Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bibles, Bayonets and Bacilli. (1913)

From the January 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist, in his war upon capitalism and its defenders, soon discovers that religion is an important bulwark of the enemy. In the preface to the S.P.G.B. pamphlet “Socialism and Religion” attention is drawn to a Non-conformist boast regarding the commercial value of “missions to the heathen."

Further testimony as to the merits or demerits of missionary enterprise is furnished from time to time by explorers, government officials, and such like interesting personalities.

Thus Col. Sam Hughes, Canadian Minister, addressing the Canadian Club of New York (11th Nov.), said that “Britain and her colonies will stand together in the upbuilding of humanity the world over," and told how some of the upbuilding is done. He declared that "in all his travels he has observed that the missionary with his bible and the bayonet went hand in hand in the promotion of civilisation."

The colonel does but voice the claim of his class—the pretence that capitalist civilisation is best in the interest of mankind at large, Putumayo and Cradley Heath included. Certainly it suits capitalist interest well enough, and consequently the part played by the Church missionary in its promotion must have due recognition.

To be sure, the theoretic meekness and “love" of Christian teaching assorts but ill with the murderous bayonet; but history and Christian practice reconcile them easily at the dictates of material interests and social predominance.

Yes, Capital knows the worth—to capital—of the Christian missionary, and pays for services rendered; and many are the decimated peoples who have cause to rue the day when first they knew that purveyor of new delusions for old.

But a cruel blow has been struck at the humanitarian pretences of the missionary by the explorer Stefansson (employed by the New York Museum of Natural History), discoverer of the blonde Esquimaux. He points out that primitive peoples are so nicely adjusted to their often harsh environment that the slightest disturbance suffices to destroy their conditions of survival, that is, to kill them off. He shows how the Esquimaux who have been brought under the influence of white men have been almost wiped out by measles and such like diseases; and he pleads that the newly discovered people shall be protected from the interference of civilisation, and particularly that the missionary, as an undesirable, be kept away.

Mr Stefansson argues that a live heathen Esquimaux is better than a dead baptised one. Col. Sam Hughes’ bayonet-allied upbuilder of humanity may not agree—but then Torquemada had little use for live heretics!
John H. Halls

The Labour Party's Liberal Programme (1925)

Editorial from the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Executive of the Labour Party are submitting to the Liverpool Conference of that Party a policy of “National Reconstruction and Reform” which they claim will secure for all workers “the reward and security to which their activities rightly entitle them.”

This so-called Labour policy declares for closer contact between the Home Government and the Colonial Governments; "a scientific redistribution of land within the British Commonwealth”; special information offices for emigrants and preliminary training before going overseas; Government purchase of Colonial produce; and financial assistance to British farmers.

On the question of unemployment the Programme states that "it is an inevitable accompaniment of capitalist production” and can only be prevented by Socialism. But the Labour Party goes on to demand the appointment of a National Employment Board whose duty shall be "To inquire into the nature of and remedies for unemployment ”! This Board is also to prepare schemes of national development.

On the land question the Labour Programme demands the old Liberal policy of the Taxation of Land Values. In agriculture the Labour Programme is for a minimum wage of 1s. per hour for a 48-hour week.

This 1925 Programme of the Labour Party is, in reality, a policy that every capitalist can support. It offers all the nostrums for perpetuating the capitalist system, and advocates the reactionary schemes of so-called reformers, from Emigration to Taxation of Land Values. After an admission that unemployment is caused by capitalism and can only be cured by Socialism, these Labour politicians want a Board to enquire into unemployment and its remedy.

The Programme is in no sense a working-class programme; it deals with effects, and deals with them in such a way as to preserve the interests of property and its owners. It is one of the clearest capitalist programmes that the mis-called Labour Party has ever drawn up, and it shows that between Labourism and Liberalism there is a close contact in "ideas” as well as persons.

Even the Editor of the New Leader has to make this confession about the "Labour Programme” (New Leader, Sept. 25, 1925) :—
  It is not the programme of a party which asks for power because it has the will to re-shape our disordered society. There are no guiding lines in it, no inspiring ideas. It is a collection of proposals for reform, most of them salutary and some of them important. Yet no one reading it. even with close attention, would say, "Here is the ground plan of a Socialist Society.” One jolts along from one proposal to another, assenting, indeed, to most of them, but never catching a glimpse of the real purpose in view. What is it? To redistribute the wealth of the community? To make an end of the tributes of rent and profit and interest? To win for the whole working community the power to order its daily life? No Socialist strategy is apparent. One does not feel that the authors of this compilation ever asked themselves the question: What are the urgent things which we must do to win Socialism? Which are the roads to economic power? The Conference may alter and amplify and amend, but no process of amendment will ever make this a good programme. It will not inspire the Socialist thinker, nor will it fire the enthusiasm of the simple worker and his wife.

The Rehabilitation of Pavel Dybenko (1964)

From the May 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since the death of Stalin, the rulers of Russia and of the farcically named Peoples Democracies have been engaged in a new industry—the rehabilitation of ghosts from their murky past. So far they have not actually succeeded in bringing back to life one of Stalin's murdered victims, but, no doubt, they are working on that; while another feature is that the bones which are now moved up to the more desirable plots in the cemeteries are always those of Communists—and usually Stalinist Communists at that. So far there is no sign of life from Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and all the other Bolshevik victims of the grisly thirties let alone any of the countless swarms of anti-Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks. Presumably they must rot unhonoured and unmourned.

