Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Last Fifty Years in Russia (1956)

Editorial from the November 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Elsewhere in this issue we reproduce extracts from an unsigned article: “The Russian Revolution," which, fifty years ago, in November 1906, placed on record the attitude of the S.P.G.B. to events in Russia. In 1904 war had broken out between Japan and Russia over Korea, which then, as today, attracted greedy investors and speculators in the neighbouring countries, and had great importance as a war base. Russia suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of Japan, and this gave impetus to movements demanding political and economic reforms. The capitalists wanted to get rid of the Tsarist autocracy, which hampered their development; workers wanted higher wages; peasants wanted land reforms, and all were able to unite in demanding parliamentary government based on a democratic franchise. Frightened by the wave of strikes, mutinies and riots, the government at first gave way and the Tsar agreed to set up a Duma (parliament); with legislative authority, not merely a consultative body, as had earlier been the limit of concession. But before long, helped on by the lack of unity and purpose in the ranks of the opposition, the Tsar’s government regained confidence and dissolved the Duma. It was while this counter-offensive of the Tsar’s government was in full flood that the article “The Russian Revolution" appeared in our columns, the occasion being the issue, by the International Socialist Bureau, of an appeal on behalf of the Russian workers.

The line taken by the article is for the most part shown by the published extracts, a line that the S.P.G.B. continued to hold when, in 1917, defeat in another war produced more movements of revolt in Russia, though this time they were successful in their aim of removing the Tsarist regime. The victory was to be short lived, because within months the various movements that had been associated in overthrowing the Tsar and establishing a provisional government were themselves overthrown by the Communist Party, which has held power ever since.

Subsequent events have completely justified the declaration made in 1905 (and repeated in 1917) that the outcome of the struggle in Russia could not at that time be Socialism, but only capitalism: what has happened has proved the correctness of the S.P.G.B.’s Marxist approach. Although there are people who know so little about Russian conditions or about Socialist principles that they can still believe that there is Socialism in Russia, serious students have never been deceived; and even the popular impression of Russia held in Western Europe now more or less clearly recognises that it is not a social system better than Western capitalism, but actually worse, because of its dictatorship.

It is an ironical reflection that the anticipation of fifty years ago, that removing Tsarist autocracy would immediately open the way to a democratic republic, should have proved so wrong that it is only now that the “flight from Stalin" promises at least some prospect of progress in that direction. As far as elementary rights of organisation, publication, voting, etc., are concerned, Russian workers might still be living under the Tsars. In 1906 the government of Emperor Nicholas II. dissolved the not very democratically elected Duma, but it remained for the Communist government in 1918 to suppress permanently the first freely elected Constituent Assembly and thereafter forbid all political organisations except the Communist Party.

Along with political reaction has gone the repudiation of early Communist Party ideas about equality, a path along which the British Labour Party has also moved.

But while Russia has, as we forecast in 1905, not produced Socialism, it has built up the modem industries which make it a formidable capitalist, military and industrial Power, second only to U.S.A.

Another saddening reflection prompted by similarity between 1906 and 1956, is that knowledge of and contact with Russian workers is as difficult now as it was then. The Socialist Standard had to admit in 1906 to a lack of information about events in Russia, and this is still true: we do not know to what extent groups of workers in Russia have been able, despite the dictatorship, to keep alive their belief in the ultimate victory of Socialism against all its enemies and false friends in the so-called Communist and Labour Parties.

50 Years Ago: The Russian Revolution (1956)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the “Socialist Standard,” November, 1906 

The Russian Revolution
The other great nations of Europe have long ago burst asunder the feudal bonds on industry and commerce, and the few survivals are more picturesque than effective. The aristocracy, where it has been able to continue in existence, is merged into the plutocracy and forms one compact mass against the workers. Russia, however, lags behind; and her economic backwardness is reflected in her medieval system of government. Hence, in the other nations of Western Europe a straight fight is possible between the proletariat and the capitalist ruling class, whilst in Russia the rising capitalist class has yet its emancipation from autocracy to accomplish; so that, in contrast with practically the whole of civilised nations, the working class and the capitalist class in Russia have, in the abolition of Tsardom’s tyranny, a step to go together. This historical circumstance, which is at once the strength and weakness of the Russian movement, distinguishes it from that of all capitalist countries.

