Thursday, October 26, 2017

Letter: State Capitalism in Russia (1965)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

From reading the national press it appears that the term “State Capitalist” will become an accepted phrase when applied, for example, to the contemporary Russian and Chinese economic systems. Am I justified in assuming that the SPGB were the first to apply the theory of State Capitalism to Soviet Russia in me 1920’s? Can you tell me something about the origin of the term; e.g. where the credit lies for first developing this theory.

The Socialist Party would not wish to claim what is not our due. As a matter of fact the Bolshevik’s themselves were the first to apply the term “state capitalism" to Soviet Russia.

Lenin first used the term in 1918 to describe the only policy that a “proletarian state" could pursue in the circumstances. He took as his model the war-time system of controls which had been built up in Germany whereby the State assumed large powers to control capitalist industry in the interests of the war effort. Lenin held that in Russia capitalist industry could be similarly controlled but in the interests of the mass of workers and peasants. He knew that Socialism was impossible in Russia because the economic basis for it, large-scale social production, hardly existed. A policy of State Capitalism, or the development of the large-scale social production of capitalism under the control of the “proletarian state”, was all that could be done. Lenin admitted this openly when introducing plans for the New Economic Policy in 1920. This policy of State Capitalism upset the more Utopian and simple elements among the Bolsheviks who both in 1918 and in 1920 denounced the “betrayal” and “retreat” which they claimed this policy represented.

Although this is open to debate, Lenin seems to have regarded the socialist aspect of Soviet Russia to lie not in the economic field but in the political, in the control of State power by the Bolshevik party, the “vanguard” of the working class. It is true however that on occasions he did refer to the “socialist industries” of Russia.

In the disputes in the Bolshevik party which followed Lenin’s death in 1924 this ambiguous position was used by both sides. At the XIVth Party Congress in December 1925 and in a book, Leninism, Zinoviev went so far as to claim that the nationalised industries in Russia were not socialist but were state capitalist; in other words that the workers who were employed in the State trusts were still exploited. Stalin opposed this insisting that these industries were socialist. Trotsky too rejected Zinoviev’s views.

It can thus be seen that the term “state capitalism” was in frequent use, and not necessarily as a term of criticism, in the early discussions of the victorious Bolshevik party. After the final triumph of the group led by Stalin and the suppression of free discussion in the party altogether the term became unacceptable. In 1928 began the “era of socialist construction” ending in 1936 with the proclamation of “socialism” in Russia.

Dissident Bolsheviks of all kinds insisted on the “state capitalist" label against the claims of the Stalinist majority though the largest group of them, the Trotskyists, never did accept this argument. Trotsky held that the trouble was mainly political; the loss of political power by the working class to the bureaucracy represented by Stalin. This however did not alter the fact that the "socialist" basis of the economy still existed in the nationalised industries.

The Socialist Party operating in Britain faced a different situation. Many of the admirers of Soviet Russia in Britain were not equipped with the Marxian knowledge of men like Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev; they talked about “socialism" as if it already existed in Russia; all sorts of extravagant claims as to what the Bolsheviks had done or could do were made. In this situation the Socialist Party used its Marxian knowledge to bring home a few basic facts: Socialism was not possible in Russia; whatever the Bolsheviks could do to help the working class in Russia (and they did do something at least at the beginning) they could not introduce Socialism; neither the material (social production) nor the intellectual (a socialist working class) prerequisites of Socialism existed in Russia. Only Capitalism was possible.

The first reference to state capitalism in our journal, the Socialist Standard, was in July 1920 in a discussion of Lenin's pamphlet, The Chief Task of Our Times. Lenin’s admission in this pamphlet that Socialism was a long way off in Russia and that the capitalist stage of economic development would have to come first in the form of State Capitalism was seen as a complete vindication of the position the Socialist Party had maintained from the beginning.

We also denied the claim of the Bolsheviks that they had established a “proletarian state" or a “socialist republic”. Their rule was not, as they claimed, equivalent to that of the working class. The Bolshevik party was supported by only a minority of the working class, let alone of the population as a whole, and maintained itself in power by undemocratic means such as the suppression of other parties and their journals and the jailing of opponents; a fact which was to have a significant effect on the subsequent evolution of the regime in Russia.

From its foundation in 1904 the Socialist Party maintained that nationalised institutions like the Post Office were examples not of socialism but rather of state capitalism.
Thus we had no difficulty—or hesitation—in pointing out the state capitalist nature also of the nationalised industries in Russia. When in the 1930's this sector was greatly extended and the whole system labelled “socialism", our reply was to deny this and describe the whole system as “state capitalism".

Even if the Socialist Party was not the first to use the term we do feel that we deserve credit for developing a coherent theory of what was possible in Russia and for consistently standing by it—to be proved correct by events. In the 20's. 30's and 40's, despite the unpopularity of our position, we were the only organization in Britain to point out the real nature of what was called socialism in Russia. As such we became the scourge of the so-called Communist Party and its fellow travellers.

In recent years, it is true, the state capitalist designation has become more widely accepted but without any recognition of the pioneer work we have done in developing this theory or, unfortunately, any understanding of the lessons of what happened in Russia.