It may be instructive to take a look at a recent example of the rehabilitation business, that of Pavel Dybenko. As the papers were not slow to point out, added interest attaches to this case because Dybenko was the basis of one of the important and tragic characters in a famous work of fiction— Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a novel about the purge trials of the Stalin Terror (a book that is well worth reading even though its central thesis, that the false confessions made by leading Bolsheviks before being butchered were the result of ideological devotion to the Soviet system at all costs, was false; as Krushchev has since shown, the simple explanation was quite good enough—they were extracted by brute force and barbaric torture). But apart from that, the case of Dybenko is of fascinating interest in that it shows the degeneration of a hero who has hitched his waggon to a false star and therein lies a lesson about the falsity of the old maxim—"the end justifies the means."

Dybenko first became news in 1915 when, as an ordinary sailor, he led a mutiny on a Tsarist warship on the Black Sea and it was, therefore, not surprising when he figured prominently in the fighting in Petrograd in the 1917 Revolution. He was by then a leader of the rebellious sailors of Kronstadt, the famous naval station near the then Russian capital (now Leningrad). The very name of Kronstadt has a terrible irony in this context. Dybenko led the sailors in their revolt against Tsarism, an undoubted tyranny, but he and his comrades used their strength to help the Bolsheviks overturn both the Tsarist tyranny and the Provisional "Liberal" government of Kerensky and substitute an iron dictatorship of the Communist Party whose yoke is still firmly around the neck of the Russian proletariat to this day.

From this stage the story of Dybenko takes a bizarre turn. After the Bolshevik victory in November, 1917 (with its accompanying massacre of the young cadets and the women soldiers in the Winter Palace along with the murder in a prison hospital of two defenceless members of the Provisional Government) the next stage was the calling in January, 1918, of the Constituent Assembly which the Bolsheviks had, not without some justification, accused the Government of delaying.

From all corners of Russia the delegates came to the Parliament which was going to give Russia its new democratic government. But there was a flaw. The new Parliament had an anti-Bolshevik majority and elected an anti-Bolshevik chairman. This sort of democracy did not suit Lenin and the Bolsheviks who had control of the armed forces in Petrograd, so the Assembly was broken up—an inglorious end to the first relatively free election in Russia's tragic history and, of course, the last.

But whilst the sailors of Kronstadt contributed to the Bolshevik victory, they soon came to realise that they had blundered; that there was no semblance of liberty or democracy in the regime they had helped to create. In due course this led to the Kronstadt mutiny of 1921, the last open act of defiance by any Russian body of men against the new tyranny. This mutiny posed serious problems for the Communists and for Trotsky, their commander-in-chief, for the Kronstadt sailors were strong both in arms and men and in addition they had the revolutionary prestige attaching to the heroes of 1917. The problem was duly solved by the classical mixture of force and fraud that is inevitably used by ruling cliques whenever their position is threatened, whether they call themselves Communist or anything else. And who were the leaders of the Red Army which crushed the mutiny? Firstly General (later Marshal) Tukhachevsky and, at his right hand, the same Pavel Dybenko who had formerly been the outstanding figure among the sailors but who was now a member of the ruling clique and the husband of the famous Bolshevik Madame Kollontai. And it is instructive to note that all this took place not under Stalin, the so-called betrayer of the Revolution, but in the heyday of Trotsky and of Lenin himself.

The subsequent story of our "hero" only shows the sad progress of his decline into a vicious instrument of tyranny. He became the President of the Military Court—one of Stalin's hanging judges. And his most famous victim in that role? None other than the same Marshal Tukhachevsky with whom he had helped to crush the sailors of Kronstadt. The Marshal, who had become the C-in-C of the Red Army, had fallen foul of Stalin's megalomaniac fury and himself became a sacrifice to the executioner along with his wife and family—a grisly monument to Stalin’s "Communism” which, of course, evoked never a bleat of protest from the Communist Parties of Great Britain and the other western countries.

Finally Dybenko, having betrayed and butchered his former comrades in the service of this monstrous travesty of Communism. himself found that he was caught in the net and in 1938 duly paid with his life in the Stalinist blood-bath. The lesson of all this bloodshed and double-dealing? Surely, none other than that no amount of heroism and even of sincerity (for it is certain that people like Dybenko at first believed in the rightness of their actions) can bring Socialism in a world where, as in Russia, the mass of the people do not understand or want it. The idea that a minority of Communists could lead the uneducated masses into the promised land was condemned as dangerous futility in these pages nearly 50 years ago. And how tragically the Russian workers have paid in blood and suffering for their folly.

And what of the present? Does anyone really believe that Krushchev is leading the Russian State Capitalist machine towards Socialism? Why, only recently he was quoted as denouncing the principle of equality in wages which had always been an ostensible goal of the Bolsheviks, and defending “differentials" (and what differentials!) like any good capitalist. And whom does his regime rehabilitate when it condemns the days of Stalin? Democratic heroes? No, Communist murderers, the victims of other Communist murderers. And still the repression goes on as the executions for "economic crimes" and the continued barbaric imprisonment of people like the mistress of the writer Pasternak, and her daughter, abundantly testify.

