Friday, March 17, 2017

Karl Marx — An Appreciation (1933)

From the March 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago, on March 14th, 1883, Karl Marx died in London, after a lifetime devoted to the workers' cause. The persecutions and privations he had endured in that cause hastened his death. When he died, much of the work he had planned still remained to be done, but, nevertheless, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had given the working class movement all over the world an impulse and direction. His significance as a thinker and as a revolutionary grows more important each year, and although critics succeed one another in an unending line with “refutations" of his theories, those theories still stand awaiting disproof. History as it unfolds brings new illustrations of the truth of Marx*s discoveries and of the inadequacy of opposing doctrines.

But, before we consider the body of Marxian thought, let us take a brief glance at the man himself.

Karl Marx was born on May 5th, 1818, at Treves, in the Rhineland, of Jewish parents who subsequently adopted Christianity. The Germany into which he was born was very different from modem Germany. It was mainly an agricultural country, and such industry as was carried on was still greatly restricted by relics of feudal barriers. There was nothing to which the term large-scale industry, in the modern sense, could be applied. Industrialism, which had been growing apace in England during the previous fifty years, was hardly known. Politically the country was split up into a number of independent States, each with an autocratic government based on land ownership. The feudal restrictions on industry and commerce, the impediment to trade that was constituted by the multiplicity of States, made the German bourgeoisie, then just emerging into prominence and anxious for power, very receptive of the ideas that Napoleon by his victories had spread over Europe. A united Germany arid a liberal constitution, these were the popular ideals in which the needs of the rising capitalist class expressed themselves. When Marx was twelve years old, the 1830 revolution broke out in France and spread to nearly all Europe. It is quite safe to assume that the events taking place around him made a deep impression on Marx even at that age. In 1835 Marx entered Bonn University and started on a course of jurisprudence to meet the wishes of his father, who was a lawyer. He added to this a study of philosophy and history, for the economic changes of the period were undermining all established ideas and forcing all who thought at all to seek a new basis for the understanding of life. The leaders in the new thought were the Young Hegelians, the followers of Hegel. Marx became associated with this school, but soon became dissatisfied with the idealism of Hegel and began to spread a wider net than his master. It was through their common interest in Hegelian philosophy that Marx and Engels first met and the friendship was established that lasted until Marx died.

In 1841 Marx took his doctorate. The next year, when about to take up an appointment at Bonn University, he was offered, and accepted, the editorship of the Rheinische Zeitung, a Cologne newspaper started by the Rhineland Liberals, to which Marx had already contributed articles. This marks the turning-point in his career. From this time dates Marx’s realisation of the historical task of the proletariat and of the inadequacy of all current philosophy. But at this stage Marx was far from the theories that are now known by his name. He was simply a Radical Democrat interested in and anxious to improve the conditions of the peasants and the workers. The controversies in. which his work as an editor involved him soon convinced him of the need to study and understand political economy if political problems .were to be understood. When, therefore, the attention paid by the censor to the Rheinische Zeitung hampered Marx in his work, he resigned his editorship in 1843 and, with his friend, Arnold Ruge, proceeded to Paris. (Notwithstanding Marx’s departure from the editor’s chair, the paper was suppressed shortly afterwards.) Before then he had married Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen, who was of Scots descent and who later became, in the words of Engels, “ a reactionary minister of State.”

To Paris had come, after 1830, a number of German revolutionaries. They had formed a secret society, out of which grew the League of the Just. The. League had disappeared in 1839, but many of the leaders were still in Paris at the time of Marx’s arrival. One of the original leaders, Schapper, had gone to London and started the Workers' Educational Society among the German artisans there. This was one of the beginnings of the Communist League. In Paris, Marx and Ruge started the Deutsch-Franzosichen Jahrbucher, of which, however, only two numbers appeared. By this time Marx had progressed beyond mere Radicalism, his thoughts were beginning to move along the lines of their final development, but his realisation of the revolutionary role of the proletariat in the development of society still required the basis which the conception of the class struggle was afterwards to give it. In 1844, in collaboration with Engels, he wrote the “Holy Family.” Here the new theories begin to take form. (Engels states that Marx had worked out the ” Materialist Conception of History ” by 1845.) The importance of this book lies in the fact that, in working out the ideas, Marx had come to appreciate how essential for the purposes of his thought was a knowledge of the economic laws governing production in the society in which he found himself. As a consequence, with his usual thoroughness, he took up seriously the study of economics. In 1845 Marx was compelled to leave Paris because of his attacks on the Prussian Government. He proceeded to Brussels. Here he wrote and published, in 1847, his ”Poverty of Philosophy” in reply to Proudhoun’s “Philosophy of Poverty,” and began the career of revolutionary activities that only death brought to an end. In 1847 he joined an organisation which, after a Congress held in London in that year, came to be known as the Communist League. It had grown out of various secret societies started in the different countries in which the leaders of the defunct League of the Just had found themselves. Towards the end of the same year (1847) a second Congress of the Communist League was held in London, at which Marx was present. At this Congress the new ideas of Marx, to which his studies during the preceding years had led him, came in conflict with the revolutionary idealism which up to then had provided the workers’ movement with its basic ideas. Finally Marx managed to convert the Congress to his views and was instructed to prepare, in the name of the League, a manifesto setting out their aims.

