Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Leisured Class. (1922)

A Short Story from the June 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Open Letter to Mike, ESQ.

Dear Fellow-traveller Mike,

You do not know me, and I only know you are Mike because your mate called you by name. You sat at the other end of the ’bus and discoursed of a leisured class; and the mate agreed with all you said. I am sure you are a nice man. Your turns of speech showed that you read; and I think you would be found in the gallery at the Old Vic. on Shakespeare and opera nights. I should have liked a word with you, and as I did not get it I write you a letter. If you do not see it, perhaps others may who think like you.

"In spite of all these socialists say,” you observed, "there’s a good deal to be said for a leisured class. Think of the special benefits it can give to society, having so much time and opportunity.”

Mike, we have had a leisured class for centuries. Has it bestowed benefits on mankind in excess of those contributed by men productively occupied? Has it furnished a preponderant share of the exceptional services? Not from its ranks came our Arkwrights and Stevensons, our Shakespeares and Burns’s, our Mozarts and Beethovens. Many of the greatest benefactors of their race did their work in despite of lack of leisure, in despite of the discouragement and persecution of their masters. You and I can dimly guess by how much we should be the gainers if they had enjoyed their master’s freedom. By all means let our artists, investigators and philosophers have every opportunity for their special work. But so long as Nature is so ill-advised as not to observe our class distinctions, they will be found not chiefly in any class favoured by economic conditions, but scattered throughout the community. Your plea for an idle class, therefore, becomes one for the utmost possible leisure for everyone, an end not to be attained by having the many workers serve the few idlers all day long.

But you said, "What right have we workers to interfere, anyhow? Even suppose they waste their time—ar’nt they enjoying the results of their exertions, or their fathers?” No. Mike, to know what it is they are really enjoying you must understand this. Human labour power is capable of producing more than is necessary to maintain itself. It is precisely this quality which makes it useful to the Capitalist, and you as the repository of labour power a man to be employed. The surplus he appropriates. Realised in sale it constitutes his profit: and the fortune which, if successful, he amasses, is but the embodied labour of his employees. If he himself takes part in his business, then some proportion of his fortune is the fruit of his own labour. But as you know, no producer of commodities grows rich by his own work alone. Even so-called self-made men, who at first are workmen, employ others as soon as they profitably can: and many a member of the idle class, so far from taking a share in the making of his money, hardly knows where it is invested. Thus their wealth, whether they spend it on themselves or bequeath it to their heirs, is by no means the harvest of their own industry, but the product of the hands and brains of men like you and your mate, who cannot take your ease but when you have leisure thrust upon you. Then, your employer conceives, you will be so busy contriving new blessings for humanity that you will have no time to eat—and omits to provide accordingly.

Your trouble is that you are too disinterested. When you discover the part which the leisured ones actually play in Capitalist economy, you will be less solicitous for their welfare and more for your own. You can learn quite a lot about it from this number of the Socialist Standard. But take it next month and every month, Mike ! It gives the knowledge you want!
Yours fraternally,

Communist Rowdies (1930)

From the March 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily Worker, the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain, published on January 29th, on its editorial page, an article by Mr. Harry Pollitt, under the heading “Now is the Time for Action.” Among other forms which the action is to take we get the following direct incitement to the smashing up of opponents’ meetings.
   Workshop meetings should be called by such workers and resolutions for the support of our Party should be carried, but the mere passing of resolutions is not enough. There should not be a Labour meeting held anywhere, but that the revolutionary workers in that district attend such meetings and fight against the speakers, whoever they are, so-called “ left,” “ right ” or centre.”
   They should never be allowed to address the workers. This will bring us in conflict with the authorities, but this must be done. The fight can no longer be conducted in a passive manner.
     We must lead the masses in struggle against this Government and the time has arrived to use every conceivable means of political agitation. The Communist Party and its organ, the "Daily Worker,” will lead the working class, fighting boldly and openly, against this Government of scoundrels and agents of capitalism.

The Socialist Movement in Other Countries (1930)

Editorial from the February 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our readers will have read with pleasure that in November last comrades of ours in New York launched the first number of their monthly journal, "The Socialist." The founders, the Socialist Educational Society, are trying to link up into a national organisation a number of groups and individuals who have long carried on separately the work of propagating Socialism.

"The Socialist” will make it possible for them to get their message before a wider public with the object of turning what is now an educational society, with a declaration of principles based upon our own, into a political party.

The starting of the new journal is by no means an isolated event. It is the outcome of years of hard and often seemingly fruitless efforts. But the handful who .persisted in that work were men who had learned by experience—some of them as members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain—that the road to Socialism cannot be an easy one. They know, as the founders of the S.P.G.B. knew, that there is no limit to the plausible but futile schemes for reforming Capitalism put forward by professional politicians and well-meaning but badly-informed would-be saviours of the working class, and that nothing but Socialist knowledge will make the workers secure against these political frauds and cranks. The publication of "The Socialist” marks a definite step forward for the Socialist movement in the U.S.A., and it also inevitably means a heavy additional burden for the comrades who are responsible, a new drain on their time, their energies and their pockets. We urge our readers here and in America to give what aid they can in extending the sale of the new journal in order to lighten as much as possible the work of the Socialist Educational Society. We hope next to be able to report that the extension of their activities, the holding of more study classes and propaganda meetings, will have made it possible to. form in the U.S.A. the looked for Socialist Party.

Reference has also been made from time to time in our columns to the Socialist Party of Australia, another young organisation formed by a few readers of the Socialist Standard. They, too, have as their basis our Declaration of Principles.

At their meetings and lectures they have been in the habit of selling our pamphlets and the Socialist Standard, but during the past year or two the Australian Government has done us the honour of banning our literature from that country. That action—still being continued under the present Labour Government which came into office last October—has caused us and our Australian comrades inconvenience and financial loss, but it is likely to have one very happy result. It has caused the Socialist Party of Australia to concentrate on publishing a journal of their own, and this they intend to do as soon as they can get together the necessary minimum of money. We commend this incident to the authorities who thought they could stop Australian workers from studying Socialism by excluding literature from abroad.

Readers in Australia who would like to assist in the work of the S.P. of Australia should get into touch with the Secretary, at P.O. Box 1440, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.

In the early days of the S.P.G.B. we sent delegates to the Congress of the International, but finding that parties were admitted to it which were prepared to repudiate by word and deed the fundamental principles of Socialism—parties here and abroad of the type of the Labour Party and the I.L.P.—we withdrew. We were not, and are not, prepared to associate internationally with organisations which are opposed to Socialism at home. In due course the war justified all our criticisms of the Second International. Not being based on Socialist principles and knowledge, it dissolved at the first shock into national groups anxious only to outdo each other in their ferocious jingoism and their demonstrations of loyalty to their respective sections of the Capitalist class.

