Saturday, June 24, 2017

Background to the Czech Crisis (1968)

From the September 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy is vitally important to the working class. Socialists maintain that it is the experience of working men and women under capitalism which will drive them in the end to understand the need for socialism and, as we see it, this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which workers have won for themselves. Recent developments in Czechoslovakia before the Russian invasion have a real interest for the working class and the question arises whether socialists should support Dubcek and the ‘liberal’ wing of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party against the conservative forces there and in the other state capitalist countries. But first, to understand what is taking place in Czechoslovakia, it is necessary to know something of the background to the recent reforms.

The Czechoslovakian economy has been in difficulties for some time. These first came to a head in August, 1962 when the five year plan (1961-65) had to be abandoned because of balance of payments difficulties and an all-round failure to increase productivity. As a stop-gap measure an interim plan was devised for 1963 but this resulted in another disaster, with both industrial output and gross national product slumping even further than they had done the year before. Faced with this situation the government was forced to postpone the new five year plan and instead the then President — Novotny — concentrated on exposing the failure of certain key industries to meet their production targets. Yet the .Czechoslovakian economy was in sufficient of an impasse to provoke a more radical approach from many quarters. It was pointed out that trade was heavily oriented towards the Comecon countries, especially Russia which had a virtual monopoly in supplying Czechoslovakia with many of its raw materials. In fact, some of the statistics quoted were quite staggering; Russia was the source of almost all Czechoslovakia’s oil, 80 per cent of its imported iron-ore, 63 per cent of its imports of synthetic rubber and so on. The clear implication was that this in itself was an unhealthy state of affairs and this view was reinforced when the prices paid by Czechoslovakia for some of these raw materials were pointedly compared with those paid by Western countries for the same commodities. Thus, while Italy was known to be getting its crude oil from Russia at 8 roubles/ton, Czechoslovakia was buying the same for 20.8 roubles/ton. There was also criticism of Czechoslovakia’s role within Comecon, since the supranational plans laid it down that Czechoslovakia would concentrate on heavy industry. In 1963, for example, this sphere was accounting for 28 per cent of total investments and this emphasis on heavy industry was said to be helping to produce a lop-sided economy.

These sort of arguments all led in a direction which, for political reasons, Novotny and his colleagues were not prepared to go. However indirectly it was argued, the pressure was for a loosening of Czechoslovakia’s dependence on Comecon and Russia and for an increase in trade with the West. Although the recent struggle in the Praesidium and in the Central Committee of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party has appeared to be focused on an organisational and ideological dispute, it is this clash over economic problems which has formed the real battleground for the upheaval and which led to Novotny being eased out of first the first-secretaryship of the Party and then out of the Presidency. This explains the fact—which has baffled many observers—that in the split in the Praesidium in January, 1968 when the two factions were equally balanced (5-5), the pro-Dubcek camp included such arch conservatives as Hendrych (chief of the Party’s ideological department, who was chiefly responsible for hounding the Czech writers in 1967) and Dolansky (now described as a “reformed Stalinist”) while several so-called liberals voted for Novotny.