The Communist Manifesto
The manifesto was written and issued by February, 1848, shortly before the outbreak of the 1848 revolution. This manifesto is what we now know as the Communist Manifesto. In writing it, Marx used a draft prepared by Engels before the Congress met, but to it he added what Engels himself has described as “the fundamental proposition which forms its nucleus.” Engels goes on to state that proposition as follows:—
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 forms a series of evolution 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. (Preface to Communist Manifesto. Preface written by F. Engels, 1888.)
With the publication of the Manifesto a new stage is reached in the history of the working-class movement. The Manifesto may not be a perfect piece of work, from the point of view of the present day. Had Marx been called upon to write it in 1878 instead of 1848 certain things in it would no doubt have been different. Even so it contains in embryo most of Marx’s later ideas and was a significant advance on anything of the kind that had preceded it. It took Communistic thought out of the world of Utopias and set it up on a basis of reality.

The Writing of “Capital
On February 24th, 1848, the revolution that overthrew Louis Philippe broke out in France, and by March Germany was in the throes of liberal revolutions. The Belgian Government did not choose at such a time to have a revolutionary of Marx’s calibre in Brussels, so he had to seek shelter elsewhere. He returned to Paris, and from there went to Cologne accompanied by Engels. Here they started a newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. For nearly a year this journal poured forth the opinions of Marx and Engels and brought to an examination of the political events and problems of the day the understanding of historical processes that the “Materialistic Conception of Histor ” had provided. It was in the pages of this paper that the articles now gathered together under the title, “Wage Labour and Capital” appeared. Finally, during the period of reaction after 1848, the paper was suppressed (May, 1849), and Marx went on his travels again. After a short stay in Paris he sought refuge in London, and there he remained for the last thirty-four years of his life.

In 1852 the Communist League, after prolonged internal dissension among its members, came to an end, and for about ten years Marx was not actively engaged in political affairs. This was the period that commenced his prolonged economic researches, during which he laboured on the preparation of his greatest work—“Capital.” At the beginning it was a period of great hardship for Marx, whose only source of income was his pen. Three of his children died as a result of the privations to which the family was subjected. In 1851 he became a contributor to the New York Tribune. Certain of the articles he wrote for this paper on events in Germany have since been gathered together under the title "Revolution and Counter Revolution.” Another of his works, now widely read, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” also appeared about the same time in another paper, Die Revolution, published in New York. Engels meanwhile had gone into his father’s business in Manchester as a means of providing monetary support. In 1859 the "Critique of Political Economy" appeared. This work is the forerunner of “Capital,” and contains the first exposition of Marx’s theory of value.

The First International
Marx’s active participation in political agitation began again with the First International in 1864, of which he soon became the leading spirit. The inaugural address and constitution were written by Marx. They follow the lines laid down sixteen years before in the Communist Manifesto, but show that Marx’s thought had progressed far since 1848. The Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B. bears many strong resemblances to the constitution drawn up by Marx for the First International. But in writing for a body like the International Marx could not be entirely himself, and certain parts of the constitution cannot be considered as indicative of Marx's own ideas. About one passage, for example, he is found writing to Engels: "I was compelled to insert into the constitution some phrases about 'rights' and ‘duties’ as well as ‘truth, morality and justice,' but all this is so placed that it is not likely to bring any harm.”

Marx's struggle with Bakunin sprang out of the International, as did his famous monograph, “The Civil War in France,” which was originally written as an address for the International. In 1873 the bureau of the International was shifted to New York. Three years later it had ceased to exist.

Throughout the period of his work on the General Council of the International Marx was continuing his researches and studies. In 1867 he published the first volume of “Capital.” The other two volumes were first published after his death by Engels, who prepared them from the notes Marx left behind. In 1869 Engels retired from business, and returned to London in the following year. This meant easier conditions for Marx: Engels brought not only monetary assistance, but also relieved Marx of a large part of the work to be done for the International. After the transference of the International to New York Marx devoted all his energies to his studies. On these were spent the last ten years of his life.

The Marxian Theories
Marx’s importance in the history of the Labour movement comes from his having discovered first the basic law governing the development of society, and second the essential economic principles underlying production in a particular form of society, the capitalistic form. The first of these is embodied in the “Materialist Conception of History.” which is outlined above in the words of Engels. The corner-stone of the second is Marx’s theory of value, the only economic theory that has succeeded in giving an adequate explanation of the sources of profit in capitalistic production. Both of these theories have been attacked, but it is safe to say that at no time has their validity been more apparent than to-day. A whole school of economic historians has arisen during the last fifty years, re-writing history from the viewpoint provided for them by Marx, although few of them are honest enough to acknowledge his influence. For the workers the importance of the Materialist Conception of History lies in its revelation of the class struggle as the mechanism through the operation of which social changes are produced. Without the guiding principle of the class struggle working-class thought must inevitably flounder about in a morass of reformism. Until the identity of interests of all workers everywhere, as members of the same class, was made apparent by Marx, there was no solid basis on which an international working-class movement could be established. Without such a movement capitalism cannot be overthrown.

