Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Vultures in Dublin (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
If crime encompassed every deed
Imposing suffering on mankind
The politician would proceed
To think about our every need
And see that good for all prevail —To keep himself without the jail.
Dublin fell victim to European Summitry early in December last. "Fell victim" is an expression justified by the inconveniences, the delays, the arrogant ignorance of uniformed protectors responding to orders and the very real fear that such a collection of ruthless politicians might provoke the attention of one or other of the brands of terrorism which the capitalist system increasingly spawns.

There can be no room for diplomatic language in describing the collection of west European politicians who arrived in Dublin with their flunkeys, political retainers and hired gunmen. Popular, public-spirited representatives might be how these people see themselves but the inequities of their system. and the frustrating deception that cocoons it breed bitter and implacable foes for them.

Throughout the world—the world of potential plenty—millions are dying of hunger. Every day, somewhere, governments and political movements of capitalism are ordering human beings to slaughter one another. Mass poverty, aggravated by unemployment. slums and bitter social alienation, is globally triumphant. Human dignity, understanding, co-operation, collective care and responsibility are trodden in the mire of competition, profit and their kindred obscenities.

The collection of human vultures who junketed in Dublin were there to arrange the affairs of western capitalism — insofar as capitalism allows any loose arrangement of its affairs. They were not there to protest about starvation, or war, or poverty, nor were they there to make a rational judgement on a society where they endorse the production and development of the vilest weapons of human destruction. Their primary preoccupation was the problems affecting the marketing and profit priorities of capitalism and not the unspeakable miseries they give rise to.

If, indeed, crime is a word describing acts of suffering deliberately imposed on human beings — rather than a transgression of the law and order requirements of capitalism — then it can be truly said that the people hosted by the Dublin government must be among the vilest criminals on record. Their honeyed platitudes and empty vapourising were as predictable as the matters that occupied them. One of these was the question of “surpluses" — food and drink produced beyond the level of market demand—and this august body seriously discuss this as a problem! A problem of surplus food that will have to be destroyed or expensively stored in a world where their fellow human beings are dying of hunger! An unindoctrinated child of five, faced with the problem of hunger amid plenty, could resolve the problem immediately, but these politicians, together with their armies of experts and economists, dare not see the problem in simple, straightforward terms of using our collective energies to produce the things we need from the resources of nature.

That simple scheme — production for use and free access to requirements — would eliminate world hunger; end the competition and conflict that needs armies, armaments, nuclear bombs and wars. It would substitute work for employment and thus abolish unemployment. It would free world resources to ensure that every human being had the material basis of a full and happy life. But the politicians don't represent the hungry, the impoverished, the frightened, the insecure. They do not represent the interests of the whole of society; on the contrary, they represent solely the interests of that small minority whose title to ownership they have endorsed and whose interests are diametrically opposed to the rest of suffering humanity.

They represent that small class who have the right of ownership of the resources of the world and the productive and distributive processes fashioned, by the working class, from those resources. For their services to these robbers they are rewarded in the same way as any gangster rewards his political accomplices, with a degree of wealth and privilege. There is no economic compulsion on them to consider the problem in the simple and effective terms of the aforementioned child. They strut and posture for the photographers; expel their empty rhetoric onto the columns of the press and have silly journalistic hacks speculating on their strengths and their weaknesses. None of this can disguise the fact that they are the dangerous agents of a political and economic system that kills human beings by starvation and deliberate slaughter; a system that relegates human beings to a status well below the racehorses and domestic pets of their masters.

Yes, an indoctrinated five-year-old could see through them. Unfortunately, beyond that age, indoctrination is intensified.
Richard Montague
Belfast Branch 
World Socialist Party of Ireland

Marx and England before 1849 (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was no doubt Engels who first drew Marx’s attention to the key importance of England for any adequate theory of communism. His father was a part-owner in a firm engaged in cotton spinning in the Rhineland as well as in Manchester, then the capital of the world cotton industry.

In November 1842 Engels went to England to work in the office of the Manchester factory of Ermen and Engels. He was already a communist in the sense of wanting to see established a society based on common ownership in which co-operation would replace competition and he soon made contact with like-minded people in England. From November 1843 he was contributing articles to The New Moral World, the organ of Owenite socialism. He was also a regular reader of the Chartist weekly, the Northern Star, then published in Leeds, though he did not contribute any articles to it at this time. He did, however, meet one of its journalists, George Julian Harney (1817—1897), who was later to prove a valuable contact between English and Continental revolutionaries.

If Engels had gone to Manchester earlier on in 1842 he would have witnessed the second wave of Chartist agitation and unrest in Britain. The "People's Charter" was a document that had been drawn up in 1838 in the form of a Bill to be presented to the House of Commons providing for six changes in the electoral law: universal suffrage for men. secret ballots, equal electoral districts, payment of MPs, no property qualification for MPs. and annual parliamentary elections. In itself this was a demand to continue and complete the "Reform" of Parliament begun with the Reform Act of 1832 enfranchising the capitalist class, or "middle" class as it was then known, but still leaving the workers voteless. A number of Radical MPs, as representatives of the capitalist middle class, had in fact played a part in drafting the Charter, regarding it as a means of further undermining the political power of the landed aristocracy.

The working class, however, whose acceptance of the Charter had been prepared by the trade union agitation and by the formation of Working Men’s Associations up and down the country in the preceding years, gave the Charter a social content — rejection of the economic system of "profit- mongering" and "wage-slavery" which the capitalist class had introduced and was extending — which was to make Chartism essentially a political movement of the working class, distinct from and hostile to the capitalist middle class.

