past, or the final answer to all the world's riddles.

Marx, however, does not envisage his conception in that light. For him, as for us, it is a scientific method of interpreting historical events. Moreover, that the materialist conception does really interpret history has been amply demonstrated by the use that has been made of it since Marx's day. One need only mention some well-known historians who have employed the method -- Kautsky, Mehring, Ashley, Townsend, De Gibbin, Tawney, Rogers, Jenks.

Historical Materialism is, however, only the one aspect of Marxism. It is complemented by the concept of surplus value—a theory which reveals the mechanism of capitalist production. We reserve a discussion on this subject for a further article.
Solomon Goldstein

Objectors 1914-18 (1967)

Book Review from the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Objections Overruled', by David Boulton (McGibbon & Kee, 45s.)

In his introduction the author of this book describes it as the story of the 16,000 men in this country who refused to fight in the First World War, told wherever possible in their own words from their letters and diaries. In fact, Mr. Boulton has gone far beyond this. In his first chapter, "International Socialism and War" he gives an account of the discussions carried on and resolutions passed in half a century of conferences such as those of the Second International ― and of the total collapse of that supposedly anti-war movement when war broke out in 1914. He also retells the story of the trickery by which the politicians Lloyd George, Asquith and others engineered conscription while professing to be opposed to it.

In other chapters he deals with the founding of the No-Conscription Fellowship and its harrying by the authorities; the strikes on Clydeside; the Leeds Conference called to hail the Russian Revolution; the controversies among organisations to which conscientious objectors belonged; and the subsequent careers of leading figures.

Although the historical section, like the book as a whole, is well documented, the author quite fails to understand why when the time came the working class organisations of the various countries for the most part lined up with their governments in support of the war. Repeatedly he comes back to the theme that the verbal protests about the war were not accompanied by working-class action, "there was no call for revolution, general strike or insurrection." He does half-glimpse the truth that any such call would have fallen on deaf ears but the basic reason escapes him. The fact was that the other so-called Socialist parties in the International were no more Socialist than the British Labour Party. They were not built up of convinced Socialists, accepting the class struggle and its necessary principle of undeviating hostility to capitalism and loyalty to international solidarity. Their horizon was limited to policies of reforming capitalism, of collaborating with avowedly capitalist parties, all within the framework of patriotic loyalty to their own national groups.

It is customary to treat the collapse of the International in 1914 as an unforeseeable catastrophe. But to the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain it was precisely foreseen long before the event, which is why, years before the war, the Socialist Party repudiated and refused to belong to that body.

What did exist in this country was a long tradition of seemingly powerful opposition to the idea of a conscript army on the continental model. But that tradition owed its existence primarily to the fact that British capitalism had operated with a powerful navy and small regular army. In the first two years of the war the authorities depended on volunteers, but as soon as the time came when they needed more fighting men and particularly when the supply of munitions caught up and surpassed the supply of volunteer soldiers, they went over to conscription, and the politicians with few exceptions abandoned their alleged principle of opposition. This included the Labour Party but it took considerable time for them to forget their traditional attitudes. So much so that at one point they were accused by their opposite numbers in France of dragging their feet: "Continued Labour opposition to conscription was causing impatience among French socialists, who feared that the 'pacifism' of British Labour was weakening the Allied cause". (P.80).

An interesting field of study would be the extent to which eventual acceptance of conscription by the trade unions and Labour Party was influenced by the Government's decision to include trade union officials among the occupations exempt from military service.

A device to make conscription less offensive was to include a clause providing exemption for conscientious objectors, but some of the politicians including Lloyd George (himself a long standing declared opponent of conscription) made it clear that they never intended this exemption to be more than a form of words, especially as regards political objectors.

Thus it came about that many of the first wave of objectors in 1916 were subjected to appalling persecution. A number were sentenced to death and only after public outcry were the sentences commuted to 10 years imprisonment. Others were brutally ill treated. At least 73 died as a result and 31 were driven insane. As Woodrow Wyatt wrote in the Evening Standard (27.6.67) "Maybe we should not be too self-righteous when we turn in horror from Japanese prisoner-of-war camps or German concentration camps." As the war dragged on the brutalities lessened but not the suffering inseparable from long imprisonment. Many objectors accepted the alternative of work in Home Office Camps, including the 1000 strong camp at Dartmoor. A major factor was the changed attitude of many soldiers, themselves weary and disillusioned by the horrors of war. The writer recalls the scene in an army guardroom when he was visited by a brother on convalescent leave after being wounded in France. The sergeant in charge was rash enough to express the hope, in front of the soldier prisoners, that the writer might be persuaded by his brother to join up. The brother's blistering reply about the evident insanity of the sergeant was greeted with uproarious approval by the soldier prisoners.

In the same guardroom Brooks, a conscientious objector member of the Socialist Party who had served two sentences and was awaiting a further court martial before going back to jail, held a successful class on Socialism, on the guardroom floor using Hyndman's Economies of Socialism as a text book― until the authorities got wind of it and separated the C.O.'s from the rest.

Boulton makes only a passing reference to the SPGB and that is based on a misconception. Describing the composition of the 10,000 members of the No-Conscription Fellowship, two-thirds of them members of the ILP with Quakers as the second largest group, he writes: "Then followed small groups of political objectors from such fringe organisations of the Left as the British Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, International Workers of the World and other Anarchist and Syndicalist bodies. On the religious side were small groups of non-Quaker pacifists drawn from most of the established churches and from fundamentalist sects such as Plymouth Brethren and Christadelphians". (P.109).

(The proper name of the IWW is of course Industrial Workers of the World).

There were Socialist Party sympathisers in the NCF but Party members did not join it.

Among the book's minor errors and omissions may be mentioned that while Boulton describes the support for recruiting to the Armed Forces by Ramsay MacDonald he does not refer to the similar activities by Keir Hardie and does not tell of the case of Siegfried Sassoon, who as an officer in France refused further participation in the war, though under pressure he later returned to the trenches.

Nor does he mention the characteristic intervention of Bernard Shaw who, congratulating C.O.'s on their stand urged them, having made their protest, to join up and show what splendid soldiers they could be.

The writer's last reminiscence is of a prison warder who loathed all conscientious objectors - except SPGBers, who, he explained, were almost alone in saying that, as well as not wanting to kill, they objected to being killed, in a capitalist war that did not concern them.           
Edgar Hardcastle