Same old story (1965)

Editorial from the November 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Conservative Party’s new declaration of policy is a misnomer. There is nothing really new about it and perhaps that is why it sputtered like a damp squib, instead of bursting like a bombshell over the political scene as we had been led to expect. It was to have been the alternative to the Labour Government, but having read its text, you are inclined to wonder just what all the hurry and fuss was for.

In launching the statement on October 6th, Tory leader Edward Heath was anxious to wipe the slate clean as far as the past record of his party was concerned—as The Guardian put it: “to waste no time in explaining differences between the new statement and (their) party’s manifesto at the last election.” Indeed, this was to be an exciting break with yesterday and a forward look to a really different future.

The statement certainly makes plenty of promises, even though Mr. Heath admits that work on parts of it is still not complete, and in this of course, it does not differ from any of the other capitalist parties. Promises are the one thing we get plenty of—precious little else. But the policy itself bears close resemblance to that of the present Labour Government and this need cause us no surprise, since the needs of capitalism are the same, whichever party is in power. For all the window dressing the differences between them are of detail only and not fundamental. Rent control, land, payroll and corporation taxes, curbing of the trade unions, are just a part of the total area of agreement which the Tories have with their Labour opponents.

Assuming that the future Tory election manifesto runs along the lines of this statement, it will make no worthwhile difference to the lives of working men and women, yet it is they who will be voting for it in their millions when the time comes; which illustrates the tragic irony of working class acceptance of capitalism. Tragic because of the misery it brings them every day of their lives; ironic because the vote for which they fought so bitterly in the past they are using to keep the shackles of wage slavery firmly about their ankles.

By means of the vote, workers have it in their power to capture Parliament with a Socialist majority, and end once and for all the system which subjects and degrades them. Parliament is the place where power resides, where the state machine and its coercive forces are controlled, and the laws passed which are aimed at the smooth running of capitalism’s everyday affairs. Although there may be a lot of hot air there at times, Parliament is no mere gas house. It is a power station, the more so because those who go there are sent by the majority of the population—the working class. Is it any wonder then, that the parties of capitalism are so full of promises? They at least know how important the vote is to their interests; what a pity the same cannot be said of the workers.

In their ignorance and confusion about the world in which they live, they switch their support from one party to the other, in the pathetic belief that they are fundamentally different from each other and that one will succeed in solving their problems where its predecessor has failed. And this is no mere trial and error process, but the persistent mental floundering of the working class, persistent that is, until they learn about Socialism. That is why, despite the black record of the parties in Parliament today, the political swings from one side to the other, and whoever is out, capitalism is always in.

The vote is a very powerful weapon. Used for the correct purposes, it could gain political power for a majority of class conscious workers to establish a world of common ownership and democratic control. But that would be an action based on mass knowledge and understanding of Socialist principles, and unfortunately it looks as if the workers have a lot to learn before that happy day. The very existence of the Labour and Tory parties is proof of it.

Africa (1965)

Book Review from the December 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Study of Africa by Peter J. M. McEwan and Robert B. Sutcliffe (Methuen 42s.)

The vast continent of Africa—5,000 miles from the Mediterranean to the Cape, and 4,600 miles from Senegal to Somalia—is changing rapidly. More rapidly in fact than any other part of the world. It needs to move fast if it is going to catch up with the old-established Capitalist states; it has got a very long way to go.

Africa was the last great area to be conquered and exploited by the European powers. For centuries the settlements were largely coastal, trading posts for trade with the interior, victualling ports for ships bound for the Orient, and, of course, depots for that most profitable of commodities, slaves. Not until well into the 19th century did the Europeans really move in, so that the work of industrialising or exterminating tribal peoples has not progressed as far as in the Americas or Australasia.

Many areas of Africa have had only about sixty years of colonialism, and millions of people still live a tribal existence away from the industrial areas and modem communications. Non-European Capitalists are still rather small in number, but they arc growing, and display all the vulgar ostentation associated with the newly rich. It is on them that the job of breaking tribal barriers, and producing an industrial proletariat, will fall.

With so much happening in so vast an area, Africa is somewhat baffling, and poses a mass of questions. Why was the continent late in being exploited? Why have so many African States gone totalitarian? The Study of Africa is a useful textbook on this subject It describes the physical environment, the historical development, and the contemporary scene. Why, for example, has the southern part of the continent developed in a different way to the rest?
“The nationalism of East and Central Africa was handicapped in a way that the West was not: namely, by the presence of large numbers of white settlers. The climate and land of the area were more conducive to European farming and consequent settlement.”
It was these settlers, basically farmers rather than traders, or exploiters of mineral wealth, that built up a large white population, large enough to enable them to keep their grip on the State machine. This has been brought to the forefront again in the last few weeks by Rhodesia.

The book is well served with maps and appendices.
Les Dale

Letter to Communist Party Branches (1957)

From the January 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following letter is being sent to Communist Party branches whose address is known.

Fellow Workers,

In view of the recent tragic happenings in the world, we urge your members to give our case their earnest consideration.

We are Marxists, basing our position on the investigations and conclusions of Marx.

Our sole object is the achievement of Socialism—a social system in which everything that is in or on the earth will be the common possession of all mankind. Everyone will be on an equal footing. There will be no frontiers, no buying and selling, and no privileged groups—except the old, the young, and the infirm.