One day, in Russia as in the rest of the world, there will be a Socialist revolution. But it will take place as a result of a majority of thinking Socialists deciding to end the capitalist regimes in all countries, not least in the Soviet Union.
L. E. Weidberg

Ignoble art (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since 1939 there have been approximately 360 deaths throughout the world as a result of professional boxing and each time there are renewed calls for its abolition.

Supporters of boxing claim that many other popular sports are potentially hazardous and that the nine or ten deaths worldwide each year due to professional boxing are low compared with them. It is further claimed that boxing is organised under strict medical supervision and that if it was banned then unlicensed fights would flourish without such stringent controls and the risks for boxers would be greater.

To claim (correctly) that the fatality rate for boxing is lower than for a number of other sports disguises the fact that injuries in sport usually result from accidents or breaches of the rules, but injuries in boxing arise from the application of the rules. Boxing differs from other sports in that the contestants engage in an activity — fighting which is normally considered to be illegal. Indeed, in the early days of prize fighting the legal position of the emergent "sport” was precarious.
In the old prize ring days the sport survived not only because there were not enough police to subdue it but because it was supported by so many influential people. Indeed, the position was slightly ludicrous, for although the sport was banned by law and scorned upon by the church it was never surprising to see a few church dignitaries or Parliamentarians at the ringside. (Golesworthy. M. [1983] Encyclopaedia of Boxing. 7th Edition. Robert Hale. London, p. 142)
Professional boxing has been legalised in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and most of the United States. But the ability of boxing to flourish in Britain without legal backing is typical of the way that the law can be conveniently ignored when business interests are involved and also how powerless the law can be when confronted with overwhelming public demand.

Bare knuckle prize fights continued until about 1895 and the conditions under which many of them were fought were quite barbaric. Fights often lasted for several hours and prize fighters were shamelessly exploited to provide money for promoters and profits from gambling. In May 1833 James Burke fought Simon Byrne in a contest which lasted three hours and six minutes before Byrne was defeated. He died three days later; Burke was tried for manslaughter but acquitted. Earlier, in 1741, when George Stevenson died in a contest with Jack Broughton, a charge of manslaughter was not brought against the winner but, as Golesworthy points out, Broughton's backer was the Duke of Cumberland, third son of George II, whose influence was used to override the law.

The use of gloves to protect the hands became increasingly popular towards the end of the last century but little else was done to protect boxers, who continued to take part in very long fights. In 1893 Andy Bowen and Jack Burke fought a contest, wearing gloves, of 110 rounds lasting seven hours and nineteen minutes, which was declared no contest because neither boxer was knocked out.

Gambling has always been an integral part of boxing and this has led to a number of attempts to manipulate the results of contests. The earliest record of a bribe being taken to fix a fight was when George Meggs was beaten by Bill Stevens in March 1761 and admitted that he had accepted money to throw the fight. During the 1920s boxing in the United States was controlled by the Mafia who made large sums of money from gambling. As a consequence many fights were fixed according to the betting and in 1930 the New York State Athletic Commission was forced to introduce the "no-foul rule" which prevented boxers from winning bouts because of being struck low blows. Before this many boxers had lost by fouling their opponents but safeguarded the racketeers' money because bets were not paid out on fights ending in disqualification. Although fortunes were made by mobsters, promoters and managers in the early days of boxing many professional boxers struggled to earn a satisfactory living even for the few years that their careers usually lasted: Digger Stanley died in poverty in 1919 in spite of being British bantamweight champion in 1913.

The number of bouts fought by some boxers was remarkable: Abraham Hollandersky is believed to have had 1,309 contests between 1905 and 1918; Battling Levinsky fought three contests in one day - 1 January 1915; Tommy Burns defended his world heavyweight title twice in one day on 28 March 1906, against Jim O'Brien and Jim Walker in San Diego. The New York State Athletic Commission was formed in 1920 and the British Boxing Board of Control in 1929 because it was recognised that over-exploitation of boxers could ruin profits. Professional boxers, particularly if they had championship potential, were valuable and needed to be protected from overmatching and unnecessary physical injury. It must also be remembered that as boxing had no legal recognition in Britain concessions had to be made to the pressure of the abolitionists.

Professional boxing in Britain is probably the most stringently controlled in the world because of its precarious legal position and the need to be able to claim to be "safe". But there has been an anomaly in the operation of boxing booths in fairgrounds for, although the boxers are licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control, the booths are owned by members of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain and there are no checks made on people who try their luck against the professionals.

Racial prejudice has also been an ugly feature of boxing throughout its history. Golesworthy states:
Several notable coloured boxers who might well have become world champions never even got a chance to fight for the title. It is also a well known fact that many of the coloured men who did achieve world honours had to be satisfied with smaller purses than their challengers. (p.59)
Coloured boxers, although eligible for Empire titles, were prevented from competing for British titles until 1947. when the British Boxing Board of Control lifted its ban. Racial tensions were deliberately exploited, to boost attendance at fights, by dubbing white boxers, particularly in the heavyweight division, as "great white hopes" when matched against coloured boxers.

