Wednesday, June 28, 2017

No Change from Labour (1968)

From the December 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Late in September the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party presented a four thousand word statement to the Annual Conference at Blackpool, with the title Britain: Progress and Change.

It was not a list of promises for the next election nor, in the main, a claim to have been successful in the four years that have passed since Wilson’s government was elected in October 1964. In fact it is difficult to decide what purpose the document served. One suggestion (The Times 30 September) is that the idea was to take the minds of the delegates, and other members, away from present despondency and apathy—firstly by explaining that all the original plans are sound but have taken longer than expected to produce results and secondly, by showing how all will be well a few years ahead. Several times phrases are used in the statement on the lines of' “we all thought that Britain’s economic problems could be solved more quickly than in the event has proved possible”. Having thus disposed of a lot of things even Labour Party supporters grumble about, attention is directed to the shape of things to come, “Britain in the Seventies”.

If the first part of the statement is an attempt to explain away the government’s failure in its four years of office, the second part indicates, though in a very vague way, what may be the vote-catching promises of the next election. One of them is headed “A Fair Society” — a masterpiece of false suggestion that much has already been done by the Labour Government.

The paragraph begins:—
Britain to-day is still divided by privileges inherited from an earlier age. The maldistribution of income and wealth is the most obvious example, but it is not the only one.
and it ends “there still remains in Britain glaring and unacceptable inequalities in income and wealth’’. (Their emphasis).

In between we are told that the inequality still left is “despite the growth, under successive Labour Governments, of a crucial public sector with vast assets owned by the whole people”.

Long ago the Labour Party claimed to have the intention of ending the concentration of wealth in the hands of the propertied minority. In their 1918 Election Address they pointed out that 90 per cent of wealth was owned by a tenth of the population. At every election since then the Labour Party has promised to do something about it but for all practicable purposes the position now is just what it was fifty years ago.

And what Labour Party supporters are offered for absolutely nothing done is the figment of “owning” the nationalised industries; as if it makes any difference to a worker without large sums to invest that wealthy people who formerly held railway or steel company shares now hold Government securities instead.

Among the many surprising admissions of the statement is one about full employment, price stability. 
The task before us is formidable. No democratic society in the world—or for that matter, any other society-has ever succeeded in achieving, all at the same time, economic growth, price stability, rising wages and increasing social expenditure. 
This is a complete reversal of the confident attitude of the Labour Party in the past. For at least twenty years it has been an article of faith among the leaders of the Labour Party and their economist advisers that with the magic wand of Keynesian techniques they could do all the things with the greatest of ease. It was precisely because of this belief in their power to control and operate capitalism on lines chosen by themselves that they could dismiss the Socialist argument that capitalism is uncontrollable and must be replaced by Socialism.

So what happens as it dawns on the faithful that the Keynesian magic does not work? That it never had a chance of keeping price stability, and that the low unemployment since the war in this country has not been the result of applying Keynesian policies? (Professor of Political Economy R.C.O.) Matthews examines this in the September Economic Journal.

There are too, cold winds from another quarter. Under pressure from foreign bankers the Wilson Government and its advisers are being required to revise their ideas about monetary theory and practice—in effect to repudiate Keynes (or at least to repudiate the version they have favoured for many years). This kind of switch would present no particular problem to the Tory Party (which also has its Keynesians) but will not be so easy for the Labour Party. 
Edgar Hardcastle

The Greatest Show on Earth (1968)

From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
Harding or Cox? Harding or Cox?You tell us, populi -You've got the vox.
This piece of lumbering wit was a typical embellishment of the 1920 American presidential election, when Warren Gamiel Harding for the Republicans gave James M. Cox for the Democrats the drubbing of a lifetime. Harding won every state outside the South—and in those days southern votes would have gone for a chimpanzee, provided it was a Democratic chimpanzee.

Harding’s nomination had been a chancy affair. He went to the Republican National convention that year, Senator from Ohio and his state’s ‘‘favourite son’’ candidate—a dodge used then, and now, not as a serious bid for the nomination but to keep control of a state delegation.

But the Republicans were deadlocked and after four ballots they retired for some intensive nocturnal bargaining (it was said to have gone on in the legendary "smoke filled rooms"). The result of this was that the party pros settled on Harding as a compromise and the next day, on the tenth ballot, he emerged as the candidate. Harding was a keen poker man and his dazed comment was that he felt “ . . . like a man who goes in with a pair of eights and comes out with aces full."