The recognised leader of the Chartists in the 1840s was a former Irish MP and landlord, Feargus O’Connor (1794—1855). O’Connor was a very effective orator and enjoyed immense popularity among the working class. The Chartist movement also had its political thinkers such as James "Bronterre" O'Brien (1805—1864). dubbed by O'Connor "the Chartist schoolmaster" O'Brien had translated into English in 1836 the seminal work of European communism. Buonarotti’s History of Babeufs Conspiracy for Equality (1828). In the columns of the Northern Star and in other Chartist and Radical papers. O’Brien never ceased to emphasise the antagonism of interest between the working class and the middle class and to insist on the need for the workers to gain political power — through the implementation of the Charter — before they could do anything effective to improve their social position.

The Chartists faced competition, in their bid for working class support, from the Anti-Corn Law League which had been set up in 1838 to campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws. Its most prominent leaders were the industrialists John Bright (1811—1889) and Richard Cobden (1804—1865). The Corn Laws, passed after the end of the Napoleonic Wars to protect British (including Irish) agriculture from foreign competition, imposed a duty on imports of corn whenever the price fell below a certain amount. The effect was to maintain the price of corn and so of bread, in Britain at an artificially high level.

The Anti-Corn Law League tried to attract working class support by promising a "cheap loaf". The Chartists replied that, as a dispute between the capitalist and landlord classes, the repeal of the Corn Laws was not an issue that concerned wage-workers but a diversion from what ought to be their main aim: the winning of political power through the implementation of the Charter. The Chartists also pointed out that a "cheap loaf" would mean cheap wages.

A first petition for the Charter had been rejected by the House of Commons in May 1839. A second, more radical, petition was presented to Parliament in May 1842. As in 1839 it was rejected and. as in 1839, unrest broke out. In July and August, a few months before Engels’ arrival, the North of England experienced a wave of strikes. These were primarily industrial in that the basic aim was to restore the wage levels that had prevailed in 1840, but the demand for the implementation of the Charter was also put forward by some of the strikers. It was suggested at the time that some of the strikes had been deliberately provoked by the employers in order to create unrest as a means of putting pressure on the government to repeal the Corn Laws.

Engels was planning to write a book on the social history of England and, for this, besides reading Chartist and Owenite literature and participating in their meetings, he read the works of English writers on economic theory, or ’political economy" as it was then called. On the basis of this reading he sent an article entitled "An Outline of a Critique of National Economy" to Marx in Paris (who had meantime, during the winter of 1843-4, himself become a communist) which was published in the first — and only issue of the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher in February 1844. This article was a criticism of the theories of the political economists, as represented by Adam Smith (1723—1790), David Ricardo (1772— 1823) and his disciples James Mill (1773— 1836) and J.R. McCulloch (1789—1864). and by Malthus (1766—1834) and the Frenchman J.B. Say (1767—1832). It greatly impressed Marx and helped orient his studies towards economics. In fact, the "critique of political economy" which Engels had suggested needed to be done was to become virtually Marx's life work.

Marx began his study of economics by reading — in French translation — the authors mentioned by Engels and made some preliminary notes for a work on economics of his own, some of which have survived as the ’Paris Manuscripts" of 1844. Marx does refer once or twice to England in these manuscripts noting, for instance, that landed property there was no longer feudal but money-making, a point he was to incorporate into his later analyses of English history, society and politics.

Engels remained in Manchester until August 1844. The book he wrote on his return to Germany was not the social history of England he had originally planned but one describing the terrible conditions under which the working class lived in England which, according to the theories of the political economists, was the richest country in the world. This book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, was published in Leipzig in May 1845 and also influenced Marx’s thinking, this time with regard to the political development of the working class. In the chapter on "Labour Movements", which gave a very sympathetic account of trade unionism, Chartism and Owenite socialism, Engels outlined a pattern for the evolution of the working class movement under capitalism. Working class resistance to capitalist class domination first took the form, said Engels, of individual acts of crime, then of machine-smashing before evolving into trade unionism with the strike, or "turn-out", as its weapon. Out of trade unionism, Engels went on, had developed Chartism, a general political movement of the working class against the capitalist class:
Chartism is the compact form of their opposition to the bourgeoisie. In the Unions and turnouts opposition always remained isolated: it was single working-men or sections who fought a single bourgeois. If the fight became general this was scarcely by the intention of the working-men; or, when it did happen intentionally, Chartism was at the bottom of it. But in Chartism it is the whole working-class which arises against the bourgeoisie, and attacks, first of all, the political power, the legislative rampart with which the bourgeoisie has surrounded itself (p.254).
Finally, said Engels, the Chartist movement could be expected to become explicitly socialist (communist).

Marx was expelled from France in February 1845 and went to live in Brussels. Engels joined him there a few months later. In July and August they went to England for six weeks. Marx's first visit to the country. In London they met Wilhelm Weitling (1809-1864), the German tailor whose communist writings had influenced the German artisans in Paris who had helped convert Marx to communism. They also met Harney, still a journalist on the Northern Star, now edited from London, who agreed to accept articles from Engels, the first of which was published in September. From London Marx and Engels went on to Manchester where they spent most of the time they were in England. Marx was particularly interested in reading some books on economics which he had been unable to obtain on the Continent. particularly those by English-language authors who criticised the existing economic system from a communist or working class point of view such as the Owenite, William Thompson (1785 -1833), from whose An Enquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth he made extensive notes.

Another of these writers who particularly impressed him was John Francis Bray (1809-1897). Bray, a journeyman printer, was the author of Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy which had been published in Leeds as recently as 1839. He, like Thompson, had been influenced by Owenite ideas and advocated "the system of community possessions" as the long-term ideal society. As a transition to such a communist society, he proposed the exchange of goods according to their labour content.