We hold that Capitalism, the system under which goods are produced by the workers for the profit of a relatively small section of owners of the means of production, is now the system that prevails all over the earth; that it breeds wars, slumps, internecine conflicts, and misery for the mass of the people; that there is a constant class struggle going on between the owners of the means of production, and those that operate them—the working class; that all the reforms put forward and fought for by well-meaning people have not touched the fringe of the problem of working class subjection but, instead, though even unintentionally, have pushed further away the day of emancipation; that, so long as the present system prevails there is no remedy for this state of affairs; the only way out is to abolish Capitalism and establish Socialism in its place; that State-ownership is not Socialism, but a particular form of Capitalism; that the workers must organise together internationally to attain their freedom from the conditions that oppress and frustrate them.

We will be glad to send a speaker to your Branch to explain in detail our position, and to answer your questions and criticism. Meantime we enclose two leaflets that may interest your members.

Hoping you will accept our offer to send a speaker.
                                   We remain,
                                         Yours for Socialism, 

Obituary: Comrade George Ritchie (1957)

Obituary from the February 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Executive Committee and S.W. London Branch members join in sending their deepest sympathy and condolences to Mrs. Ritchie and family on hearing of the sudden death of Comrade George Ritchie, of S.W. London Branch.

Comrade George Ritchie’s sudden death on December 21st. was due to Coronory Thrombosis. He was cremated at Streatham Vale on December 27th. Unfortunately news of his passing did not reach us in time, so no member of the Party was present at his funeral, a fact that is deeply regretted by many who would have certainly gone along to pay their last respects. The news of his death has been a shock to many who knew him.

He joined the Tooting Branch of the Party early in 1929. He never became known as a Speaker or Writer, but turned his energies to promoting the sales of Party Literature in the Tooting area. For many years George worked with Comrade Hutchins, known affectionately to older members as “Hutch” pushing the sales of the Socialist Standard in Tooting and Mitcham district, their joint efforts brought forward very good results. After, the death of Comrade Hutchings, George Ritchie carried on alone. He was also very active at his place of work. He earned his living as a transport worker, being employed first with the old General Omnibus Coy., then by London Transport. He became well known to many bus and tram workers in the South London area through his efforts at selling Party Literature at various garages and "turn round points,” and it would be no mean boast to claim that through his efforts some ’bus workers became interested enough in the Party to eventually become members.

During the 30’s and for a while after the war, outdoor propaganda meetings were held at Undine Street, Tooting, the street in which George lived for many years, and many members will recall the short walk along Undine Street to number 68 to collect the portable platform that was always stored there.

George Ritchie was, until recent years, a regular attender at Branch meetings, though latterly his attendances were limited to monthly calls, when he would collect his quota of five dozen Socialist Standards, which he would distribute to the newsagents and readers who he had canvassed and encouraged for years.

It is therefore fitting that the last tribute the Party can pay to Comrade Ritchie, is in the columns of the paper introduced by him into many South London homes. His death is a great loss to the Party, but he will be remembered by his S.W. London comrades for his kindness to members, for being ever ready to offer a word of friendly advice and always at pains to make a new member or a visitor to the branch “at ease.” His past efforts and achievements will remain to spur on younger members to continue in the task of propagating Socialism.
W. V. P.

The Unification of Europe (1957)

Editorial from the March 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The MacMillan Government, with the general support of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, is going ahead with the scheme to associate Britain with a European free trade area that is being built up round a separate, more closely integrated "common market” of Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The six countries in the "common market" aim by stages to abolish customs barriers and free movements of labour and capital within the area. The larger “free trade area: is a sort of half-way house to full integration; in particular British food production and imports would continue to be on the basis of preference for Commonwealth countries.

The motive for the decision of the Government to go in is the powerful one that British industry cannot afford to keep out. When the European “common market” area is formed, with a protected market of 250 million people, thus enabling mass production industries to operate on a scale that will justify the necessary enormous investments of capital, British manufacturers fear that they will be undercut, not only in Europe, but in world markets; for the 50 million population of Britain is far too small a market to serve as foundation for modernised industry. For British Capitalism it is a question of getting into the European group or being crushed by the three great production areas that will then exist, America, Russia and United Europe.

Beaverbrook Unrepentant
The Express group of newspapers fights a rearguard action for Empire development and “Keep out of Europe,” and accuses the Government, not without justification, of taking this step without a mandate from the electors. The Sunday Express (10/2/57) charges MacMillan on this score with "downright political dishonesty,” and quotes from Design of Europe, a pamphlet of which the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Peter Tborneycroft, was chief author, an admission that no Government could hope in advance, to get the electors to agree:—
  “The people must be led slowly and unconsciously into the abandonment of their traditional economic defences.”
The Sunday Express prophecies that if the Government has its way the voters will first realise what has happened when “a million of them wake up one morning to find themselves unemployed.” What the Express writer has in mind is the fact, readily admitted by the advocates of European integration, that while some British industries may gain by having access to a European market, others, notably textiles and perhaps the motor industry, will find themselves unable to compete with German and other producers.