Supporters of boxing would claim that most of the exploitation and barbarity of the early days no longer apply; punch-drunk boxers are rarely seen because of stricter medical controls; mobsters no longer control the betting; racism is not now condoned by boxing's controlling bodies; boxing champions have chances of earning vast amounts of money. But although controls have certainly improved there are still a lot of problems: the British Medical Association states unequivocally that all forms of boxing are dangerous and that even participation in amateur boxing, which is very strictly regulated. leads to brain damage. Besides brain damage a form of Parkinsonism, with slowing down of movements, difficulty with walking, slurred speech, memory lapses and personality changes - boxers risk cuts and bruises, eye damage and fractures and osteoarthrosis of the hands.

The business interests of professional boxing has led to less stringent controls being applied there than in amateur boxing and, consequently, professional fights are of longer duration and less likely to be stopped because of cuts or knockdowns. The longer the bouts that professional boxers participate in, the fewer boxers are needed to provide an evening's entertainment. With fewer boxers to pay, the higher the profits for promoters. Gambling remains as prominent as ever in boxing and, although Mafia involvement has been kept in check, bookmakers' profits are expanding.

Racism and nationalism remain firmly entrenched; white boxers are still regarded as "great white hopes" when fighting coloured boxers and although boxing's controlling organisations no longer officially support racism they manage to turn a blind eye while such attitudes continue to sell tickets although recently they had to take disciplinary action (because of the risk of being discredited) when two boxers went too far and brawled in a London street over racial abuse each had voiced against the other.

A few top boxers earn enormous amounts of money - but this is true of the elite of any sport. At amateur level and the lower echelons of the professional ranks boxers are not only encouraged, but trained, to risk their health and that of their opponents by engaging in a brutal and dangerous occupation in the hope of earning glory and big purses from trying to injure their fellow workers.

The lack of legal status has not prevented boxing from flourishing. When abolitionists appreciate that any activity, however barbaric or dangerous, can be condoned under capitalism as long as it is profitable then perhaps they will abandon reforms.
Carl Pinel

A New Religion for China (1964)

Book Review from the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Centre of the World: Communism and the Mind of China by Robert S. Elegant, Methuen, 42s.

China is the latest recruit to world capitalism. The ruling-class there have taken over a whole bag of tricks from their fellow ruling-classes of the West and brought them up-to-date for the ruthless exploitation of their workers, both civilians and soldiers. They have used the technique of convincing the Chinese that the system of society there is communistic and that the government is a workers' council acting for the workers. They have used expert propaganda to train their workers, or at any rate some of them, to be super-patriotic and ready to fight and die for the motherland; Chinese workers are now trained to believe that they are a kind of master race and that the rest of the world are barbarians; they have become super-employees, working fantastically long hours with many doing two jobs. School children and students, in addition to their classes, have to work long hours on farms or construction jobs.

China, the land where compromise was for centuries the order of the day, has now gone to extremes in almost everything imaginable. No more of those succulent meals, at least not for the working-class. Every place of employment has its canteen, including the communal farms, where small portions of rice and vegetable gruel are served, occasionally with a microscopic amount of meat. But money talks there as anywhere else, and for the wealthy there are black-market supplies at the usual high price. There is food rationing throughout China. The Chinese family, for centuries the closest- knit in the world possibly, has been broken-up, the children taken over by creches, the parents separated from each other and forced to sleep in dormitories near the job. All this they are being trained to view as more important than the family.

The agnostic Chinese have also been given a god—Mao-tse-tung; a bible—the collected works of Lenin, Stalin and Mao-tse-tung; priests, the omnipresent Communist Party cadres who supervise the workers politically not only on the job but in the street committees, trade union meetings, etc.; and an inquisition more gruelling than anything the Jesuits ever devised. Like the Christians in the West, they have a heaven that will never materialise; the Chinese pie-in-the-sky is the Socialist State towards which they are supposed to be going via this vale of tears. Tighten your belts a bit more, the Chinese workers are told, and you will be one step nearer the promised land. This exhortation seems to ring a bell here! But all this is for the workers only—the ruling-class do not need it.

Mr. Elegant in his book goes back to Confucious in his research on the unique Chinese conviction of superiority, as he terms it. He traces the history of China from 1600 A.D. and describes in detail the past decade, analysing such aspects as the Peoples' Communes, Mao and the other leaders, the Sino-Soviet dispute the structure of both the Communist Party and the Peoples’ Republic. Here, in a fascinating portrait of a powerful new force in the world today is a blending of scholarship, journalism and political commentary. This reviewer was most impressed in face of the vast and detailed knowledge of the author but, despite the fact that Mr. Elegant is a newspaper correspondent and perhaps should be expected to know better, he does not understand what make the society we all live in tick.

He doesn’t see the world as it is, divided into opposing groups, the workers and the ruling-class, whose interests are diametrically opposed. He sees the world divided into good people and bad people, good leaders and bad leaders. He sees two opposing systems of society, the free world of the West, and he is on their side and they are good; and the dark satanic world that lies behind the iron and bamboo curtains. That he regards as bad, and he hates their social system, which he mistakenly believes to be basically different from the capitalism of the West. This view colours his comments throughout the book, which can only be regarded as just one more addition to the muddle-headed spate of pro-capitalist propaganda with which we have to cope in the meagre columns of the Socialist Standard.