In the criticism of Proudhon s views which Marx wrote in the winter of 1846 7 and which was published, in French, as The Poverty of Philosophy in Brussels in July 1847. Marx quoted extensively from Bray (whose book he described as "remarkable ”) in order to show that Proudhon's views had been anticipated in England:
Anyone who is in any way familiar with the trend of political economy in England cannot fail to know that almost all the Socialists in that country have, at different periods, proposed the equalitarian application of the Ricardian theory. We could quote for M. Proudhon: Hodgskin, Political Economy, 1827; William Thompson. An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness, 1824; T.R. Edmonds, Practical Moral and Political Economy. 1828. etc., etc., and four more pages of etc. We shall content ourselves with listening to an English Communist. Mr Bray (p.77).
Later on, after he had moved to England. Marx read other works in this tradition and was particularly impressed by another book by the same Thomas Hodgskin (1787-1869) he mentions here, Labour Defended against the claims of Capital (1825), describing it in Capital as “this admirable work". Hodgskin, a retired naval lieutenant, was not in fact an Owenite but he was staunchly pro-trade union and pro-working class.

In a sense Marx, too, could be classed among those who "proposed the equalitarian application of the Ricardian theory" since he also started out from Ricardo's labour theory of value and analysis of society divided into a landlord class, a capitalist class and a working class and gave these theories a pro-working class interpretation. In fact, until he made the key theoretical distinction (in 1858) between "labour" and "labour power ”, which enabled him to realise that what workers sold to the capitalists for wages was not their labour (the product of their labour, what they produced) but their labour-power (their mental and physical energies, their capacity to work), Marx's explanation of how the working class was exploited under capitalism was not basically different from those of writers like Thompson, Hodgskin and Bray.

They thought that workers were paid less than the value of what they produced because competition held wages, as the price of their "labour", down to subsistence levels, the surplus over and above this being the source of the profits of their capitalist employers. Marx's solution — "union", "combination", "association", "co-operation". to overcome the effects of competition — was not all that different either. Marx in fact always had the highest respect for the original "English Socialist". Robert Owen (1771-1858). who made himself the champion of this idea.

But, unlike Owen, Marx held that the working class would have to gain control of political power before anything lasting could be done to improve their lot. This once again was derived from the English working class movement. In the final section of The Poverty of Philosophy on "strikes and combinations of workers”, Marx puts forward the same pattern for the evolution of the understanding and organisation of the working class as Engels, basing himself on the experience of Chartism, had done in 1845:
England, whose industry has attained the highest degree of development, has the biggest and best organised combinations. In England they have not stopped at partial combinations which have no other object than a passing strike, and which disappear with it. Permanent combinations have been formed, trades unions, which serve as ramparts for the workers in their struggles with the employers And at the present time all these local trades unions find a rallying point in the National Association of United Trades, the central committee of which is in London, and which already numbers 80,000 members. The organisation of these strikes, combinations, and trades unions went on simultaneously with the political struggles of the workers, who now constitute a large political party, under the name of Chartists.
  The first attempts of workers to associate among themselves always take place in the form of combinations. Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance—combination. Thus combination always has a double aim. that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist. If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations. at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages. This is so true that English economists are amazed to see the workers sacrifice a good part of their wages in favour of associations, which, in the eyes of these economists, are established solely in favour of wages. In this struggle — a veritable civil war — all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character.
    Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people in the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle (pp 194 5).
The same pattern is again described in The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) and it remained Marx's view to the end of his life and was to be the basis for his intervention in the English working class movement in 1852-6 and in 1864-72.

Meanwhile, in 1846, the Anti-Corn Law League had achieved success when the British Parliament voted to repeal the Corn Laws with effect from 1848. This marked the beginning of the era of Free Trade for Britain and was a significant economic event which Marx, as a student of economics, did not let pass without comment. In September 1847 he attended a conference on Free Trade in Brussels. He had intended making a contribution to the discussion, but was denied the opportunity of doing so. The text of his intended speech was later published in the Belgian French-language journal L'Atelier. It was also translated into English and published in the Northern Star, of which Harney was now the editor, on 9 October and so became the first article by Marx to appear in print in England (and indeed in English). Marx returned to the question of Free Trade in another speech in Brussels on 9 January 1848 in which he declared himself in favour of Free Trade on the sole ground that it would hasten the revolutionary confrontation between the working class and the capitalist class:
The English workers have made the English free-traders realise that they are not the dupes of their illusions or of their lies; and if, in spite of this, the workers made common cause with them against the landlords, it was for the purpose of destroying the last remnants of feudalism and in order to have only one enemy left to deal with (pp.241-2).
In November and December 1847 Marx was in England for a second time, to take part in the second congress of the Communist League (Kommunistenbund) at which he and Engels were appointed to draw up a statement of the communist aims and principles of this German workers' organisation. While he was in London Marx was invited to make one of the speeches at a dinner, organised by the Society of Fraternal Democrats with which Harney was associated. to commemorate the Polish uprising of 1830. This was the first occasion Marx spoke to an audience in England (even though he spoke in German) and. addressing himself to the Chartists, he told them that the best way they could aid the cause of Polish freedom would be to achieve "the victory of the English proletariat over the English bourgeoisie" Marx and Engels later met Harney privately, together with another Chartist and Fraternal Democrat, Ernest Jones (1819-1868), to discuss the organisation of an international congress of "Democrats" (which then referred to those who wanted a thorough-going bourgeois-democratic revolution).