The German Customs Union of last century
The dilemma of the British Government and Capitalists recalls a parallel development of over a century ago. To enable German industry to take its place among the industrial nations in the first half of the 19th century the Prussian Government gradually built up a customs union, first for its own scattered territories, then for the other states in the then disunited Germany. This was to lead eventually to the United Germany that in colonial expansion, wars against Denmark, Austria and France, and the first world war fought for dominance in Europe and the world.

Of particular interest to present day British Capitalism was the fate of Austria in face of the Prussian rise to leading place in Germany. At the outset Prussia and Austria were more or less equal rivals in the struggle for control of Germany and the Prussian Government realised that the advance of Prussia called for the expulsion and weakening of Austria. The rulers of Austria were less farseeing and ruthless than their Prussian rivals and only woke up to the realities of the situation when the battle had already been fought and won by Prussia. Now the struggle is for dominance in a United Europe and British Capitalism hesitates in its dilemma whether to see Germany take the lead in Europe or to get inside in the hope of preventing this; but British Capitalism has Colonial and other ties that pull in an opposite direction and make the decision a hard one.

Socialists have no illusions
For many years sentimentalists who refuse to recognise the nature of Capitalism have looked to United Europe as an ideal or at least as a step towards a warless, united world. It will, of course, be nothing of the kind. United Europe, if it comes to maturity, will be an attempt to form an industrial and military entity powerful enough to stand up to America and Russia.

Socialists can also recall with amusement an argument that used to be flung at them. While British Capitalists and the Empire were at the zenith of their power it was a common Tory argument against Socialists that they rejected British Nationalism, prided themselves on being international, and made use of the works of a foreigner a German, Karl Marx. This is a chicken that has come home to roost for now Tories and Labourites alike, have to admit that survival in a Capitalist world is no longer a matter that can be determined by the people and Government in this tight little island. But whereas they both now look for salvation to a European grouping on a Capitalist basis, Socialists are still internationalist because Socialism as always is a world conception and not a mere European one.

The Road to Peace (1957)

From the April 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

A film with the above title was shown at our Head Office, 52, Clapham High Street, on January 6th. The meeting was part of our indoor winter activities where first a documentary film on some topic of current importance is shown, then a Party speaker gives the Socialist point of view, after which the audience takes part in questions and discussion.

On the evening in question the film, which ran for about 20 minutes, showed some of the horrors of war, including faces shrivelled up by napalm bombs. It then gave a glowing account of the activities of the World Peace Council leading up to its 1954 conference.

Pictures of large demonstrations in many countries all with banners demanding peace and the banning of H-Bombs were shown, and in the emotional excitement worked up in the film with the aid of a choir, we were told that the common people everywhere wanted peace. War can bring only suffering and destruction, the crowds in their demonstrations stood for peace. Friendship and negotiations are put forward as the Road To Peace.

A film which shows the ugliness of war and comes out as the champion of peace might well receive the acclaim of everybody, that is. everybody who does not look beneath the surface. Since the 1954 conference of the World Peace Council there have been countless negotiations, including the Geneva Conference of 1955, but none of the powers including those which sponsor the World Peace Council have stopped making H-Bombs or any other preparation for war.

Our speaker had to explain the cause of war as being rooted in the Capitalist system of international rivalry for trade routes, markets and natural resources as the film left this out of account.

Having explained that wars arise from the very nature of Capitalism our speaker went on to show the futility of mass demonstrations of people who did not want war but who, from lack of understanding, supported the conditions which cause it to occur. He went on to say that when the demonstrators went home and became once more individuals, each of them knowing no alternative to capitalism, helped to make up the millions who vote Labour, Conservative or so-called Communist, thus retaining the system from which war is inseparable.

The stand of the Socialist Party of Great Britain during both world wars and in the minor conflicts between and after them, including Korea, Suez, and Hungary, was stated clearly as flowing from our class objective recognising the world working-class as one with no interest in the employers profits.

Socialism was defined by our speaker as a world system where flags, nations, buying and selling, wages and profits would not exist but where common ownership of the natural and industrial resources of the earth would mean production for use and because their CAUSE had been removed, crises and wars could not occur.

Leadership, supported by the film, was condemned in favour of understanding.

The signing of petitions was stated to be futile whilst the Capitalists know they can count on the national feelings of the vast majority to support them and their wars; in fact a majority of those who signed the petition to “ban the bomb" voted for and helped to elect the very politicians they presented it to.

The question and discussion period showed the audience to be interested in how distribution would take place under Socialism without money and also how we could be sure we would have no dictators under Socialism. One contributor said money gives people “freedom of choice.” These and other points raised were dealt with in the winding up and the meeting was in every way a success. How about coming to our next one?
Harry Baldwin

This World of Violence and Cruelty (1957)

From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are politicians in every land who tell their Parliaments and peoples that they can see a bright future before the country; and millions of ordinary men and women who go on with their jobs and their family concerns believing it to be true. The politicians talk like this, whether or not they have confidence in their own words, because it is expected of them, it is their trade. And the millions who accept it at face value do so because they know no better and because they trust their politicians. But anyone who reads and thinks about world affairs knows that it is an uncertain hope, not a probability. They know that the governments are desperately preparing for the possibility of a third world war that would, if the latest scientific weapons are used, destroy great cities and centres of industry, and lay waste whole countrysides with unheard of loss of life.