Marx’s theory of value made clear the exploitation of the worker, gave it scientific proof and demonstrated its inevitability under capitalism. Here was the final blow to all theories of social reform. Once it was shown that the preventable evils from which the workers suffer are the result of their being numbers of an exploited class in society it followed that only by terminating their exploitation could those evils be abolished. Revolutionary Socialism was born.

The S.P.G.B. and Marx 
It is to preach this that the S.P.G.B. exists. In putting itself forward as the only party worthy of the support of the workers, the S.P.G.B. does so as a Marxist organisation. What do we mean when we describe ourselves as a party of Marxists? In the first place, it does not mean that we claim infallibility for Marx, or accept all he wrote as dogma and true just because he wrote it. But we do claim that Marx, in all his main ideas, was correct and provided explanations of social problems and guidance in the solution of those problems. To the extent that these ideas pass the test of modern experience—and we contend that, fundamentally, they do satisfy such a test —we subscribe to them, but we do so in no blind spirit of hero worship. We appreciate that Marx, like lesser men, was subject to the environment in which he found himself. The body of his thought did not emerge fully formed at the beginning of his career, it developed and grew each year as his researches and experience increased. Inevitably, until Marx had completed his economic studies, his thought was not rounded off, and certain of his earlier ideas are not altogether consistent with those of his mature years. Engels referred to this in his introduction to “Wage Labour and Capital," Engels wrote: —
All his (Marx’s} writings which appeared before the publication of the first part of. his “Critique of Political Economy” differ in some points from those published after 1859, contain expressions and even entire sentences, which from the point of view of his later writings appear rather ambiguous and even untrue.
In other words, where there are contradictions —and they are relatively few—in Marx's teachings it is on the later statement that he must be judged. The particular conditions of his times, the undeveloped nature of capitalism and the struggles to overthrow the relics of the feudal restrictions on capitalist industry, made him an advocate at certain periods of courses of action which, in his later years, he disavowed and which, in any event, are not applicable to modern conditions. For example, Marx’s (and Engels’) ideas on the use of armed force to achieve revolutionary objectives underwent a radical change during his lifetime, and the reasons that led Marx, in 1848, to advocate war with Russia, and later to subscribe to a political programme of immediate demands, including such things as the eight-hour day, are no longer operative: Marx’s example cannot be pleaded in defence of the support given to the war of 1914-18 by the various Labour Parties of the belligerent countries or in justification of reformism. Experience has shown that a programme of immediate demands cannot be used to build up a socialist organisation. In practice immediate demands have soon brought confusion and destroyed the Socialist objective of the parties which adopted them.

Marx and Engels also underestimated capitalism's strength and ability to adjust itself to the demands made upon it. They both thought in the ’fifties that capitalism could not survive its industrial crisis and that its end was imminent.

We dare to mention the shortcomings of Marx even in a commemorative article just because he was a genius. His reputation is big enough to bear the truth. Marx, like Cromwell, would have insisted on being painted “wart and all.’’ Only mediocrity has to be protected from being judged on account of its mistakes. It was Marx himself who said: “Ignorance never helped nor did anybody any good," and ignorance of the development of Marx’s thought can only lead to difficulties in understanding his final ideas. An understanding of these ideas provides a sure and complete key to all modern social and political problems. The S.P.G.B. aims in its propaganda to provide that understanding.
B. S.

The West Indies: What Next? (1962)

Book Review from the March 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The West Indies and their Future by Daniel Guérin (Dennis Dobson.)

This book is a serious attempt to consider the West Indies history and their future from a left wing viewpoint coloured very strongly by Negro nationalism. Now this is a change from the usual run of travel books and "histories" produced by well-meaning English writers who pass rapidly through the Caribbean on a no doubt pleasant working holiday. But the book's "left wing" angle (the words masses, plutocracy, and reactionary occur frequently) cannot excuse some basic defects.

Guérin states that he visited some of the islands in 1955, but the book was not published until 1961. There have been many constitutional and social changes in the West Indies since 1955: for instance, Guérin makes much of racial prejudice and singles out especially, the French islands and an oilfield in Trinidad. The behaviour of the white inhabitants of the French islands (known as Békés) is no doubt, even now, good for a sound beating from anyone whose ideas are not completely dominated by the doctrines of, say, the Navy League, circa 1910. Martinique and Guadeloupe are still very much French colonial possessions, and the outlook of their békés is probably no different from that of their counterparts in Algeria—small wonder that M. Guérin can enjoy himself at their expense. But to describe the behaviour of the békés as typical of social behaviour generally in the West Indies is like describing the behaviour and outlook of retired generals in Bournemouth and Cheltenham as being typical of the average British citizen. Rather, in the British islands at any rate, racial prejudice nowadays takes the form of Negro versus East Indian, or manifests itself in vague anti-white sentiments.

M. Guérin’s description of the segregation of workers in the Trinidad oilfields into whites ("with enormous material advantages") and coloured ("who must do with a minimal wage") both begs the question and is many years out of date. In the first place, the oil industry is highly technical and, until recently, the West Indies just could not provide men to fill certain skilled positions: hence the expatriates who had to be offered considerable inducements to live and work in the tropics. Secondly, oil companies, wishing to keep in with the Trinidad Government to ensure the continuation of the present, favourable, oil tax, have trained local men for senior posts with the companies. It is now common for coloured workers to occupy bungalows in the senior staff compounds and to rub shoulders with their white colleagues in the senior oilfield clubs on terms of social equality.