No Socialist, therefore, can withhold his sympathy from the great struggle of the Russian people for the elements of political liberty, and all must heartily wish that the great barrier to economic and political progress, Tsardom, may be speedily broken down. It is satisfactory to note that, in the present communication from the International Socialist Bureau the idea (which was so common at an earlier period of the revolution, and which was proclaimed by many who called themselves Socialists) that out of the ruins of Tsarist Russia the Socialist Republic would arise, is absent; whilst the elements of political liberty, the creation of a Constituent Assembly, or at most the inauguration of a Russian Republic, are taken for granted as the possible outcome of the present struggle. It has been insisted upon in these columns that the Socialist Republic cannot be the outcome of the defeat of the autocracy in Russia, because the economic elements are lacking or insufficiently developed. As Marx said: “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and the new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been matured in the womb of the old society.” The industrial development of Russia is still in its infancy, and vigorous though the infant may be, the greater part of the empire is yet untrodden by it. It is indeed probable that whatever government succeeds that of the Tsar will be compelled, if only to appease the peasants—the bulk of the nation—to bring about the most reactionary state of things in which the land is split up among the peasants as their private property.

*  *  *

Let us then do all in our power to help our Socialist comrades in Russia in the hope that they will not be deceived as to the outcome of the present upheaval: in the hope, also, that they will sternly keep their separate identity and distinct aim, so that the Russian bourgeoise State of to-morrow may find a militant class-organisation of Socialist workers leading the final struggle against the capitalist class, whose defeat must herald the Triumph of Humanity.

Marxism and Dictatorship (1937)

From the August 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Marxism in any way bound up with the idea of dictatorship? This is a question with which we are often confronted to-day.

Hence we are prompted to deal with the matter again, principally because of its repetition from various sides, but partly in view of a statement which recently appeared in England’s leading Labourist-capitalist journal, the Daily Herald.

Commenting upon the arrest of the leaders of the Spanish workers’ organisation known as the P.O.U.M. (the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity) the Daily Herald took the opportunity to jibe at the Communists and said: —
  We hope the Spanish Government does not intend to listen to the bloodthirsty demand of the Communists that the P.O.U.M. leaders should be executed.
   Doubtless the P.O.U.M. is a nuisance and a danger. Unlike the Communists its members still take Marxism seriously, with the result that they despise democracy, and are not interested in fighting except for a dictatorship of their own.
Now, apart from the question of the internal disputes between the Spanish workers' parties, the point to note in the Herald's statement is the definite and unqualified association of Marxism with dictatorship. Taken as the statement stands the Herald's intention is clearly meant to convey the idea that Marxism is a negation and violation of democratic principle. But, as Marxists ourselves, we most emphatically repudiate this cunningly contrived imputation. Under cover of the Herald's pronouncement there lies one of the many attempts to discredit Marxism in order to justify the anti-Marxian, anti-Socialist attitude of the reformist opportunist Labour Party. It bids fair to lend support to the slogan of the bourgeois democrats that “Fascism and Marxism are the twin enemies of the human race.”

If there is one aspect of Socialist thought which may be said to stand out above all others it is the insistence in Socialist teachings that the principle of democracy is of paramount importance. We realise, of course, that at this statement many a Communist will instinctively smile, at the same time scoffing at us with the usual suggestion that we are “doped with bourgeois democratic ideology." Yet, search as you will the records of Socialist literature from the time of Marx and Engels up to, say, 1914, and the references to the question of dictatorship, or even the mention of the word, are conspicuous by their scarcity. In making this point we include the various public pronouncements of many present-day Communists who, before the 1917 upheaval in Russia, were content to call themselves Socialists rather than Communists. We then heard nothing of the present-time sophistries concerning "bourgeois democracy" and “the dictatorship of the proletariat."