The overriding importance which the new leadership attaches to the economic reforms was hinted at by Jaromir Balcar—the vice-president of the Czechoslovakian Chamber of Commerce—when he issued a statement that “the process of political demonstration must, as far as trade is concerned, run in close harmony with the economy of the country as a whole.” In fact, important adjustments to the economy have already been pushed through—such as a reduction of investments in heavy industry by over a third to 18 per cent of total investment. Despite political difficulties, the new Czechoslovak leadership has also been making encouraging noises towards Western powers for intensified economic relations. The Prime Minister, Cernik, has said that Czechoslovakia wants to cooperate with the Common Market and EFTA and there has been a lot of talk about working towards convertibility for the Czech crown. Coupled with this, there has been some forthright criticism of economic relations with Russia, a good example being that involving the $500 m. credit which the Czechoslovakian government originally agreed to advance for the development of the Tyumen oil fields in Siberia. The agreement here was for Czechoslovakia to advance the capital and for Russia to eventually pay it back with oil products from the new Siberian fields. But a controversy has developed over the quantity of oil which Czechoslovakia's $500 million entitles it to. As a commentator on Prague radio put it:
These are precisely the problems Where the interests of the individual Socialist countries clash.
This sort of evidence would seem to be fairly conclusive proof, then that the Czech-Soviet confrontation leading to invasion is rooted in the conflicting economic and strategic interests of the ruling classes of these two countries. This means that workers in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere have no direct stake in this continuing struggle, but it does not mean that they should adopt a completely passive role. Whichever faction in the Communist Party assumes eventual control, the class struggle in Czechoslovakia will continue and the Czech workers should take advantage of any embarrassments which the ruling class is subjected to by pressing ahead with their own demands. And they have done this remarkably well in some respects. Although Dubcek and his followers have found the liberalisation campaign a convenient weapon to hammer their opponents with, it is the working [class] (at least for a time) which has taken over the agitation for democracy and which has already pushed the demands much further than the most 'liberal’ apparatchniks would like to go. Whereas in countries like Russia and Poland recent opposition to the regime has tended to be focused on dissident members of the ruling class (Pavel Litvinov is the grandson of Stalin's foreign minister, for example; Karol Modzelewski is also the son of a late foreign minister) in Czechoslovakia discontent with present conditions has been actively expressed by millions of working men and women. While there is nothing reveloutionary about this—according to opinion polls in the newspapers, over 90 per cent of the Czech population imagines that capitalism has already been eliminated in that country—socialists do not belittle the reforms which workers in Czechoslovakia have been campaigning for. Moves for relaxing press censorship and for establishing something approaching free speech on the streets are important gains for the working class and in the end they will have to rely on nothing but their own efforts to maintain them.

But there are obvious weaknesses as well in this reform movement. The famous '2000 Words' manifesto has underlined these better than anything else. Here the problems confronting working men and women in Czechoslovakia are explained by the 'mistakes’ committed by the previous leadership:
   . . .  the reins of government did not fall into good hands. The incorrect line of the leadership transformed the Party, which had been a political and ideological force, into an organisation of power and it therefore attracted all types of would-be dictators, rogues and charlatans.
   Parliament disregarded parliamentary procedures, the government forgot how to govern and the leaders how to lead. 
Against this was opposed the need for a restyled communist party which would base itself “not on force but on popular support”.

Other workers have a much clearer grasp of the situation and some have been discussing the possibility of forming new political organisations, independent of the regime. Already an independent ‘Non-Party Club' is functioning in Prague and this trend is obviously causing a lot of uneasiness in official circles. This is a development which socialists consider of the greatest importance, for what is desperately needed in Czechoslovakia now is a group of socialist propagandists who can explain that political democracy is not enough, that the working class will only be free when there is common ownership and democratic control over the means of production. For this purpose the Communist Party is useless; it can no more be converted into a socialist workers' party than could the Conservative or Labour parties in Britain. In Czechoslovakia the Communist Party is the organ of the ruling class. Its programme is geared to the interests of state capitalism and inevitably this brings it into conflict with the workers.

This is what the majority of Czech workers have to learn about Dubcek and his party. At the moment his image is one of the humane and good-natured ruler, intent on building a just society in Czechoslovakia. But the problems which harried the working class in Novotny’s days are not going to be eliminated by the new leadership. Superficially the techniques of ruling might be different, but the aim of any capitalist government is always the same—to increase the exploitation of the working class. Novotny realised that the Czechoslovakian economy was in a bad way and sought to use traditional, Stalinist methods to extract more work from the labour force. Dubcek is being more successful with his more subtle approach. Inspired by the call for ‘national unity', employees at the engineering plant of Komorany have decided to create a ‘Fund for the Republic' and to work an extra day without pay in an effort to revive the economy. This move has been taken up elsewhere and at other plants workers have volunteered to give up 1 per cent of their monthly salaries. Already miners in Lezaky (Bohemia) have donated 1,950,000 crowns to the Fund.

The case against men like Alexander Dubcek and Josef Smrkovsky is the argument which socialists apply lo all reformists. However radical the reforms which the new leadership sponsors, they will never allow anything approaching common ownership of the mines, factories and other means of producing wealth. The initiative for this social revolution will have to come from the working class. No socialist, then, could think of supporting Dubcek. Socialists do not take sides in struggles between sections of the ruling class. Socialists in Czechoslovakia will have to form their own party, hostile to “all sections of the master class” and based on principles similar to those of the Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten across the border in Austria.
John Crump

Is the Labour Government Crumbling Away? (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like rotten timber, the Labour government is crumbling before our eyes. The departure of Ray Gunter, which was only the latest evidence of decay, had a significance all of its own. Gunter has never been famous for being a rebel; loyalty has always been his line—loyalty through thick and thin, through incomes policy and Vietnam, through prescription charges and unemployment. There must have been extremely powerful pressure upon him to bring about his change of role and so suddenly lose his desire to be a member of Wilson's government. Of course Gunter may have been disappointed at the recent promotion of Barbara Castle over his head; but it is reasonable to think that, had the government been in better shape, he would have managed to swallow his pique. What probably made up his mind was Labour's poor showing at the polls, and the likelihood that they will be heavily defeated if they fight the next election under Wilson.