Anxious not to upset his concentration on the cards by too complicated a campaign, Harding appealed for “normalcy’’. The voters were probably no clearer on the meaning of this new word than was Harding but they liked the sound of it enough to sweep him triumphantly into the White House, where, as his campaign manager had hoped, he made a “great looking President.”

The nomination is not always so uncertain. More often the successful man has it all tied up—like Johnson in 1964 (because he was already President); like Goldwater in 1964 and Humphrey in 1968 (by patiently and determinedly building up support at every level of their parties); like Kennedy in I960 (because of a series of compelling primary victories).

Kennedy’s primary campaigns were classics. He entered them to prove that a young Roman Catholic could win votes and to erase the memory of the Democrats’ disastrous experiment with Al Smith in 1928, since when no Catholic had got within smelling distance of the nomination. Kennedy fought the primaries with all the ruthless efficiency for which his clan are famous, destroying Hubert Humphrey on the way (Humphrey went out on a flood of his own, easily produced tears) and sweeping to the nomination on the first ballot.

Kennedy, in other words, fought the primaries because he had to. In theory the primaries are ultra-democratic, giving the electors a say in the people who stand for office. The fact is that no American politician ever enters them willingly — there are other ways to the nomination and, while victory in the primaries is usually inconclusive, defeat in them is disastrous.

In I960, Humphrey wailed to the pressmen assembled in an unheated coach bumping across snow covered roads that " . . . any man who goes into a primary isn’t fit to be President. You have to be crazy to go into a primary"—which might have had more point if Humphrey had not at that very moment been fighting a primary himself. Politicians after power do not shrink from putting votes before democratic theories; the primaries are an accepted field of political manoeuvre.

Of course an awful lot of nonsense is talked about them. Theodore Roosevelt’s attempt at the Republican nomination in 1912 was one important influence in increasing the number of states selecting their Convention delegates by primaries and in the course of his campaign Roosevelt seemed to be under the impression that he was God. That year the Republican pros were determined that, however many delegates Roosevelt won in primaries, the nomination would go to Taft. Roosevelt became an abrupt, fervent convert to the sanctity of primaries, although he had not had the same high regard for the voice of the people when he controlled the Republican machine.

After the primaries (and these are usually held in only about sixteen states) and after the painstaking work of collecting delegates all the way up from precinct caucuses, district committees and state conventions, come the National Conventions. The convention, we learn from certain novels and films, is a part of the American way of life, when overwrought business men and suburban fathers can show that there is still some life left in them. Here, amid the ballyhoo of processions and banners and mock-nomination of the favourite sons, comes the serious business of selecting the party’s candidate. Here, no matter what the primaries may have said, the delegations’ votes are traded or are thrown onto a bandwagon in the hope of political and other favours in the future. (In 1960 Kennedy’s men freely used the threat that, if Adlai Stevenson's supporters were too much of an obstacle to the nomination, their man would not even be considered for Secretary of State when Kennedy became President).

The nomination is usually an unexciting affair — only rarely is there the uncertainty which meant forty-six ballots before Wilson won the Democratic nomination in 1912, or the Democrats’ 103 to select J. W. Davis in 1924. Then follows the election campaign itself, when the candidates justify all the months and years of work, manoeuvring, threats and intrigue by a cynical attempt to deceive as many people as possible into voting for them.

Sometimes this deceit is quite blatant. In 1916, Wilson won on a promise to keep America neutral but six months after his election he took the country into the War. In 1932 F. D. Roosevelt attacked government interference in industry and deficit financing. He promised a balanced Budget and, among other things, a 25 per cent cut in federal spending. None of this prevented Roosevelt following different policies when in office, nor his becoming famous as the man who “cured the slump” with a combination of federal spending and Budget deficits. In all the admiration of Roosevelt’s magic genius no one noticed that the slump was lessening all over the world and that the politicians who happened to be in power at the time—for example Adolf Hitler—were getting the credit for it.