In the year 1848, when Marx and Engels first sent their famous “Communist Manifesto” circulating throughout the world, the keynote of democracy was sounded by these pioneers of modern Socialism.

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities," say the authors of this manifesto. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority ” (page 28).

Later on in the same work we find the equally clear and concise statement: —
   . . .  that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. 
Whatever criticism has been hurled at Marx and Engels their emphasis on the democratic principle underlying the Socialist philosophy raised no particular point of controversy until recent years.

How, then, does it all come about that Marxism has been identified with the idea of dictatorship?

Proceeding from the notion that “there is no smoke without fire" we are ready to concede the point that there is at least some basis, in fact, for the idea, even though it be a distortion of Marx’s standpoint.

It was after the formation of the Soviet regime in Russia in 1917 that we began to hear so much about dictatorship in connection with Socialist controversy.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks, seized the governmental power in Russia under conditions that Marx had not envisaged. In fact there is evidence to show that even the Bolsheviks themselves were more than surprised at their success in obtaining control of the political machinery of the State. Only the peculiar conditions of Russia in 1914 at the outbreak of the European War, its general unpreparedness for the conflict, its lack of military equipment, etc., and its final military and social collapse in 1917 could have possibly given such a party as the Bolsheviks the chance of assuming the control of the government. However, the attempt to apply Socialist ideas and conditions in a country where the great mass of the people were ignorant of even the elementary principles on which modern Socialism is founded failed from its inception; as it was bound to do considering the miserably backward state of the country, both economically and politically. But once the Bolsheviks had gained control in the midst of such conditions there seems little else that could have happened than the setting-up of a dictatorship if they were to maintain their hold upon the country irrespective of whether the people wanted Socialism or not. But the important point to notice is that their dictatorship had in reality nothing to do with Marx’s theory of the working class coming to power to overthrow capitalist domination and establishing the Socialist form of society. Yet Lenin in particular, and his devotees in chorus, have insisted that their action was along Marxian lines, using certain statements of Marx to support their case, and what do these statements amount to, anyway?
In a letter to his friend, Weydemeyer, in 1852, Marx, among many other things, said: —
  And now as to myself; no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modem society nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of the class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular, historic phases in the development of production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; (3) that the dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.
This is a favourite quotation from Marx among the Communists, but whilst we are about it we might just as well give another of like kind which Lenin used in his controversy with Kautsky.

In Marx’s criticism of the “Gotha Programme” of 1875 we find Marx stating: —
   Between capitalist and Communist society there lies a period of revolutionary transformation of one into the other. This period has a corresponding political period of transition, during which the State can be nothing more than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
Now the outstanding feature of these statements is that they obviously refer to a dictatorship in the sense that the working class has achieved political power, and is about to shape a form of society in harmony with its own social needs.

But note the point, Marx does not refer or say that only a minority of the working class would or need take control of political power during the period of the "transformation of the one into the other.”

The Socialist revolutionary act in the Marxian sense is that of the “self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority.” The phrase dictatorship covers a condition of political power being exercised by and through majority will against a dislodged and dispossessed hitherto ruling class.

But this is a point that is generally distorted as a means of justifying the immature action of the Bolsheviks in attempting to impose Socialism on a country unready and unwilling for its adoption. A prominent Communist writer in this country, T. A. Jackson, in his book on “Dialectics,” makes an elaborate show of “squaring the circle” of Russia’s dictatorship with Marx’s conception.