Gunter has every reason to be worried—and, if the by-elections are anything to go by, so have the majority of Labour M.P.s. On current form, there are hardly fifty seats Labour could expect to hang on to if there were a general election to-morrow. Such have been their humiliations, as one stronghold after another has fallen, that they actually welcomed the Nelson and Colne defeat with relief because the swing against them there was only around eleven per cent. The voters, it is clear, are not grateful for the age of technological capitalism which Wilson promised to bring in.

Meanwhile, the problem the government have pledged again and again to solve refuses stubbornly to go away. When they came into power in 1964, Labour made a big thing of the deficit in the British balance of payments; they were quite sure that this was the basic cause of many of our troubles and that when they had got the balance into surplus we would all feel terrific benefits. This was, of course, a lie but the millions of workers who have always taken as one of their first concerns the fortunes of the British capitalist class were duly impressed. They hopefully accepted Labour's promise to protect and enhance those fortunes, under the delusion that they would thus do themselves a bit of good.

Callaghan first of all promised that he would get a surplus in 1966. But the great day when the Chancellor was to announce the end of the payments deficit came and went and the deficit was still there. This, said the government, was only a postponement—one or two other difficulties had intervened but everything would be alright by 1967. By 1967 the date of arrival at the Promised Land had become 1968. Now it is 1969, or 1970, or never. The latest trade figures give the government no encouragement. The deficit persists which means that, leave alone establishing Socialism, the Labour Party cannot even master the anarchies of the capitalist system they are trying to organise.

If, by some near-miracle, the balance of payments problem was solved the government would lose one of the arguments they have used to justify another of their unpopular policies—the wage freeze. Ever since the prices and incomes policy was born we have been ceaselessly lectured by Labour politicians on the iniquity of higher wages because, they said, these have a directly adverse effect on the British balance of payments. (Gunter was always particularly keen and verbose on this point.)

This was another lie from the Labour government but any effect it may have had is clearly wearing off. The railwaymen having called off their strike in 1966 just in time for Wilson to call the general election, find that the promises which were used to persuade them to stay at work have not been kept; they have, in fact, got nowhere and they have protested. The engineers have already had a token strike in support of a pay claim and others may follow. BOAC's pilots have made their famous contribution to trade union history. From many quarters, the incomes policy is under fire but so far there has been no talk of any unionists being prosecuted for defying the Prices and Incomes Act which the Labour government introduced with the object of holding wages down.

The plain fact is that this government is now branded as a failure. Wilson, once the political master, is now discredited and exposed as a trickster. (The Tories are trying to cash in on this with massive technicolour posters of Ted Heath looking like an overgrown choirboy, eyes gazing out frank and level, with the slogan "Edward Heath—Man of Integrity." Get it?) It is not so long ago that Wilson had the ear of a national audience. Yet when, in the middle of the uproar over Enoch Powell, he tried to get into the act by announcing that he would shortly make a "major" statement on racialism there was barely a flicker of interest. It was no different when the statement came out; it was received in apathy. Nobody wants to listen to Wilson any more.

But the Prime Minister, famous for his strong nerve, is hanging on, presumably hoping that something will turn up. He claims that his policies are succeeding; in the House of Commons on July 2 he was talking about ". . . new and spectacular evidence from all over the country showing the great robust strength of British industries"—a statement very 4 much in the style of the war communiques in Orwell's 1984. Wilson can try occasional gimmicks, like restricting the powers of the House of Lords as a punishment for their naughty rebellion over Rhodesian sanctions. This might just have started a modern Peers versus People battle, which would have been a convenient diversion from all those embarrassing and persistent discussions of Labour’s record.