Those who know this react in different ways. Some give way to despair, others resign themselves to what seems to them to be unavoidable. Others again put what trust they can conjure up in United Nations or in political parties or religious bodies that preach peace in a tormented world.

The solution to be aimed at
The kind of solution that must be found if the human race is to find security, and civilisation is to survive, has been seen more or less clearly by many people. The solution must include the abolition of armaments and war and the peoples of the different nations, large and small, must leant how to live peaceably together. So far so good, but how is this to be brought about? Clearly the mere holding of international conferences and the making of speeches in favour of peace is not enough. We have had them in plenty for a long time and the hatreds and tensions only become worse. What, then, is the nature of the problem? Is it one that will respond to appeals to men's good nature and humanitarian sentiments, and their “sense of justice"? The answer has to be an emphatic no, for the evils and cruelties are not in the main perpetrated by consciously or wantonly evil and cruel men, but by people who believe their motives to be above reproach and who find themselves forced into actions they deplore by forces beyond their control. When war breaks out those who carry out the orders to kill and destroy feel fully justified by their patriotism and their belief that they are fighting for their country[s survival against the aggression of the enemy. Patriotism for them justifies and ennobles every vile action.

The first step to understanding the problem is to face up to the fact that the mass of people in the “enemy” countries feel themselves to be just as fully justified in their patriotism. All the warring armies and peoples believe they are fighting in a just cause. How, then, are they to be reconciled? Can it be done, as some believe, by individuals preaching reconciliation and non-violence ?

The Case of Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was an individual who became known universally as a believer in non-violence. With some back-slidings but with a large measure of consistency, he tried to persuade the Indian independence movement to accept his teachings and he cherished the belief that by so doing they would build up a nation that would be an example to all and in particular to Western civilisation, with its trust in armed force. Before his death by assassination he was to see India divided into two countries facing each other at war over Kashmir. He who had hoped his fellow-countrymen would accept his view that "a society’s civilisation should not be judged by its power over the forces of nature, nor by the power of its literature and art, but by the gentleness and kindness of its members towards all living things,” was to confess his failure. Not many months before he died he said: “There was a time when India listened to me. To-day I am a back number. I have no place in the new order where they want an army, a navy and an air force, and what not I can never be a party to all that.”—(Times, 29/9/1947.)

Why it Failed
Gandhi and those who shared his illusions may not have understood why he failed, but Socialists understand it. The reason can be found in a circumstance that he, in his blindness, regarded as an incidental, of no importance. His speeches were full of talk about an India of peasants and handicraftsmen, but his movement was mainly financed by Indian “big business.” He thought he was doing one thing but his movement and its capitalist backers were in fact doing something else; they were making India into a great capitalist State, to take its place alongside the other capitalist powers. Western and Eastern, America, Britain, Russia, and the rest. His was a beautiful dream that other men used for their grim reality.

Capitalism—enemy of the human race
Capitalism must have armies and navies and air forces and the nationalism and patriotism that go with them. Capitalism cannot disarm, and while the world remains capitalist there can be no peace and no reconciliation between the nations. Preaching "non-violence" and “universal justice” in a capitalist world is useless because all who accept capitalism—most of them without having started to recognise what sort of thing it is—are firmly convinced that the trading activities of their own particular country are thoroughly right and necessary. They no more think of questioning the efforts of their own government to capture overseas markets, hold strategic territories and trade routes and acquire sources of raw materials, than they question the internal trading activities and rivalries of manufacturing companies.

The Solution—Socialism
The Socialist questions and condemns them all; they are all part of the capitalist social system that Socialists aim to replace by Socialism.
Capitalism rests on the basic fact of the exploitation of man by man. of the working class by the capitalist class. Rent, interest and profit, all forms of income from property ownership, are the proceeds of the “legalised robbery" of the wage and salary earning class that produces the wealth of the world for others to own. International competition that leads to war between the nations is an inevitable product of world capitalism, which in turn rests on class division and class struggle within the nations.

All who want to rid the world of war and cruelty, want and insecurity, must turn their thoughts and efforts to international action to rid the world of the social system known as capitalism, a system that has outlived its usefulness to mankind and the continuance of which now threatens the very existence of the human race. 
Edgar Hardcastle

Black Masters For White (1957)

From the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communists and half-baked “progressives” have hailed the inauguration (on March 6th) of the State of Ghana as a great step towards the freedom and independence of colonial peoples. We of the Socialist Party, however, have always maintained that changes in constitution such as have taken place in Ghana do not fundamentally alter the class basis of that society: in place of British masters the Ghanian workers will be exploited by a rising, home-grown capitalist class. Indeed, within a matter of weeks of the showy inauguration of the State of Ghana, there are signs that its rulers are acting much as their well-established contemporaries do elsewhere.

Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah said (Life magazine, 15/4/57) that he is convinced that “his newly free citizens will prove that African people can build a state based on democracy . . .  and racial equality.” But the democratic base of the State of Ghana cannot be very secure, because, according to the Manchester Guardian (23/4/57), Dr. Nkrumah said that "His government would not tolerate the activities of certain religious bodies. He cited Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, he said, excluded themselves from voting and ignored activities pertaining to affairs of State.” Perhaps Dr. Nkrumah has learned the gentle art of suppressing inconvenient minority groups from rulers (past and nresent) of the "police states” such as Soviet Russia, that the Ghana government is prepared to use force against sections of its people is confirmed by Mr. Ako Adjei (the Minister of the Interior), who was to ask the Ghana Parliament to "approve steps taken by the Government to deal with a recent outbreak of lawlessness in parts of the Trans-volta Togoland region.” (Manchester Guardian, 23/4/57), which paper goes on to report: "The Opposition has sent a delegation into the troubled area to investigate allegations of brutality by the authorities.”