In a chapter on Democracy and "Democracy” he sets forth the fundamentally democratic concept as follows: —
   No revolutionary worker wants to be dictated to; no revolutionary worker wants to dictate personally to anybody else. Every worker not absolutely degenerate in subserviency feels he ought to have a say in the making of the rules he has to obey; and every worker not absolutely degenerate knows that in real practical life co-operation involves plan, rule and regulation. When the ordinary worker calls himself a “democrat,” he means that he feels in this way; he affirms, that is, his right to a say in the government of his personal and communal life.
After this clear and definite statement Mr. Jackson asks the question : —
   What is the difference between “Democracy” in the British working class sense above, and the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” as Marx Engels and Lenin used the term?
Mr. Jackson offers his own answer to the question. He says, “In essence: no difference at all."

Very well then, if there is no essential difference, and on this point we are in entire agreement, our view of the matter is conceded, namely, that Marx’s conception of dictatorship is none other than majority rule, the majority rule of the working class in establishing Socialist society. If this much had been made clear by the Communists from the time of the Bolshevik uprising in Russia the whole world might have learned by now that the Soviet regime was not instituted according to the principle enunciated by Marx.

Further, we should never have heard the claptrap of the Communists in this country clamouring for the seizure of political power by an "intellectual minority."

Of course, Mr. Jackson will, no doubt, insist that the dictatorship in Russia is what Saint George Bernard Shaw said of it, namely, that the dictatorship there is all right since it is for the good of those who are being dictated to; a plea of defence that is put forward by Mussolini, Hitler and every dictator extant.

We repeat that the dictatorship in Russia is not the “dictatorship of the Proletariat" in the Marxian sense of the term. On the contrary, it has been the dictatorship of a party, a party which in the earlier stages of their conquest of power actually deprived its own members of the power of voting.

Russia, of the Soviet system, has undoubtedly had enormous economic, political and social problems to face, problems which in great measure they have responded to with great skill and political acumen, but the State capitalism of Russia, necessitated by its own internal difficulties, accentuated by the outside world of persistent capitalism, is not what Socialists of to-day, or Marx and Engels of the past, have been striving for. We stand to-day, as always, for the democratic ownership and control of the world’s resources. That this can only be effected by way of social revolution is not merely our determination. It is imposed upon us as a law of history, which decrees that when a subject class needs freedom from the shackles which bind it there is no other way than the conquest of power. That this power can only be gained by the great mass of the workers understanding the task confronting them is an inevitable consequence of the need to abolish class rule in its entirety.

When that task takes its initial form of working-class accession to power it must be by majority decision, the condition of capitalist society as we know it to-day indicates no alternative course. It is imperative to Socialism that the great mass of the workers understand and desire it if we are to establish a form of human association in which, to quote Marx once more, “the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all."
Robert Reynolds

To A Young Reader (1963)

From the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
As we write, a meeting of Students is taking place in a Swansea College protesting against the situation in Cuba. Two of the students have commenced a hunger strike campaign.
We have no way of knowing who you are, your personal hopes, your disappointments and your fears. This we do know, however, there are a considerable number of you at the moment agitating and demonstrating in a variety of ways up and down the country on issues of greater or lesser seriousness. Sometimes it is a demand for a college bar (as recently in one of the Welsh Colleges), or to reserve the right to visit your girl friends in their private rooms. At other times, together with your friends in industry, you demonstrate your views quite forcibly on matters of world-reaching importance by sit-down demonstrations and marches (accompanied by a variety of musical instruments) for the abolition of the hydrogen bomb. Though some of you have not yet been thrown on to the Labour Market you have already been active in demanding better grants and better treatment for young workers and workers in training.

These activities have been met with a variety of reactions from the August Bodies concerned, from College Governors to the police and even the Government. Sometimes, your outbursts are met with a show of good-natured tolerance (though it is most difficult at times for a police officer, an M.P. or a college Rector to remain friendly with his face covered in soot or a stream of egg-yolk running down his person). At times Authority, older and more experienced than yourselves, is forced to be more persuasive. But whichever it is you are as heartily sick of the figurative pat on the back as you are of the more tangible tap on the head which has been inflicted on your comrades in areas as wide apart as Wales, Scotland, Europe, America—and Russia.

