Friday, August 4, 2017

Boring from Within (1967)

From the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among members of the Labour Party are some who, while admitting that Labour is not Socialist and cannot be an instrument for Socialism, still say that it is the party which, at the present time, Socialists should join. One particular group of such people is centred on the quarterly journal International Socialism. Their argument is well summarised in an article by P. Mansell "Work in the Labour Party’’ in their publication Socialist Review:
   Reformist illusions in the working class go very deep. They can be shattered only by experience. Reformism must be tried and found wanting.
   What must, at all costs, be avoided, is isolation from the mass of the workers and the development of their political consciousness.
   The Labour Party commands the allegiance—even if it is the pretty passive allegiance—of the great majority of the workers.
So, Socialists should join the Labour Party.

Let us concede that this argument is quite logical. What we are challenging in this article is not its logic but the assumptions on which it is based.

Who, first of all, are the working class? This is a basic question for all who claim to accept that “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself’. There is, in Britain, a social group which is regarded and regards itself as “the working class” or “the working classes”. This group is made up of urban, industrial workers, the men and women who operate the machines and do the unskilled manual work in factories, mines, docks, railways and the like. However, it is not the method of the materialist conception of society to accept what people say about themselves. And, in fact, the class properly called the working class takes in many more than this. A class is made up of people who have a common economic interest because they stand in the same relation to the means of production. In Britain the social status group known as the “middle class” stands in exactly the same relation to the means of production as the so-called working class. Clerks, civil servants, technicians and managers all too have to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer to live. So the working class in Britain make up over ninety per cent of the people.

If this point is conceded and this broader concept of the working class accepted, then difficulties arise at a later stage in the argument. For it is just not true that “the great majority of the workers” support the Labour Party or look on it as theirs. The political allegiance of the working class is at present about evenly split between Labour and Tory with a substantial minority backing the Liberals. This means that if Socialists should be where the working class are they should be in the Tory and Liberal parties as well as in the Labour Party.

In fact International Socialism avoids this difficulty by assuming that the working class is confined to industrial workers. So they are saying the agent of social revolution is not to be the working class as a whole but only a section of it — a significant departure from the Marxian position and one which the Socialist Party rejects.

Secondly, what is meant by “experience”? It is of course quite true that the experience of workers under capitalism will, in the end, lead them to want to change society since all ideas arise from social and material conditions. However, in the argument, the word seems to have the special restricted meaning of direct, immediate experience. People, however, learn not only from their own experiences but also from the experience of others. Indeed the greater part of everybody's knowledge is that of others, inherited from the past and handed down by oral and written tradition. What distinguishes man from the other animals is his ability to generalise, to think abstractly. Lower animals do only learn from their own experiences, like Pavlov's dogs and circus animals. If you argue that the working class can learn "only by experience" you are reducing their intelligence to a very low level Lenin, whose ideas greatly influence boring-from-within groups, himself did not think much of the working class's intellectual capacities. He wrote in 1902 in his pamphlet What is To be Done?
The history of all countries shows that the working class exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.
T. Cliff, writing in International Socialism for Autumn 1960, employs an even more revealing analogy:
The role of the Marxists is to generalize the living, evolving experience of the class struggle, to give a conscious expression to the instinctive drive of the working class to reorganize society on a socialist basis.
Instinctive drive! The Socialist Party rejects this view which implies that the working class is a simple tool to be used by Socialists as a mass basis for their capture of power. The change from capitalism to Socialism can only be carried out consciously, as the conscious act of the great majority of the working class.

Finally, what is so special about Socialists? To argue that they should strive to avoid "isolation from the mass of the workers" is to assume that Socialists are not members of the working class; that they are people, whose ideas have evolved outside of the working class, who must strive to get into the working class and to impart to them Socialist consciousness.

The origin of this peculiar view of the role of Socialists is pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia and is outlined by Lenin in the above-mentioned pamphlet. In Tsarist Russia the bulk of the anti-Tsarist revolutionaries were members of "the intelligentsia". Intelligentsia is a Russian word and defined a peculiarly Russian social group composed of qualified, technical personnel of non-noble origin employed by the central and local government At one time, the revolutionary intelligentsia looked to the peasants as the mass basis for their insurrection. Later, some turned to the working class and dabbled in Marxist ideas. They were thus faced with the problem of how to get the working class to play the role they had allotted them. They did have the problem of how to make contact with the working class. Lenin refurbished an old Russian revolutionary idea of a party of professional revolutionaries which was to be the so-called vanguard of the working class.