The planned international congress never took place, even though Harney and Jones did meet Marx in Paris in March 1848 where he had returned following the overthrow of King Louis-Philippe in February. It was overtaken by events as the European refugees, including Marx and Engels, hurried back to take part in the bourgeois-democratic revolutions which were breaking out in their native countries. Thus in April Marx moved to Cologne where he revived the newspaper he had edited there before he was a communist in 1842-3 calling it the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Most of the articles he wrote for this daily concerned the day-to-day conduct of the bourgeois-national-democratic revolution that was then going on in Germany — which Marx held communists should work for on the grounds that it would be, as he and Engels had put it in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, “the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution". One or two of the articles did mention England in passing: a comparison of the French and English bourgeois revolutions with current events in Germany and an article on the prospects for the year 1849 which mentioned the abortive "Young Ireland" uprising of June 1848 and which declared:
Only a world war can break old England, as only this can provide the Chartists, the party of the organised English workers, with the conditions for a successful rising against their powerful oppressors. Only when the Chartists head the English government will the social revolution pass from the sphere of utopia to that of reality (184. 1.1.1849 NRhz).
But 1849 was not to live up to Marx's expectations. Not only was the bourgeois revolution in Germany not immediately followed by a proletarian revolution, but the bourgeois revolution itself did not take place properly as the King of Prussia re-asserted his feudal-bureaucratic rule over the Rhineland. As for the Chartists, they had already missed their chance in February 1848 when they had failed to react after Parliament rejected. for the third time, a Petition for the Charter. The British government was quick to exploit this weakness and Ernest Jones and a number of other prominent Chartists were already in prison while Marx was speculating about the conditions for a successful Chartist uprising in Britain.

In June Marx left Cologne for Paris and, being made unwelcome there, moved on in August to London, where his permanent home  was to be for the rest of his life.
Adam Buick

Russia 1917: As We Saw It (2017)

From the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Will the Bolsheviks Maintain Power'. By N. Lenin. Price 1s 6d. Labour Publishing Co., Ltd.
The above is an article written by Lenin in October, 1917, in answer to the claim of the opponents of Bolshevism that the Bolsheviks “would not attempt to take complete power on their own initiative.”
Though written so long ago, this appears to be its first publication in English. Lenin’s reply rebuts the claims of his opponents, in his usual vigorous fashion, and the fact that five years later the Bolsheviks are still ruling in Russia justifies the position he then took up.
In this article, Lenin makes the claim, often repeated afterwards, but now definitely refuted by the publication of the Russian Soviet Constitution, that the Soviet system is superior to the political system in the Western world:--
“In comparison with bourgeois parliamentarism it is a step forward in the development of democracy which has a historical world significance” – P. 43 (Italics ours.)
The absurdity of this claim has been fully exposed in the Socialist Standard, July, 1920; while deference to democracy is now treated by the Bolsheviks and their supporters as “an out-of-date shibboleth”, “a bourgeois notion”, etc.
Another piece of evidence supplied by the article is on the view held by Lenin and his party at the time of the Revolution, that the workers of the Western world were practically ready for the social Revolution. On page 101 he says:--
“It [the Russian Revolution] will conquer the whole world, for in all countries the Socialist transformation is ripening.”
It is our great regret that even now, let alone then, the mass of the workers are so far from the mental development necessary for the Socialist Revolution.
(from Socialist Standard, December 1922)

Material World: Catalonia - Referendum (Why Not), Nationalism (No) (2017)

The Material World Column from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'It’s about class. I don’t have a problem with the person standing next to me, it’s the one above me who’s the problem.' Pepe Martínez (Guardian, 30 September)
In 2014 Scotland held a referendum for independence. This 1 October it was the turn of Catalonia although in this case the process was conducted under adverse conditions as the Constitutional Court had declared the referendum illegal and the Spanish government did their utmost to thwart it. So, the referendum was no longer simply about Catalan independence but a question of the practice of democracy.
The World Socialist Movement's commitment to freedom of expression means our response regarding this one particular aspect could only be, 'Let the referendum give voice to the will of the people. Let the people speak.' We defend the right to ask people what they think and what they want (although history has taught us to be cautious about the motives of those posing as friends of democracy in some plebiscites).
The opinion polls had placed the Remain in Spain camp in the lead, so if the government had simply let the independence referendum happen there would quite likely have been no constitutional crisis nor the ensuing civil disorder. What now unites Catalans and quickly led to a general strike – with even Barcelona footballers taking part – was the repressive manner in which Prime Minister Rajoy ordered police from other regions to sabotage the referendum. As it was, 90 percent of the 2.26 million Catalans who cast their ballots (out of the 5.3 million eligible) voted for independence with Catalan officials saying 770,000 votes were lost due to disruption which resulted in polling stations being raided and ballot boxes commandeered by Spanish police.
How the situation will develop is now in the realm of speculation but we can be sure of one thing – the working class will once again be called upon to defend one section or another of the boss class. This is because nationalism is nothing but a change of masters.
Whether it is Catalonia or Caledonia (or Kurdistan), movements for national sovereignty do not serve the interests of the working class. Socialists declare that the nationality of feuding employers and their lackeys in government is an irrelevance. One of the factors for Catalan independence was that Catalonia pays a disproportionately higher share of tax revenues than other regions to the central state and the prosperous local capitalists are reluctant to dilute their profits to subsidise the poorer parts of Spain any longer. The Catalan nationalists thus baited their appeal with fake promises of prosperity for the local working class. Capitalism pits the interests of the employers and workers against each other, sooner or later all nationalist parties are forced to take sides and we know what the choice always has been. They declare that one way or another the 'national interest' is supreme, which is the interest of business.
Nationalism is a ruse to lure workers into supporting the rights of the business class to make profits at their expense.
We state unambiguously our opposition to the views of both The Cortes (central parliament) of Madrid and the Barcelona Generalitat (regional government). 
Socialists call for the end of exploitation and an end to the domination of the privileged few over the majority, not for its replacement by another, more local elite. We view our fellow-workers as the revolutionary force that could overthrow the tyranny of the capitalist system, freeing people and breaking their chains of wage-slavery, if only they can halt the virus of nationalism from spreading. Socialism needs to be placed at the heart of a new approach to living, locally, regionally, and globally. It is a unifying sharing principle that will encourage cooperation, which, unlike nationalism, brings people together and builds social harmony.
Class-consciousness as opposed to nationalist sentiment was never more needed than now. Workers here in London or Edinburgh, Madrid or Barcelona have common cause with the workers of every other country. They are members of an international class, faced with the same problems, holding the same interests. Socialism is about solidarity, coming together and uniting.
Rather than seeking a new capitalist state as the answer, Catalan workers should set out to grow their own strength so that one day it is their own independent power which helps to build socialism. As class-consciousness rises amongst the workers in all lands, the organisation of referendums will focus on the abolition of capitalism's nation-states and the construction of a worldwide co-operative commonwealth. Ours will be free unions of free people in free associations.