Some of the candidates’ deceits are a little more subtle. Every election brings its slogan, like Wilson’s “New Freedom”, F. D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, Kennedy’s “New Frontier”, Johnson’s “Great Society”. These all have the same advantage; they mean exactly what everyone wants them to—but they also have the same implied admission that the existing situation is bad enough to need altering. The voters are usually so bemused by these slogans that they vote for them without asking what happened to the old catch phrases —why, for example, did they need Johnson’s Great Society in 1964 when Kennedy’s New Frontier should have solved everything?

This kind of question is much too awkward to be faced. The workers dumbly vote for one of the candidates and then after Inauguration Day the way is clear for the process of disillusionment to begin. In 1964 LBJ was everyone’s favourite; he won an unprecedented victory, taking every state except Arizona and the Deep South. He had once voted a straight racist line but now, he said, he was a “liberal”. Even more—he had a “liberal” Vice-President, a “liberal” Congress, even a ‘‘liberal” Supreme Court. Nothing, apparently, could stop the Great Society.

We all know what happened. The Democrats’ failures and frustrations, after their years of overwhelming power, were vented in the splits and the brutalities of their Chicago Convention. Many of the voters, too, showed their frustrations and the vicious depth of their despair—they came out as supporters of George Wallace.

The American Presidential Election, with all its flags and bands and drum majorettes and campaign boaters and massive crowds, is one of the greatest shows on earth. It is certainly among the most expensive—according to Look magazine, the candidates will spend nearly $50 million on their campaigns. That may sound a lot of money but think what is at stake — no less than the hoodwinking of tens of millions of people, and power over the greatest state in world capitalism.

The Report on Trade Unions (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In theory Royal Commissions are set up so that a government, before introducing legislation to deal with some complex problem, can have the advice of an independent body of people who have first collected and then studied all the relevant information. The initiative rests with the government since they lay down the terms of reference, appoint the members, and can please themselves whether they accept or reject the recommendations: though if a Royal Commission makes a unanimous report it is a little difficult for the government to disregard it entirely.

In practice Commissions are sometimes appointed simply as a device to postpone reaching a decision until what may seem to the government to be a more opportune moment. The Donovan Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ associations appears to fall into this category and the fact that six out of the twelve members, including the Chairman, Lord Donovan, express doubts and reservations about the main body of their own recommendations will enable the government to put a good face on selecting whatever parts it wants to take notice of. It may reasonably be supposed that the government had some such outcome in mind when it appointed to the Commission members whose divergent views were well known beforehand.

The reception of the Report has been equally divergent; from the Times “Few can have expected . . . that Lord Donovan and his colleagues would achieve so much”; to the Economist "A report to forget—its proposals are actively harmful”. If what the Wilson government chiefly wanted was delay, the Commission was a great success —it took over three years to report.

Its main conclusions are concerned with what it describes as the two parallel systems of industrial relations — the system of national negotiations and agreements entered into by trade unions and employers associations on the one side, and on the other, the system of local negotiations through shop stewards at the factory and workshop level. The Commission considers that with near-full employment the centre of gravity has shifted to the local agreements and that these should now largely replace the remote and ineffectual national agreements, leaving to them a much restricted role, largely that of laying down guide lines for the local negotiators.

This part of the report has received fairly widespread approval but trade unionists who remember the years of bitter struggle to achieve national agreements for the protection of their members in less well organised firms and districts may find the change a mixed blessing in face of company decisions to shift factories away from “high wage" to “low wage” areas.

The Report anticipates that the changeover will help to solve the employers’ problem of having to deal with “unofficial strikes" (95 per cent of all strikes are “unofficial”). It explains that lightning unofficial strikes can be more damaging to the employer than an official strike because they are unpredictable and have the effect therefore that they prevent managements from making plans with any confidence of being able to implement them quickly, or at all.

The Report lays much blame on company managements for this situation and expects them to bring about the desired change. They are required to create comprehensive bargaining machinery at company or factory level, conclude agreements on the handling of redundancy, ensure regular joint discussion of safety measures and make agreements regulating the position of shop stewards.

Legislation is recommended to establish a permanent Industrial Relations Commission to advise the Department of Employment and Productivity (the new name of the Ministry of Labour) on the reform of industrial relations and to investigate and report on problems arising, but without any power to compel.

The local agreements will have to be registered with the Department, at first by large firms, but eventually by all firms. Employers are asked to encourage workers to join trade unions, unions are encouraged to amalgamate and to reform their organisation and rules.