One idea the government have decided to try is a "mid term manifesto”, which will come out just before the Labour Party conference in the Autumn, in which they will admit to having made mistakes but plead to be on the right road and to deserve another chance. (This manifesto is largely the brain child of Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who is where he is only because the Macmillan government pushed through an Act which enables the renunciation of peerages. As a result we got Douglas-Home as Prime Minister and such as Quintin Hogg and Wedgwood Benn in the Commons—which seems a good argument against reforming the House of Lords.)

There is no reason to think that a mid term confession will be any more successful than any of the other ruses the government have tried. Wilson must be one of the most precarious Premiers ever. There are continual stories in the press of plots to unseat him. Not only Cecil King thinks he should go — so do the Observer and the Times and the Economist, to name only three of the organs of responsible capitalist opinion and each of them has been helpful enough to suggest a way in which his party can be rid of him. Several names have been put forward for the succession and among them, interestingly enough, is that of Barbara Castle. Imagine an election which might result in the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain! What a super gimmick that would be! What a thick smokescreen would be ejected over Labour’s history, as the battles of the Suffragettes were fought all over again! It would certainly be overlooked, that the sex of capitalism's leaders is unimportant; that there is nothing in Castle's record, nor in that of any other woman Minister, to encourage the idea that women are any better able to solve capitalism’s problems than are men, or that they run the system any differently or more humanely than men.

But all that, if anywhere, is in the future; for the moment we are left with Ray Gunter, who could not be mistaken for a woman and who has never pretended to be a humane administrator of capitalism. One of the first things Gunter did after his resignation was to suggest that the Labour Party needs a new leader. He wants, he said, to " . . . sit back and think about the terrible danger into which this great movement is getting”, by which he probably means the chances of electoral annihilation, because a sense of danger seems to have taken hold of Gunter only after all those by elections. The other reasons he gave for his resignation—the Cabinet being “overweighted with intellectuals”, the alienation of the ordinary working man from the Labour Party—are not new to the Wilson government and they applied to the Attlee government. But Attlee’s hold on the Premiership was never insecure for the simple reason that his party held on to their votes and their seats.

One thing which can be guaranteed wonderfully to concentrate the minds of politicians is the prospect of being rejected by the voters. The Labour Party, never let it be forgotten, have always claimed that the secret of success was to get into power, on no matter what programme, and then think about reforming capitalism and even introducing Socialism—or rather what some of them think of as Socialism. The result of this theory can be seen at Westminster now—a party with a single-minded obsession with power, entirely without interest in, or indeed knowledge of, Socialism and prepared to try almost any dirty and cynical trick to stay in power. Thus we have the nauseating spectacle of Labour M.P.s hanging together in a unity cemented by their own fear of electoral slaughter, keeping in office the man they know is a liability because at the first sign of revolt from them he will threaten to call the election which would consign most of them to oblivion.

What this amounts to is that the Labour government is being kept in power by its own unpopularity, because it dare not face an election. This is an interesting situation for a party which, when it suits it, condemns the House of Lords as unrepresentative. It is an interesting situation for a party which has claimed to be democratic and to be based upon principle. And it is an impossible situation for a party which once said that they would bring in Socialism. Let us at least hope that, when the Labour government have finally crumbled away, we shall hear no more of that particular piece of monumental nonsense.

Scottish Nationalism (1968)

From the May 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Scottish National Party, they must feel that somebody up there likes them. Right now they are on top of the world and everywhere the signs are apparent. The Party badge— a hipped-up thistle—sprouts as thickly as the weed itself. Membership has rocketed to over ninety thousand, and all the frenzied electoral activity has resulted in the election of a Nationalist M.P.

Undoubtedly, independence is the current big issue and the Nationalists claim they will have it by the early ’seventies. How have the SNP been transformed from the old image of a bunch of Tartan-clad cranks into a considerable political force? The Party is still the expression of some “Professional” and small-business people who see their advancement in breaking with England, but they now enjoy what they never had before—widespread working class support, although how constant this is remains to be seen.

This support was a long time coming, but the breakthrough was helped by Labour’s long absence from power during the ’fifties. This resulted in some of Labour’s traditional support, particularly among the lower paid, switching to the Nationalists. Another factor was disillusionment with the performance of Labour controlled Town Councils. Thus, the Nationalists got what they needed above all—a foot in the electoral door.