The eventual formation of the Third (Communist) International has not solved the problem; rather has it confused it still more. It, like its rival, is prepared to admit organisations which are not in any sense of the word Socialist. It admits and supports bodies which are avowedly nationalist, interested primarily in helping one Capitalist country against another. It allows (or rather orders) its national parties to support Capitalist candidates at elections and advocates the suicidal policy of street-fighting. Its policy is dictated, not in the interests of the working class of the world, but in the interests of the developing Capitalist system in Russia striving for a place in the world scramble for markets.

The progress of Socialist organisation cannot be more advanced on the international than on the national plane. We look forward to the time when our work and the work of the bodies we have mentioned and other individuals and groups in English-speaking countries and in Austria and elsewhere, will bear fruit in a real International based not on illusions but on the solid foundation of Socialist knowledge and organisation.



"The Socialist," organ of the Socialist Educational Society (U.S.A.), is obtainable from the publishers at 132 East 23rd Street, New York, or from this office. Price 3½d. a copy, post free; or 3/6 a year post free (one dollar a year post free in the U.S.A.). Bundles rates on application.

Parliament and Political Power (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is necessary to capture political power to install Socialism and to do this, workers must organize themselves as a political party having Socialism as its sole aim and send elected delegates to Parliament or its equivalent. However it is important to bear in mind that the objective to obtain a socialist majority in Parliament is totally subordinate to the need for a majority of workers to want and understand Socialism.

If it can be shown that political power must be captured and that Parliament is the seat of this power and can only be captured through parliamentary activity, one is bound to concur with the socialist, that Parliament must be legally captured to consummate the socialist revolution.

What is power?

Firstly, what is power? It is the capacity to coerce. The exercise of political power is ultimately dependant on the extent to which people, consciously or otherwise, permit themselves to be coerced. This willingness is sustained by the ideology of the ruling class which permeates all levels of society. Thus for socialists to capture political power entails supplanting the prevailing capitalist ideology with socialist consciousness among workers who, at present, place their trust in leaders and governments to administer capitalism. The apparent powerlessness of workers derives from the fact that they place their trust in others to do their political thinking for them — the very idea that “great men” determine history or how society is run, is itself an obstacle to the realization of the political power the working class can wield through class unity based on class-consciousness, whereby they can capture the state and install Socialism.

So the power that governments and leaders appear to possess is social; it is a product of social forces and how it is used is conditioned by the social environment. The social process of legitimizing power is formalized through the franchise which makes explicit the dependence of rulers on the consent of their subjects for them to rule. But even in dictatorships this dependence on the active or passive consent of people obtains. The power hierarchy pyramidal structure of ascending layers with each "layer” exercising power within the limitations placed on it.

The state is an organic expression of the fundamental class conflict within property society. It will not “wither away” as long as the class basis of society exists and conversely the class basis of society will not disappear as long as the state exists to prop it up. The state cannot be abolished without first abolishing property relations of which it is a product — and to abolish them, as the political act of establishing Socialism will do, it is thus necessary to capture the public power of coercion vested in the state which is at present geared to the protection of these property relations.

Marx hailed universal suffrage as a “socialistic measure” in England and claimed that, “Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class” (The Chartists 1852). Yet many so called “marxists” repudiate the “parliamentary road” to “socialism” even where such a road is open to them. Some of these critics indulge in flagrant hypocrisy in damning Parliament as a “farce” whilst exhorting workers to “vote Labour” or even contesting elections themselves! Socialists would be the last to deny that the Palace of Westminster reverberates with farce and hypocrisy but these qualities are inevitably bound up with running capitalism and are no less prevalent in dictatorships.

Thus it is necessary to distinguish between Parliament as a political institution as such and how it is used, which depends on who has control of it. Governments exist to administer capitalism, for which they have massive electoral support, by passing legislation through Parliament. Legislation is necessary for the same reason that it is bound to fail to solve the many problems attendant upon capitalism which it tries to ameliorate, because it is concerned basically with protecting and efficiently perpetuating the class structure of society whereas it is precisely due to the existence of class relationships that these problems arise in the first place. Socialists have never asserted that Parliament controls capitalism — indeed it is part of the socialist case that capitalism controls Parliaments and dictatorships alike. Parliament does however control the state. It would be very wrong to attribute political impotence to Parliament, as many "leftists” confusedly do, on the basis of its inability to solve the problems built into the capitalist economy. The political machinations of capitalist parties which involve attempting to solve these insoluble problems while conveying to a non-socialist electorate the illusion that they can be solved, are inevitably farcical.

The charge that Parliament does not control the state may best be answered by considering other alternatives. Certainly, the monarch does not. The civil service, police and army are all under the ultimate control of cabinet which itself operates within the framework of Parliament. Some argue that Big Business is the power behind the state but this overlooks the fact that Big Business is not some homogenous abstract entity but represents many diverse, clashing interests between which the state must mediate. Certainly, political representatives in Parliament are heavily influenced by pressures from all quarters but the very fact that it is felt necessary by these various interest groups to exert influence on Parliament confirms the power vested in Parliament: in the final analysis, Parliament is the crucible in which legislation is forged. Finally, the very fact that capitalists subsidize political parties heavily, underlines the view that the capitalist class most certainly considers Parliament to be the seat of supreme political power.

For socialists the end and the means are in harmony. If political power relies on mass consent then likewise the methods to capture political power must be socially recognized and that means contesting elections — anything other than this would mean the forcible imposition of the will of a minority on the majority. The creation of alternative structures like workers’ councils, does not constitute a positive rejection by the majority of the rule of the capitalist class through its state machine and leaves state power intact in the hands of a capitalist Parliament. Any attempt to appropriate this state power would constitute a direct threat to the state and would inevitably founder.

Socialist consciousness

The attainment of a majority of socialists in Parliament is the only practical way to unambiguously and democratically signal the existence of a mass socialist consciousness which is an absolute prerequisite for what can only be a clean-cut, change-over to a new social system, a “radical rupture with traditional property relations” (Communist Manifesto). The formation of a single revolutionary party to contest elections with a built-in anti-reformist democratic constitution is the only practical way to clearly demonstrate the extent of socialist consciousness in isolation from reform- mindedness and to unite and coordinate socialists, thereby welding them into a political force to capture the state.