The existing industrial tribunals set up under the Industrial Training Act 1964 which also deals with disputes about redundancy payments and contracts of employment would be renamed “labour tribunals” and would have their powers enlarged to cover all disputes between employer and worker about contracts of employment, etc., including a new statutory protection against “unfair dismissal”. These tribunals would also deal with employers' claims for damages for breach of contract.

When the Royal Commission was set up there were those who feared drastic changes in trade union law, measures to cut down the activities of shop stewards and penalties against unofficial strikers. The Report contains hardly anything to confirm the fears—hence the anger and disappointment of the Economist (also of the Sunday Times and Financial Times).
The Economist (15 June) starts off with the following lament:
  The report of Lord Donovan’s royal commission on trade unions and employers' associations represents the high water mark of the particular sort of British indecisiveness which has done most to damage the country in this third quarter of the twentieth century. After three years' study, the commission reports that Britain’s system of industrial relations is in a uniquely horrible mess, but that it is for boards of directors of individual companies to bring about a change: except that it oddly believes directors would be helped to do so by a requirement that all firms with more than 5,000 employees (and, eventually, smaller firms) should register every factory agreement they make with trade unions, or else an explanation why they have made no such agreements, for vague vetting by a body of bureaucrats in a new Industrial Relations Commission, which would not, however, have any executive powers.
  It is not a caricature to say that the establishment of this vacuous research body is the main government action definitely recommended in the general body of the report, although half of the 12 signatories then express significant dissatisfaction with what they have just unanimously signed.
The Economist is particularly irate over the Commission's lack of unanimity about withdrawing from unregistered or deregistered bodies (all unions would in future be registered) the protection which the 1906 Act gives against suits for damages when strikes take place without due notice.

The majority of the Commission’s members want this immunity to continue for registered unions but not for unregistered bodies, but Mr. Woodcock, General Secretary of the TUC, and four other members of the Commission strongly dissented and the Economist fears that the Government will follow the Woodcock line.

The Government did not immediately declare what action they proposed to take on any of the Commission’s recommendations though Mrs. Castle promised quick consideration and an early announcement. The Economist, which wants strong action to curb the unofficial strikes and to remove the immunity now possessed by trade unions under the law, expects nothing to its liking, and is resigned to seeing “the horrible mess” continue—but not indefinitely. Counting on a Conservative Government after the next General Election it looks forward to the reopening of the issue. “The practical result is that the real reform to trade union legislation is now likely to have to be left to the next Conservative government and will probably have to be fought through the next Parliament as a partisan measure against fierce opposition from a Labour Party which will say that a Royal Commission intimated that reform was wrong”.

When the Royal Commission was set up it was given the task of considering the role of trade unions and employers’ associations “in promoting the interests of their members”. Had there been any socialists on the Commission they would have pointed out that the interest of the workers is not to co-operate with their exploiters, the capitalists, but to replace capitalism by Socialism, a social system in which employers and employed, the wages system and trade unions alike would have no place.
Edgar Hardcastle

Bolshevism and Marxism (1968)

From the July 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russia had lagged behind the western nations in the development of industry and commerce despite Peter the Great’s reforms. The crucial factors in the Russian Revolution were the low degree of capitalist development, the role and aspirations of the peasantry, and the international situation at the time of the Bolshevik coup.

Marx held that under capitalism industrial development would lead to a direct confrontation of the capitalist class and the working class and that this would lead to the capture of political power by the working class. In the light of this we can examine the degree of industrial development in Russia up to 1917 and the potentialities it held for a socialist, as opposed to a capitalist revolution. For it must be remembered that Russia had not yet experienced a capitalist revolution. Industry was in fact not developed to any great extent in Russia. Eighty per cent of the 160 million Russian subjects were peasants. The defeat in war by Germany had shown how inadequately developed heavy industry was in Russia, and yet this was almost the only form of industry that existed in the Tsar’s dominions. The socialisation of production, which Marx had seen as capitalism’s contribution to Socialism, that is, the development of industry into increasingly larger productive units, operated by social labour had hardly occurred in Russia. There were really only two centres of industry, each far from the other, in St. Petersburg and in Southern Russia and the Caucaus. The working class and capitalist class did not yet face each other alone. The social scene was confused by the peasantry — a mere 80 per cent of the population!