What are the forces behind the Nationalist upsurge? Of course, the movement’s “intellectuals” see it as a revolt by a people yearning to return to a Golden Age which existed before the Act of Union of 1707, when a united populace shared a “Scottish Culture” which was the envy of Europe. The idea is absurd. The culture of the untamed, Celtic Highlander was completely different from that of the settled, English-speaking Lowlander. Indeed, Dr. J. M. Beale makes this very point in the Book, Common Errors in Scottish History. Today, in the populous industrial belt, the average inhabitant will sneer at the sight of the Kilt and a significant proportion owe their loyalties to Ireland rather than Scotland.

Even so, Nationalist feeling certainly exists and is implanted at an early age. This is very important in any country’s educational system. Also important is regional pride within a country. Ruling groups find this useful, particularly in time of war—how many Scotsmen have died proving that they were the bravest in the land? So Scottish children have their heads filled with the deeds of national heroes like Wallace and Bruce while the feats of Scots in civil life—Carnegie, Watt, Stevenson—also receive much attention. In sport, especially soccer, the press give the full treatment to encounters with “The Auld Enemy”, with every victory a “Bannockburn” and every defeat a “Flodden”. All this, against a background of Scotland’s historical subjugation by England, has provided a breeding ground for national illusion and resentment.

But why is the revolt happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago? First, there is the decline of the long-established industries with the accompanying hardship and insecurity. Engineering, Shipbuilding and Mining were what Scotland depended on and their cut-back has meant a chronic high unemployment rate. Secondly, the main Parties have been tried over and over and found wanting: they cannot produce the goods, so where else to go? In England many people faced with this dilemma have turned to the Liberals. In Scotland, in the same circumstances, it can only be the SNP. In short, the Nationalist upsurge is really a revolt against a depressed standard of living, and this is where the SNP makes its biggest impact. Every example of lower wages, higher prices, more emigration and less amenities than south of the border is seized upon and skilfully used.

The most interesting point about the demand for independence is that, basically, it is in line with the growing idea that the problems of modem society—Capitalism—lie in its sheer size. Thus, we see the Liberals arguing for smaller administrative units through more Regional Government; the Anarchists and some leftists for smaller productive units through worker-owned factories, and the Scots and Welsh Nationalists for smaller political units as exemplified by the Scandinavian countries. Sweden, with its allegedly high living standards and full employment, is quoted as an example of how smallness plus independence equals prosperity.

These theories are false. Capitalism's problems are the result of non-social ownership of the means of life in the field of social production: more diversity of government or of ownership cannot alter this fact. Nor can the national identity or location of the legislature have much effect on our standard of living. This is influenced by such as the degree of technical and natural resources and, more especially, the state of the world market—what can be sold profitably—and any serious change in this will affect Sweden just as it did in the ’thirties. Anyway, Sweden’s full employment is due to acute labour shortage, and those Irish workers who had a spell in Swedish Shipyards soon returned home, unimpressed by the living standards.

Another Nationalist argument is that there is a deliberate “trend” towards more numerous and smaller Nations and point to the seventy-odd newcomers which have sprung-up over the last twenty years. These have emerged owing to the disintegration of the European colonial Empires. The Nationalists ignore the fact that in the developed world the trend is the opposite way. Nor do these new Nations choose to be small; in fact they are as large as they can get and often squabble with one another over disputed territory and resources.

What it all boils down to, is that the SNP just don’t understand the world around them. Although they claim to be against exploitation they support the production for profit system. Arthur Donaldson, the Party’s chief spokesman, even invites capital to take advantage of "cheap” and "tame” Scottish workers (Scots Independent, 11/2/67).

It is time to reject the notion that there are "Scottish problems” which apply exclusively to Scottish workers and which can be solved by a "Parliament of their own”. Instead of turning their eyes to Scandinavia, those of them who thronged "prosperous” London recently on the occasion of the seating of the Nationalist MP should have looked across the Thames to Southwark, Battersea and Brixton. They would have seen plenty of hardship there, despite the proximity of Parliament. And did it not occur to those who saw the TV epic of the homeless, Cathy Come Home, that the action took place in an English City? Above all else, independence will not mean their release from wage-slavery, and, as everywhere, access to the means of life will be governed by whether the owners find it profitable or not.