There is a view which holds that parliamentary activity would “turn the majority of the working class into passive spectators of an active minority” (Libertarian Communism No. 6). But in what sense would the minority be active and the majority passive? The fundamental function of the minority (socialist delegates) would be the single political act of declaring capitalism abolished. Indeed, as delegates (as opposed to representatives) their actions would be wholly subordinate to the active control of the whole working class. Besides, the very nature of the socialist revolution requires that the majority understand and want Socialism and to this extent involves every socialist in active propaganda. For socialists what matters is not the activity of a few delegates but majority understanding.

Engels, in the introduction to Class Struggles in France, recognized the value of parliamentary activity:
   Everywhere . . . the German example of utilizing the suffrage, of winning all posts accessible to us, has been imitated . . .  Slow propaganda work and parliamentary activity are being recognized here, too, as the immediate tasks of the party. The irony of history turns everything upside down. We, the “revolutionaries” . . .  are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and revolts. The parties of order as they call themselves, are perishing under the legal conditions created by themselves.
Not only would attempts to “smash” or undermine the state, or to illegally dispossess capitalists of their property, result in, at best, providing governments with handy scapegoats to toy with or at worst suicidal folly, they would also necessitate leadership — an idea which is wholly incompatible with Socialism — and would detract from the all-important task of convincing people of Socialism.

Achilles heel

When the emergent capitalist class, spearheaded by the industrialists, was challenging the feudal aristocracy for political supremacy, they were compelled to seek assistance from the proletariat. Once the new capitalist class were enfranchised with the 1832 Reform Act, workers were able to obtain the franchise with the Second Reform act of 1867 (for male town workers) and an 1884 act (for male rural workers) and further acts in 1918 and 1928, by playing sectional capitalist interests, represented by Whigs and Tories, off against each other. The capitalist class has come to recognize the crucial importance of democracy (or the illusion of it) as the most stable and effective method to govern and contain the resentment of workers in a number of countries, particularly those with relatively high educational and living standards. The enfranchisement of the working class is the Achilles Heel of capitalist supremacy. Workers must not squander, or sneer at, this historically significant gain, but must follow through by using their votes to establish Socialism.
Robin Cox

Tankies, Mate . . . (2005)

Book Reviews from the December 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

John Callaghan, Cold War, Crisis and Conflict, Lawrence & Wishart, £15.99
Geoff Andrews, Endgames and New Times, Lawrence & Wishart, £15.99

Lawrence & Wishart's 'official' history of the CPGB is completed by these two volumes which, somewhat overlapping, cover the years from 1951 to the party's oh so sad demise in 1991. Taken together this pair resemble the first two dry-as-dust academic tomes by James Klugmann published in the mid-60s rather than the more readable but scanty volumes of Noreen Branson. The similarity between them ends there however. Callaghan's task of covering the middle years of the 50s and 60s was more difficult given the rather arbitrary starting and ending points (1951 and 1968) and, despite the excitements promised in the title, the era was a largely static one so far as the CPGB was concerned. Callaghan however rises to the challenge and his book is an excellent survey of the organisation during the era.

The same cannot be said of the other offering. Whereas Callaghan is dispassionate in his treatment of the CPGB, Andrews' book reads like a polemic rather than a serious history. His supposition that the downfall of the CPGB was due to the decline of the industrial working class sounds like a Holocaust denier's rantings:"They just vanished mate". (On the other hand this is slightly more plausible than one version which points a finger at the CIA)

And with his constant waving of "the Soviet Mantra" and even a snide mention of "tankies", it is obvious which side he was on in the Civil War in the party. Not that we could give a monkey's for either side.

Both were downright reformists. And just how low down this supposedly revolutionary organisation was can be judged in the book. One 'demand' was for the reduction of National Service from two years to one. Not even the SWP in its current Mad Mullah Alliance phase is that bad. So Callaghan gets ten out of ten while Andrews' book gets him a wooden spoon rapped over the knuckles - and the CPGB? A nice cosy corner in the great dustbin of history specially reserved.

Obituary: Wally Preston (2000)

Obituary from the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to announce the death of Wally Preston. Wally first came across the Party in the 1930s joining Manchester Branch after the war before drifting out at the end of 1950s and rejoining in 1979. He was a tool-maker by trade and a stalwart of the engineering union over decades. It was his union activity that led him to become involved in the early 1970s in the International Socialism group, the organisation which was eventually to become the SWP. For a period Wally was a member of its National Committee and was the editor of Advance, the IS paper for rank-and-file workers in the power industry.

It would be fair to say that Wally was something of a “workerist” and one of his typical contributions was captured by Ian Birchall in his history of IS:
“At one IS conference an industrial worker denounced a document being circulated as 'so bad it must have been written by a sociologist'. He was cheered to the echo by the audience, a fair percentage of whom were sociology students.” 'The History of the International Socialists' by Ian Birchall in International Socialism 77 (first series).
The irony of this would certainly not have been lost on Wally. Eventually the 'rank and file' trade union militants with which Wally was associated left IS dismayed at its mixture of opportunistic student radicalism and vanguard politics. It was after a few years in the wilderness that he finally returned to the ranks of the SPGB in his native Manchester.

Andy Pitts writes:
I first met Wally some 13 years ago as a new member joining the Eccles Branch. I was immediately taken with his enthusiasm and struck by his passionate pursuit of the socialist cause. It was a time of intense branch activity and it was Wally who encouraged the members to throw themselves into the action and at times we were organising and addressing meetings not only in Eccles but also (with the help of the old Merseyside branch) in Warrington for a good period of time too.

We travelled all round the Greater Manchester area and beyond organising meetings, postering, selling literature on the streets, attending our opponents' meetings, anywhere we could find an audience to put the case for socialism. Wally would think nothing of nipping up to Barrow or down to London in the evening to address or attend a meeting. Even at that time Wally was considerably older than the rest of us, but he was never one to sit back, and let others do the work. He involved himself energetically in all publicity work, travelling countless miles on public transport with his wife, Blanche, with his paste bucket and bundles of posters. Wally was a knowledgeable man, self-educated with a prodigious ability to recall facts to bamboozle the opposition. If things weren't proceeding to plan you could always rely on him to set things right and eloquently explain the socialist position on whatever question was on the table.

Wally was also, to his credit, one of the founding members of South-East Manchester Branch, yet another area in which he used his talent and energy. Wally was committed to bringing the case to as wide an audience as he possibly could and was involved in a number of election campaigns using all his passion, experience and boundless energy to try to advance the socialist position. He was a walking encyclopaedia when it came to things historical with a particular area of speciality in things to do with Manchester. His tours on Marx in Manchester were an education. I for one am indebted for the enormous amount of information he imparted and felt the Party was, as he said, "the university of the working class".

Wally lived life to the full, not one to compromise his deeply-held principles. He had not only a life-long interest in politics, and in Marxist politics especially, but he was a keen exponent of jazz music. It was difficult to go anywhere with him without meeting somebody who knew him.