The role and aspiration of the peasantry are crucial in any examination of the nature of the 1917 Revolution.

The peasants were susceptible only to Lenin’s promise of land. Their aspirations extended no further than that they should have their own land. When they later protested against state policies on the land, they were hastily suppressed. Thus one of the mass bases of the revolution had to be suppressed, for Lenin had climbed to power partly on the backs of the peasants, when the motive of the peasants were certainly not socialist.

We have noted that Russia was not “ripe” for Socialism. Marxism holds that objective and subjective conditions must coincide for a country to be ready for a socialist revolution. In Russia Lenin could not ask the people to raise the Bolsheviks to power without renouncing every claim to being a Marxist. The objective conditions were not ripe, but neither were the subjective. Had you asked a revolutionary what his views were about the moneyless, socialist economy which was supposed to be approaching, he would probably have been unsure as to what you were talking about.

How, then, did Lenin manage to lead the Bolsheviks to state power in a situation not suitable for a Marxist party? The simple answer, of course, would be that Lenin was not truly in the tradition of Marx. The problem, however, has more to it than just that. The country was in confusion: food was scarce, as was clothing: the armies were in disarray on the front in face of German attacks; some army officers under Kornilov had threatened the Provisional Government which was incapable of imposing any sort of order. In the midst of this confusion Lenin offered the suffering poor a blueprint for planning success that was brilliant because of its simplicity: Peace, Bread and Land. The way he proposed to achieve this was by nationalising large private property (nothing was said about small). The Bolsheviks were the only group organised well-enough to make any kind of appeal to a disillusioned populace. The motto of the First International: “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself”, was forgotten.

This motto, and the principle behind it, is important in assessing how the Bolsheviks behaved from a Marxist point of view. We must also return to the 1903 London Conference of the Russian Social Democrats. To Marx “the proletarian movement is an independent movement of the overwhelming majority in the interests of that majority”. Lenin, at the 1903 Conference, had argued for the “revolutionary core” leading the masses. He was thus separating the working class movement into a mass-body and a leadership composed of intellectuals. In 1917 Lenin carried his philosophy of elitism to its logical conclusion but found it impossible to impose Socialism on an essentially unsocialist populace.

And yet can all these arguments against the material, social and human possibilities for Socialism in Russia in 1917, be refuted by Marx’s statement in his Preface to Capital: “one nation can and should learn from others”? Marx had taken the stand that Russia could shorten its transition through capitalism if the advanced western nations had revolutionary working class movements who could imbue the Russian people with a socialist spirit, and if Russia had its revolution at the same time as the western nations. Trotsky, and later Lenin, in their theory of the imminence of the working class capture of power accepted that the western working class were about to revolt. Indeed this provided the only real justification for their taking power in a country surrounded by capitalist countries. Yet their assessment of the situation was inaccurate, and in view of the intelligence and shrewdness of Trotsky and Lenin, perhaps it was deliberately so — perhaps they were, to be blunt dishonest. The western working class had joined the national patriotic front in 1914 and promptly gone to war to kill each other. Even in the horrors of 1917, they carried on stoutly supporting their respective governments. Also, the western working class had very small effect on the Russians. The Russians had certainly not been influenced by Marxism. Though Lenin had once called the Populists “stinking carrion” his attitude during 1917 would seem to show that he had learnt a great deal from these apologists of what he had called “adventurism” and “pyrotechnics”. Struve might well have been talking of people like Lenin when he said that only those blinded by “national vanity” could argue that Russia might take a short cut to Utopia.

Lenin’s 1921 New Economic Policy was merely an admission of a fact that the Socialist Party of Great Britain and some others had recognised earlier: Socialism could not be established in Russia at that time; the working class could not successfully get and hold power until the conditions were ripe for Socialism, when capitalism was in its most highly developed form.

This is not to say, of course, that the Bolsheviks were wrong to support the February Revolution. Progress could only have resulted from the overthrow of the archaic Tsarism under which the people of Russia had laboured long. But for the Bolsheviks to wish to take over so soon after the capitalist revolution had taken place in this decaying, agrarian empire, was to deny Marxist history.