It is here that the Socialist Party can be of help. It is not our wish to lecture to you, neither to admonish nor to praise— but to offer. We would point out a fact or two which we are sure can be understood by you all, whether you are a product of the Secondary Modern School or a student at a University.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no desire to add itself to the number of your leaders. We have never even had a Young People's Section of our Party as the Communists, Liberal, Labour and Tory Parties have. Nevertheless, we are not back slapping or head patting when we say that you—the young people of Britain and the world—are the hope of the future. Without your present and future labour power, capitalism has no future.

We seek your understanding and cooperation in the biggest of all projects, not to fight for the abolition of this or that, or the amelioration of that or the other, but for a complete revolution in our social system. Capitalism took the idealism of your fathers and covered it with the mire of two great wars. It took their young bodies and shattered them for its narrow interests. It continues to poison the Earth with Atomic dust: it continues to cloud your vision with falsehoods wrapped up in sentiment and cheap patriotism. It will, if necessary, throw you in conflict against your brothers of other lands.

We suggest you spend an hour or so with the Socialist Standard. Get in touch with any Socialist near to hand and start discussing. Lastly, if you have any questions which you would like us to deal with in detail, write and ask us. Our members are always willing to come to address you at your clubs and colleges, or anywhere else.

Let's hear from you. We shall both benefit from the experiment, and we shall be pleased to print a selection of your views and criticisms in our columns.
W. Brain 

Thomas More and the abolition of money (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
   This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Sir Thomas More, one of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellors, Catholic martyr and saint, feature of the film A Man for All Seasons—and, though less publicized, early advocate of a moneyless society.
    It was through More than the word “utopia” came into the English language as this was the title of a book he published in Louvain (in what is now Belgium) in 1516. “Utopia” is the latinized version—for the book was written in Latin—of a Greek word meaning “nowhere” and More’s Utopia was an account of an imaginary island where society was organised without money and on communistic lines. It also contains a biting criticism of social developments in England at that time where the substitution of sheep-farming for tillage was driving hundreds of thousands of peasants off the land and into vagabondage.
    Despite this More was in 1529 chosen by Henry to be Lord Chancellor. He later fell out with Henry and was executed in 1535 for refusing to recognise him as the spiritual head of the Church in England.
     The passage reproduced below (taken from the translation by Paul Turner published as a Penguin Classic in 1965 and still available) shows why More has always been sympathetically regarded by Socialists.

Every town is divided into four districts of equal size, each with its own shopping centre in the middle of it. There the products of every household are collected in warehouses, and then distributed according to type among various shops. When the head of a household needs anything for himself or his family, he just goes to one of these shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for, he’s allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind. After all, why shouldn’t he? There’s more than enough of everything to go round, so there’s no risk of his asking for more than he needs — for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he’ll never have to go short of anything? No living creature is naturally greedy, except from fear of want — or in the case of human beings, from vanity, the notion that you’re better than people if you can display more superfluous property than they can. But there’s no scope for that sort of thing in Utopia.

When I consider any social system that prevails in the modern world, I can’t, so help me God, see it as anything but a conspiracy of the rich to advance their own interests under the pretext of organizing society. They think up all sorts of tricks and dodges, first for keeping safe their ill-gotten gains, and then for exploiting the poor by buying their labour as cheaply as possible. Once the rich have decided that these tricks and dodges shall be officially recognized by society — which includes the poor as well as the rich — they acquire the force of law. Thus an unscrupulous minority is led by its insatiable greed to monopolize what would have been enough to supply the needs of the whole population. And yet how much happier even these people would be in Utopia! There, with the simultaneous abolition of money and the passion for money, how many other social problems have been solved, how many crimes eradicated! For obviously the end of money means the end of all those types of criminal behaviour which daily punishments are powerless to check: fraud, theft, burglary, brawls, riots, disputes, rebellion, murder, treason and black magic. And the moment money goes, you can also say good-bye to fear, tension, anxiety, overwork and sleepless nights. Why, even poverty itself, the one problem that has always seemed to need money for its solution, would promptly disappear if money ceased to exist.