Wally has no need for an epitaph as the actions of his life in encouraging the working class to see through the mist of lies that obscure the truth say all that needs to be said.

Vanity Blair (2007)

Book Review from the October 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Blair Years – Extracts From the Alastair Campbell Diaries, edited by Alastair Campbell and Richard Stott. Hutchinson. £25 hardback.

Alastair Campbell, former Press Secretary to Tony Blair, has produced a volume of over 700 pages of his diary scribblings that most of the mainstream press has been expectantly salivating over for some time. In approach a hybrid of Richard Crossman’s Diaries and those of Campbell’s long-time friend Alan Clark (while certainly being nearer the latter in tone) it is rarely a dull read, even if there is plenty that has been kept back for fuller, later editions. Whether it met the expectations of the press is a matter for them, though many have been quick to point out that some of the most potentially damaging revelations have been edited out by Campbell for fear of embarrassing the present government, especially particular revelations related to some of the more serious disputes between Blair and Gordon Brown.

Campbell was a man feared by many both inside and outside government, and in truth not all the punches are pulled by any means. Campbell uses his journalistic training to good effect and manages to paint quite detailed personal portraits of the main figures in the UK government over the last ten years and more in a way that has never been done previously. A recovering alcoholic with at least one serious ‘psychotic episode’ as he calls it in his past, Campbell is an emotional man and this makes his diaries all the more readable – and very far removed in most respects from the standard fare usually served up by those deemed to be at the ‘heart of government’.

Apart from the sheer vanity of great numbers of those Blair surrounded himself with over the years (mirroring the vanity of Blair himself), there are at least three other things worthy of comment. First, the way in which an unelected official like Campbell clearly had more authority and power within the government than many – if not most – of the elected politicians, often to the annoyance of both the latter and the civil service. Second, the lack of clarity about how policy decisions sometimes emerged (the discussions and negotiations over Northern Ireland are the most interesting and detailed while the underlying reasons for the Iraq war seem to take poor second place to the military machinations). And third – frivolously if amusingly – the way in which so many of those featured in the diaries appear either partly or fully naked at various points (including Blair himself, Mo Mowlam and several other government officials). Campbell is a former writer of soft-core sex stories, which must have come in handy if you’re recounting heated late night discussions in Downing Street with a Prime Minister sat completely starkers in his office with nothing more than a mug of tea to cover his modesty.

In these edited extracts there were clearly limits to even this though – at no point, for instance, does Gordon Brown ever appear without so much as a tie.
Dave Perrin

Digging up the dead (1998)

From the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is the season for disinterring royal parasites. In Russia it was the Tsar. Here in Britain it is the Queen of Hearts.

In Russia they have dug up the Czar in order to rebury him with the blessing of a befrocked inmate from the Holy Asylum of Russian Orthodoxy. Oddly, this church took the view that these were probably not the Czar's real bones-so they carried out the reburial more in the spirit of an alcoholic drinking the blood of Christ than with the respect that they would have given to genuine feudal despotism. In Britain, under Tony Blair's very very modern government, Tsarism has been revived in solidarity with the Romanov dynasty. The "modernisers" have appointed a Drugs' Tsar, and a Roads' Tsar. Peter Mandelson has apparently asked nicely if he might one day become an Ottoman Emperor, even though he is so manifestly suited to the role of Rasputin.

In Britain it is the season for reliving the Death of England's Truest Rose. On the basis that psychotic experiences are always best the second time round, the first anniversary of Di and Dodi's demise down the Tunnel of Love is being celebrated in the manner that primitive tribespeople celebrated the coming of the rain god. Publishers are rushing over one another to produce the most trite and sugary memorial books. Few words, mainly pictures: a fair summary of her approach to life. Fading rock stars compete to perform in memory of the fallen goddess. A memorial garden has been planned for Kensington, although some of the odious residents of that district have protested that this will only bring crowds of awful common people to their patch. The Spencer Family, older in its aristocratic idleness than the Wolfgang-Come-Lately Windsors (aka Saxe-Coburgs), are milking public memory for all they can get; the hero of last year's funeral, the slimy Earl, continues to promote the cult of Diana-worship in the manner of a man with the recipe for making hamburgers out of hamster droppings. The whole thing is manifestly distasteful. But—as the broadsheet feature writers say—What does it say about Britain in the late Nineties?

There was an awful lot of twaddle written last year about how the public reaction to the royal death was proof that British people are soft, gentle and know how to cry. British workers have actually known how to cry for quite a long time. Capitalism has a capacity to give plenty of exercise to the tear ducts of its victims. Even the Guardian, that mouthpiece of the liberal reformer's conscience, published articles suggesting that the Left were spoilsports if they refused to join in the patriotic frenzy which followed the death of the Princess. One or two left-feminists then wrote to the newspaper declaring that at last they could feel as others around them did: yes, they wept, they sobbed, they commiserated with the poor Princes with only the grounds of Eton and several Palaces to console them-they, in short, were as sucked in by the spectacle as everybody else. Yesterday the poor miners and their destroyed pit villages; today the sad Princess; of perspective there was none.

Okay then, Marxist big-mouth, what precisely did this outburst of grief tell us about the condition of Britain and its population? Well, if you really want to know ...

When millions of people feel alienated—politically, economically, psychologically—they are easy prey for spectacles inviting them to displace their feelings about themselves for someone or something else. It was tragically moving last summer to hear of people saying that they had grieved for the Princess more than for their own spouse or parents. They were not necessarily being insincere. Just as people who fail in life can enjoy the illusion of success by watching "their" leader win an election or "their" striker score a goal, so it is possible for a repressed ocean of feelings to flood out when it seems safe for people to weep in public. Many workers who grieved were crying for themselves: for their deprived lives and need to invest so much in a fairytale character whose wealth and privilege would never be their own. That she was a vulnerable being-like most of us-whose huge PR success was to manufacture an identity with the unprivileged that the haughty Queen has never even attempted, made the death seem like a personal loss to those alienated from their own personalities. For them, any distraction was more bearable than life as it is.

When people have nothing to say about life they indulge in the rituals of death. That is why burying people is now the main occupational activity of the religious. In Russia it is easier to remember the Romanovs than think about where the next dinner is coming from. In Britain it is easier for Blair to lead the weeping for a caring princess than to give a single penny more to single mothers or the disabled-who are having their benefits cut. When she was living Diana was perceived by most of the press as a pretty vacuous, self-righteous and self-indulgent figure of fun and with a little pity. From her nuisance calls to ex-lovers to her arrogant claim to be the only significant social worker in Britain ("a Queen of Hearts", so help us), she was a living caricature of dim-but-niceness. Once she was dead the follies could be ignored and she could be used to symbolise all of the virtues so manifestly missing in those with any actual power.