In his preface to Capital, Marx stated his view:
One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement—and it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic laws of motion of modern society—it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten or lessen the birthpangs.
All that Marx had conceded was a shortening and lessening of the birthpangs, and even this only within his context of an international revolution.
Amit Pandya

French Revolution (1968)

Book Reviews from the June 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

History of the French Revolution by Jules Michelet (edited by Gordon Wright) University of Chicago Press. 32s
The Crowd in the French Revolution by George F. Rudé OUP Paperback 8s. 6d.

At some stage in the year 1789—the precise moment is debatable—there occurred in France a great social and political upheaval. This French Revolution gave rise, in embryonic form, to important concepts such as the class struggle, revolutionary dictatorship and, in the later stages, “elitist egalitarianism" in the form of Babeuf’s Conspiracy of the Equals.

Those, however, who see the revolution as a popular, egalitarian movement have failed to understand its true character. The French Revolution was a successful attempt by the bourgeoisie to destroy the feudalism which shackled their economic enterprise with old-fashioned regulations and which denied them the political rights they felt were their due. Throughout the, revolution’s course it was the bourgeoisie which controlled the various legislatures and executives, and its results were trade and commerce emancipated from feudalism, a law banning any trade unions (le loi Le Chapelier) and a system of indirect election benefitting the well-to-do. This was, of course, before Napoleon imposed upon the revolution the dynastic ambitions of the Buonaparte family.

There are, indeed, those who have protested that the first National Assembly, far from being a body composed of strictly bourgeois elements, was in fact packed with lawyers and other members of the liberal professions. But lawyers have always represented the interests of trade, commerce and industry—activities which are essential to their prosperity. The doctors, journalists and other professional people who sat as legislators were all notably in sympathy with liberal economic doctrines, and they were always shown to be afraid of popular uprisings such as that in Paris in July 1789. Thus the professions had effectively allied themselves with merchants, industrialists, bankers and agriculturalists, and could be relied upon to serve their interest.

These two books represent, in widely differing form, attempts to understand the role of the common people in the revolution. Michelet’s History first appeared in seventeen volumes in the 1840’s (of which this edition is a continuous selection). As such it is a good example of, and a grand monument to its age. Michelet is as much French Romaniticism’s representative historian as Victor Hugo is its representative literary figure. With a vigorous style, full of life, Michelet gives us his impassioned, apocalyptic and panoramic view of the revolution as the climax of the spiritual battle between the Catholic Order and the “principle of Justice”.

Unfortunately, in his eagerness to present the revolution as the victory of a united force—“the people”—Michelet overlooks important points of detail and produces certain inaccuracies. So insistent is he, for instance, in asserting that the revolution was a spontaneous outbreak of “Justice” and “the People” against a misery and oppression which he paints very eloquently, that he overlooks important differences in the interests of the bourgeoisie and “the people”, the main one being the contradictory demands of free trade and controlled bread prices.

Michelet’s book, however, has certain valuable aspects. It contains a brilliantly eloquent denunciation of Christian theology and extremely shrewd assessments of the true character of the so-called Absolute Monarchy and the mediaeval church in France.
Totally different in character and outlook is George Rudé The Crowd in the French Revolution. Originally published in 1959 and now available in paperback, it was described by one historian as “a significant book which opened up some entirely new sources and showed how statistical precision can be brought to the study of riots”. It is indeed a close study of the behaviour and composition of the Parisian crowd. Rudé, writing from the Marxist viewpoint, is concerned with breaking away from the tradition which until recent times treated the crowd, as he says, “as a disembodied abstraction and the personification of good or evil”, and with examining the crowd in a more scientific spirit. (The book is amply supplied with tables showing the composition, geographically and class-wise, of the crowd and the prices of various commodities at different stages of the revolution).

The crowd, or sans-culottes—called thus because they could not afford breeches—was a heterogeneous body, composed not only of the working class but of small shopkeepers and independent craftsmen as well. Rudé paints a picture of a working class still in transition between feudal and capitalist societies, and not truly distinct from other sans-cullote elements.

However, although the wage-earners in Paris had as yet developed little class solidarity, they did have a vague idea of their cohesion as a class. The breakup of the guild system had accentuated the gulf between masters and journeymen, and there had been a strike as early as 1724. Disputes over wages and conditions continued up till 1789. However, the large demands which food made upon a man’s wages produced a situation where the crowd was concerned more with keeping down prices than with raising wages.