Socialists echo the Poet’s desire for the day 'That man to man the world o’er shall brothers be for a' that”. This will be a fact when the world's wealth, owned in common, can be utilised for the satisfaction of all mankind. Capitalism, with its attendant national boundaries and prejudices, makes this just another Poet’s dream.
Vic Vanni (Glasgow) 

"Young Socialists" in Conference (1968)

From the April 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the trotskyist “Young Socialists" gather in Morecambe for their annual conference this month they will be voting on a proposal from their national committee that they should put forward their own parliamentary candidates in future elections. This would be a clear break from their previous stand of critical support for the Labour party and it is worth taking a look at these new contenders for the workers’ votes.

The "Young Socialists" were originally organised by the Labour party as its youth section in 1960, to replace the defunct Labour League of Youth. As always, tension rapidly built up between the idealist young people who formed its rank and file and the Labour party bureaucracy which wanted to keep them firmly in hand. The spineless policies of the Labour leaders grated on the “Young Socialists” and they were also incensed by the arbitrary control of their organisation by Transport House. This, then, was a classical situation for the trotskyists to move in on and the “Socialist" Labour League played the same role as the “Communist” party had done in the previous takeover in the thirties. The break from the Labour party came in 1964 when a wave of expulsions ended in a complete split in the movement. Those who left retained the name “Young Socialists” and formed a nominally independent organisation, while the rump which remained in the Labour party now operates under the clumsy title of “Labour Party Young Socialists".

If the plans of the national committee ever get off the ground and the “Young Socialists” do run candidates for political office, they will present themselves to the working class on a platform of transitional demands. These can be anything from “Victory to the Vietcong" to the call for “Nationalisation of the basic industries, banks and insurance”. They are intended as a minimum programme (socialism being relegated to some indefinite, doomsday status) but are supposed to have a long-term effect as well. As the original Transitional Programme of the Fourth International put it: 
the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime.
Obviously this process of progressively phased revolution has not advanced very far since the Transitional Programme was first adopted in 1938, as the demands at present being touted clearly show. Just what benefits the victory of the Vietnamese ruling class over the American capitalists would bring for workers anywhere remains obscure, to say the least, while nationalisation of industry — even if total, as in Russia — merely enables the ruling class to tighten its grip on the means of production. If all the supposedly revolutionary, transitional demands of the “Young Socialists” were enforced, the working class would remain in exactly the same position as it started out — propertyless and exploited. The slogans of the “Young Socialists” are a far cry from Marx’s — and the Socialists Party’s — revolutionary demand of abolition of the wages system.

The need for the so-called transitional demands arises in the theoretical framework of the “Young Socialists" parent body (the “Socialist” Labour League) because they take it as axiomatic that the working class cannot possibly grasp the case for socialism if it is presented to them in simple, uncompromising terms — without some form of bait. In fact, the pivot of all their arguments is the conviction that the workers can never arrive at an understanding of socialism by their own efforts and that they must therefore be controlled from above by a leadership. The only useful purpose the working class serves is that it provides the mass basis which the trotskyists hope to make use of in their attempt to gain political power.

This line of thinking is in direct conflict with Marxism. While Marxists have always argued that the socialist revolution must be the result of a united effort by the workers of the world, the followers of Lenin and Trotsky maintain that action by a determined minority, with passive or blindly following masses at the back of them, is all that is necessary. In the case of the Russian Bolsheviks there was perhaps some justification for this attitude, operating as they were in a backward, peasant country. But, however sincere their intentions to build socialism might have been, the historical obstacles were insurmountable and they found themselves leading a bourgeois revolution which conformed in all essentials to the characteristics which, as Engels pointed out, typify the rise to power of capital. They were the “small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses” who lead every revolution which merely replaces one ruling class by another.

A socialist revolution is something entirely different, however.
If the conditions have changed in the case of war between nations, this is no less true in the case of the class struggle. The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long persistent work is required, and it is just this work which we are now pursuing, and with a success which drives the enemy to despair.
(Engels' introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France)
It is this “long persistent work” which socialists take on in their efforts to convince other workers like themselves of the urgent need for establishing a socialist society based on the principle of “to each according to his needs, from each according to his ability”. Trotskyists, on the other hand, shirk this job. Falling back on idealism or, to use their own language, “petty bourgeois impressionism”, they try to sidestep the task of spreading socialist ideas among the working class as a whole and retain the archaic notion that only a conscious minority is needed. Thus, in the “Socialist” Labour League’s pamphlet — The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the 4th International:
The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership (our emphasis).
This is nothing but the view which Engels was attacking as already outdated in 1895. It belongs to a different era; to the era of capitalist revolutions.