Nationalist hysteria
National hysteria is nationalist hysteria. The flag-waving crowds on the day of the funeral were reminiscent of pictures from North Korea after the death of Kim-Il-Sung or China after Mao. How we scoffed at those gullible dupes as they paraded in the streets, forcing out patriotic songs through their tears. The more cynical believed that they were hired stooges, paid a few quid to weep in public. But the Di death squads in this country showed how easy it is for this kind of mania to spread even in the so-called advanced democracies. The nationalist illusion that UK PLC is our company and its ruling elite are the head of our family is precisely the way that vast millions of workers have been kept in line ideologically over the decades of capitalist history-and earlier. The spectacle of the proles from "below stairs" sobbing into their McDonald cartons at the loss of a champagne-swigging aristocrat, who spent her last night at the Ritz in Paris before making her ill-fated journey in the presence of a drunk driver must have been music to the ears of the small minority who possess but do not produce. Far, far better to have the workers marching to the beat of the nationalist drum than behind a miners' union band.

In fact, vast numbers of people were not in the least distraught by the death of the princess. The "public" that mourned as One Nation was, like all unified nations, an illusory construction. The vulgar way of creating this illusion is to lock off those who dissent from the position required by the public. This was what happened to heretics in the past who dared to question religion: they were beaten into submission, locked away or killed. The Russian Czars murdered numerous dissenters. (Will Yeltsin and the Orthodox Church be holding televised memorial services for them, incidentally?) In contemporary China there are literally millions of dissenters perishing in prison camps for the crime of refusing to act like the public their rulers require.

During the Diana madness last September there were many workers whose own lives were far more interesting to them than that of the royal leeches. They were rarely to be heard on the phone-in programmes (except to be demonised as unpatriotic, unfeeling freaks) and were never reported in the media. More than one person has reported to the present writer an actual fear of dissenting in public from the general hysteria. One woman, who was walking away from the funeral route towards the supermarket, said that she was sneered at by the gathering crowds as some sort of a traitor. Yet when she arrived at the supermarket there were plenty of people there. It is quite likely that the majority of us whose indifference to the affairs of the Houses of Windsor and Spencer were in a majority. But there were others determined to project an image of a nation stunned by grief.

It has been said by well-meaning leftists that, even though it might have been a diversionary exercise, the events of last year were an indication of how spontaneously people can create a popular movement. Well, apart from the fact that it may well have been less popular than it seemed, and was certainly not spontaneous, this probably tells us more about the Left's idea of social change than how history can really be made. Certainly, if one's idea of a movement is to have an iconic leader—be it Blair, Lenin, Thatcher or Di—followed by cheering masses (a wholly disparaging term for workers), then last summer's funeral antics were a model of how to generate a mass movement.

The movement of the majority that socialists want will be rather different. No leaders, be they princesses or party chiefs, will have any role to play. No priests. No pathetic dribbling over the corpses of the dead. No mindless anthems or idiots' flags. No followers. No police to keep us in line. Neither gods nor capitalists. That will a movement of the living; more liberating in every way than capitalism's spectacles of the dead.
Steve Coleman

Lenin’s life (2011)

Book Review from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin. By Lars T. Lih, Reaktion Books, 2011, £10.95.

This is a good biography of Lenin, who was born Vladimir Ulyanov in 1870, the son of a top Tsarist civil servant. Lih brings out well how until 1917 Lenin was essentially an anti-Tsarist Russian revolutionary with his own particular theory and strategy of how to overthrow the Tsarist regime and replace it with a democratic republic that was the aim of all 19th century Russian revolutionaries. At first many thought that the mass basis for the overthrow of Tsarism could be the peasantry. Then they turned to assassination (Lenin’s brother, Alexander, was executed in 1887 for his part in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander III). After widespread strikes in the 1890s some turned to the factory proletariat as the mass basis and identified themselves as Marxist Social Democrats. One of these, from 1893, was Lenin.

As Marxists, the Social Democrats accepted that Russia, at least on its own, would have to pass through capitalism, which would create the material basis for socialism as well as preparing the working class to run society. Some argued that it was therefore best to leave the leadership of the popular, democratic (or “bourgeois”) revolution that would overthrow Tsarism to the bourgeoisie supported by the workers and peasants. Lenin disagreed. Lih describes him as holding to “the heroic scenario” of the factory proletariat leading the mass of the Russian people (who were mainly peasants) to overthrow Tsarism and establish a democratic republic. Lenin knew very well that socialism in Russia (alone) was out of the question.

As it turned out, the Tsarist regime collapsed of itself in March 1917 under the impact of WWI. Lih describes how Lenin now shifted his position and began to argue that, instead of a democratic republic and liberal capitalism, what could be established in Russia was a working class regime which could take some “steps to socialism” while awaiting a socialist revolution in the rest of Europe which he was convinced was imminent. It was on this basis that the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917.

The European socialist revolution that Lenin had gambled on failed to materialise (in reality it was never on the cards) and he found himself the head of the government of a country that was both economically and culturally backward. Lenin suffered a first stroke in May 1922 and was no longer at the centre of power until he died after a third stroke in January 1924. Lih detects, as others have done, in Lenin’s last articles written in 1923 doubts creeping into Lenin’s mind:
    “The cultural deficit explained the failure of Lenin’s hopes for the Soviets, but it also posed a direct challenge to the legitimacy of socialist revolution in backward Russia. Lenin was confronted by this challenge in January 1923 when he read a memoir of the 1917 revolution written by the left-wing socialist Nikolai Sukhanov. In notes dictated soon afterwards Lenin admitted that socialist critics such as Sukhanov had correctly asserted that Russia was not ready for socialism. He responded to these familiar arguments with a flood of rhetorical questions (I count nine in two pages). Such questions are the rhetorical device of choice for those who are not quite sure of their position.”
It was to his credit that he did have doubts, even if it was psychologically impossible for him to admit that he had been wrong in 1917. There never was of course any prospect of the Bolsheviks giving up their control of political power. Maybe if Lenin had not died at the relatively young age of 53 the capitalism that inevitably developed there would not have been called “socialism” but the “state capitalism” Lenin knew it to be.
Adam Buick

Editorial: Thieves Kitchen at Gleneagles (2005)

Editorial from the July 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month the world’s most powerful politicians are getting together in Gleneagles to discuss how best to exercise their power. Two thousand years ago, in 60 BCE, the three most powerful men in Ancient Rome – Crassus, Caesar and Pompey – met to form a shadow government, one which recognised the reality of their personal power as opposed to the nearly defunct formal constitution of the Republic; in much the same way as the Titanic recognised the iceberg’s right of way. Known as the First Triumvirate,  it wasn’t to last – power cannot work against the logic it’s based on; so the rulers of Rome were impelled into a civil war they didn’t want because the needs of their camps demanded it.