The spectre of the witch-hunt, which has in recent years haunted American political and academic circles under the direction of a notorious senator who has just died, has apparently found a welcome in the newly formed State of Ghana. Mr. D. M. Balme recently resigned as Principal of the Achimoto University College partly, according to the Observer (28/4/57), because of alleged political interference with the University College’s academic freedom. In a farewell speech, Mr. Balme declared that "many undergraduates had expressed deepening concern about their future careers in the new State of Ghana. He added that undergraduates had told him that they feared their political activities might bring them into conflict with the country’s leaders and jeopardise their opportunities to serve the country.”

Dr. Nkrumah boasted that racial equality would be built in Ghana. Maybe, but it’s pretty evident that some of his supporters do not believe in building economic equality. According to the Manchester Guardian (24/4/57), "The Loral Government Minister, Mr. Atta, told Parliament today (April 23) that Accra councillors owed £2,114 to the council at the time of the suspension. Mr. Edusei (the Minister Without Portfolio) pointed out that the majority of the councillors were members of the Convention People’s Party—the Government Party.” Apparently the'Accra Council was suspended "following allegations that it had not collected rates or submitted accounts and had advanced loans to councillors.” The rising Ghana politicians seem quick to learn one of the basic mottoes of capitalism, "Blow you, Jack, I’m all right ’’—sorry, we mean “ private enterprise,” of course.

The eve of "independence” for the states which have recently broken away from the influence of colonial powers has been the occasion for much celebration by the workers; the dawn has invariably brought the "hangover” of reality. Workers in Israel, India or Pakistan have no more freedom or less poverty under their own rulers than they had under their erstwhile Imperialist masters, and we can confidently prophesy the same about the workers in Ghana. A cartoon in a recent edition of Punch neatly sums up the situation. A large, prosperous Ghanian capitalist waves a banner denouncing the rule of the white capitalist; he is securely seated on the thin shoulders of a bemused Ghanian worker.
Michael La Touche

Ideology and Revolution pt.1 (2017)