We might add that there are, of course, no prizes for guessing who the “revolutionary leaders” will be. With customary modesty, Gerry Healy et al. announce themselves as God’s latest gift to the working class.

Apart from the leadership issue, once the slogans and pamphlets of the “Socialist” Labour League are stripped of their mock-revolutionary verbiage, what remains is a thoroughly reactionary programme. Socialists maintain that a class-conscious working class has the ability right now to build a society of abundance, based on free access to wealth—what Marx called the “higher phase of communist society" in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Any need for possible preliminary stages is a thing of the past. What Marx saw as necessary in 1875 — an initial period during which the productive forces would be rapidly increased — is obviously an outdated concept, when we consider the gigantic strides that have been made in all branches of industry in the last hundred years. Like other socialists, Marx’s suggestions were based on an over-optimistic prediction of the imminent overthrow of capitalism in the closing years of the nineteenth century. The “Socialist” Labour League, however, is still committed to maintaining the wages system in the second half of the twentieth century and its members talk in terms of “generations” before it could possibly be done away with. Supporters of the trotskyists in the trade unions should bear this in mind when they back organisations like the SLL — and it wouldn’t do them any harm either to remember just what happened to the unions in Russia when the Bolsheviks, under Lenin and Trotsky, gained power. It would be interesting to learn how many of the trade unionists and “young socialists” who look to the SLL. for political guidance would be prepared to submit to Lenin's maxim “of unquestioningly obeying the will of the Soviet leader, of the dictator, during the work.”

Another completely reactionary role which the “Socialist" Labour League has taken on itself is that of calling on the workers to vote Labour in past elections. Their national secretary, Healy, advances a sophisticated argument to justify this;
  During the general elections of October 1964 and March 1966 we urged trade unionists to vote Labour and at the same time fight within the labour movement for a socialist policy to be adopted by the government.
  The Socialist Labour League advocated this policy knowing that the vast majority would vote labour as part of their experiences.
   It was our responsibility to go through this experience with the working class. Likewise it is our responsibility today to outline ways and means to fight Wilson within the labour movement, not to desert this fight through abstention at the polls.
   Hence we call on the 'left' MPs to fight him in the Parliamentary Labour Party at the forthcoming conference at Scarborough in order to take the working class through the experience of political struggle in relation to the Labour Party.
  Our job is to expose these 'left’ MPs, just as Wilson is being exposed, and at the same time demonstrate to the working class the need for alternative revolutionary leadership within the labour movement.
The weak points in this would be obvious to any thoughtful worker. If, as Healy admits, the workers were going to vote Labour anyway what was the point of the SLL adding to the confusion! Wouldn’t it have been far better to have taken a stand on socialist principles, as the Socialist Party did, and to have called on the working class to oppose capitalism and all the capitalist parties (including the Labour and “Communist” parties)? Despite Healy’s grandiose plans to “take the workers through the experience of political struggle in relation to the Labour party”, objectively all he has achieved is to help to keep the workers on the Labour-Tory pendulum. Many of those who voted in a Labour government at the last general election will, on present evidence, be voting in a Conservative administration at the next. One sign of hope, to be sure, is the sizeable proportion who seem to have abstained in recent by-elections and, if their present mood of disillusionment and apathy could be replaced by socialist understanding, this indeed would be a breakthrough. But, if for a moment we go along with Healy’s rather paranoiac dreams and assume that they were ready to support the “Socialist” Labour League, where would it get them? Healy’s message is simple:
We say that the labour movement has had enough from such traitors, on the left and the right — a new, alternative leadership has to be built.
Far better for the working class to realise that all leaders, whatever their pretensions, are the political enemies of the workers. There is no substitute for socialist working men and women. What is needed above all are self-reliant workers equipped with a thorough understanding of Socialism, not abject followers cringing and praying that this time they will not be betrayed and compromised.

In any case, the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain does not subscribe to the narrow interpretation of “experience" which is common to all varieties of trotskyist theory. We do not think that the only way to learn is by burning one’s fingers. Applying this to the young workers in the “Young Socialists", we say — why wait until bitter experience forces you to see through “Socialist" Labour League? Why not examine its programme from the standpoint of Marxian Socialism now? Why not come over to the side of the revolution?
John Crump