Now, the G8 has a similar function to this ancient pact: the open and honest rule of the most powerful states beyond the formal international equality and niceties of the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation.  The G8, a self-selected club of the richest countries in the world, co-operating together on trade related issues: an open acknowledgement of the golden rule – them as have the gold rule.  Unlike the WTO or the UN, it is not an international bureaucracy, but an opportunity for the leaders of the powerful states to meet and discuss policy – a caucus rather than a conference.

It is hopeless to imagine, as some more soppy minded followers of Blair  and Brown do, that the G8 can be turned into a force for good in the  world. As the most powerful figure in the G8, the President of the United States has shown, the self-interest of  the powerful comes first.

He won’t agree to Brown’s proposed International Finance Facility, because it doesn’t fit with America’s plans.  Although Blair’s Big Idea – for want of a better term – in international politics is that “our” values can coincide with “our” interests, the reality often is that the values are the garnish to the capitalist feast. 

Nor, though, can chanting like plebeians voicing their views in the Forum be of much help.  There can be no doubt that in the current world order, the reality is that what these ultra wealthy and ultra powerful states want will happen.  They each have the men, the guns and, by Jingo, the money too. Any hope that they will give any attention to the hoi polloi, other than fobbing them off,  is a barren one.  Business as usual is their god.

Within nation states – where the ruling class is cohesive, their interests similar and where they have to rely on workers administering their interests – political democracy can function and the rule of law have some footing.  Politicians and administrators can be and are held to account.  Between nation states though, in the murky wild-west of international law, all these constraints are off.

International diplomacy is clandestine, furtive, removed as far as possible from the democratic gaze. The meetings at Gleneagles will be held behind locked doors, far away from the eyes of anyone interested in proceedings, as the eight colossi bicker and bargain the loot of the whole world.  In the ancient world, the definition of a tyrant was a ruler who couldn’t walk around without bodyguards: the meetings at Gleneagles will be conducted behind an awesome ring of steel and firepower.

If the G8 were smashed, if its meetings did not happen, the mere practicalities of the existence of these hyper-rich states would mean that they would still have to collaborate and co-ordinate their interests.  Simply by being in existence, they have an effect on the politics of the world as irresistible as gravity.

Clearly then, the only way to make progress is to remove the obstacle of these powerful camps and end the interests and powerbases they represent.   This can only be done by raising a force adequate to resist them – a movement on a global scale, coherent and co-ordinated, so that one day the rulers of the Earth will wake to find our meeting of the workers, a clique 6 billion strong has settled on their doorstep.   Our strength won’t be military or financial but creative. We have made the world as it is by our labour, and by the light of our industry and reason we will finally dispel the shadow of privilege and power.

No revolution? (2013)

Pamphlet Review from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

No Revolution Anywhere. By Robert Kurz. Chronos Publications.

According to Robert Kurz we are in the final days of the capitalist system. The ‘third industrial revolution’, the rise of microelectronics, has led to an irreversible restructuring of the production process, invested capital will soon no longer be able to reproduce itself since the human labour-power that is the source of surplus value and profit no longer plays a central role in the manufacturing process. For the past twenty years growth has been sustained not through real accumulation but through debt and financial speculation, but as the crisis is no longer confined to certain regions or sectors we are now witnessing the bubble bursting on a global scale. Unlike previous worldwide economic crisis this one cannot be overcome because capital has now reached its pinnacle. Crises of the 19th century where overcome because industrial development was able to spread into new areas.

The great depression of the 1930s occurred at a higher level of technological  development but was overcome through the development of Taylorist production methods and Keynesian state regulation. However this time there is no get out for the system, there are no further avenues for the expansion of value extraction. So what validity is there to these claims and was Kurz (who passed away in mid-2012) really ‘the most advanced political and political economic thinker in the capitalist world in this age’ as the publishers of this pamphlet would have us believe?

Whilst we would agree that the ultimate source of all profit is the productive surplus labour of the worker – wage labourers produce a value greater than that they receive back as wages or salaries – and that if production processes reached such a level that the part played by labour was close to zero there would be no source for the further accumulation of value and the era of capitalism would be over. The question remains, have we really reached this point or are we likely to in the not too astronomically distant future? The answer to both these questions is a firm ‘no’. Whilst technology is used in more and more situations (and sometimes pulled back once labour becomes cheaper to use – think hand car washes) we are still a long way from the total elimination of labour from production.

A crisis has the effect of scorching the earth ready for a fresh round of capital growth. Many enterprises fall by the wayside but those that do survive are able to purchase the productive capital assets of their former competitors at knock down prices thus helping fuel a recovery in the rate of profit. This devaluing of capital, one of the factors that Marx saw as counteracting the fall in the general rate of profit, seems to be disregarded by Kurz.

Robotic automation and information technology decrease the dependency of production on labour, as has the introduction of any new technology throughout the history of capitalism, whilst also cheapening the production of both capital and consumer goods. In other words, it takes less time to produce the stuff that is needed for the subsistence of the worker and also less time to manufacture the machinery that makes the stuff. A fall in the total mass of labour therefore does not necessarily lead to a fall in the general rate of  profit. This weakens Kurz’s claims regarding the irreversibility of the present crisis.

The rest of the pamphlet is concerned with criticising various types of reformist activism, much of which we would agree with. What we would not agree with is Kurz’s apparent rejection of the class struggle. For him the working class cannot be an agent for revolutionary change because ‘labour’ is a category of capitalist social relations, labour struggles are just a part of the development of capitalism. For us this is a half-truth, so long as the working class only struggles for petty changes to the terms of exploitation the system as a whole will continue to function. That is why it is necessary to organise politically for the sole purpose of transforming capitalism into socialism. The working class, which comprises of the vast majority of people, will be the agent for this change since it is this class alone that produces and reproduces the material conditions of society.

Recipe for disaster? (2006)

Pamphlet Review from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Work. Anarchist Federation. £1.00.

It might be thought that a pamphlet on work would begin by setting out what is going to be meant by the word. But this pamphlet does not do so. Instead, it uses the word in two different, even contradictory, senses. Work “must be destroyed before it destroys us”, proclaims the front cover. “Work is a disease” says an illustration. “Arguments against work” is one chapter heading.