Boring-from-within groups still seem to see Socialists as if they were Bolshevik professional revolutionaries trying to latch on to the working class. Socialists are not a special type of being whose ideas are formed in a different way from the rest of the working class. They are simply members of the working class who want and understand Socialism, faced with the problem of how to get their ideas over to the rest of the working class. To do this, they need take no special steps to be with the working class. They are already there.

What is the view of the Socialist Party? The Social revolution from capitalism to Socialism must be carried out by conscious democratic, political action. In other words, those who make the change must know what they are doing; must be in a majority; and must employ political means.

The task of Socialists at present, when they are a tiny minority, is to organise themselves in as effective a way as possible to put over the case for Socialism and to help the evolution of Socialist understanding. For this an independent political organisation and propaganda agency is best suited. This is the only organizational form which allows Socialists to express their views fully and freely, openly and honestly. If they were part of an organisation whose aims they did not share, Socialists would have to waste their time on the problems of that organisation, And besides, they would be associated with it and its failures.

This is not to lead an isolated existence. As already said, Socialists are members of the working class. In Britain there are many ways of getting ideas across to other workers; through your own journal, pamphlets and leaflets; through meetings indoor and outdoor; through canvassing and discussion. This is what the work of the Socialist Party is at the present time.

Further, we are a political party and as such contest elections in opposition to the other parties. Elections are about who shall control the state. At present, because the great majority of workers don't know what Socialism is or don't see it as a real alternative, they elect to office people pledged to run capitalism. Socialist Party members, however, vote only for Socialist candidates. We play no part in handing over political power to the capitalist class. Not so groups like International Socialism. In campaigning for Labour they are campaigning for one of the major parties committed to defending the interests of the capitalist class. They play their part, however little, in handing over power to political agents of the capitalist class to oppress and intimidate the working class with wage freezes and the like. For this reason alone, they forfeit the right to be called Socialists.
Adam Buick

Obituary: Freddie Adams (1967)

Obituary from the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our comrade Freddie Adams, of Haringey branch, died in hospital on June 12 at the age of 84. He joined the old Wood Green branch in 1910 and between the wars was involved in the central administration of party affairs as assistant and later as general secretary. After the war he was a regular attender and lecturer at Palmers Green branch. One of the last things he did for Socialism was to help in the GLC campaign in April by proposing, in accordance with the law, our three candidates in Haringey. He was very pleased that before he died he had the chance to cast his ballot for a Socialist world community.

What's Happening in China? (1967)

From the October 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is China communist? Look at the trouble in Hong Kong and you will get the answer.

It started in May with an industrial dispute between the employees of a factory and the owners over pay and conditions of work. The Hong Kong Communist Party used the dispute to make political capital and were backed by the Chinese Government on the Mainland. The rioting spread to a large overcrowded working-class area where many badly paid and frustrated young workers joined in. Some of the local capitalists panicked and prepared to move out; many rushed to change their local currency for gold. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange went dead, prices slumped and for a day or so not a single bargain was done.

As the British Administration of this Crown Colony cracked down heavily with police anti-riot squads on the dissatisfied workers, they probably silently sniggered at the Chinese Government’s dodge of using foreign adventures to divert the attention of the mainland workers from their problems at home—a dodge they would recognise as so often having been resorted to in the West.

The trouble continues with shots across the frontier, killing and wounding of workers in Hong Kong.

Mainland China is still in the throes of Red Guard trouble which at times appears almost like a civil war and the present seems a propitious time for analysing the origins and background of the Cultural Revolution, as this upheaval is euphemistically termed. Charges and counter-charges, vilification, discussion about The Thoughts of Mao and what he really means when correctly interpreted, all act as a smokescreen which conceals the basic differences, which are in fact largely economic, between the two groups of antagonists who are fighting to control China and impose their ideas of how capitalism should be developed there. This is the cause of the so-called Communist Party dividing into two mutually hostile groups, which, for simplicity’s sake we refer to as the old-time Communist Party leadership and the modern managerial elite.