Editorial: 1917 – The Left-Overs (2017)

Editorial from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
The new Bolshevik regime inspired the formation of 'communist' parties worldwide. After the Second World War, many of these parties were elevated to power in those countries that were under Soviet occupation, that is in Eastern European and North Korea. Elsewhere, they came to power either through civil war or through anti-colonial struggles.
The Chinese Communist Party, which was formed in 1921,  rose to power after successfully mobilising the peasants in the countryside to resist the  Japanese occupation forces during the Second World War, and subsequently defeating the Kuomintang Government forces in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. It is worth noting that Stalin backed the Kuomintang against the 'Communists', thus giving the lie to the fiction that the Soviet Union was a beacon for global communism. What emerged was not socialism, but an authoritarian regime of state capitalism.
Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese leader, developed his own Leninist theories, commonly known as "Maoism". The main tenet is that the rural peasants are  the driving force in the revolutionary party and that support should be given to third world nationalist struggles against the first world 'imperialists'. In the 1960s and 1970s, Maoism was popular in the universities and provided the ideological basis for guerrilla groups, such as the Naxalites in India. After the split between China and the Soviet Union in the 1960s, Maoist parties broke off from the pro Soviet 'communist' parties. In the United States, the so called New Left and  the Black Panther Party were influenced by Maoism. The latter added to the confusion that already exists about socialism.
 In 1954, after the Viet Minh, a self styled 'communist liberation' group, defeated the French forces in a guerrilla war in Vietnam, the country was partitioned between a 'Communist' North and an openly capitalist South. Soon after, war  broke out  between the North and its Vietcong allies on one side and the South, which was heavily supported by the United States, on the other. It ended in 1975, when a victorious North Vietnam united the country under its rule.
In Cuba, a 'communist' state was established after a group of insurgents led by Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime in 1959. In Yugoslavia, the Communist Party, which led the Partisan resistance to the Axis powers, emerged as the dominant political force and established a 'communist' state.
In the late 1980s, the East European states began to collapse, along with the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia descended into civil war. Both China and Vietnam have effectively abandoned 'Maoism' and have introduced market reforms, in some cases inviting investors from the 'imperialist' countries. Cuba and North Korea are stagnating economically.
These regimes were never socialist, but  state capitalist, where the state operates the wages system and tries to plan the market. Not only did they maintain the lie that they were socialist, but that the struggle for socialist is a nationalist one. In line with Leninist thinking, they have promoted the cult of leadership with Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro venerated as icons . Apparently without them, socialism could not exist. So much for the materialist conception of history. In North Korea, there is even a ruling dynasty. No wonder workers are so confused as to what socialism is. 

Think Global—Think Socialist (1985)

Editorial from the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world socialist movement continues to exist and to struggle for the society of communal ownership, partly through the failure of the reformist movement. If, as the reformists claim, it were possible to run capitalism leaving its basis undisturbed but with a few superficial changes and in that way to eliminate the problems which now afflict the world's people, then there would be no reason to abolish capitalism. The social relationships would be in harmony with the mode of wealth production. The world would be at peace; poverty would not exist, neither would economic crises, famine, avoidable disease. Everyone would thrive in abundance and freedom. Why should we do anything to upset so benign a social arrangement?

It is only necessary to put this proposition for it to be seen as nonsense. Capitalism does not and cannot operate in that way. For one thing, there is scarcely a single scheme for the alleviation of some social ailment which can operate unhampered by the system's basic principle of the production of wealth for sale and profit There is. for example, a popular demand for better housing, more efficient hospitals, greater care for the sick and the aged. These are all highly desirable objects, which take a lot of the reformers' time and energies, but they are all frustrated on the grounds of cost, with the implicit reminder that capitalism's wealth is not produced to satisfy human needs but for the profit of the owning minority. On this rock of reality the case of the reformists persistently comes to grief. In spite of all their efforts, capitalism still operates as it must, as a repressive, impoverishing, killing society.

Socialists observe the reformists' failure but there is more to us than that. In one sense we cannot be separate from their struggles, for as individual workers we must endure the problems they profess to be able to deal with. So ours is not an exclusive, sectarian attitude but collectively and politically we are not just separate from, but actively hostile to the reformists. Socialists argue that reformism misleads the workers into the belief that capitalism can be allowed to remain while its essential problems are removed — in other words that there is no need to replace capitalism with socialism. This deception is reactionary, anti-working class, anti-socialist. While we are hostile to the reformist movements, we engage with them in debate, encourage them to question their failure and to ask why their theories do not fit in with reality.

One explanation they should consider is their inability to think in any way other than national. Pressure groups in the poverty business — like Child Poverty Action Group and Shelter — may do a valuable job in exposing the symptoms of capitalism's sickness but the remedies they suggest are always in terms of alleviating symptoms here in Britain. The government is offered plenty of advice about how to to deal with unemployment, all of it based on an assumed desirability of protecting the jobs of British workers only. Even when the campaigners turn their attention abroad theirs is still a national outlook, concerned with what they feel the British government should do to ease famine in Ethiopia or some other disaster in some other country.