It is little wonder that non-Socialist readers who peruse books of this type are induced to loathe the very connotations of the word Socialism, not knowing that China is the latest example of a backward country, pitchforked by events into the maelstrom of a world of capitalism already developed, and using the quickest method of catching up with the others. It is not Socialism that they arc criticising but the growing-pains of this youthful capitalism.
Frank Offord

Party Notes (1908)

Party News from the July 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Manchester Branch continues to go “great guns,” and the local S.D.P., I.LP., and other reform organisations must be heartily wishing our members with their inconvenient truths anywhere but where they are—and that is mainly where the reformers make their own public pitches. Being beaten whenever they allow themselves to be drawn into discussion upon the position and tactics of their own parties, they now refuse to answer questions from any of our speakers (following a line that has offered a way of escape elsewhere) and when forced into some recognition of the S.P.G.B., have recourse to the customary misrepresentation of our attitude, and vilification of some of our membership.


The latter course, however, does not always pay, as Mr. Watson, of the S.D.P. Executive, found when he ventured to level charges at our comrade Baritz, who at one time was secretary of the Cheetham Branch of the S.D.P. The charges related to Baritz’s conduct while acting in that capacity, as a result of which, it was alleged, he was expelled. Baritz had no difficulty in proving Watson’s statements to be untrue, and after many miserable attempts to struggle out of the difficulty his attempt to blacken our man in the eyes of his audience had landed him into, Watson was obliged to admit his “error,” and reluctantly apologised.


Apart from there brushes with the enemy, the Manchester Branch has held many meetings, with audiences running sometimes into four figures, and has effected large sales of the Party literature. More power to them.


Another branch of the Party has now been formed in Lancashire. Burnley has opened fire, and in the district specially affected with Dan-irvinism. The members may be reckoned upon to make their presence felt. So the organisation that four years ago was given three months to die in, grows. It must be very annoying to the prophets.


At Watford a round table meeting, to which members of the local S.D.P. were specially invited, was held, when Fitzgerald gave an address on the reasons for the Party opposition to the S.D.P. Several S.D.P.’ers turned up, and their principal platform member undertook the rather unhappy task of defending his organisation’s work. Whether the meeting results in any immediate conversions or not, it doubtless has had the effect of opening the eyes of some of the S.D.P. men present to the methods by which their society is run, as well as to the only attitude which a working-class party can adopt. As their presence was an indication of a desire to get at the truth, the final outcome must be to the advantage of the only Party expressing working-class interests—the S.P.G.B. It is fairly certain that if the honest, earnest member of the S.D.P., I.LP., and the rest (and there are without question, of course, many such), could be got at, and the issues squarely put and thoroughly discussed, a large proportion would, sooner or later, recognise the weakness of their position and come over. The difficulty is that the forces at work to prevent such discussion, coupled with our comparative weakness numerically, make any meeting impossible. This is unfortunate for the growth of the Socialist Party in England, perhaps, but we can only keep on with our work while keeping a watchful eye upon any opportunity that offers.


Will any member who is willing to devote any part of his holidays to provincial propaganda work communicate at once with the Head Office, giving dates and district? The biggest glutton for work can be fully satisfied. Verily, the field is great and the labourers few.


Two debates have been held with the S.L.P., one in Manchester and one in Finsbury Park. On each occasion the position of the S.P.G.B. was easily maintained against the position put up against it. By the time this appears another debate will have taken place in Islington. with F. Montague, the organiser of the I.L.P. in North London.


Not only have these debates been held by the Islington Branch with representatives of the “Labour movement," but the Liberal Party has been met on June 18th, when our comrade Fitzgerald met Mr. Theedham, of the Central Finsbury Liberal Association. Any member of any political party outside the S.P.G.B.  can always be accommodated by communicating with us.

Exposed: What Militant really stands for (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

When an organisation comes on the scene claiming to stand for the interest of the workers it is necessary to examine its principles and policies critically and responsibly. There's no point in believing everything a political organisation says about itself; after all, the Labour Party has claimed for years that it stands for the workers' interest and look what happened. The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not, of course, give credence to the pronouncements of the mass media: to do so would be to accept the Militant Tendency as a Marxist organisation, committed to working for a socialist revolution. We wish that the media were right, because we would describe ourselves in precisely that way. But there is evidence to show that the Militant Tendency is far from being either what it claims to be or what the capitalist media says it is; that it is in fact just another front for the very capitalist system it sloganises against.