Rudé points out that a variety of motives existed for the crowd’s revolutionary actions, among them dismay at high prices and uncertain food supplies, a belief at first in the king as its champion against the aristocracy and the church, and then in a republic. The crowd was not a totally inarticulate mob merely seeking immediate economic gains. Although economic factors may have influenced them, strongly and often, these went hand in hand with beliefs, however unsophisticated, in political principles.

In this context, Rudé well notes that the bourgeoisie, even at that early stage, were determined to prevent the wage earners gaining any influence, and that, although “whenever it (the crowd) advanced . . .  the aims of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, it has been represented as the embodiment of all popular and Republican virtues”, the bourgeoisie were unwilling to share power with this “virtuous” body. Property qualifications were required from would-be representatives. Rudé also points out “the ferocity with which the bourgeois . . .  of the National Guard dispersed the Champs de Mars demonstration” (a protest at Louis XVI’s flight from France).

Rudé’s book is an informative and extremely readable study of the popular aspect of the French Revolution.
Amit Pandya

The Review Column: Martin Luther King (1968)

The Review Column from the May 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Martin Luther King

Even before the killing of Martin Luther King, this summer promised to be a bad one for race troubles in America. Many city authorities, fearing an intensifying of the riots, had armed themselves with some formidable weapons. 

The Negroes were also preparing and waiting, with no lack of black nationalists to advise them on how to use arms, petrol bombs and the like. This menacing situation was ignited by the assassination of Martin Luther King and the death of the advocate of passive resistance was, ironically, marked by a flare-up of the very violence he denounced.

King had, in fact, been losing some ground to the groups like Black Power and this in itself is symptomatic of the change which America has undergone during the last twenty years; The suppression which the Negroes have suffered for so long was bound one day to erupt. For too long have they been denied the vote, subjected to a host of indignities and restraints. For too long has colour discrimination been a part of the American way of life. For too long has a coloured life been cheap so that, in some states, the murder of a Negro counts for little more than the killing of an insect—and the body silently disappears into some southern swamp.

The predictable result of this has been the Negro protest, the riots and the rise of the Black Power theorists. Kill Whitey and Burn, Baby, Burn are sterile remedies for the Negroes’ frustrations—but who, or what, must bear the blame for them?

Martin Luther King, for all his courage, had little more to offer the American Negroes than a place beside the country’s white workers. For most coloured workers, this is their highest aim—the right of access to the same sort of employment, the same sort of working class homes, the same sort of terms from the hire purchase company, as others.

Many have died in the long history of the American Negro, and many will die in the future. Is the result of it all only to be the exchange of one kind of oppression for another?

Wilson's Latest Gimmick

Harold Wilson, it is said, has always thought Macmillan made a serious mistake when in July 1962, in panic at the Orpington by-election result, he butchered so many of his Cabinet.

Wilson, it is true, has shown no comparable ruthlessness—and if ever a Prime Minister had cause to panic he has now. But panic or not the latest government reshuffle, which had already been dubbed by Richard Crossman in fashionable technological jargon as Wilson Cabinet Mark II, was plainly inspired by the government’s low popularity.

The big move was that of Barbara Castle from Transport to the new Ministry which will combine some of the work of the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Economic Affairs. Castle has proved in her term at the Ministry of Transport that she is a cunning politician and a master of the art of public relations. It was a shrewd, if despairing, move to give her the job of kindling the government’s latest pillar of fire—the promise that, if we all concentrate on productivity wage restraint will come off and we shall soon arrive at the Promised Land.

This must have been about the only ember Wilson was able to find, as he raked about in the ashes of his defeats— his unpopularity, the sour memory of his National Plan, the ludicrous impotence of his Rhodesia policy, the long list of broken promises. Castle, the one-time firebrand, Aldermaston marcher, anti-apartheid campaigner, could be just the person to fan the ember into flame and to mislead the working class into a belief that, whatever may have happened in the past, there is some hope for them in the future.

The working class, as we know, can be infuriatingly gullible. But are they really so far gone that they will be impressed by this latent, and emptiest, of gimmicks?

Johnson—All The Way?

Will LBJ go all the way? Whatever he may have said about his firm intention not to run for office in November, there is still a chance that this is no irreversible decision.