The old-time members of the Communist Party organised the agrarian revolt throughout the countryside and finally won the civil war against the Nationalists in 1949 by the successful use of guerrilla fighting.

Both groups are agreed that war with the U.S.A. is inevitable. But the Old Guard plan that the professional army should absorb the brunt of the first shock of war but would be finally smashed. The army command should then knuckle-down and retreat—beaten—leaving the prosecution of the war in the hands of the guerrilla forces who they believe would eventually win.

These old campaigners, with their muddle-headed ideals and their fixed policies based on success in the now distant past in conditions that now no longer exist, have had their day. But like the old soldiers in the song, they never seem to die and are taking an unconscionable long time in fading away—too long for the likes of the up and coming management bureaucracy.

But the younger modern army officers are not taking this lying down—they are pressing forward to train the soldiers in the efficient technology of killing with modern equipment including the nuclear missiles which they are rapidly developing. They are horrified at the idea of confining their abilities to the training of an old fashioned amateur militia in what they regard as outmoded methods.

The Communist Party membership were drawn from the same class as the former mandarin administrators. For instance, Mao tse-Tung, who is a well-known poet and scholar, is the son of a landowner and employer of labour who could afford an expensive education for his son. Chou en-Lai, the Prime Minister, is a scion of a traditional mandarin family. The rest of the Party came from much the same background. So, the educated elite flocked in; the ordinary worker being conspicuous by his absence.

In the civil sector the Communist Party successfully roused the population to the policy of tighter belts and more work (so familiar to the workers of the West) by frenzied political exhortation.

The original leaders have remained practically unchanged in their ideas and policies, except, of course, that they are growing older (Mao tse-Tung, for instance, is 73).

But China, caught in the maelstrom of world capitalist techniques, developing with great' rapidity and, of course, in the concomitant power politics, is catching up with breathtaking speed.

The new bureaucracy of the Communist Party are not confined to the administration of the state machine; they are also in the management of the tremendous number of State Corporations running the factories, mines, transport, importing and exporting, and banks, in addition to the vast civil engineering enterprises. The young professional army officers of the 2½ million army, together with the allied nuclear missile scientists, are included in the elite.

These slick unprincipled executives, with a hankering for the good life and not for the continual sacrifices demanded by the Establishment, see the outdated policies of the old-timers as the burden of the past hanging around their necks like millstones and rendering these oldsters unsuitable for the important governing positions they still fill.

But they are as modern as their opposite numbers in Western Capitalism and trained in the sophisticated professional and management techniques, which owe very little to political haranguing in the efficient exploitation of the working-class.

At the heart of the political turmoil is the dispute over economics. Sun yeh-Fang, director of the Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences, spokesman of the anti-Mao brigade, makes no secret of his views that China should be run by orthodox Capitalist economic policies:
  In deciding what projects should receive investment funds, the State should insist that priority be based on potential profits. Capital should go to those projects that promise the greatest returns—any other criterion, Sun says, will be disastrous.
  If there is any question of taking political factors into account, he seems to argue, these too should be weighed up on the basis of their implications for future profits. The hallowed slogan of “putting politics in command" is derided as the "lazy-bone's" economics. Sun believes that the “Law of Value” must guide the economy at every step. By this be appears to mean basing economic activities on their returns to the economy and letting prices reflect the need to regulate the economy on the principle of profitability. (Far Eastern Economic Review—2/2/67.).
Then there is the disaffection of the urban working class with their pay and conditions. By now granting improvements where they feel they have to, the management elite are rallying this expanding labour force under their banner, and thus putting another nail in the coffin of the die-hards.

The reason for Mao tse-Tung organising a separate Red Guard is that the Communist Party, of which he is nominally chairman, being largely composed of the new style bright young people, is not so amenable to his commands as formerly, and so he has had to go outside this organisation to create a loyal and reliable following.

So it seems that the present ruling group is in the process of losing the support of the educated elite, but whoever wins out in this internal struggle for power, Mao tse-Tung will be likely to stay in nominal control because of the great prestige that has made him so useful not merely as a labour leader but almost as a God—as their Prophet of “Communism”.