M. Guérin discusses some major problems of the West Indian (capitalist) economy—monoculture, the high cost of living, overpopulation, etc.—problems which have been described in greater detail if not with such “progressive" zeal by Parry and Sherlock in A Short History of the West Indies (incidentally, Parry and Sherlock's book, although written from the "establishment" angle, is an entertaining and comprehensive source of knowledge for workers interested in the West Indies).

Of course, these problems are mainly problems for the Capitalist class. The really pressing problem facing the West Indian worker (and his fellow-workers in other parts of the world) is not overpopulation, monoculture, high cost of living, etc., but the fact that he is a member of the working class. Needless to say, solving the West Indies' worker's problem by ending his wage-slavery has never featured in the programmes of the Capitalist economists and politicians who have propounded various “solutions" to the peculiar predicament the West Indian section of the Capitalist class is in.

M. Guérin correctly pours scorn on those reformers who attempt to curb the birth-rates in the West Indian territories by programmes of birth-control. Then there is the safety-valve for the pressure of unemployment in the West Indies—emigration. West Indian governments, especially those with high levels of unemployment, have encouraged emigration to the United Kingdom: all other countries virtually prohibit West Indian immigration.

Now that the steady stream of West Indian immigrants is being curbed by United Kingdom legislation, politicians in the West Indies fulminate against the British Government for barring the door to commonwealth citizens on the grounds of their colour. These same politicians conveniently forget that coloured commonwealth citizens from, say, Grenada and St. Vincent are forbidden to enter Trinidad to live and work (so for that matter are citizens of the United Kingdom) as, for example, labourers or typists. The larger West Indian islands have strict immigration laws preventing the smaller islands shipping their unemployed to them

M. Guérin was apparently unable to study ‘the emancipation movements" in British Guiana and Cuba, a pity because an up-to-date “ left-wing” account of recent Caribbean history can hardly be considered complete without reference to Castro's regime. But recent developments in British Guiana are a good example of the wide difference between what a “left-wing" politician often says and what he does. Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the Chief Minister of British Guiana, has been long known as the leftist of left wing, and his frank admiration of Soviet Russia and Castro has been repudiated by other West Indian politicians, such as Trinidad's Dr. Eric Williams. Dr. Jagan hinted at nationalising industries in British Guiana, which alarmed business organisations with capital invested in British Guiana and potential investors. To prevent withdrawal of capital, and subsequent unemployment. Dr. Jagan was recently obliged to state that he had no intention of nationalising any industries. During 1961 Dr. Jagan went on a begging tour of the United States and Canada in search of substantial loans to bolster his country's economy and prevent the present level of unemployment getting any worse.

And what of the future? Here. M. Guérin becomes very pessimistic; one of the reasons for his pessimism is, without doubt, that most of the diverse peoples living in the West Indies have no real sense of "belonging," from a class and a purely patriotic point of view.

Go to any village in the Yorkshire dales: the people living in that village are ordinary working folk, but what is bound to strike the visitor most forcibly is the atmosphere of "belonging." The visitor will be a "foreigner" even if he has only come from Bradford, a few miles away, and the bearing, conversation, and relationships of the villagers will make it abundantly clear that they and their forebears have lived in the district for centuries; that they belong.

Not so in the West Indies. First, there is the barrier to common communication and understanding erected by the different languages spoken. Then there is the formidable barrier of the Caribbean Sea which separates and insulates the scattered islands. The Negroes, plucked from tribal life in Africa in the not-so-distant past, strive to acquire the manners, religion, and political and social institutions of their former European masters. The East Indians cling to religious and social customs based on centuries of village life in India. The Chinese, on the whole, remain aloof. British expatriates tend to look upon their West Indian existence as a period of purgatory before their return to a wealthy retirement in the mother country.

Social Classes
Colonial education programmes have ignored teaching any ideas of a “unified'' West Indies to past generations; as M. Guérin says: “. . . . in school the West Indian child is given a detailed account of the institutions and history of the faraway mother country, but his teachers refrain from talking to him about the Antilles and avoid stimulating any untoward notions of regional solidarity. It is no wonder that the feeling of Caribbean unity (similar, for example, to that which binds together Jews or Arabs, no matter where they live in the world) has been so slow to take root in the popular consciousness." It must be added that, again, M. Guérin is rather out of date as far as the British islands are concerned at any rate. Popularly elected governments have introduced history curricula in schools with a pronounced nationalist rather than colonialist bias.

Following “emancipation,” three distinct social classes emerged in West Indian society: the white aristocracy, the free person of colour, and the black ex-slave (the hewer of wood and drawer of water). Since then, although a Socialist could differentiate between workers and Capitalists (whatever their complexion), a non-Socialist West Indian has used, and continues to use, different criteria: colour of skin, shape of nose, colour of eyes, and even degree of kinkiness of hair. A Socialist would dismiss these apparent trivia as hangovers from colonial rule, but they have been part of the West Indian social consciousness since the times of slavery and are alive today. For instance in Trinidad it is considered a social advantage to marry a person with lighter skin than your own. For a person with light skin to marry someone with black skin, a negroid nose, and kinky (“bad") hair is considered a social degradation. M. Guérin quotes an English writer who accuses the Jamaican of knowing “less about the people than the English bourgeosie about its proletariat . . .  No one in the West Indies talks so glibly of the 'lazy' black as his coloured brother.”