We expose the Militant Tendency as reformist. not in a spirit of animosity towards our fellow workers in the organisation, but because the need for socialism is now more urgent than ever and there can be no time lost in diversions. Last September we were passed a letter addressed to the Political Editor of Militant, written by a worker who had been selling and supporting the paper for two years. The following extracts (which we publish with the writer s permission) make clear what he had learnt in the period:
  Having read What Militant Stands For and having come across so many Militant supporters in the Labour Party Young Socialists. I come to the conclusion that Militant does not argue for "bold socialist policies" as I had mistakenly believed. The ideas of Militant, together with the equally reformist Labour Party and LPYS do not constitute a real socialist alternative to the decaying and anarchic capitalist system.
   Clause IV (part 4) refers to the “. . . common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Surely if there is common ownership, so that everyone owns everything, then there is no need for a means of exchange, i.e. there is no need for money. This is a fundamental principle of what Marx himself advocated. Socialism is, I think you would agree, the establishment of a system of society where production is based on the needs of the majority producers of wealth and not on the private profit of the minority owners of wealth. If we are to renounce the profit system, it follows then that the possession and acquisition of money in exchange for goods and labour will be totally unnecessary.
The letter ended with a request for a response from the political editor of Militant and an expression of hope that readers of the paper would write in with their reactions. But readers of Militant were never given a chance to read the letter. The leaders decided that these arguments were not for the consumption of the rank and file. No reply was received from the political editor. Hardly surprising: earlier in 1984 the Islington branch of the Socialist Party challenged the Militant leaders to debate their ideas in public. Their reply was that there is no point in "socialists" debating with each other we should be spending our time fighting the real enemy, the Tories. But we don't think the Tories are the main enemy: we think that all capitalist parties are the enemy, including the Labour Party and the Militant Tendency.

The writer of the letter from which we quote was given the privilege of a private reply. A letter (dated 24 September) was written to him by Dave Carr, the regional organiser for the Militant Tendency in his area. In it Carr attempted to spell out what his organisation meant when they called themselves socialists. A copy was sent to us and we were given permission to use it. Not being in favour of private debates, we have decided to make Carr's comments public, answer them, and leave our readers to see the anti-socialist nature of the Militant Tendency's position. For reasons of space we have cut out from Carr's letter one or two of the more wordy passages, and for convenience we print sections of it followed by our reply.

“The main confusion in your analysis (in which I see the dead-hand of the SPGB) is that you don't distinguish between socialism and communism. The implication being that it's possible for a workers' revolution to go from capitalism without any intermediate stages to communism. This is mistaken. Marx and Engels stated that the overthrow of capitalism wouldn't result in the abolition of class society immediately. That's why they advanced the slogan of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat', i.e. the working class control state power, resting on state ownership of property . . ."

The idea of the transition period was developed in the last century when it was feared that the political will for socialism might precede an advance in productive potential sufficient to make a society of production for use and free access to all goods and services immediately possible. Now, with the aid of advanced technological know-how, the human race is capable of solving the problem of productive scarcity as soon as there is a political will to do so. There is no reason why a society in which each produces according to ability and takes freely according to self-defined need could not be established in a short time, without any transition period, if a majority of workers decide in favour of the socialist alternative. When Marx and Engels were writing this might not have been the case, but why should we accept the conditions of the nineteenth century as our political guide when we have only to look at present conditions to see the immediate possibility of socialism?

The distinction between socialism and communism was not made by Marx and is not accepted by socialists. It was Lenin and his small vanguard party in post-1917 Russia who popularised this false distinction: they called state capitalism (which Lenin admitted the Bolsheviks were setting up) socialism and promised socialism (which they called communism) at a future point in history, to be arrived at after the "socialist" transition period. The Russian workers are still waiting for the transition to end.

Over which class does the Militant Tendency think that the "workers' state" will dictate? Are workers going to be dictators over the capitalists who exploit us? The notion is ridiculous. Clearly, workers must democratically conquer state power in order to abolish classes and the state. In a classless society there will be no ruling class and therefore it will not require a state to coerce people on its behalf. As Engels put it: “The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is. at the same time, its last independent act as a state" (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific). According to the Militant Tendency, society will take possession of the means of production and they will become state property. The factories in Russia are state property; so are the British mines — and the Polish shipyards. The Militant Tendency wants state ownership of the entire means of wealth production and distribution. So. during their transition period there will be state owners to whom the majority of people will have to sell their labour power in return for wages and salaries. What they are proposing is wholesale nationalisation, not common ownership where no individual, company or state monopolises the means of life. And where there is a state there are police, prisons, armies, and all the other features of class coercion. Has the Militant Tendency worked out detailed plans for how such coercion will be managed? (For example. will there be capital punishment under their new state; will the "socialist" police be armed with rubber bullets; how long will prison sentences be for those whose behaviour is out of line with state policy?) If such plans exist, why does the Militant Tendency not publish them and let workers know what life will be like under the new "Militant" state? If. as we suspect, the Militant Tendency has no idea how their new state will be run, but expects the workers to believe that "state ownership of property" will not mean what it has in Russia, China, Albania and the other dictatorships over the proletariat, we are confident that the vast majority of workers will continue to regard the Militant Tendency’s plans as just so much Leninist nonsense.

“Under socialism capitalist laws of production (albeit in a modified form) would still exist. Yes. the wages system which conceals the creation of surplus value would be overthrown but workers would continue to receive wages. Money would continue to be used to regulate exchange and the economy. Basic goods, including many foodstuffs, could be given away but other commodities would continue to be bought and sold. Under socialism, the state and money will begin to disappear. Socialism will mean, that historical moment when the state turns into a semi-state and money begins to lose its magic power."