This process of building-up Mao as a combined labour-leader, soothsayer and general know-all has taken many years and a great deal of money to accomplish and cannot be thrown away. The agnostic authoritarian dogma of the Communist Party, so similar to the Confucianism which was used for training the elite in former times, needs a God as orthodox religion does and Mao tse-Tung fills this vacuum.

Whichever side wins it will not be the Chinese workers, either in the cities or on the farms, even if it is they who are doing the actual fighting and suffering the casualties. It is not their interests that are being fought for. But part of the profits of their exploitation will provide large salaries and emoluments for the high-ranking managerial and military echelons in addition to paying the interest on capital invested.
Frank Offord

The Bolshevik Revolution (1967)

From the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution is now with us, and again dramatic and romantic descriptions of the Bolshevik seizure of power will circulate. Lurid official paintings of the event, with Stalin well to the fore and Trotsky nowhere to be seen, will appear in the glossy magazines. In fact the events that took place in Petrograd on November 7 1917 (October 26 by the old Russian Calendar) were largely a noisy farce. What little bloodshed occurred was unnecessary, the result of muddle and hysteria.

The grand climax, the storming of the Winter Palace and the capture of the Provisional Government, had all the makings of a legend—the ultimatum, brought by two armed cyclists across the river from the fortress of St Peter and St. Paul, the opening of the bombardment from the fortress and from the cruiser Aurora, while the cruiser’s searchlights swept the city. Finally the Red Guards closing in to storm the place. All the time, of course, Lenin from the Smolny Institute was directing operations with an iron hand.

In reality the cruiser fired only blanks, while most of the shells from the fortress went anywhere but the Winter Palace. The defending troops had been melting away all day, and the remnants gave up without a fight. In the final scene the cabinet made a pathetic pretence of being in session when the Red Guards broke in and captured them. The real work of the revolution had lain in the months that had preceded it, and in the ruthless period of consolidation and repression that was to follow. On November 7 the only well organised body in Russia, the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, took the power from the nervous hands of a government whose writ hardly ran beyond the committee rooms of Petrograd.

The overthrow of the Tzar, in the February insurrection, had revealed a country in a state of complete collapse, politically and economically. When the Tzar departed the whole machinery of government went with him. The completely unbending nature of the autocracy had made it impossible for any of the opposition parties to obtain real political experience; consequently nobody had any clear idea of what to do. All authority had centred on the Tzar, so with the monarchy gone loyalties shifted about and swung from one rallying point to another.

The army, the mainstay of the Tzarist State, had been broken by the unparalleled slaughter of the past three years. The economy was in ruins. Once the lid was off, the repressed grievances of the workers and peasants burst out in numerous acts of violence. It was predictable that the first organised body strong enough to rally substantial support would take control. That body was the Bolsheviks.

The revolution had been quite spontaneous and unplanned, and while the victorious soldiers and workers thronged the streets there emerged what has become known as the dual power. Two centres of power arose in opposite wings of the Tauride Palace, both of them relics of the 1905 revolution.

One was the State Duma or Parliament, which was the only institution of the old autocratic government to survive. It had been very limited in its powers, it was based on an extremely restricted electorate, and had been set up as a sop to revolutionary feelings in 1905. Like the Parliaments in Tudor England it was called only when there was trouble such as the outbreak of war, and very little notice had been taken of it. The Duma was to become the nucleus of the new Provisional Government. Its members were drawn from the landowning and embroyo capitalist classes, and its principal party was the Constitutional Democrats or Kadets. The Kadets had also come into being in 1905, and they favoured a Constitutional Monarchy. They were “progressive liberals”, but in any other place they would have been considered extreme reactionaries.