The mounting opposition to Johnson's policies, and the explosive frustration at his failure to build the Great Society to order, seemed to have put him on a hiding to nothing. His one chance was to opt for the nothing, and some of his conduct since his renunciation—for example the peace moves in Vietnam—suggests that he is now trying to build up a campaign from there.

Whatever the truth of this, there is no denying that Johnson had found himself with hardly any room to manoeuvre—an unusual plight for the master politician, the ace fixer, the famous wheeler-dealer. This was the man who convinced millions of Americans that he was their saviour, who won an unprecedented victory in 1964, who was so recently the object of mass adulation. Now, Johnson has given up, or at best is struggling desperately for survival.

There is nothing unprecedented in this. One after another, politicians come, see the problems of capitalism and conquer with their promises to cure them. It does not usually take long for reality to assert itself, for the anarchies of capitalism to expose the promises and to turn the blind faith of the followers in their leader into angry disillusionment.

This has happened to Johnson and it has happened in this country to Harold Wilson, who came to power at the same time as Johnson won his famous victory and who is now similarly discredited and disliked. The fact is that capitalism’s leaders cannot control the system and they cannot break its problems. They themselves are the ones to be broken—and usually the more they promise, the greater the enthusiasm for them, the higher they climb in popular acclaim, the lower and harder they fall.

Party News (1968)

Party News from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kent Debate

Last November members of our Woolwich and Dartford branches put over the socialist case at the South East Model Parliament. Our comrade H. Ramsay proposed:
That this House, recognising the failure of the system of private and state ownership known as capitalism to solve the problems of society, declares that the solution of these problems lies in the establishment of a social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interest of the whole of society.
In what one local paper called “one of the most vigorous and electric debates in the Parliament’s first year of life” the main opposition to the motion came from the Tories who were unable in their arguments to rise much above the profit-is-an-incentive and look-at-East Germany level. Needless to say our members were easily able to deal with such objections. The debate was fully reported in the Kentish Times and the Kentish Independent.

Debate with Plaid Cymru

On December 10 the Party debated the London branch of Plaid Cymru at one of our Soho Square meetings.

Our comrade Buick argued that the basic fallacy of all nationalism, British as well as Welsh, was in seeking national solutions to world problems. The working class, he said, was a world-wide class. A change of state would not help solve working class problems any more than a change of government. For their cause lay not in the form or type of political set-up but in the economic system. Workers of all lands should unite to change this system from one based on the class ownership of the means of life to one based on common ownership and democratic control with production for use, not profit.

Dafydd Stephens, for the Plaid, said that the Welsh people had a long radical tradition and were still today overwhelmingly left wing. Association with England was holding back social change in Wales. Plaid Cymru, he said, could not wait for the people of England let alone the people of the world to change. They wanted an independent Wales now. With independence Wales would be able to push through many radical social measures as had other small countries like Norway.


In the article "Religion Retreat" in the December Socialist Standard occurs the passage “Catholics and Protestants, Atheists and Jews, are found in any and every political party, according to individual conviction.” This, of course does not apply to the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain where rejection of religion, in theory and practice, is a condition of membership.

Books for classes

We require books for the purpose of the Party’s Educational classes. Any member or sympathiser who wishes to dispose of books on Socialist theory, History or Politics is asked either to donate or offer them to us. All books received will be acknowledged.
Party Educational Organiser

Socialists and the "October" Revolution (1968)

Party News from the December 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists were out in force to sell genuine Socialist anti-war literature at the pro-Vietcong, and thus pro-war, demonstration held in London on Sunday 27 October, about which the press spread such hair-raising scare stories.

On the Friday evening, when students of the London School of Economics occupied college buildings to turn them into a sanctuary for the demonstrators, Socialists (including two who were LSE students) were able to hold an impromptu meeting and sell a few dozen socialist standards. A photograph appeared in Saturday’s Morning Star in which one of our members selling this journal could clearly be seen.

At 12.30 on Sunday, thirty or so Socialists were at Charing Cross to get ready to sell literature to the demonstrators as they marched to Hyde Park (we stayed well away from Grosvenor Square and the hooligans). Of course, as with CND, we did not join the march but sold literature to the marchers and by-standers. The cover of the October Socialist Standard can have left no one in doubt as to our position: VIETCONG. NO! MAO, NO! CHE, NO! SOCIALISM, YES! Up to 600 copies were sold in what turned out to be a very successful afternoon’s socialist activity.