Small wonder that sects have arisen in the West Indies, comprising people (usually of African origin and of the poorest section of the working class) whose creed is a semi-religious determination to leave the West Indies and return to some never-never land in Africa; such a sect are the bearded Rastafarians in Jamaica, who demand nothing of the island of their birth but the right to return to Africa, to the “King of Kings"—Haile Selassie.

This feeling of “non-belonging" either causes West Indian workers to opt out (as the Rastafarians do) or to form tight little racialist/nationalist groups. In neither case are they encouraging material for politicians advocating a Federation of the West Indies, or even national unity in territories like Trinidad and British Guiana, where Negro-versus-East Indian racial tensions seem to be as strong as ever. Nor, for that matter, are they likely to be sympathetic to Socialists endeavouring to inculcate ideas of the identity of interests of workers in the various territories of the West Indies with those of their fellow-workers in the rest of the world.

M. Guérin hopes for one large confederation of all the Caribbean islands and their population of 15 million people, including a Caribbean customs union. This, he claims, would relieve some islands from the dangers inherent in their monoculture, it would allow rationalisation of production and marketing of commodities, it would lend weight to the confederation’s bargaining power, it would permit the confederation to finance and plan economic development, and it would reduce the present heavy cost of administrative, customs, fiscal, police, and technical organisations. It is hardly necessary to observe that these “benefits” of confederation are of interest only to the rising West Indian Capitalist class.

Closer Identity
With the formation of the European Common Market and the regionalisation of trade in other parts of the world in mind, it is tempting to forecast the formation of a similar Caribbean common market, with trade and currency probably tied to the Americas rather than to Europe. This might mean closer identity of the different groups of workers with one another, easier means of communication, and more effective trade-union organisation.

M. Guérin ends his book on, for him, a pessimistic note: “The West Indian Confederation has slight chance of being born within the framework of the present capitalist and colonialist society.”

The truth is that M. Guérin is no Socialist and therefore mistakes Negro nationalist movements for Socialist parties, advocates “freedom” from colonial powers and, like so many “progressives” is almost paranoiac about “Yankee imperialism.”

Guérin appears to support the affirmation of the Caribbean Labour Congress in 1945 which was that “there is no hope for the West Indies unless they become a Socialist Commonwealth.” Unfortunately, the Socialist commonwealth envisaged by Guérin is no doubt a nationalist grouping of the West Indian islands under a “progressive” government on the lines of the British Labour Government.

If that is the kind of future M. Guérin has in mind for West Indian workers, there are ample grounds for pessimism. Even if confederation is achieved, even if a customs union is established, even if the whole of the West Indies becomes one large politico-economic bloc, the West Indian worker will still have to face the problems of working-class life under Capitalism; problems intensified by the uncertainty of the world market’s fickle demands for the staple commodities of the West Indies. At the time of writing, workers in Trinidad’s oilfields (considered to be reasonably safe places of employment) are being laid off because the world demand for oil is rapidly being satisfied.

"Native," popularly elected, politicians are powerless to influence the trends of the world's markets and the policies of the dominant Capitalist powers, however much they may pretend to their followers that they can. During the Second World War, the Jamaican banana industry was almost ruined, with severe unemployment among the banana-plantation workers, because the export of bananas to the United Kingdom was stopped. Similarly, there is today much hardship among the sugar workers in Cuba because, as a form of retaliation against the Castro regime, the Kennedy administration has cancelled the Cuban import quota of sugar to the United States.

As the crises of Capitalism intensify, it is a sure thing that the West Indian workers will as in the past, be well in the vanguard for receiving any blows that are being handed out in the form of unemployment, reduced wages, and so on.

After so much pessimism it would be fitting, in these closing passages, to report that there was support for the world Socialist parties among West Indian workers. Unfortunately, such is not the case: most politically-minded workers support nationalist parties with programmes which even the Conservative Party of twenty years ago might consider rather reactionary.

We have tried to show how the rapacious growth of Capitalism in the West Indies has drawn Negro slaves from Africa, indentured labourers from India, Madeira, and England, free labourers from Europe, and has left them in an alien, uncertain land, without roots, without strong ties, and with no sense of " belonging."

Rebellion against European exploiters produced native leaders who eventually assumed political control, but, as with other "ex-colonial" territories, the workers remain a subject class, at the mercy of their employers and changes in the world’s markets' demands for such commodities as sugar, and bananas, whether they live as citizens of a single island, citizens of a federation of British islands, or citizens of a Confederation of all the West Indian islands.

But Capitalism has forced into existence well-organised trade unions, it has made communication including air travel between the territories of the West Indies simple and reasonably cheap, and it has made West Indian workers think in terms of politics for their future. Therefore, although there is apparently little evidence. at present, of any growth of Socialist knowledge among West Indian workers, the ground into which Socialist ideas may be sown is being well prepared.
Michael La Touche

The Socialist Party of New Zealand (1953)

From the March 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Report of a debate on the motion “That the working class should support the S.P.N.Z. rather than the N.Z.C.P.”, held at the Unity Centre, Cuba Street, Wellington, July 27th, 1952.