This activity is fashioned by the idea that it is possible for a country to keep at bay external problems while developing itself into a cosy haven of security and plenty. The economists who press for higher state investment to "create jobs" for British workers are not concerned that such a policy might operate at the cost of workers abroad. The reformists think national although it must be clear to them that capitalism is a world society, producing the same problems and the same conflicts wherever it exists. Thinking national is part of the cause of the reformists' failure and of the continued need for the socialist movement.

In contrast, socialists think global. We argue that the capitalists are an international class. While they are in conflict at one level — over competition for markets, for example — as a class and in the global sense their interests are united, to protect their privileged standing and to resist any encroachment by the working class. Essentially, as a class, they must oppose their own abolition, they must struggle to prevent the revolution for socialism.

The workers also are a global class. At one level they may be in conflict — when they compete as individuals for scarce jobs, for example — but at the level of their class their interests are in unity. Above nationalism, above any prejudice of race or sex, the working class throughout the world must assert their essential unity in the work to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism in its place.

That will be a society based on the communal possession of the means of production and distribution, characterised by the principle of everyone contributing to their ability and having free access to society's wealth according to their self-determined needs. At present, as they turn from one reformist futility to another, the working class seem to be a long way from the political awareness needed for the democratic establishment of world socialism. It will be a significant step on the way, when they cease to think in terms of national or regional solutions to world problems and begin to think global.

The Birth of Reformism (1985)

From the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Human society has reached a point where the conflict between profit and human needs is condemning the vast majority of people to lives of relative poverty, despite all the technological advances of the twentieth century. The rapid growth in the productive forces of society, including both machinery and workers themselves has, during the past couple of centuries, turned capitalist social relationships into fetters against further development, rather than a vehicle of progress.

The appalling conditions of life suffered by workers in nineteenth-century Britain spawned two parallel tendencies. On the one hand, there were those more “enlightened" bosses who were anxious to prevent revolt or revolution, and to improve efficiency, by taking the edge off the almost absolute degradation which brutalised workers in the slums of Victorian times. In 1912, for example, writing in the journal. The Nineteenth Century and After R.C.K. Ensor defended the idea of a legal minimum wage as follows:
A working class, the poorest members of whom can get from newspapers and cinematographs a vivid idea of the country's wealth and how it is at present spent, must be less and less content with what contented its forefathers. The only question is whether in its strivings upward it is better on the whole to be cool in temper, clear in vision and constructive in method, or hot. blind and destructive.
On the other hand, there had developed a growing consciousness among workers of the fact that the interests of the buyer and the seller of labour power, the interests of boss and worker, could never be reconciled. The capitalist system of society could not satisfy the needs of humanity, ever.

Throughout the various stages of private property society over the last few thousand years, there has been no time or place without some clear expression of opposition to the ruling class. From the slave revolt of Spartacus, to the underground trade unions in the Russian empire today, the dispossessed have been forced by material necessity to take some action to defend themselves.

The history of the political development of the modem working class follows several stages. At first, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the main form taken by our resistance was that of individual acts of crime and sabotage. Riot, arson and the destruction of machinery in the age of Luddism, were resorted to in a desperate attempt to fight against the growing power of the employing class. Such action was isolated, unorganised and easily crushed.

The aims of the earliest trade unions were to establish uniform wage rates, and to reduce pressure on wages by limiting apprenticeships and opposing the introduction of machinery. Financial assistance was also offered to card bearers. Most importantly, though, the association of workers through organisation was seen to increase the strength and power of working-class resistance to the employers. It was commonly agreed that only by removing competition within the working class could unity, strength and therefore liberation be achieved. Such unity was found to be of use, however, only if it took a political form. The Chartist attempt to gain some kind of democratic access to the capitalist state made clear the political nature of the class struggle. This rising confidence felt by workers about their potential power was summed up by Engels, writing in the Labour Standard in June 1881, when he said that
 "There is no power in the world which could for a day resist the British working class organised as a body".
The response of capitalist employers and landlords to this growing working class consciousness was violent and brutal. At Peterloo in 1819, the magistrates had been horrified by the orderly, well-disciplined way in which thousands of workers had assembled together, to listen to speeches for democracy. Eleven of those workers were killed by the licensed agents of the state, and the Six Acts were passed to prevent workers from organising.

Sixty-eight years later, not a great deal had changed in the way society was run. as shown by this report of Bloody Sunday. 13 November 1887:
I noticed the banners of the East Finsbury Radical Club and of the Clerkenwell Branch of the Social Democratic Federation. The banner of the latter association bore the words "Educate. Agitate. Organise" . . .  the police, mounted and on foot, charged in among the people, striking indiscriminately in all directions.
(Reynolds Newspaper, 20 November 1887.)
There had. however, developed a definite movement among some sections of the ruling class and their advisers, in favour of reform to palliate workers' grievances, as opposed to outright oppression of them. This movement for reforming, rather than getting rid of capitalism, with its inbuilt class division between owners and non-owners of industry, was developed by capitalists trying to save their system. Their fears were summed up, for example, by G. Sims in How the Poor Live (1889): "This mighty mob of famished, diseased and filthy helots is getting dangerous, physically, morally, politically dangerous", and Lord Milner, in his speech at Wolverhampton on 17 December 1906. stated quite openly that "The attempt to raise the well-being and efficiency of the more backward of our people . . .  is not philanthropy: it is business".

What was the reaction in the working class to this idea of reforming and patching up the profit system, rather than replacing it with a new order of society devoted to satisfying needs? Capitalism meets needs merely as a by-product of serving the needs of profit and capital accumulation through the market. At the turn of the century there was quite a debate among workers as to whether this policy of reform, or "palliatives" as it was called, could be of any real value to the working class as a means of liberation.