But another chapter is headed “Work in a free society” though even this has the subtitle “freedom begins where work ends”. So, after all, work is not going to be destroyed? It is not a disease (or, if it is, it’s still going to exist in a “free society”?). So, in a free society, we are not going to be free when we work?

In physics work is the expenditure of energy. For humans, it is the exercise of a person’s physical and material energies to produce something that has some use, an unavoidable feature of human existence which has to take place in all societies and so cannot be abolished or destroyed. Under capitalism most work takes the form of employment, which is the things the pamphlets says: boring, meaningless, done for the benefit of an employer. It is employment – working for wages – , not work as such, that is a “disease” that can be abolished. What is required is the transformation of work, not its impossible abolition.

The authors of Work make some strong and valid criticisms of the human consequences of capitalist employment. For many workers it means physical and nervous exhaustion, illness, often anti-social laws, damaged family relationships, the intensification and lengthening of the working week, job insecurity, the switch from long-term employment to sub-contracting and self-employment, usually with worse pay and conditions. Even the unemployed, they say, are now engaged in the “work” of “looking for work”.

We agree that in “a society without ‘employment’, without bosses and wage labour”, the work of producing what society needs will be quite different: it will be “freely chosen”, “not measured at all” and an “expression of a person’s pleasure in what they are doing”.

Where we disagree is over how the Anarchist Federation envisage such a society coming into being – by a general refusal to work:
   “We will take our hands from the plough and the loom, rise up from our desks, cast off our boots and overalls, walk out of the hotels and restaurants, leave the factory and office, meeting with others to join in their refusal to work as they celebrate ours”.
This is a recipe for disaster. If (as this scenario assumes) people had reached the stage of wanting to abolish capitalism and its employment and wage labour, then a more sensible option would surely be to organise, not to stop working, i.e. to stop producing with all the consequences this would have on social life, but to keep production going under worker control while the transfer through political action of social control from the capitalist class to the community as a whole takes place.
Adam Buick

Cooking the Books: Capitalism is working (2009)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Times (9 March) carried an article by Eamonn Butler, the director of the Adam Smith Institute. Yes, they are still around, even if it might be thought that they would be keeping a low profile these days, given that the pursuit of profit has yet again led to overproduction and a financial and economic crisis, a really big one this time.

Butler began by quoting a speech by an American professor called Boettke at a recent gathering of Mad Marketeers in New York:
“If you bound the arms and legs of gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps, weighed him down with chains, threw him in a pool and he sank, you wouldn't call it a ‘failure of swimming'. So, when markets have been weighted down by inept and excessive regulation, why call this a ‘failure of capitalism'?”
That depends on what you mean by capitalism. Boettke seems to mean the spontaneous operation of production for profit and the market. But that’s not really capitalism; it’s just a policy that some capitalists (and their paid and unpaid publicists) have favoured at some times.

Capitalism is a system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit. Ideologists such as Butler and Boettke are assuming that there is some irreconcilable conflict between the profit system and government intervention. But there isn’t. Capitalism has never existed without government intervention and never will. For a start, it is based on the exclusion of the majority from the ownership and control of the means of production, which are monopolised by a profit-seeking minority. A state is needed to maintain this exclusion. This has to be paid for, so taxes have to be levied. Capitalists in one country are in competition with capitalists from other countries, and governments have always intervened to help “their” capitalists with tariffs and subsidies and, if need be, by military action.

So, capitalism and the state are not incompatibles. They go together. What is true is that the consensus of capitalist opinion varies at times as to the desirable degree of government intervention. What seems to be annoying the Adam Smith Institute today is that their ideological rivals, the Keynesians, who have no qualms about government intervention in the capitalist economy, are making a come-back because of the present crisis.

“Up to now”, Butler wrote, “the Keynesians have made the running. Greed, they say, has brought down the world economy. Only massive public spending can revive it”. If by “greed” Butler means the pursuit of profits, the Keynesians are not against that, even if they certainly are in favour of trying to spend the way of the crisis. But that’s just an alternative policy for the profit system to the one favoured by the Adam Smith Institute. It’s not a negation of capitalism.

Butler proffers his own explanation for the crisis: “excessive regulation” (of course). This assumes that, without this, the crisis would not have occurred. He rather undermines this approach by concluding his article by saying that “occasional crises are the cost of the prosperity that entrepreneurial capitalism brings”.

So, crises are going to occur anyway, even in his ideal, unregulated capitalist world! And what, without excessive regulation to blame, would they be caused by if not by the pursuit of profits leading to overproduction in some sector in relation to the market, from which the only way out is a crisis to eliminate the lame ducks and the deadwood, as capitalists like to refer to their inefficient colleagues? In this sense, Boettke is right. This and other crises don’t represent the “failure of capitalism”, but capitalism working normally.

Culture and Capitalism (1999)

Book Review from the March 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

'A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party in Britain'. Edited by Andy Croft. Pluto Press. 1998.

This is one of those irritating books the title of which offers a set of expectations which is almost totally out of kilter with its content. Thus the reader isn't offered a cultural history of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but rather a series of essays about the work and impact of various so-called Communist artists and critics living in Britain—some of whom, coincidentally, were members of the Communist Party.

Only in the short, six-page introduction, written by Andy Croft, is there any considered reference to the cultural policies and practices of the British Communist Party and, significantly, this introduction largely ignores the essays which follow. As Andy Croft put it himself: "These essays [consider] some of the achievements and failures of communist artists who, though mostly forgotten now, once had an extraordinary impact on British cultural life."

This said, such references as are made to cultural policies of the Communist Party of Great Britain, suggest that they were frequently hostile to the work of artists, including many of the artists who are the subject of the essays in this book. For the most part the CP's official attitude seemed based on the "norms and expectations being imposed by Zhdanov and the cultural policemen of the Soviet Union".

Indeed, Emile Burns (the chairman of the CP's National Cultural Committee in the early 1950s) went so far as to argue that nothing was to be learnt from the "decadent culture of capitalist society", and that "it is absolutely vital to the working class that they should see culture for what it is—the culture of a decaying class". Leaving aside the fact that culture can heighten our awareness of the world we live in, and thus affect a critique of capitalism, the idea that such cultural figures as Mozart, Shelley, Hogarth and Zola were mere apologists for the capitalist class is grotesque.

But if the title of the book causes readers to wonder about the possibilities of taking action under the terms of the Trade Descriptions Act, many of the essays are interesting and revealing. It helps that the focus of attention is wide rather than narrow and that it encompasses graphic art, pageants, jazz and folk song, in addition to poetry, the novel, film, classical music, and literary criticism. I particularly enjoyed Robert Radford's essay on "the graphic art of the three Jameses" (Boswell and Fitton and Holland), and the accompanying trenchant cartoons; Gerald Porter's piece on folk and vernacular songs; and Hanna Behrend's thoughtful article on Marxist literary criticism.