Com. R. H. Everson opened the debate by stating, first, it was necessary to give a brief outline of the S.P.N.Z.s case which differed, fundamentally, from the position taken up by every other political party, including the C.P. The S.P.N.Z, took the attitude that it was necessary for the working class to understand the world it lived in; the working class was faced with the problems of poverty, insecurity, and war, and the working class could not remove these problems until it understood the cause of them. Unfortunately, at the present time, the overwhelming majority of the workers did not understand the system of society in which they lived, and in which they were exploited.

Under capitalism, wealth took the form of commodities, articles which are produced solely for sale on a market with a view to profit The means of producing wealth—the land, factories, railways, etc., were owned by a small minority of the population, the capitalist class. The working class owned none of the means of production and consequently, was forced to work for those who do own. The worker, in order to live, had to sell the only commodity which he possessed—his power to labour. However, the commodity labour-power had a peculiar characteristic not possessed by any other commodity—it could produce a value greater than its own. That value which was produced by the working class, over and above what it was paid in the form of wages, was appropriated by the capitalist class and distributed in the form of rent, interest and profit.

Because the working class was tied to the wages system, it received only the value of its labour-power, which was determined by what was required to maintain it as an efficient working class and to reproduce the next generation of wage-slaves. Hence, the worker’s lot was one of poverty amidst plenty. Moreover, the worker was only employed as long as the capitalist could make a profit from his employment. If there was no profit, there was no production, and the worker was out of a job. In order to realise the profits on the wealth produced by the workers, the capitalist class was brought into conflict with the capitalist class in other parts of the world and periodically, therefore, the capitalist world was plunged into war.

The only solution to these problems lay in the abolition of their cause, which was the class ownership of the means of life. Here Com. Everson defined Socialism as being a system of society based upon the Common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole of society. This would enable society to produce things solely for use and thus, remove the exploitation of the working class and the social problems which flowed from that state of affairs. Socialism could only be introduced when the working class understood and wanted it. They would act upon their understanding by, first, gaining a majority in Parliament. There had been people, including the so-called Communists, who had denounced Parliament as useless. However, Parliament controlled the forces of repression, and any alternative action in defiance of the capitalist control of the armed forces was suicidal and doomed to failure. Socialists, in Parliament , would be controlled by a socialist working class which knew what it wanted and how to get it. When the working class understood its position in society, it had no need for leaders, and could not be misled or betrayed.

Until capitalism was removed the working class could not solve its problems—and where the wages system existed, capitalism existed. This applied equally to Russia as to the rest of the world. Where ail the features of capitalism existed, as in Russia, so did all its evil effects.

Mrs. Birchfield, for the C.P., began by claiming that the S.P.N.Z. was a “Hotch-Potch” of Social- Democracy and Anarchism. The S.P. did not look at the world realistically. It failed to appreciate the most important fact in the world today, viz; that the world was divided into two camps; on the one hand, the world of Socialism, the Soviet Union, the great Chinese peoples’ republic, and the new democracies of Eastern Europe and, on the other hand, the world of imperialism led by capitalist America.

The most important task of the working class today was the preservation of Peace since peace was in the best interests of the working class. The workers must fight for peace and must continue their unrelenting struggle against those who are for war. We must get out of Korea. Step up the demand against the imperialists that all troops should be withdrawn from Korea.

We must mobilise the peace-loving peoples throughout the world. If they are organised, they are stronger than the forces of the imperialists and warmongers. What would the S.P. say to the Korean peoples? It would tell them that they must all become Socialists, before they can have peace.

Then Mrs. Birchfield quoted from Marx to show that Marx, like the C.P., believed in leadership. The C.P. was the leader of the working class, and said that Socialists are made in the process of building Socialism. The S.P. on the other hand, which claimed to be a revolutionary party, wanted Socialism through the ballot box. What would the ruling class do if it felt its position endangered?—would it allow the Socialists to build-up a majority in Parliament and in the country?—No, the ruling class would not surrender its wealth tamely—look what happened in Spain.

The S.P. believed that the class struggle is only a political struggle; it had no trade union policy. That was not to say that its individual members did not join the unions—they did, and some of them have played an honourable part in trade union struggles—but the Party as such, had no attitude towards the trade unions. It did not see that the reforms won are a means to an end. Neither did the S.P. see that the class struggle began where the worker was exploited, i.e., at the point of production. The bitter struggles of the workers, on the industrial field, taught the worker the nature of the State. The C.P. led the worker in this struggle. The S.P. said that the U.S.S.R. was imperialist. Mr. Everson should go to the Soviet Union in a delegation and see the Soviet system in operation. The C.P. supported the idea of these delegations, so that the workers could learn the truth and counter the lies of the reactionaries about the Soviet Union.

This concluded the opening speeches of the two speakers, after which the chairman allowed questions and discussion from the floor. Members of the audience were limited to two minutes each. At the end of half an hour, the Chairman called upon the two speakers to wind-up the debate for five minutes each.

Going underground (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing, the "public" inquiry into the King's Cross fire in which 31 people were killed is in progress. Already there have been astonishing revelations about poor safety standards, and the hazards created by limited cleaning and maintenance budgets. The inquiry is likely to generate reams of waffle, with much soul-searching and mutual recriminations. There will be weighty statements about neglect, responsibility and human failings.