The other body was the Soviet of Workers', Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies that had been set up in imitation of 1905. Soviet is merely the Russian word for council. Its members were Social Revolutionaries, Mensheviks with a few Bolsheviks and other minor parties. The Soviet held the real power, through the fact that the revolutionaries would take orders only from them. No train would run, no telegram would be sent, and nothing would be printed without the Soviet permission. The War Minister, A. I. Guchkov, in a letter to a general, wrote
The Provisional Government possesses no real power and its orders are executed only insofar as this is permitted by the Soviet of the Workers and Soldiers Deputies, which holds in its hands the most important elements of actual power, such as troops, railroads, postal and telegraph service. It is possible to say directly that the Provisional Government exists only while this is permitted by the Soviet. (A Short History of the Russian Revolution, Joel Carmichael.)
But the great irony was that, although the Soviet held the real power, they refused to exercise it. They held the view that a bourgeois government must first take power and engineer a capitalist revolution before a Socialist Revolution could follow. This, combined with their inexperience and the suddenness with which they had been pitchforked into power, led them to bolster up the Provisional Government, rather than make use of the power they held. Such an arrangement would have been difficult in any circumstances; in the Russia of 1917 it was doomed to failure from the start, and served to paralyse things still further.

Meanwhile the peasants throughout Russia were taking the law into their own hands, seizing land and burning down manor houses. This led to a further deterioration in the supply of food. And all the time the war was dragging on. It was into this mess that Lenin, a master of political organisation and intrigue, arrived in April. He began, with the able assistance of Trotsky—his equal in these matters— to organise the Bolsheviks, a despised minority party, into the only effective body in Russia.

The Provisional Government was determined to carry on with the war and in mid-summer Kerensky launched the long awaited offensive. It was a ghastly failure; the Germans smashed through the Russian lines and the Russian army was at an end as a fighting force. Men began to desert in droves, flocking back from the front and giving rise to the much-quoted expression of “voting with their feet”. The workers and soldiers of St. Petersburg outdid the Bolsheviks in revolutionary fervour. In the July Days, the uprising that led to the temporary suppression of the Bolsheviks, the Bolsheviks had been dragged along, rather unwillingly, behind events. It was to cash in on these feelings that the slogan, “Bread, Peace, Land" was devised.

In late August the Commander of Petrograd, General Kornilov, attempted to march on Petrograd and overthrow the Provisional Government. He had massed troops half way between Petrograd and Moscow, and began a serious attack on Petrograd. But once again the unreliability of the army was apparent and the troops just melted away. The immediate effect was to swing opinion, that had built up against the Bolsheviks after the July Days, back towards them.

When the Bolsheviks finally moved in October, it was quick. In Petrograd it was soon over. In Moscow resistance was greater, and fighting lasted for over three days, but the result was never really in doubt. The take over was quite easy, but the Bolsheviks’ troubles were only just beginning. The events in Petrograd had happened so quickly that the newspapers on October 26 came out with leading articles written the night before, talking of the “isolation of the Bolsheviks.” The Bolsheviks immediately began to show their hand, and on the first day the entire bourgeois press was shut down.

This was the shape of things to come. The Bolsheviks had used the revolutionary fervour of the masses, but they had no intention of acting in a democratic way. The long awaited Constituent Assembly was called, but as it gave a large majority to the opponents of the Bolsheviks, it was dissolved the same day. One by one the other political parties went down, and the murderous civil war, that was to rage for two years, was fought by as vicious an autocracy as ever the Tzar had been. In 1918 the Cheka, the new political police, were established and they soon acquired absolute powers. It was not in the gay, romantic, brave uprising of the legend, that Russia was to be changed, but in the grim butchery of the civil war, in the quiet killings in the cellars of the Cheka, and the famines which followed the attempts to collectivise the land. Workers will be well advised to study that grim chapter of history, known as the Russian Revolution, when they are confronted with glib invitations to solve their problems with violence.
Les Dale

1917 Question and Answer (1967)

From the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The question is, did the Bolsheviks know what they were caught up in? Did they realise that the upheaval in Russia would cause fifty years of argument, theorising and confusion about the working class? About working class courage, social consciousness, ambitions?

The Russian Revolution was not the only event of November 1917; about a thousand miles south-west of the crowds in Petrograd something was happening which supplied all the answers necessary to straighten out the theories and clear up the confusion which followed the Bolsheviks taking power.

On the 20th of that grim month Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, commander in chief of the British army in France, decided to close down what has become known as the Battle of Passchendaele. It had, he said, served its purpose. The battle had opened at the end of July; in the four months of fighting the British had advanced a few miles, had captured a small number of piles of rubble which had once been villages where human beings lived and worked, had landed themselves in what some soldiers thought was a more exposed position than when they had started — and had lost about three hundred thousand men.