The Manifesto of the English Socialists, signed on 1 May 1893 by members of the Fabian Society, the Hammersmith Socialist Society and the Social Democratic Federation, proclaimed that they supported:
the collective ownership of the great means and instruments of the creation and distribution of wealth . . . thus we look to put an end for ever to the wage system, to sweep away all distinctions of class.
But at the same time, there was a different approach to the problem beginning to take shape. This involved workers joining hands with the enlightened capitalists quoted above, to work for a humane capitalism rather than for a socialist society. One of the early representatives of reformism was Ramsay MacDonald, later leader of the Labour Party. Writing in the journal Today in March 1887, he explained his elitist and ultimately conservative view of social change:
The coming revolution is to be directed from the study . . .  to be, in fact, a revolution of the comparatively well-to-do . When we are strong in the strength of intellectual faith, the discontented will still be at our command, and as explosive as ever. We may have to use them, or we may not; but should the worse befall, their destructive power will be skilfully directed; it will not cause ruin, but will clear a way — it will be the tool, but not the designer.
In the seventy-nine years since its formation, the Labour Party has stood unswervingly for capitalism. The famous Clause Four adopted in 1918 was a blueprint for nationalisation, not socialism. Its reference to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange is a contradiction in terms: if the means of production were really in the hands of us all, there would be no need to buy articles which were ours already, so there would be no need for a means of exchange. The pragmatism and compromise of reformism over the past century has proved a miserable failure, pointing the way towards adopting a genuine socialist policy as the only solution now.

The Liberal government in the years before the First World War. 1906-1914. introduced several reforms which have been seen as the foundations of the modem "welfare state". The discussion entered into at the time by capitalists and politicians responsible for implementing these reforms shows clearly what their concerns were. The Sheffield Chamber of Commerce voted in favour of compulsory training after a 1908 speech by Lord Newton stating that this would "increase a man's efficiency as a wealth-producing machine'. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Journal supported in 1905 the introduction of Labour Exchanges for workers, who were described as "assets of the nation”. They also urged "the sternest measures for the wastrel and the loafer". When introducing the National Unemployment Insurance scheme in 1909. Churchill reassured employers that "the whole system will prove to be nothing more than wages spreading" (quoted in J. Harris, Unemployment and Politics. 1972).

Individual reforms of capitalism will sometimes succeed in improving the conditions of some workers, although often at the expense of certain other workers, as implied in the above statement by Churchill. There is a pressing and practical alternative to the maze of legislation, campaigning and lobbying which capitalism has thrown up. Some reforms may be of benefit, but what socialists are implacably opposed to is the policy of reformism, which sometimes claims that emancipation can be won through a gradual accumulation of petty changes in the mechanics of exploitation. This is a cruel myth which, as we have shown here, has its roots to a large extent in the squalid attempts of capitalists to seduce us away from the socialist alternative and into futile compromise. In fact, if we wanted concessions from the capitalist class, the best way of winning them would, in any case, be to start building a strong socialist movement.

In many ways, the physical confrontation which has often figured in the class struggle has now become above all an internalised conflict, a battle of ideas. The nineteenth-century repression by mounted police has now been joined by the Sun headline as a weapon against workers in the class struggle between employers and employees. Capitalism is the most universal and adaptable system of oppression. As the last class society, it has had to make a fine art out of inculcating submission. Placing a policeman inside every worker's head can prove more efficient, and even cheaper, than having a policeman on every street comer. This is why it is essential for us to look critically at the forms of change which are offered to us.

For over a century we have had reform campaigns, aiming to solve the housing problem, the problems of poverty, unemployment and so on. Not one of these campaigns can be said to have succeeded, as all of these problems remain after decades of campaigning and. in some cases, enormous support. Some of the absurd contradictions in society between what is technologically possible and what is socially available have even got worse. Where some apparently useful reform has been achieved, this has often been dismantled later under the pressure of the market system, with its inevitable cycle of boom followed by recession. As a strategy for real social change, reformism has failed because it leaves intact the real cause of the problems: the fact that production is still carried out for profitable sales in the market, on the basis of minority ownership, rather than for free use on the basis of common ownership.

Next time you are approached by someone on the Left who argues that socialism must be deferred in favour of some minor re-arrangement in the social furniture of capitalism, bear in mind in whose interests such a deferral would be. In a study of American capitalism in the early twentieth century, one employer was quoted as saying in 1922 that "with labour crying for democracy, capital must go part way or face revolution" (S.D. Brandes, American Welfare Capitalism); and in the Chicago Daily News of 16 June 1906, another kind boss reassured some of his fellow bosses who were worried about some benefits he had granted his workers: 
When I keep a horse and I find him a clean stable and good food I am not doing anything philanthropic for my horse.
Clifford Slapper

Fools' Gold Mine (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The nature of socialism cannot be separated from the means to achieve it — the conscious. political action of a majority of the working class. By working class we mean the vast majority of the population (perhaps 90 per cent in Britain) who do not own the means of production — land, industries, transport. communications and so on — and therefore need to sell their mental and physical energies (labour power) to an employer. Without wages or salaries they do not have access to the fruits of their work. The capitalist class, on the other hand, through its class ownership (or monopoly) of the means of production, has access to wealth without the need to work. It employs the majority class to do every kind of work and. after wages and all of the other costs of running a complex system have been paid, there remains for the capitalist class a privileged and luxurious life style. "Every kind of work" means just that. If we look a little closer at this "complex system", it becomes obvious that rather more is involved than what takes place at the factory bench.