What the final report is unlikely to admit, however, is that these deaths, like so many others, were caused by money, or rather the lack of it. In the case of the Zeebrugge disaster and many other recent "accidents", we have been able to show using the publicly available evidence, that the cause was economic. King's Cross was no exception. The profit system constantly channels resources away from real human needs and into speculative investment and capital accumulation. It is only after a disaster has happened and an "unacceptable" number of lives have been lost, that the possibility of allocating slightly more resources to public safety is considered.

We have already pointed out, in a previous issue, how some time ago, money intended for replacing the wooden escalator at the heart of the fire had been diverted into funding murals and other decorations intended to improve the image and profitability of London Regional Transport as a trading enterprise. That wooden escalator, which those who know King's Cross will be only too familiar with, was about fifty years old. It dated from an entirely different period in technological terms. Was there an automatic fire sprinkler system throughout the station? No. Was there a special alarm system, which might respond to smoke? No. The fact is. even some of the modest household devices which the moderately well-off might be able to afford are absent when they have to be funded by the state.

Why is this? Because the capitalist employers who ultimately finance the state have, as their priority, the accumulation of capital. Despite recent claims in a Conservative Party Political Broadcast that "we" pay £700 to the NHS every second, we know that PAYE is just another con to make us feel we have a stake in government. In fact, with or without tax. as workers our living standards are constantly forced to the minimum by the profit priority. Public safety is also often of low priority. We don't need a "public inquiry" to tell us that King’s Cross station, like so many others, is dirty and dangerous, with only meagre safety procedures.

LRT is in the process of putting cleaning and other maintenance duties out to tender by private companies, whose budgets and treatment of their workers are even more penny-pinching than LRT was. And some of the recent priority areas of expenditure on the Underground and Buses (which are continuing as priorities, despite the fire) show an utter contempt for human life which should earn the LRT management a medal as upholders of the capitalist mentality. Expensive video cameras are being installed on London buses to prevent vandalism. Nearly one million pounds is being spent every year on cleaning "graffiti" from tube trains, much of which in recent years has been based on New York "street art" and is quite eye-catching. But such spontaneous marks on the environment are seen as offensive, and are wiped out in favour of the imposed corporate design. It is also an example of the warped priorities we are referring to: the moral guardians who are so offended by rude words (no, they don't mean "war" or "poverty") are served by teams of special cleaners, whilst the ancient debris which fuelled the fire under the escalator was left to rot. And perhaps most dramatically of all, millions of pounds are currently being spent installing new high-tech ticket machines at every station. which are said to be more cost-effective. This will allow a massive redundancy programme of 900 ticket office staff, which is already under way. In addition new barriers (which we will have more to say about below) are being installed which also cause ticket collectors to be made redundant. Together with the recent introduction of "one-man" trains on almost every line, this is all part of the cost-cutting exercise which is the inevitable obsession of the capitalist system. The inquiry might touch on the possibility that if trains had still had a second operator the death-toll might have been reduced, but will it explore the reasons behind the cost-cutting obsession?

Leaving to one side these overwhelmingly economic factors, what about the supposed problem of callous neglect? It is true that early reports of smoke appear to have been neglected by staff, and no doubt the actions of these LRT workers will be held up to public scrutiny. Those who prefer not to see social problems for what they are will find here the perfect victims for individual blame. But it is hardly surprising that workers under pressure will sometimes act "negligently". Quite apart from the long hours, low pay and dirty conditions which all but destroy any enthusiasm or job satisfaction, the hierarchical system of management within such an institution teaches those within it that they must not step out of their assigned area, or act with creative initiative. And in addition to the weighty bureaucracy (which has always been associated with the railways in particular), there is the ethic of self-interest, the idea of the competitive rat-race which the government does so much to promote. Even without their propaganda efforts, an economic system exists throughout the world today which teaches people from birth that in order to fit in with things as they are, they must avoid too much humane caring for others, too much soppy sentimental sensitivity, otherwise they will be "done down". And then the same hypocrites who applaud the vicious self-interest of the "business world" of enterprise will try to pin the blame on the "uncaring" workers at King's Cross station that fateful day.

This brings us finally to one or two of the more bizarre escapades which have also emerged lately from the enterprising young whizz-kids in charge of London Underground. On 31 January the Observer exposed plans being urgently pursued by Chris Bennett, London Underground's industrial relations manager, to sell off the less profitable underground stations which will be run instead by commercial interests or even voluntary groups. By franchising off sections of the network to commercial operators, they will cut staff still further and approach their target of becoming a profitable enterprise with no government support whatsoever. Where private buyers cannot be found, "responsibility for stations may be offloaded to voluntary groups, such as Neighbourhood Watch schemes, or Underground enthusiasts". Let us hope that these Underground enthusiasts are also handy with a fire extinguisher. It is thought that young people on YTS schemes could also "be pressed into service". As a possible pilot area for the scheme, they have identified the line from Epping to Ongar. which has been kept open recently only because of pressure from residents (how cheeky they are to expect to have stations where they live!).