Afterwards, Passchendaele was justified by the British commanders as a successful exposition of the art of attrition. This art is based on a grisly theory, which gives an insight into what is approvingly called the military mind. Attrition meant a battle carried on to destroy an opposing army, at no matter what cost. At Passchendaele it meant sending men out into an impassable swamp which was swept by concentrated machine gun fire and protected by blankets of barbed wire, in the hope that, while tens of thousands of them were being killed, they would kill more of the other side

This, bad as it was, was not the original intention behind Passchendaele. The battle was planned to capture the Channel ports, break the U-Boat threat, smash through the German lines in Flanders and open the way for the cavalry to speed into the heart of Germany and finish the war. Prime Minister Lloyd George — who mistrusted the plan from the start — recalled bitterly Haig’s promises for the offensive — the hands sweeping irresistibly over the map, as if with his fingers Haig could roll back the German armies, his nail resting on the frontier so far behind the lines.

The reality was very different. The Flanders countryside, its drainage system destroyed by the artillery, became a swamp under the late summer rains. Men waded waist-deep through the sticky yellow mud; sometimes they drowned in the stuff. If they were wounded they often simply disappeared into the slime. One survivor — Siegfried Sassoon —wrote savagely:
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west . . .
What greater glory could a man desire?
                                                                           (Memorial Tablet)
and another — Alasdair Alpin MacGregor — contributed this to a recent discussion in the letter columns of the Daily Telegraph:
That autumn’s mud-and-blood baths were occupied mostly by young petrified, under-trained, lice-ridden, wounded, dying, drowned, parched, famishing, conscripts, cowering in the shell-holes, if not already hanging on the barbed wire.
Inevitably, the failure of Passchendaele released a torrent of criticism which, fifty years after, still flows strongly. Soon after the end of the battle, Lloyd George unburdened himself to C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian:
If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow . . . The thing is horrible, and beyond human nature to bear, and I feel I can't go on any longer with the bloody business. [1] 
Which would have sounded more convincing were it not that the same man had earlier said of the very people some of whom did know, did want to stop the war — the conscientious objectors —
I shall only consider the best means of making the path of that class a very hard one. [2]
But wherever the the horrors of the war, and however powerful the criticisms of it, the peoples of Europe continued to fight it with a stupid courage. Passchendaele was not the first blood bath on the Western Front; it had been preceded by such as Loos, Verdun, the Somme, Aisne and it was to be followed by the last German offensive of March 1918 and the Allied counter-attack which finished the war.

Through all this, the working class remained solidly behind the war. The French soldiers showed the strain after Verdun and again after Nivelle had murdered tens of thousands of them in his attack in 1917. But they held. So did the Germans. And the British, in the words of Lloyd George, could be “. . . absolutely relied on for any enterprise.” [3]    

This support for the war was incited and encouraged by the politicians when it suited them; for example, it allowed an official blind eye to be turned to much of the inhuman treatment dished out to the conscientious objectors. But it was a weapon with two edges. Lloyd George, who could always rouse a mob, would dearly have loved to sack Haig but, apart from the political background to his appointment, the Field Marshall was the mob’s hero. To dismiss him would have been to admit the failure of all those spectacular offensives which, the newspapers were busily saying, were about to finish the war. If that happened, if “the people really knew”, the war might even be stopped — even tomorrow . . .

The Prime Minister held his hand, and kept his job, and the war went on. Later, his son Richard wrote that this was his final test “. . . and he shirked it." [4]

But perhaps Lloyd George was not shirking a test so much as facing it. In all the belligerent countries, the working class had been roused to the pitch of patriotism which brought them cheering onto the streets in August 1914. In London, the crowds singing the National Anthem outside Buckingham Palace merged with the mob who were smashing the windows of the German Embassy.

These were the people who most fervently supported the politicians. In particular, they were the people who backed Lloyd George as the man to prosecute the war in the most ruthless way. They were the people who attacked aliens and pacifists, who broke up Socialist meetings. They wanted victory above everything; they welcomed each great battle, gorged themselves on the bloodthirsty lies of the war correspondents.