When explaining the role of the working class (the basis of exploitation) it is easier to start with the example of people in a factory making goods, and being paid less in wages than the value realised on the sale of those goods, with the difference being appropriated by the employer. If we add to this simplification the work involved with a fuel supply, raw materials, research, in the office, management and so on. it is still only part of the picture. We must also include marketing, finance, transport — and law. education, medicine . . . In other words, the production of surplus value is better understood as a social process. It is as a class that workers are exploited, and it is as a class that capitalists reap the benefit. Some questions may arise for those accustomed to the popular notion of several different class divisions in society. The ultimate explanation for wide variations in income within the working class is that the labour power of some workers is more expensive to produce and reproduce than that of others.

If we use the criterion of relationship to the means of production it is apparent that most people, including those on salaries well above the average and non-employed wives and pensioners, belong to the class which needs to work. Members of the capitalist class do not need to work, and do not become dependent on state pensions and social security. Their income, derived from their investments, is sufficient on its own. That some individuals do not appear to fit exactly into either category need not concern us. (In some cases the appearance is deceptive, as with holders of nominal directorships whose "employment" is only for tax purposes.)

But other questions remain. If the working class is dependent on employment does it mean that all employers are capitalists? Bearing in mind the previous paragraph, we can see that the answer is no. A few employees (the chairmen of nationalised industries?) have salaries which enable them to closely identify with both the life style and outlook of the capitalist class. But there are employers who themselves need to work long hours in their businesses and may have incomes which compare more closely to those of the working class. If an individual employer works in his own firm together with his employees, who are paid overall the value of their labour power, but cannot live off the surplus value produced by them, then that employer is a member of the same class. A "small" enterprise may be successful and grow to the point where the owner having accumulated sufficient capital, no longer needs to work in it; what Marx called "a special kind of wage worker" will be employed to manage the business — to do the work formerly done by the owner. Then the owner is indeed a member of the capitalist class. The class position is not altered for capitalists who choose to take part in their ventures.

Marx was referring to the general development from individual manufacturers to large scale Modern Industry, and the point where capitalist production "really begins". Individual employers and the self-employed are a group largely out of time. Having lost out to large scale enterprise in the competition for profit, the group now plays only a minor role in production and distribution. The percentage income of this group declined by about 3 per cent between 1938 and 1971. and the decline in numbers continued until the 1980s when the figures show an increase. By 1983 the number of self-employed, with or without employees, had increased by around a quarter of a million to 2,260,000. This is only about 9 per cent of a total working population of 26,776,000. (Pears 1977/78 and Annual Abstract of Statistics 1985.)

Over the years self-employment has provided one answer to the difficulty of finding work for a proportion of succeeding groups of immigrants but this does not account for the increase in current figures. There has been no recent increase in immigration and the majority of, for example, Asian shop keepers have taken over from other self-employed owners. The increase can probably be accounted for by the recession: a number of the unemployed "setting up" on their own, in enterprises ranging from consultancy firms to standing in the High Street with a suitcase of socks and hankies (although the latter are only likely to appear in the estimated statistics of the Black Economy). The government claims that the way out of recession is to be found with individual employers, small businesses, the entrepreneurs. Part of the theory (which includes the role of less capital-intensive firms) seems to be that the unemployed who have qualified for "generous" redundancy payments will set up in business and then take other workers off the dole queue. (New businesses of that size can probably only afford part-time employees.) In areas where the main employer has gone, or the mine has shut down, the competition between redundant workers to sell goods and services to their unemployed neighbours can be imagined! Though there are individual success stories, government claims of record numbers of new businesses always meet with counter claims of the rate of bankruptcies. The owners of the ventures which fail in the competitive struggle, the erstwhile employers, have themselves to seek employment.

From the successful to the failures, the self-employed category includes a wide range of occupations and incomes. Small businesses do the work that large companies are not interested in, though sometimes as sub-contractors to the large firms. House building is done by the Barratts and Wimpeys. but house repairs and alterations are the province of the individual, the small builder. Self-employment has been used in the building industry as a technicality, to avoid tax and insurance payments once called the lump.

Despite the continuing threat from changes in retailing methods (from supermarkets to hypermarkets) and shopping habits, a single outlet section still survives in the retail trade. Small shopkeepers are perhaps the best known example of the self-employed. They have to give some kind of service to customers not found elsewhere, perhaps in some specialised trade, by being local, or open when larger shops are shut. Some retailing companies are granting franchises, commercial concessions, for the running of their retail outlets, instead of employing managers. In the fast food trade particularly, the company provides identical fittings and decoration to each outlet and then sells (identical) supplies to the franchise owners, who have the responsibility of running "their" shops and only nominal independence. The advantage to the companies is in cutting out losses from fiddling which might arise if they employed managers.

Small businesses, including shopkeepers. will need the services of accountants and sometimes solicitors; there are accountants and solicitors to consult who may also run their own firms. Some of the self-employed struggling to compete with larger organisations in the same industry take on additional "self-employed" burdens. A Country Diary piece in the Observer (24 February 1985) told of farmers' wives who have turned to a "grockle" crop as an alternative source of income, taking in paying guests during the summer months. Any lingering doubts about the class status of these farming families (and indeed of their guests) are dispelled when we read that this entails letting all of the farmhouse bedrooms (there may only be two) as family rooms, while the hosts sleep in the garage or even the "suitcase cupboard".

As for those earning their living as artists or writers . . . Self-employed or not it makes no difference. Along with Marx we point out that "The bourgeoisie . . . has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers" (Communist Manifesto)

We can safely say that the vast majority of the self-employed are members of the working class. Like the rest of our class, some enjoy their work, some have comfortable life styles and others just manage. And there are those who are trapped in their small businesses, and their poverty. It is not working independently in your own business that counts, but the need to work the need for employment. We in the working class do all of the work of society; why not change society, so that we can really work for ourselves.
Pat Deutz