The most vivid example of profit's tyranny comes in the shape of the new barriers referred to above. They are ugly, shoulder-high constructions, designed as the ultimate obstacle to the dreaded fare-dodgers, those people who dare to go on "our” public railways without paying. The installation of these barriers will cause 1,200 ticket collector redundancies. LRT hope. The Fire Brigades Union has strongly opposed the barriers, with Mike Fordham. FBU Deputy General Secretary stating that "People will die somewhere at some point because of these barriers" (London Evening Standard, 11 December 1987). The NUR has also pointed out that if such barriers had been at King s Cross on the night of the fire, "they would undoubtedly have produced more deaths that night". But LRT push on regardless. A spokesman was quoted as saying that the King's Cross inquiry was "irrelevant and peripheral" to the installation programme. "We see no reason to delay". It seems, moreover, that these prize idiots are aspiring to comedy and farce as well as tragedy. Special panic buttons are to be fitted to the hideous barriers, to allow passengers to unlock the gates in an emergency. But London Underground has admitted that, to deter vandals and fare-dodgers. their location would be "kept secret for security reasons"! (London Evening Standard, 11 December 1987).

The FBU are right: there will be more deaths. And the sickest thing of all is that we all know there will be more deaths, more "disasters" and more theatrical "inquiries". And they will continue until we alter the basis of society, and therefore its priorities.
Clifford Slapper

The god of the killers (2007)

From the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
When in comes to condoning violence it’s a case of the christian kettle and the muslim pot
Those Muslims who plant car bombs and turn their bodies into human bombs and take the lives of innocent people are not simply proselytising. Of course they believe that Allah will be pleased and rewarding but their action is not simply a religious gesture; it is intended as a political act aimed at a political end - though, of course, Allah‘s approval of their action makes it a sound investment in their perceived ‘hereafter’.
Recently the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is apparently second in command, so to speak, of the Anglican Church speculated on the morality of Muslims who do this sort of thing. In fact he asked what conception these people had of their God. It is an excellent question and it implies that the Archbishop wonders how any rational individual could conceive of a good God who would endorse the slaughter of innocent people. That is precisely the sort of question that atheists frequently pose when told that the central purpose in life is to please an omnipotent being, thing or force with the power but not the will to frustrate the events that cause so much grief and pain to us mere human beings.
But the Archbishop’s interest in the Muslim killer’s perception of God would seem to imply a certain moral selectivity on his part; indeed, given the facts, it would seem that what troubles him about suicide bombers, for example, is not the consequences of their action but the means they employ in the performance of their evil deeds.
The United States, Britain and the other major nations of world capitalism spend some 900 billion dollars annually on maintaining armed forces whose purpose is the defence or expansion of the interests of their national capitalist class. Much of this fantastic wealth is devoted to the maintenance and development of aircraft and missiles destined to attack cities and, as we know from experience, kill vast numbers of completely innocent people. The grim total of those innocents murdered by terrorists who plant bombs or use their persons to deliver death over the last century is a very tiny fraction of the innocents murdered by massive sophisticated aerial devices, and it is a fair assumption that many if not most of the flying state killers profess one or other of the Christian faiths.
The Archbishop of York is simply articulating the selective attitude of the churches to the killing business. In fact by confining his speculation to the terrorist’s conception of God he is effectively restricting his condemnation of the killing of innocent people to suicide bombers, car bombers or those who plant bombs as opposed to those who drop massive bombs.
This is not meant to imply that the numbers slaughtered determines the measure of guilt. Numbers do not influence the principle and both legal and illegal military operations don’t confine their anti-human activates within certain ‘morally’ defined limits. Of course, church leaders, like military leaders, deplore war and killing but they make it acceptable by claiming it as an inevitable consequence of what they call the weakness of our ‘human nature’ - which, peculiarly, the ‘human nature’ of socialists seems to lack.
It would be a fairly safe bet that Dr Sentamu’s academic distinction is theology especially Christian theology - effectively, interpreting ancient religious texts to suit the mores of an intellectually superior society. He must at least have read the Bible but surprisingly, while wondering at the barbaric licence a Muslim killer finds in the Koran, he fails to acknowledge the appalling savagery endorsed in the Old Testament by his own God.
Does he, for example, accept that people who break the Sabbath or who are disobedient to their parents or commit adultery should be stoned to death or that the ‘chosen people’ of the Lord should slaughter their enemies? Does he accept the modern Christian view that the slaughter of anonymous innocents can legitimately constitute a ‘just war’ or that the state can set aside the Fifth Commandment?
Socialists can empathise with the Archbishop’s puzzlement at a Muslim killer’s perception of Allah and the fact that he is confused by it manifests what is good in the human condition. Doubtless that goodness would be outraged by the brutal endorsements of the God he believes in but that is part of the complexity of religious belief – no stranger, indeed, than the incantations and prayers of humans supposedly wicked in their nature imploring the compassion of an all-merciful god.
The Archbishop, to his credit, raised a more profane issue when he roundly condemned the current Labour government for its encroaching infringement of civil liberties. As an native of Uganda he probably experienced the dictatorship of Idi Amin and like anyone who values the limited liberties of political democracy he expressed his grave concerns at the growing authoritarianism of the Blair government. Indeed, when you think about it, it might lead you to wonder how the publicly religious Tony Blair conceives of his God.
Richard Montague