Is he barmy or are we? What a load of confused and illogical nonsense! If the laws of capitalism will still exist "under socialism” how are we going to know that we are not still living under capitalism? There will be no wages system, but there will be wages. What in the name of Groucho Marx does this mean? Either workers are forced to sell our labour power to an employer in return for a price called a wage or salary, or we are not. The Socialist Party contends that in a society where there are no exploiters and exploited the human ability to work will not be sold at a price, but contributed voluntarily. According to the Militant Tendency, workers will still sell labour power in return for wages "under socialism", but this capitalist process (the wages system) will be called socialism. What is a semi-state? Does it mean that the new "socialist" cops will walk around with one leg on the ground or that the government will pass half-baked laws? We are told in one paragraph that "socialism" will rest on "state ownership of property" and then that the new state will be "a semi-state". How will money "begin to disappear"? Does the Militant Tendency intend to phase out coins, one by one? No. obviously there must either be a system in which wealth does not belong to the workers who have created it. so they must buy access to it with money, or there must be complete free access. Common ownership, if the term has any logical meaning, must involve the abolition of exchange and monetary relationships. But the Militant Tendency does not aim to establish common ownership: it stands for state ownership, under which wages, money and all the laws of capitalist production (albeit in a modified form) would still exist. Why don’t they tell that to the workers in the next issue of Militant?

“Militant argues that the material basis for such a planned economy must be the state ownership of the major monopolies (the top 200 in our agitation). Are you saying that this measure, carried through by the working class, wouldn't abolish capitalism? Of course, the Labour leaders have no intention of nationalising the top 200 monopolies. That's precisely why we pose that demand. To expose their rottenness, while explaining how reforms such as minimum wage, shorter hours, public works programme etc. can be financed.” 

The nationalisation of the top two hundred companies in Britain would not lead to the abolition of capitalism, but to state capitalism. Indeed, this point is accepted in a passage quoted earlier which states, quite correctly, that the capitalist laws of production, in a modified form, are all that Militant means by socialism.
Why advocate a measure because the leaders for whom you vote and canvass support will not carry it out and so be exposed as rotten? This seems to the Socialist Party, in our non-Leninist innocence, to be a dishonest and confused political strategy. Let’s follow it through: come the next election Militant Tendency will go round the houses telling workers to vote for Labour leaders. "Why should we vote for them?” ask the workers. "Because they stand for nationalisation which will be good for you.” But while telling them that you’re laughing inwardly and thinking "Silly suckers. They’ve got to vote for these leaders to find out just what sort of swines they are.” Why not start out by telling the workers what you know that the Labour leaders are rotten? Answer: because, as Leninists, you think that workers are too stupid to understand what you’ve understood, so you've got to trick them into doing the wrong thing so that they learn by their mistakes.

Socialists don't want minimum wages, we want the abolition of wage labour. The capitalist class will hardly be trembling when they hear that Militant's "revolution” amounts to little more than the provision of Keynesian financing for a few reforms of capitalism.

“. . . Trotsky, in The Transitional Programme, argued that a revolutionary should advance demands within the working class movement that link the day-to-day struggles of the workers on economic issues etc. to the need to change society. These are described as bridging demands, designed with flexibility, to raise the combativity and consciousness of the working class. In fact, Marx and Engels went to some lengths to castigate both the reformists who merely put forward a programme of reforms under capitalism and those who simply called for revolution aloof from the struggles of the working class. Both groups of 'socialists’ were sectarian."

Marx and Engels rightly held that simply to advocate a list of reforms of capitalism is a waste of workers' time. We also agree that it would be sectarian for socialists merely to preach about revolution, "aloof from the struggles of the working class". That is why the Socialist Party adopts neither of these approaches: we do not propagandise in an abstract way about how nice socialism would be but relate our analysis to the day-to-day struggle of our class; neither do we waste workers’ time merely putting forward a programme of reforms of capitalism.

Now let us look at Militant and its policies, which well live up to the description of being "designed with flexibility". The Militant Tendency does not fall into the error of simply calling for revolution — it is too busy urging workers to vote Labour so that they will realise why they shouldn't. But does the Militant Tendency "merely put forward a programme of reforms under capitalism"? If we consult pages 2 and 3 of the pamphlet, Militant—What We Stand For we find a list of eighteen reforms of capitalism. For example "Reversal of all Tory cuts and a massive programme of public works on housing, education, the health service etc."; "Opening of the books of the monopolies to inspection by committees of shop stewards, housewives and small shopkeepers"; and, of course, "Abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords". These are mere reforms of capitalism. How will the struggle to implement them "raise the combativity and consciousness of the working class"? Indeed. how have they, because reformist workers have been fighting for these things for decades and such activity has simply diverted their minds from socialist ideas. Even if the Queen was sent to work in the corner shop and allowed to inspect the books of the big companies, the capitalist system would still exist. In short, the Militant Tendency presents itself to workers as an organisation with a list of reforms of capitalism which it wants to implement. They may be radical reforms, but then Militant can afford to advocate the most radical of reforms because they have only the faintest chance of ever implementing them as a capitalist government. Trotsky and other tricksters were wrong: if you want socialism you talk to workers about the need for socialism — you don't waste their time with a lot of paper radicalism about reforming capitalism.

Militant consistently points out that the social and economic problems facing the working class are a product of capitalism in its death agony."