The latter faces four square the apparent paradox of economic relations determining the ideas that exist in the superstructure of society, whilst at the same time these same ideas provide the basis for further economic transformations. It also hints at a further dilemma: how can a political party judge the value and worth of cultural artefacts, both in terms of their political power and their cultural merit, in such a way as to favour some and criticise others? More about this would have been welcome but given the book's studied avoidance of the implications which flow from its own title, though I wasn't surprised that no more was forthcoming. Nevertheless a rewarding read not least because, if my reaction is typical, it will inspire a lot of further thought in readers.
Michael Gill

Unknown Marx (2003)

Book Review from the February 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Unknown Marx. By Takahisa Oishi. Pluto Press. 214 pages

Actually, despite the title, some of this is old hat. Oishi goes through Marx to show that so-called “Soviet Marxism” had distorted his views; which of course we all knew. There is nothing “unknown” about the fact that Marx was not writing as a simple economist but was putting forward a “critique of political economy” (the title of one of his books as well as the sub-title of Capital), his main argument being that, whereas writers like Adam Smith and Ricardo regarded economic categories such as capital, wages, value, price, money, etc as eternal, natural features of human social existence, these were in fact categories of capitalism which would disappear when it did (but didn't in the ex-USSR, which showed it never got beyond capitalism).

Nor is it all that unknown that the mere abolition of the legal private property rights of individual capitalists is not the same thing as the abolition of capitalism, which is a social relationship between capital and wage-labour. What needs to be abolished to end the exploitation of workers is this social relationship; which never happened in Russia. Oishi, however, does make a rarely-heard point when he says that, for Marx, in socialism/communism (which he recognises Marx didn't distinguish between) “the immediate workers have free access to the means of production” and that they do not “belong to some institution independent of the workers themselves” (as in the ex-USSR and as Oishi rather unfairly accuses Engels of suggesting), i.e. that common ownership means no ownership not state ownership.

Although Oishi's style is off-putting and possibly counter-productive (he analyses Marx's writings as “texts” in the same sort of way that mediaeval monks analysed Paul's epistles), his book does have a certain interest as an analysis of the economic parts of Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (most commentators concentrate on the philosophical aspects).

Oishi identifies the key economic concept put forward there by Marx as “estranged labour” in the sense of labour that doesn't control what it produces since this is the private property of someone else; capital is accumulated labour that has come to escape from the control of the direct producers and has come to dominate them as an alien, exploiting force. He also brings out that, already in 1844, Marx had reached his basic “critique of political economy” (that it took the economic categories of capitalism for eternal, natural features).

Oishi is able to argue plausibly that there is a continuity between these positions of the so-called “Early Marx” and the Marx who wrote Capital. This is to be expected as what Marx wrote when he was 26 and what he published when he was 49 were after all written by the same person. However, Oishi rather overstates his case. While it is true that the 1844 manuscripts do contain the concept of capital, wages, money, etc as categories of capitalism, the argument that wage workers are exploited by capitalists, and the criticism of money for its effect on human relations and the call to abolish it along with wages, there is a lot that is still not there.

Marx had not yet distinguished either between “value” and “exchange value” or between “labour” and “labour power” and so was not able to give an adequate theory of exploitation; in fact the whole concept of “surplus value” is absent from these manuscripts, as it was from The Poverty of Philosophy which Marx published in 1847 and which Oishi also submits to detailed textual analysis. At this time Marx still talked about workers selling their “labour” to the capitalists which presented him, as the other socialists of the time who based their theories on Ricardo's version of the labour theory of value, with the problem of explaining exploitation (the capitalists' profit) other than as a swindle (unequal exchange) or as a non-economic phenomenon (legalised robbery permitted by the state). Unlike Paul, Marx wasn't perfect. He didn't get it right the first time.
Adam Buick

Pro-Labour History (2017)

Book Review from the January 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Rebel Footprints'. By David Rosenberg, (Pluto Press)

Labour history, like all history, is seen through various lenses, distorting and magnifying certain aspects of reality, filtering out unwanted intrusions. Its resulting narratives reflect fundamental assumptions and serve to boost and consolidate those convictions. Here, David Rosenberg, presents us with a particular view of Radical London designed with a particular aim in mind. One which, since it already carries ‘likes’ from Corbyn and the TUC, ought to be pretty obvious.

Such it is not to the uncritical eye. For the best propaganda does not look like propaganda. Ostensibly, this book really does tell the story of ‘how defiant grassroots Londoners responded to their circumstances from the beginning of the 1830s until the end of the 1930s’ in relation to localities in which they occurred. Here, indeed, are the strikes, the campaigns, the events which any historian of the subject would be bound to include.

Already, however, our vision is limited time-wise. Why 1939? Did history magically end, Fukuyama style, with the invasion of Poland? Of course, this is not Year Zero at all. For the Left Labourite, the Golden Age began and history ended with the general election of July 1945. Hurrah for the use of troops to smash the dockers! Hurrah for the Indian massacres! Hurrah for the atom bomb! Go Clement go! And since that time, the Labour Party has been a most integral part of the political ruling class, so any account of strikes, campaigns, would inevitably be a Jeremiad (!) against that very Labour Party, which Rosenberg has come to praise. And not, like us, to bury.

What then, is the point of these campaigns, these strikes, that Rosenberg (to give him credit) accurately (bar a few niggles) and with an attractive liveliness (if with also butterfly flitting) describes? Whereto is the admirable sense of solidarity generated by the action of working together for a common cause directed? And how are the questions inevitably posed by such campaigns answered? Why, sir, need you ask! Instead of directing such justifiable anger, such togetherness, such criticism, against the system, the Labourite, consciously or unconsciously, co-opts these sentiments for their own ends.

And these are made clear: A change of political masters; Government charity – ‘free’ wigs, a council flat, and a nice job on the bins – for the worker; and a comfy seat on the board for ‘his’ rep. Apart from capitalism as normal, its wars, its poverty, its misery, this is all we can expect from the resurrection of Corbynite Old Labour. That this alternative to the Blairite New Labour holds any sort of appeal shows the depth to which we have sunk, propelled thence by the twin millstones of Leninist ‘Communism’ and Labour’s ‘Socialism’ – both in reality one and the same state capitalist nightmare.

As to the alternative, the world turned upside down, the lowly made high and the masters downtrodden, of this, to which a good half of those name-dropped herein subscribed, nominally or genuinely, there is no mention. We, and those like us, do not want ‘justice and equality’, our path is not mere protest, defensive and backward looking, but the revolutionary road to the world made anew.