From the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
We begin a three-part series on the link between revolutionary social changes and the ideology of those who carried them out.
A series of discussions with friends of both leftist and liberal persuasions recently uncovered two classic objections to the Marxist perspective. They are essentially derived from the same misunderstanding of the nature of a socialist revolution.
The first objection was in the idealist tradition and centred on the connection between the Enlightenment and the Soviet gulags. It is more common to hear the terror of the French revolution being associated with Enlightenment ideals but not - via Karl Marx - with the Bolshevik concentration camps. The other accusation was that it was naive to expect a socialist revolution to be any different than those that preceded it historically.
To deal with these closely associated criticisms we have to unravel the relationship between the ideologies proclaimed by those involved and the historical context of their actions. As Marx would say – we have to cut away the ideological overgrowth to get to the political reality. Socialists have long believed that to view history as primarily a progression of ideas (idealism) is misleading and politically dangerous. However, it is of significance why certain ideals were used during periods of political upheaval rather than others; not just in terms of propaganda but also culturally and linguistically. Why was the memory and traditions associated with an obscure Jewish prophet of some 2,000 years ago invoked by the Puritans of the English revolution; why did the emperor Napoleon defend his dictatorship with reference to the Enlightenment and why did the Bolsheviks believe they could claim Marxist credentials? These three revolutions were successful partly because of the motivation that these ideologies provided for those who did the fighting and dying; or rather, the specific interpretation of those ideologies at the time. It might be informative to analyse these ideologies in terms of their origins, their cultural and linguistic reinterpretation and their use as propaganda. All of this can be done in the context of the similarities and differences they represent with the proposed model of a socialist revolution. We begin with the English Revolution of 1642.
The Reformation
Europe had witnessed the persecution of Jan Huss and John Wycliffe for their opposition to the widespread corruption within the Catholic Church but it was not until the time of their Protestant progeny Martin Luther that the Reformation became politically important. Many European potentates were tired of the political interference and high taxes that emanated from Rome. One of these, German Prince Frederick III, saw in Luther’s protest a way to weaken the political power of the Holy Roman Empire. Thus Luther’s protection by the powerful, in contrast with Huss and Wycliffe, made it possible to promote the Reformation which in turn eventually enabled a political formulation of the nation state that was independent of Rome.  All of this was accelerated by the new technology of the printing press which made possible the first dissemination of mass political/religious propaganda in the vernacular.
One of the consequences of the importation of the Reformation in England was the dissolution of the monasteries. As a result great swathes of land were acquired by the nouveau riche of the merchant class who had become wealthy courtesy of international trade in wool, slaves and coal. They sought to achieve the same levels of profit from their new land by becoming capitalist farmers. This contrasted with the great aristocratic landowners’ approach which was still in the feudal tradition; consequently they became increasingly concerned about the wealth of their new neighbours and pressed the king to try to curtail their profits, or at the very least give them a share. To achieve this the King claimed monopoly rights on production which he then proceeded to give to aristocratic cronies at his court together with the infamous ‘ship tax’ which gave him a share of trading profits. The new ‘landed gentry’ (capitalist farmers) together with other progressive elements in society were outraged by this and campaigned through parliament for a ‘free market’. They saw the feudal lands as being unproductive and the aristocracy as a political barrier to their further enrichment. The scene was set for this class struggle to erupt into the English revolution. This is the Marxist or ‘materialist’ version of the events of the 1640s. Now let us turn to the ideological explanation.
Religious ideology
When Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion of Rome he attempted to make the diverse legends (gospels) into a coherent ideology that would serve his political needs. Although there continues to be some controversy the gospels we have now in the ‘New Testament’ date from that time. The religion has obvious attractions to an autocrat in that it represents the ultimate authoritarian social structure with God at the top and his representatives (the Pope, Emperor, Kings and the priesthood) in a descending coalition of oppression.
It also  has revolutionary elements in terms of its defiance of Roman hegemony and Jesus being a messiah or deliverer from tyranny. This is the element taken up by the Puritans who were profoundly dissatisfied with the English Reformation and perceived the Anglican church to be still Papist and politically reactionary. This together with the Protestant emphasis on hard work, obedience, thrift and the idea that worldly wealth and success meant belonging to God’s ‘elect’ made them obvious allies for the emerging bourgeoisie. For hundreds of years the priest in the pulpit had been the major political propagandist for the ruling class so it is not surprising that the political debate in the 17th century centred on Christian doctrine and the perceived importance of controlling the church.
The pulpit now had a propaganda rival in the printing press and within this revolutionary environment a variety of dissension was expressed. There were some who saw the revolution as a culmination of class antagonisms but the majority understood it in terms of Catholic oppression of their natural political rights with Charles I's claim to Divine Right being an obvious expression of this. Once the revolutionary war started both sides believed that victory on the battlefield was the sign of divine approval.
We can be certain that Jesus of Nazareth (if he existed as an historical individual) would be more than a little surprised by the killing that has been done in his name. It is difficult to find any justification for war in the gospels (with the exception of the book of revelation which  seems to be a diatribe of revenge). What Christianity does offer ruling elites, and would-be ruling elites, is an authoritarian universe with everything and everyone in his place. Many, if not most, religions offer this reactionary supernatural scenario and it wouldn’t take much imagination to replace it with any other similar religion and, given the same political and historical context of England in 1642, the result would be the same – revolution.
In other words, the ideology that expressed the fears and ambitions of those who made the revolution were relatively unimportant compared with the economic and political forces that compelled them into violent opposition. It may be said that this represents an unprovable hypothesis because you can never impose retrospective ideological alternatives onto history; what we can do, however, is compare this revolution with others that have also transformed their society from monarchical absolutism to bourgeois rule without the aid of Christian ideology.
In the second part of this article we attempt to do that with an analysis of the French revolution where not only was Christianity absent within the ideology of the victors, it was replaced by a philosophical approach we call ‘the Enlightenment’ which possessed an atheist trajectory.
(Next month: the French Revolution) 

Part 2

Letter to a Georgia Mother (1957)

Film Review from the July 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

This film, made by the American Agricultural Workers’ Union and recently shown at Head Office, gives a shocking picture of America’s four million unorganised migrant workers, who travel up and down America following the crops, and eke out a miserable existence picking peaches or pulling potatoes.

Their periods of employment are irregular and their wages low. The accommodation provided by their employers is usually primitive, and often disgustingly inadequate. The film showed dozens of negro workers sleeping side-by-side in a two-roomed shack, and whole families who cook, sleep and live in tiny wretched tarpaper huts.

Of course, it is the Negroes or Puerto Ricans who are the worst-treated, but even the condition of the whites is not to be envied, as anyone who has read Grapes of Wrath will appreciate.

This kind of film provides a useful rebuff to the usual Hollywood effusion in praise of the good life that America offers its citizens, and there is surely a moral to be drawn from the fact that in “the land of the free” the workers who have the misfortune to be unorganised and unprotected are viciously exploited in appalling conditions.
Albert Ivimey

Mr. Hutchinson Investigates (1957)

From the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Britain great? And why are so many workers considering emigration as something of a solution to their problems?

Firstly, British capitalism, although still a world power, is second rate in comparison with the giants of the United States and the Soviet Union, which is nothing, as far as workers are concerned, to get hot under the collar about. The once mighty British Empire bestowed no benefit on British workers; likewise American and Russian “greatness” on their workers.

As for the increasing flow of emigrants to the New World and Australasia, again the reasons are hardly secret—the chance of higher wages, a supposed solution to housing difficulties, etc.—all very much facets of working- class life.

However, Mr. Harold Hutchinson, of the Daily Herald (4/5/6 March), in a series of three articles, goes in for some soul searching on these very questions. Not surprisingly, being a reformist. Socialism is not mentioned, let alone defined; Mr. Hutchinson’s horizon does not go beyond capitalism—although he no doubt prefers a “modified” capitalism—with all of its inseparable paraphernalia, i.e., buying and selling, rent, interest and profit, export drives, together with the necessary trade routes, spheres of influence and strategic points. Presumably, this is considered perfectly natural, his task being the futile attempt to knock off some of the rough edges.