Capitalism will not die; it has to be killed. When capitalism is passing through one of its periodic economic recessions there are usually confused people on the left who imagine that quite normal features of capitalism in chaos are indicators of the system's imminent demise. For example. W. Paul, a prominent member of the Communist Party, asserted in 1922 that "The most important fact in modern history is the breakdown in capitalism . . there is the greatest possibility that the social revolution may take place in the immediate future." (Labour Monthly, 15 February 1922.) The revolution could happen soon, but not until the majority of non-socialist workers, including members of the Militant Tendency, understand it. want it and organise for it in a democratic and conscious way.

"So, how does a revolutionary party break the workers away from its bankrupt leaders? As Marxists, Militant comrades fight alongside the working class. We strive to be the best workers, the best class fighters. We win the respect of the rank and file. We counterpose to the reformist leaders a socialist programme of demands and challenge the leadership to fight for them. In doing so, it exposes in the eyes of workers the rottenness of their leaders. We also show our preparedness to contest the leadership of the trade unions and Labour Parties to contrast Marxism with reformism."

What, in reality, does the Militant Tendency do? It works within the capitalist Labour Party, like agnostics trying to infiltrate the Vatican. It advises workers at election time, when the state is up for grabs, to waste their votes on electing rotten leaders.

The Militant Tendency has failed miserably to get the leaders of the Labour Party to fight for its demands. The only Militant policies Labour now accepts are ones which it has always accepted for the sake of radical appearances. Indeed, such respect has the Militant Tendency won from the rank and file of the Labour Party and the unions that its leaders were kicked out of the party in 1983.

Ted Grant. Peter Taaffe and the rest of the Militant top men want to be the new leaders. They think they can run the system better than previous Labour leaders. But. when scrutinised, the would-be leaders' policies consist of nothing more than sterile old reforms and a long-term plan to introduce state capitalism. Is it any surprise that most trade unionists would rather watch a good football match than listen to Ted Grant ranting on about what a great leader he would be?

"The SPGB argues that only the working class can achieve socialism, yet it refuses to ‘dirty its hands' in fighting for an alternative leadership in the working class. In short, it adopts an ultra-left, sectarian position . . . Let's be honest — it's simply not good enough to say socialism is production for need, not profit. We all know that. It's not good enough to say we should renounce capitalism. We all do that. The question is . . . How is capitalism to be overthrown? As Marx, Engels. Lenin and Trotsky explained time and time again, socialism has to be consciously constructed. That's why Marx, Engels. Lenin and Trotsky attempted to build revolutionary parties and revolutionary Internationals to lead the working class to power. It’s no good dodging the issue. The only conclusion a serious Marxist can arrive at is the need to build a revolutionary party. Militant represents the beginning of such a party, disciplined and based on the ideas of Marxism.”

Like Marx, the Socialist Party stands for the emancipation of the working class by the working class, not by leaders who will do our thinking for us. Together with other parties around the world holding the same principles. we stand for working-class revolution. Our role is simply to spread socialist ideas and to be used as a political instrument by conscious workers. It would be arrogant for us to think that we can lead our fellow workers or that anyone else should. That is why we are hostile both to the present leaders and to would-be leaders and would not dirty our hands in the opportunist business of appointing top dogs.

How is capitalism to be overthrown? The Principles of the Socialist Party make this quite clear. Lenin and Trotsky, who were leaders of the Bolshevik dictatorship over the proletariat, did not hold the view that revolution had to be constructed consciously; they took the view that workers are incapable of achieving socialist consciousness and must be led by professional intellectuals from outside the working class. Leninist parties reflect this elitist attitude. Leninists think that their historical role is to lead workers who could not possibly see what they have seen. Leninist parties, including the Revolutionary Socialist League (which is the real name of the Militant Tendency), are hierarchical, secretive, often dishonest organisations. usually dominated by a handful of demagogues who hand down orders to the inferior ranks in accordance with the Leninist theory of "democratic centralism", or control from the top downwards. The Third International, which was the undemocratic, Moscow-dominated body in which Lenin and Trotsky participated, was as unlike Marx's First International as the Militant Tendency is unlike the Socialist Party.

Members of the Labour Party who have told Militant members to get out and form their own Trotskyist party have got a point: the average Labour voter wants straight reformism. of the kind that Neil Kinnock is so expert in offering. Reformist workers don't want the same old dish served up with a queer Trotskyist sauce on it. Still, that's a problem for the Labour Party, not for socialists. As far as we are concerned neither Neil Kinnock (the opportunist with a chance) nor Ted Grant (the opportunist without a chance) should be treated with anything but contempt and hostility.

The Militant Tendency serves as a dangerous instrument for confusion. It may not do so intentionally — but then few confused people do. It is not only incapable of leading workers to socialism (socialism, by its very nature, will not be the product of leaders and followers), but it is also hopelessly ignorant about capitalism, socialism and the path from one to the other. We are always ready to debate these issues, for there can be few things more important in the working-class movement than open, clear and critical debate. But so far the Militant leaders have refused to expose their ideas to such public criticism. Supporters of the Militant Tendency should think carefully about their case and ours and, having done so, follow understanding to its logical conclusion.
Steve Coleman