Thursday, May 25, 2017

Letter: Lenin - "Shoot the idlers" (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the July 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Yes indeed, Lenin did say, "One out of every ten idlers will be shot on the spot" (Gary Cubbage's letter, June Socialist Standard). This is from his "How to Organise Competition" written in December 1917, well before Stalin or the market economy of the NEP had provided Trotskyist excuses. It is also quoted in the article, "Lenin & Blanqui, Victims of Self-Deception” in the Nov/Dec 1984 issue of “Socialist Comment” journal of the WSPA.

In researching that article and checking through the three volumes of the Moscow edition of Lenin's Selected Works, I was struck by the numerous times that Lenin made statements that differed depending on the type of audience. One of the most significant is his address to the Conference of Political Education Workers in 1920 admitting that it is a “utopian view that workers are ready for socialism” contrasting with his more optimistic statements to a wider audience.

This demonstrates the opportunism forced on leaders trying to capture and hold onto power, and to influence events in the face of working class lack of understanding, cooperation and support. And the Russian working class was, in addition, a minority class.

Of course, if majority understanding existed it would negate the need for leaders anyway and change the whole concept of the revolutionary capture of political power and its implications, and to come back to Gary's letter, also of the question of 'the lazy man'.

Latter-day Leninist parties have learned little from Lenin's experience as revealed in his writings, of trying to deal with those problems to which he, his tactics and his hopes ultimately succumbed. A few months before his death, a disillusioned Lenin admitted, 'we lack enough civilisation to enable us to pass straight on to socialism”. Coining a new confusing definition of the system in Russia, he bemoaned the fact that “Not a single book has been written about state capitalism under communism. It did not occur even to Marx to write a word on this subject; and he died without leaving a single precise statement or definite instruction on it”. Why Marx should have written instructions for running state capitalism Lenin doesn't say.

In thus finally, and perhaps unwittingly acknowledging the vast gap between his and Marx's concept of a post-capitalist revolutionary society, Lenin also gives the lie to those of his followers who hold the opposite view - that they corresponded.

Lenin's life should be read as a cautionary tale by would-be revolutionaries, although it could provide a few drastic pointers to those seeking to organise competition.

Yours fraternally,
William Robertson

Bothies: Any Volunteers? (2017)

From the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
When socialists introduce our fellow-workers to the concept of common ownership, of making work voluntary, we frequently meet with the response, 'It's all very well but it can’t happen in practice'. This often makes socialists rock back on our heels with surprise because we can see all around us where the principles of cooperation and mutual aid are applied by ordinary folk with a shared need.
A 'bothy' was traditionally a building constructed for the accommodation of farm or estate workers. However, these days it means a building used as shelter for hill-walkers and climbers, mostly in remote areas. The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) maintains about 100 shelters across Great Britain. These shelters are unlocked and are available for anyone to use. The maintenance and upkeep is carried out by volunteers.  Users are asked to follow a 'bothy code' which prohibits the use of the buildings by commercial groups, for example by guided tours or adventure holidays although they are free to use the bothies as a lunch shelter or in the event of a genuine emergency. It is only profit-seeking commercial groups that abuse this. As the BMA complained in a statement last August:
'There have been incidents when legitimate bothy users have been made to feel unwelcome, inconvenienced or even refused entry when commercial groups have been in residence. Our volunteers who maintain the bothies, not unreasonably, feel aggrieved to know that their hard work is contributing to the profits of a business that probably does not support our organisation in any way.'
As one user explained "Of course, not everyone is going to be your new best pal, and there are people who simply prefer to keep their own company, but the one thing you should be able to rely on from a bothy companion is trustworthiness and mutual assistance. I've both given and received advice in bothies, shared someone's last teabag and seen a drookit (drenched) traveller clad for the night in bits and pieces of several others' dry clothes while his own hung in front of the fire. In a bothy you really are all in it together".
Also we should not ignore how ramblers and mountaineers rely upon mountain rescue volunteers in an emergency. Rescue teams give up their time to provide a free service to people who request assistance. Volunteers save lives and are available 24/7, 365 days a year, in all weather conditions. Some suggest that in socialism unpleasant and dangerous jobs would be avoided but there never seems to be any lack of volunteers for mountain rescue.
And who would willingly place themselves in a life-threatening position? Well, lifeboat crews of the non-state organisation, the RNLI, voluntarily and without recompense risk their lives in storms at sea for the welfare of others and the common good of society. And there exists a waiting list of suitable applicants to join it, so recruitment is not a problem.
Kropotkin, the author of Mutual Aid, pointed out:
'The crew of a lifeboat do not ask whether the men of a distressed ship are entitled to be rescued at a risk of life... One of the noblest achievements of our century is undoubtedly the Lifeboat Association. Since its first humble start, it has saved no less than thirty-two thousand human lives. It makes appeal to the noblest instincts of man; its activity is entirely dependent upon devotion to the common cause, while its internal organisation is entirely based upon the independence of the local committees'. (Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles).
One thing we don't require to be told is people's capacity to organise self-help in support of each another. Along with many other charities these are affirmations of our humanity.

Obituary: Death of L. Jones (1947)

Obituary from the May 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death on April 5th of comrade Lew Jones of Leyton Branch, at the early age of 33. Comrade Jones joined the Party in 1933, and soon showed his all-round capacity and single-minded devotion to the Socialist cause. He studied hard to gain knowledge, and steadily applied himself to becoming a speaker and writer. His quiet and persuasive manner and his care for accuracy of statement made him a very effective propagandist in speech and in writing. He was secretary of the Branch for many years and treasurer until his death. He gave great help in editorial work and for a few weeks this year he was working as part-time assistant to the editorial committee, but owing to a worsening of his health during the recent spell of bitterly cold weather, he regretfully had to give it up. During the war, while working on the land to which he had been directed by a Conscientious Objector Tribunal, he contracted pleurisy.

He was refused a medical certificate and had to continue digging ditches in spite of his condition. As a result tuberculosis developed and he was very ill for the two years before his death. It was only towards the end of 1946 that he was reported to be sufficiently recovered to resume light work. In spite of the further relapse he was looking forward eagerly to resuming activities in a few weeks and his great concern was that his illness should have interfered with his work. In the last few days before he died he was working on an article. The Socialist movement has lost a fine and valuable comrade.

We express our sympathy with his family.