Not everyone, of course, was a fiery patriot. There were also the apathetic, the bewildered and the docile, who assumed they should join up because Kitchener had said so, and because everyone else seemed to be doing it. Perhaps, if they thought about it, they justified their presence in the trenches by remembering the promises which were being made, like Lloyd George at the 1917 Eisteddfod:
Our footprints may be stained with blood, but we will reach the heights. And beyond them, we shall see the green valleys and the rich plains of the new world, which we have sacrificed so much to win. [5]
All of these people were cruelly deceived. They were deceived over 1914/18 and they were deceived over the Russian Revolution. Sadder yet, the deception goes on. Capitalism spawns the working class as a distinct social group, separate from its capitalist antagonists. But the ideological climate of capitalism — its morals, its priorities, its fables — convinces the workers that they are united with their masters.

A working class which accepts this, which believes that both classes have common interests, that class exploitation is eternal, that wars are periodically necessary, will not only fail to establish Socialism; It will perform massive feats of achievement and endurance for capitalism. It will, as it did fifty years ago, fight out a Passchendaele with hardly a word of complaint.

It is this fact — that working class awareness is vital to the achievement of Socialism and to the struggle under capitalism — which is persistently ignored by many of the political theorists who have confused matters so seriously since the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks in 1917 were presiding over the birth of a social system new to Russia — capitalism — and of its two opposing classes.

Since then, the Russian working class have conformed to the pattern. The evidence builds up, to support our opinion of 1917 that Socialism in Russia was impossible. The Russian working class, whatever the theorists may say, have done all that capitalism has required of them. They have even had their own Passchendaele, when tens of thousands of them died in hell but called—Stalingrad.

[1] Frank Owen — Tempestuous Journey.
[2] David Boulton — Objection Overruled.
[3] John Terraine — The Western Front.
[4] Richard Lloyd George — Lloyd George.
[5] Frank Owen — Tempestuous Journey.

For Use or Profit? (1947)

From the February 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Societies in the past have subsisted without their material wealth being an accumulation of things for sale. This was historically and radically changed by the rise of capitalist production, which, seizing upon the simple domestic industry of the time, transformed it into capitalist manufacture. The handicraft workers who had worked independently of each other now became employed as wage workers in a co-operative effort under one roof, where the tools, workshop and product were the property of a single employer. With the invention of power-driven machinery these manufactories gave place to large-scale production, so that to-day one cannot think of modern capitalism without its factory system, its heavy industry and the resultant flood of commodities seeking a market. Thus Marx’s opening words in “Capital” eminently sum up the wealth of capitalist society as being “an immense accumulation of commodities.” If one therefore wishes to seek the source of capitalist wealth one must first analyse the commodity as a unit of capitalist production.

To begin with, a commodity must have both exchange-value and use-value; it must, in other words, be saleable and satisfy some need or other. We will deal with the usefulness of commodities first. To discover the various use of things is the work of history, says Marx. For example, seaweed that the Highland clansmen watched idly floating offshore, and which appeared to them us quite useless, is to-day, centuries later, the raw material for medicinal and fertiliser compounds. Again, the aborigines of what is now called Canada gazed at the falling waters of Niagara without the dimmest notion that one day this force would be used to light whole communities by hydro-electric power. Social production hud yet to arise and urge the need to investigate these possibilities; it was to use a Marxism not then "socially necessary." It is worth noting in this respect that in competing on the commodity market the capitalists are ever seeking new use-values in the shape of inventions, their motive being one of profit, a fact usually hidden when they point out that capitalism has given the wage-workers things that not even the richest of men could command in the past, things like electric lighting and radio sets. But to proceed. The qualities that make up usefulness are multifarious — colour, durability, hardness, etc. — some, if not all, having their own terms of measurement in their own sphere of production and use. It is this variability which makes it impossible to measure use-value by any common factor. One cannot, for example, measure the strength or hardness of steel against the heat-giving properties of coal. Neither, for that matter, will exchange-value give any clue to a commodity’s usefulness. Price or exchange value would tell one nothing of the health giving qualities of, say, a pint of milk as compared with a pot of tea, though both may be the same price to the consumer. Again, the usefulness of the ordinary needle is incalculable, for without it austerity Britain might go in worse tatters than ever, yet its price is a few pence per packet