Let me try to make this point clearer. Just think back to one of the years when the harvest was bad, and thousands of people died of starvation. Well, I bet if you’d inspected every rich man’s barn at the end of that lean period you’d have found enough corn to have saved all the lives that were lost through malnutrition and disease, and prevented anyone from suffering any ill effects whatever from the meanness of the weather and the soil. Everyone could so easily get enough to eat, if it weren’t for that blessed nuisance, money. There you have a brilliant invention which was designed to make food more readily available. Actually it’s the only thing that makes it unobtainable.

Between the Lines: Only Joking (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only Joking

More mature TV viewers must be at a loss what to do with their Monday nights this month. April 9th saw the last in the series of Stand Up Jim Davidson (ITV), which was billed as "adult humour". What this meant in practice was peak-time permission for the chirpy cockney to entertain the troops by setting the clock back thirty years. Remember those good old days before we were taught to worry about the feelings of racial and other minorities? When a good joke had to have a good defenceless target? Well, Jim takes the Sun newspaper and simplifies it into small-screen sniggers for the simple-minded. Asians in Bradford, people in wheelchairs. the blind, women in council flats. Jews. Irish and gays: all these and many more were featured in his gallery of mugs. Only one group was missing from his league table of comical victims: white, male. English boneheads, with a microphone in one hand, half a pint of lager in the other, and not very much in between.

Democracy Versus Marketing

There was a great deal of promise in the early parts of "Remote Control: Television and Democracy" (Channel 4, April 7, 8-9pm). First, there was an excellent survey of the ways in which each period of history has seen a struggle over control of the key means of communication. In the Middle Ages, for example, the translation of the Bible into English was part of a shifting of power from Rome to Canterbury. In the nineteenth century, punitive taxation on publications was used to prevent the free distribution of radical ideas within the working class. And in the twentieth century, the early lessons learnt by the ruling class regarding the political uses of cinema were later applied to radio and television.

A further useful point was made by this documentary, regarding the current debate about the likely effects of the impending "deregulation" of broadcasting, and the arrival of cable and satellite. The debate has been almost exclusively based on arguments about "quality" and choice. Will deregulation lead to a widening of choice, a degeneration of quality, or both? But this is to regard television as purely another product for mass consumption like any other in the capitalist world market. The stress being placed on the concepts of quality and choice place the millions of viewers in a passive role, their only function being to pay their money and flick their remote control switches. But television, as a means of expression and communication, has always had the potential to be more than simply a product for mass consumption. The technology, particularly since the advent in the 70s of small, hand-held video cameras, could allow large numbers of people to be making programmes as well as watching them. Present government plans for the future of broadcasting fail even to pay lip service to such possibilities.

It was at this point that the programme began to flag somewhat. Lacking any really pertinent political analysis, it was not able to touch on the reasons for this, or to approach any real solutions. This inability of present-day society to allow proper participation in the broadcasting process is in fact symptomatic of a much wider problem. Real, full democracy in society is simply not compatible with a class-divided, property and profit-based social system. With regard to possible solutions, the programme focused on access slots like the BBC's "Open Door", the problems they have encountered, and on Channel Four, with its special remit to cater for minority views. Radical commentators trotted out tired modern cliches about their wish that TV would become more "empowering", "enabling" and "facilitating" for people, but had little idea how this might happen.

The conclusion reached, however, was refreshingly realistic: that the direction in which TV is heading shows less and less concern with the exciting ways in which it could be used as a democratic means of expression, and more and more preoccupation with being a profitable investment within the market system.
Steve Coleman