The Greatness of Britain
In his first article, Mr. Hutchinson makes great play of British industrial and commercial resources and contributions to technological progress. He instances British lead in atomic power, the fact that the chemical industry is the largest in Europe, the British rôle in quality motor car production, aviation, shipbuilding, etc., and that London is still the world’s commercial centre. All very interesting and, no doubt, factual, but although the working class make all this possible, they neither own nor control these wondrous means of production and distribution—any more than did the chattel slaves of Ancient Rome own the vast resources of the Roman Empire.

The workers who do not own Great Britain
As Mr. Hutchinson well knows, the only way workers can scratch a livelihood, here and elsewhere, is by the sale of their labour power. Divorced, through personal or social circumstances from their pay packet, they are, in most cases, immediately dependent on sick clubs, etc., or on meagre State aid, the British atomic lead notwithstanding.

Most workers do not even own their "houses,” which is why there is widespread concern over the Tory Rent Bill. Those who do affect to “home ownership” have a working-life long mortgage around their necks.

Let an old age pensioner or disabled ex-Serviceman declare to the Assistance Board that he is a part owner of the British Empire, and see how far he gets!

Welfare Capitalism
In his second article, Harold Hutchinson admits that in spite of British capitalism’s so-called Welfare State the social system is virtually unchanged, which does not say much for the Party that he supports—the Labour Party.

He contends that present day society—he does not call it capitalism, of course—is based upon the education system, and survives as a result of it. The reason for this conclusion is not stated. Capitalism is based upon the class ownership of the very means of life, upon the economic fact that about 10 per cent. of the population own the factories, mines, mills, transport, etc., nationalisation notwithstanding.

It is obvious that workers are conditioned during their formative school years to accept the status quo, but this cannot be attributed to any peculiarities of the British education system as such; working class support for capitalism is not confined to those lands with Etons And Harrows, or those with monarchies and remnants of the landed aristocracy.

The Rôle of Education
Again, the factors making for this acceptance of the system that exploits them, are not confined to “education.” The mass means of communication which the ruling class has at its disposal is of paramount importance, not least of all the Daily Herald. (Quite apart from the presentation of “news” the constant circulation-boosting prize competitions which that and other papers engage in foster the idea that property owning is natural and desirable. It also at once clearly demonstrates the essential poverty of the working class.)

It is utterly useless to look for changes in the school system as a means of undermining capitalism, because although the blatant privileges of the so-called public school system may eventually give way to an apparently more democratic one, by and large this would be dictated by the needs of an increasingly technical (and competitive) economy. In no circumstances would the powers that be permit a curriculum that was not in keeping with their class interests. The overhaul of their education system is at the moment somewhat of a headache to them, trying as they are to maintain their hold on colonial possessions, finance, a large armament programme, and at, the same time pay for technical education.

Socialist education—that is an examination, understanding and resultant rejection of capitalism and the realisation of the need for a revolutionary change in society—is quite another thing. However, that is not what the Herald man had in mind.

America the model
Mr. Hutchinson then moves from education to economic affairs and bemoans the lack of real competition in this country owing to the emergence of cartels and price rings. He looks with somewhat envious eyes at—as he says—the “ really competitive system in the United States ” (where General Motors control about 60 per cent of motor car production and anybody can set themselves up in business producing cars, because, after all, there are no price rings to impede you—cos they’re illegal.)
The efficiency of production in America is lauded, not called exploitation, of course, and with it the fact that American workers have more gadgets around them than the workers of other lands; to Mr. Hutchinson this is known as the world’s highest standard of living. It would probably spoil the picture to mention that the workers across the Atlantic suffer the highest rate of exploitation, that American capitalism gives rise to the world’s highest crime rate, and that the stresses and strains of the “American way of life ” produce a phenomenal divorce rate and neurotic problems.

Perhaps Mr. Hutchinson would regard these as separate entities, completely unrelated to propertied class society.

Incidentally, the Herald itself, in an article several months ago, pin-pointed the “tranquilizer” drug craze in the United States, and to a more limited extent its advent in Britain, but that is past news now. Anyway, one of Mr. Hutchinson’s colleagues wrote it 

No matter where you live
Fellow workers, capitalism is world-embracing. Whether you choose to stay in this country or to emigrate, basically your position will remain unchanged, exploited in order that others may live in idle, parasitic comfort continually threatened with economic crises and war, directly resulting from the competitive system which is held in such esteem by capitalism's apologists.

Therefore whether you remain in Britain or decide to “make a go of it” across the seas (or, maybe, you are an immigrant to this country) how about giving a much-needed hand for Socialism, with a view to embarking upon the greatest adventure of all time, the fashioning of the world anew. This will mean the end of the profit motive, to be replaced by production solely for use, arising from the common ownership and democratic control of the earth's bounteous natural and industrial resources. Not competition but co-operation. We will then cease to be wage slaves, mere hired (or fired) hands, but free and equal human beings.

On a basis of Socialist understanding, this world is within our teach. What are we waiting for?
Frank Simkins