Leaving for a moment the usual level of use-value and looking at the wider social view, what is more useful than the abilities of creators of all commodity use-value — the workers themselves — yet often a worker’s life is assessed in money terms at much less than a race-horse. Again, whole catches of fish were recently thrown back into the sea when the “market” for them showed little profit, their usefulness to hungry people being totally ignored. In the normal sense, the esteem or evaluation of a use-value is a subjective matter, giving service, comfort, etc., to the user, but it is not for this that the consumer pays, because before the consumer can come into possession of a use-value the whole process of capitalist production must be gone through, the motive behind which is not to attend to the wants of individuals, but to realise a profit for a class, the capitalist class. The capitalist process is to produce commodities (which have no personal use to the capitalists as such) and realise a profit by selling them at a greater price than the initial outlay. In this no special concern is shown about the inherent qualities that make up use-value, or even the kind of labour that went to the process. For the average profit a capitalist will supply the labour of skilled or “unskilled” workers, caring little whether the product of this labour be blacking or binoculars, while even harmful and useless things are marketed, necessitating such measures as the “Food and Drugs Act," etc. If, as is plain from all this, the goods of present-day society are not produced or exchanged on a basis of usefulness, what, then, is the common “something" which can qualitatively measure their value in exchange? Our following article, “ Exchange is no Robbery,” will endeavour to explain this “ something.”
Frank Dawe

Cooking the Books: Boo to Capitalism (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Writing in the Times (3 July) mad marketeer Matt Ridley complained:
'”Capitalism” was a word largely invented by the opponents of commerce. The socialist Louis Blanc first used it in its modern sense in 1850, defining it as “the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others.” (“Capitalist” had been used much earlier.) Marx and Engels then made it into a proper “boo” word. Ever since, the left has used “capitalism” to imply that all free-market commerce is run by big financiers, with massive investments, rather than merchants and entrepreneurs taking risks on behalf of consumers and driving down prices.'
It is true that 'capitalism', following on from the use of 'capitalist' to mean someone with money capital, has been associated with 'big financiers, with massive investments'. It still is in populist and other non-socialist circles. But this was not Marx's usage. He didn't use the word itself, preferring to talk about the 'capitalist mode of production', a preference which shows that he associated what socialists now too call 'capitalism' with production rather than finance (or commerce).
Money capital, as a sum of money used to make more money, existed before the coming of the 'capitalist mode of production'. It took the forms of money-lending and of money being advanced to buy goods in some distant market and to transport and sell them in a nearer market at a profit. In neither case was money invested in the actual production of goods.
Capitalism, in the Marxist sense, only came into existence when money was directly invested in production with the aim of selling what was produced and ending up with more money than originally. Marx analysed this profit as not originating, like that of the pre-capitalist merchants, in the market, in Ridley's 'commerce', but in production. Its source was the unpaid labour of the wage workers employed to produce the goods.
In the capitalist mode of production, a capitalist is someone who invests capital in production, not finance. That capitalist might have borrowed the money. If so, the interest they had to pay on it would come out of the profits they made from exploiting wage-labour; it, too, would have its origin in the surplus value created by the producers.
For Marx, a capitalist was not a mere financier but someone who directly employed wage-labour, typically in his day a mill or factory owner. These days those who champion their interests talk of them as being 'entrepreneurs'.
Ridley claims that these entrepreneurs take risks 'on behalf of consumers'. Really? Investing money in production for sale on a market with a view to profit does involve the risk that in the end you might not make a profit. But this risk is taken on behalf of the shareholders, not the consumers who make up the market. The capitalist entrepreneurs (these days, 'big' enterprises 'with massive investments' rather the innovating individuals Ridley suggests) do have to be supplying what people want and can afford to pay for, but it is to make a profit not to satisfy a want that they risk investing the money.
In any event, what sort of economic system is it where a risk has to be taken to meet people's needs? The rational aim of production is to turn out what the population needs, not to make a profit out of providing for those needs that can be paid for. If a productive system really was geared to meeting needs, then it would do so directly without having to pass via detours such as money capital and entrepreneurs. Capitalism fails that test.